So here's the idea, via The Film Doctor: 10 Favorite Movie Characters. Clearly this is impossible to do in any complete sense--who can do a definitive 10 favorite movies, let alone characters? But you can pick 10 that you particularly love. And so the Siren did.
And for kicks, the Siren decided to borrow a conceit from the spectacular If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Lot of Dead Copycats: The Heretofore Unmentioned. So the Siren is picking characters who have gotten, at most, a mere glancing reference in her posts before. That makes it a bit more sporting.
Here we go. Yodel-ay-ee-hoo, on the comeback trail.
1. Lenore (Eleanor Parker), Scaramouche
Lenore, the smart, resourceful actress, is so much more enjoyable--and beautiful--than simpering Aline (Janet Leigh) that it absolutely kills the Siren when Stewart Granger makes the wrong choice. Wrong, wrong, wrong choice, do you hear me? But Lenore, she'll be all right, as the filmmakers show clearly with a delicious fadeout. Not tonight, Josephine! (The above picture blatantly stolen from Bob Westal's wonderful piece on Scaramouche, and Lenore, at Forward to Yesterday.)
2. Annabella Bonheur (Martha Raye), Monsieur Verdoux. A brief stroll around the Web reveals this is still a love-hate movie. You may put the Siren squarely in the "love" category. She thinks it's a masterpiece. (She has excellent company.) And how very, very sad it is that Martha Raye rings a bell more for her commercial-making, producer-suing, somewhat dotty old age than for this performance. Annabella is a remarkable creation, a character so annoying you start guiltily rooting for the homicidal Verdoux, and yet you also can't get enough of her. One of the few occasions when anyone stole a scene from Charlie Chaplin. Scene, hell, the indestructible Annabella almost walks off with the movie.
3. Laura Partridge (Judy Holliday), The Solid Gold Cadillac. A still-relevant movie about accidental activist Laura Partridge, played by Judy Holliday at her funniest. There aren't many actresses who can send the Siren into fits of giggles just by raising a hand at a shareholder meeting. While this isn't the best movie Holliday made, Laura gets the Siren's vote for Holliday's most "relatable" character, with more native intelligence than Billie Dawn, far more gumption than Gladys Glover and a great deal more feminist edge than husband-shooter Doris Attinger in Adam's Rib. "You're scared of girls," she tells Paul Douglas--how many men in high places still need to be told that?
4. Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), A Letter to Three Wives. Darnell was usually (mis)cast as a femme fatale, but she never seemed to bare her fangs enough to tear into the type. Despite her fiercely sensual looks, her good-girl qualities remained visible around the edges. So she was perfect casting for this comedy of manners, as a siren from the slums who is seeking not just fortune, but love and ladylike treatment from a boor. In all the many celluloid sex-battles, there are few things as satisfying as watching Darnell count out the beats that will force Paul Douglas to open that car door for her.
5. Mary Smith (Jean Arthur) Easy Living. A character name so dull it could only belong to one of the most appealing screwball heroines ever. Mea culpa, Tonio and others. There isn't enough Jean Arthur on this site. How the Siren treasures this movie, and her favorite moment is pure Jean, delivered in that unforgettable voice: "Now wait just a minute, Santa Claus!"
6. Baines (Ralph Richardson) The Fallen Idol. Richardson is sometimes described as an uneven screen actor, but this performance is absolutely flawless, as is the character of Baines, married to a harridan, in love with Michèle Morgan (but who isn't) and spinning out stories for the lonely little boy in the embassy: "Some lies are just kindness."
7. Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed) The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. An offbeat, flawed movie that is one of the Siren's great guilty pleasures, largely due to Reed's silky performance as the gentleman assassin. Dragomiloff is essentially a Russian James Bond, sexier than Connery in the Siren's heretical opinion, and demonstrating that the Bond role really should have gone to Reed at some point. Dragomiloff is a professional killer, but one with a conscience, a practical nature and great wit. Asked by Diana Rigg to explain why he wants to prevent war, Ivan responds, "How can we charge our sort of prices with everybody happily killing each other for a shilling a day?"
8. Josef Tura (Jack Benny) To Be or Not to Be. If Addison DeWitt is the ultimate critic, surely Joseph Tura is the ultimate actor.
Josef Tura: Someone walked out on me. Tell me, Maria, am I losing my grip?
Maria Tura: Oh, of course not, darling. I'm so sorry.
Josef: But he walked out on me.
Maria: Maybe he didn't feel well. Maybe he had to leave. Maybe he had a sudden heart attack.
Josef: I hope so.
Maria: If he stayed he might have died.
Josef: Maybe he's dead already! Oh, darling, you're so comforting.
9. Max (Jean Gabin) Touchez Pas au Grisbi. Max has an attachment to his criminal buddies that far outstrips any love for a mere woman, even one played by an unbelievably young Jeanne Moreau. Here's when the Siren fell hard for Max: Before an urgently needed talk with Riton, his longtime partner, Max carefully lays out a midnight supper complete with wine, pate and a baguette. Both men tear into the elaborate snack before a word is spoken, making the scene a marvelous little capsule of things to love about the French. They're about to get hammered by a rival gang, but that doesn't mean you can't have wine with dinner.
10. Kasper Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet) The Maltese Falcon. The Siren has seen this movie--well, as many times as most people have, and with each viewing she's more and more convinced that Gutman is the real hero. He's the sex-magnet (Elisha Cook Jr. and Lorre), the real wit ("I distrust a man who says 'when.' If he's got to be careful not to drink too much, it's because he's not to be trusted when he does."), and the real thwarted romantic--ah, Greenstreet's expression as he chips away at lead is the sum total of every man who ever found a cherished love object to be dross. And Gutman is the real knight-errant as well, ready to ride anew at the end: "Well, sir, what do you suggest? We stand here and shed tears and call each other names--or shall we go to Istanbul?" Is the Siren the only one who would far rather know what happens in Istanbul than whether Sam waits for Brigid?