I've always been interested in the way characters / stars are introduced within their films. Sometimes you can feel the filmmaking underlining the moment: look here, you will love this character! Other times intros are nonchalant and the character sneaks up on you.
The Supporting Actress Nominees of 1980 ~ The Introductions
Last month I ranked the 1952 nominees by the quality of their entrances in preparation for their month-end "Smackdown". This month for the 1980 theme, to mix it up, let's just view them in order of when they show up in their movies. When moviegoers were first seeing these movies back in 1980, what did these characters promise them when they walked into the plot, already in progress?
Cathy Moriarty as "Vicki" in Raging Bull
[17 minutes until 'who's that girl'?]
Jake: Who's that girl you were just talking to.
Joey: The friend of mine I was just talking to? The blonde? Vicki.
Jake: Where's she from?
Joey: She's from the neighborhood. She's a neighbor.
Jake: What's her last name?
Joey: Vicki that's all I know.
We see a series of fetching closeup glimpses of Cathy Moriarty from Jake's point of view but she gets no dialogue of her own in this debut scene within her film debut. She's just an object of desire for now. She looks pleased with herself in the series of closeups Scorsese lavishes on her face and body by the pool as the dialogue from two sets of men is all about her or taking out the other men who want her. She's only 15 (Moriarty was 20) but Jake asks what her last name is, a fitting detail since he'll soon her give his own and since he's already married.
The promise here is trouble and Raging Bull has plenty of that.
Mary Steenburgen as "Lynda Dummar" in Melvin & Howard
[20 minutes in...]
Our first images of Linda are blocked by her husband Melvin who is arriving to bed late (or early since it's morning) after the film's lengthy prologue in which he meets Howard Hughes (Jason Robards in an Oscar nominated cameo) but soon he's asleep and she's waking up (on the opposite side of the bed... some nookie offscreen obviously). Noises outside have woken her and serve as another reminder of their poverty.
Oh no. Repossessed again."
She packs her bags in a rush to leave her bad luck husband. This character intro promises a sensual woman with an unlikely combination of flighty and sensible impulses and that's just the kind of memorable character we get. Of course she doesn't stay away too long since she is the film's Supporting Actress Nominee.
Eileen Brennan as "Capt. Doreen Lewis " in Private Benjamin
[23 minutes... on the dot]
Private Benjamin knows what it's got in Eileen Brennan's deliciously bitchy and funny Army captain and makes sure you know it too, introducing her in military style. Her entrance is shouted, saluted, and she's even blocked from view theatrically until the introducing officer steps aside to reveal her, the frown on her face mysteriously reading as a self satisfied smirk before she's even started mocking her new recruits. Which she does the first chance she gets two beats later when she sees one of them crying.
What's the madduhr? Are yoo a widdle cwybaby?"
This entrance promises combative comedy to come and Brennan delivers.
Eva Le Gallienne as "Grandma Pearl" in Resurrection
[23 ½ minutes]
Let me have a look at you, child!"
The legendary stage actress first appears in longshot racing out of her home to greet her granddaughter Edna (Best Actress nominee Ellen Burstyn), now disabled, who is returning to the family home to heal... in more ways than one. This first scene is as modest as the home, and tells you little about "Grams" other than that she's glad to see Edna. They then look at an old scrapbook together. Eva's voice is a marvel though, instantly betraying her stage origins, full of warmth, feeling and memory. (That's all I know for now. I'm still in the process of watching this which I have to say has been painful. Not, I hasten to add, because the movie is bad but because it's so very hard to find a good copy of it. The versions on YouTube are blurry and blown out and no other downloads seem to function well. Such a pity how Hollywood ignores its own history and lets it go unrestored, even when it's in the history books as an Oscar nominated film.)
Diana Scarwid as "Louise" in Inside Moves
[38 minutes late to the party]
Where are my four beers?"
Diana's waitress "Louise" is introduced so casually, in medium shot and profile before quickly whisking by the camera and vanishing again, that if you didn't know who Diana Scarwid is, you'd think nothing of it. The film's lasting claim to fame just wandered into frame and the movie didn't notice. Inside Moves, a strangely executed film about disabled men who form tight bonds at a local bar until one of them leaves to become a professional athlete (don't ask), doesn't even bother to introduce us. We only infer she's the new waitress from the casual concern in the bosses voice "you doin' ok?" Slowly she becomes more prominent in the narrative and eventually begins to slip out of longshots and into her own closeups. It mirrors the way that loved ones start out as strangers, sure, but it's also kind of anti-dramatic and it's a long wait to get to the Scarwid Goods.
Have you seen any of these films? There is still time to vote. We include reader votes in the Smackdown totals so send in your ballot, rating only the performances you've seen, with or without commentary, on a scale of 1 to 5 (best) hearts. The Smackdown will take place on Monday, September 30th