Saturday, October 03, 2009

And the sleazeball title goes to...

The lousy and libidinal periodical Maxim apparently enjoys making stupid lists almost as much as the good folks at the blog you're currently reading do. One such list was "The Greatest Movie Sleazeballs of All Times." A great idea for a list, if there ever was one. Not being an avid reader of Maxim (the splendor of horrifyingly photoshopped boobies aside) I have no idea which of the great movie sleazeballs earned a seat on the list. Acknowledging the cultural importance of such a list I have made the very first Light Within Light Movie Sleazeball Hall of Fame. Your comments and suggestions about missing honorees are well appreciated (you all have a right to be wrong, after all).

A few words before we begin: A sleazeball is a difficult concept to define. The dictionary gives us the following beaut of a definition:

a repellent person. : Who is that sleazeball with the earring?

The movie sleazeball is a character that is repellent, for sure, but he or she does not necessarily need to be a villain, in the strict sense of the word. Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter are not sleazeballs. They're just plain ol' evil. No, the sleazeball is more than evil. He is irritating, ingratiating, licentious, smarmy, repugnant and pathetic. A movie sleazeball is likely to stay with you in a way that a villain might not. We often root for the villains in films, finding them more charming or interesting than the heroes. But everyone hates a sleazeball. A sleazeball has no honor, no courage, no charm, no cool. He is a snake and a rodent and in the fantasy world of Hollywood he almost always comes to an untimely (and often brutal) end.

Let's look at a few of the all time great movie sleazeballs, presented here in order of sleaziness:

5. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) in Blue Velvet

The hipster demi-god David Lynch seems like an absolute sleazeball himself so it's not surprising that he's created some of the all-time great movie sleazeballs. To be fair I have only included the sleaziest of them all from the Lynch-ouvre: Frank Booth. When Lynch shopped the script around to different actors he thought could play Frank most of them threw the script back in his face, calling it things like "horrible" and "pornographic" (Val Kilmer said the latter, which says a lot about the film). Dennis Hopper, on the other hand, a great old sleazeball himself, reportedly said to Lynch: "I have to play Frank. Because I am Frank!" The character is a bizarre, surreal criminal and rapist who sexually victimizes Isabella Rosellini's character while inhaling amyl nitrate from a gas tank. He also says the word "Fuck" more times than the entire casts of Scarface and Pulp Fiction combined. There is nothing redeeming or cool about the character (or even interesting, for that matter). His sole purpose seems to be to manifest Lynch's messed up id. Love the film or hate it (dear lord almighty, do I hate it) you have to admit that Frank really is one of the all time "great" movie sleazeballs.

4. Waingro (Kevin Gage) in Heat

Waingro is a mullet-wearing sleazeball who wants to hang out with Robert De Niro and his gang of hotshot professional thieves. But Waingro loses his cool big time during his first robbery and needlessly kills a security guard, sending the cops (including Al Pacino at his coked-out best) hot on the heels of De Niro and co. This pisses De Niro off to no end so he wisely decides to rid the world of Waingro. Waingro somehow manages to escape and he spends the next two hours of the film murdering hookers. Then he hooks up with a sleazeball stockbroker that's also managed to piss De Niro off. Killing innocent women and hanging out with stocbrokers... What a sleazeball! Waingro then enters the movie sleazeball hall of fame by torturing poor Danny Trejo and his girl to death. De Niro, fortunately, gives Waingro his just desserts at the end of the film (God bless Bobby D) but by then it's too late, Waingro has already entered the pantheon of sleaziness.

3. Zed (Peter Green) in Pulp Fiction

"Bring out the gimp..." Nuff said.

2. Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner) in Die Hard

Die Hard is not only the greatest action film ever made (let's face it, it's possibly the greatest movie ever made) but it's also highly philosophical and thought-provoking. For one, it makes it perfectly clear that Europeans are not to be trusted (they're all terrorists) and that stockbrokers are the biggest sleazeballs of them all. And it did this in the "Greed is Good" era of the 80's. So, in it's own way, Die Hard is just as much of a revolutionary social satire for it's decade as Network was for the 70's. But I digress. Aforementioned stockbroker is Harry Ellis, first seen flirting shamelessly with the pregnant wife of all-American supercop and stand-up fella John McClane (played by the maestro himself, Bruce Willis) and then later on doing coke on his desk ("I didn't know it snowed in L.A."). Ellis is everything one could hate in a man: smarmy, pretentious, snobbish and sly, with an ever present shitkicker grin sticking out of his perfectly groomed "with-it" beard. If there is a philosophy of life we should all follow, it's "Don't be Ellis" (isn't that really what Socrates was saying all along?). Ellis then rats McClane out, giving away his true identity to über-criminal Hans Grüber (Alan Rickman). Fortunately for us, Grüber is a cool guy and a real man's villain (being a worthy adversary to John McClane puts you one step below Rambo and one above Seagal) so he shoots Ellis in the head. As terrible as he is, there has probably never been a character that is as enjoyable to hate as Harry Ellis.

1. Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) in Aliens

So there you are, the sole survivor from an ill-fated space voyage where all your buddies were eaten by a horrible alien monster, and you're somehow shenangled into going to a creepy planet where said monsters have eaten a whole colony of people. The only company you have along for the ride are a bunch of really obnoxious space marines led by a tight-assed Michael Bihen and including a Bill Paxton performance that is so irritating that it makes Larry David seem like Johnny Depp. But there's a pretty nice guy along for the ride, a fella by the name of Carter Burke who works for the "company" who run the aforementioned colony. Burke turns out to be a really good guy, defending you from the crazy space marines and keeping a protective eye on the little cute girl you find hiding in the corridors. All is hunky dory (except for the monsters eating everybody, of course) until you realize that Burke has actually been planning to incapacitate you and the little six year old and fill your bodies with alien eggs to be taken back to earth so the company can research them and make super-weapons out of the aliens. Let me say that again for the people in the back row: He wants to smuggle alien eggs INSIDE THE BODY OF A SIX YEAR OLD GIRL!!!!! No one in the history of cinema comes close to Carter Burke in sleaziness and doublecrossing. In fact, I suggest his name become a part of our language, similar to how people used to say that something is "Rashomon" when there are differing accounts of an event. Well, the next time someone screws you over, you can say that you've been Carter Burked.


R Logan L said...

now i'll have to start thinking of some other sleazeballs...

Jeff said...

Richard Widmark's Tommy Udo, in 1947's "Kiss of Death". Should be considered. An unrepentant psychopath, with a haunting laugh, he pushes the wheelchair-bound mother of the movie's hero down a flight of stairs to her death. In his movie debut, Widmark was nominated for a supporting Oscar . Exec's type cast Widmark in his next few films and many thought he may never work again, because Tommy was so stunningly sleazy evil.

Anonymous said...

Biggest I can think of offhand, Percy Wetmore from "The Green Mile".

Dinity said...

Definitely Bill Paxton from True Lies. I think that was a pretty good sleazy role.

Reido Bandito said...

Oh! Nice ones!

Jeff F. said...

Tommy Udo does NOT "push the wheelchair-bound mother of the movie's hero down a flight of stairs to her death."
The character of the lady he pushes to her death (played by Mildred Dunnock)is the mother of an unseen hoodlum by the name of Frank Rizzo.
The movie's hero, Nick Bianco, was played by Victor Mature

A. Davis said...

In Die Hard, John McClane's wife, Holly, is not pregnant. A secretary is. I just rewatched the movie and Google some stuff about it and came across you list. Ellis is such a good sleazeball! Peace