More Impressions

Loyal reader Lydia Conrad wrote in with some more memorable entrances. Here are her comments:

Sunset Boulevard -- William Holden is doing a (true) dead man's float in Norma Desmond's pool.

The Philadelphia Story -- Opens with Cary Grant being thrown out of the house by his wife Katherine Hepburn (who, among other things, breaks his golf club in two) and Grant responds by shoving her face so she falls to the ground. I think I mentioned that Hepburn enjoyed this so much -- calling Dr. Freud -- that she had Grant do it to her again and again.

Jaws -- Haven't seen this movie in years but doesn't Robert Shaw appear by scraping his fingernails across the blackboard? (Makes me cringe still just thinking about it!) And I know Bruce the Shark may not qualify as a "character" but his entrance is pretty memorable. :-)

Gilda -- Rita Hayworth's husband, accompanied by her former lover Glenn Ford, walks into her bedroom and asks, "Are you decent?"

West Side Story -- Long, panoramic shot of NYC slowly zooms into a playground where Russ Tamblyn's Riff and his Jets are restlessly bullying others who tread into their gang "territory."

Gone with the Wind -- I know you're not a big fan of this film but the appearance of Scarlett O'Hara, both cinematically and in terms of her long-awaited debut after David O. Selznick's much-publicized, multi-year cross-country search, has to count pretty high in the memorable character entrance department. The shot that zooms down the stairway to intro Clark Gable's Rhett Butler ("Who is that nasty fellow? He looks like he knows what I look like without my shimmy!") is awfully impressive as well.

It Happened One Night -- Clark Gable's journalist Peter Warne is surrounded by eavesdroppers as he tells off his boss via pay phone. Since the onlookers hear only one side of the conversation, they don't realize that Warne ends up getting fired and thus his telling his editor that he quits (his boss has actually hung up) is just a show. As Warne departs the phone booth, his admirers accompany him with the prescient salute "Make way for The King!"

Singin' in the Rain -- So you're not a big musical fan either but Gene Kelly's "Gotta Dance" intro of Cyd Charisse in her green-clad flapper splendor certainly stands out as a memorable character intro.

Also, Peter O'Toole makes two entrances, really, in one of my all-time favorite movies -- My Favorite Year -- and they are both hilarious and memorable.

Thanks Lydia. Certainly the late, great Billy Wilder opening Sunset Boulevard with the shot of the dead narrator signaled the sardonic and unsentimental tone of the film. Incidentally, Paramount will be releasing a Sunset Boulevard Special Edition DVD in November. Paramount's DVD track record can most charitably be called spotty, but let's hope this will be one of their stronger efforts. The film deserves no less.

The Philadelphia Story opening still works in the context of its era. But imagine a film today beginning with a husband shoving his wife to the floor and playing the scene for laughs. Times change, taboos change.

Also, I strongly considered including two other "first impressions" in my original column - Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Raiders of the Lost Ark and 'Mad' Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) in Mad Max. Both are high-impact entrances that establish these men as heroes for the film and the subsequent sequels. Both let you see a part of the man, from the side or the back or obscured with shadow, but don't show his face until after he's already bravely defeated an enemy. In the end I left these entrances out because I wanted to keep my list at ten and I already had a recurring film character with James Bond in Dr. No, but it was a tough call.

And speaking of Dr. No, the first Bond film featured another memorable entrance besides 007. Who can forget the bikini-clad Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) emerging from the ocean singing "Underneath the Mango Tree?" Andress helped create the "Bond Girl" mystique and set the standard for those to follow.

Adam Spector
August 22, 2002

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