The usual deciding factor in whether or not a viewer likes a film or not is the presence of — major revelation! — likable or at least engaging characters. (And I’m saying this knowing, as we all do, that Jack Nicholson is “likable” in The Shining.) The opposite is also true, of course. If a good film has an especially dislikable major character, viewers are usually (or at least often) inclined to dismiss the film as a whole.
Joseph Cotten‘s Holly Martins has always been my main…actually my only Third Man stumbling block. I’ve been watching Carol Reed‘s 1949 classic since I was a teenager (my father turned me on to it), and time and again Martins has kept me from truly enjoying this otherwise brilliant noir.
Orson Welles‘ Harry Lime is the charming, charismatic headliner, Alida Valli is the most mysterious, Trevor Howard is unassumingly droll and matter-of-fact, and Cotten is a pill — a dour, uncomprehending, sour-faced drag.
Today I happened upon a commentary track on Studio Canal’s The Third Man Bluray, and two great directors, Tony Gilroy and Steven Soderbergh, kicking it around:
Gilroy: But Joseph Cotten….he’s empty…
Soderbergh: He’s a really unique presence in this. He came from the Mercury Theatre, and wasn’t really in movies before Welles put him in movies. [And] I always liked him enormously. He was perfect for this…this kind of part. It’s very possible, in a sense, to cast somebody [for this role] with too much personality.
Gilroy: He has to be lost and he’s just…so lost. It’s not [a matter of his] being sympathetic or unsympathetic. He’s just a shabby character all the way around, and his empty…his naivete and emptiness. It would be hard to take an established movie star with a really strong, established personality…
Soderbergh: And have him be that.
Gilroy: Either have him deliver that performance, ask him to do that, or find it along the way and have it work. But [Cotten] is so…he’s such a slug.
Please name some significant characters who are such a drag to hang with that they damn near kill otherwise good films.