The introduction of a character into a film is often taken as a big opportunity for a production to show-off: they know their Movie-Making 101 and boy are they gonna flaunt it. Sometimes occurring a good chunk into the run-time, a sequence often lasting mere seconds uses much of the film’s magic and pizzazz to completely upturn direction and tone. Often these moments stay with audiences the longest and the movies that showcase the best intros often go down as indisputable classics.
In this list, the latest in The Film Magazine’s 5 of the Best Character Introductions series, I’ll be offering my selections for the 5 best character introductions in movie history…
1. Rufus T. Firefly
Duck Soup (1933)
The plot of the Marx Brothers’ movies are consistently bizarre but only really serve as the vehicle for slapstick antics or devastating jabs and insults. All their cinematic efforts are distinctly “Marxist” but the brothers still manage to keep their films fresh. In Duck Soup, this approach resulted in one of cinema’s greatest ever entrances…
The wealthy and influential Mrs Teasdale agrees to help out the tiny nation of Freedonia with her inexhaustible funds, but only on the condition that Statesman Rufus T. Firefly is appointed as the new leader. His reception is a great affair with ambassadors and representatives from all over the world, and excited chatter paints the image of a noble man of decorum and decency. Ballerina flower girls litter his intended path with petals and decorated soldiers draw their swords to form a glorious steely arch to the thunderous notes of the Freedonia National Anthem… but his “punctual” excellency doesn’t turn up.
Only after the third reprise of “Hail, Hail Freedonia” does Rufus (Groucho Marx) leap out of bed in a baggy, crumpled suit and sneaks into the reception via a conveniently placed fireman’s pole – drawing his cigar alongside the solidiers after his query of “Are you expecting someone?”
It’s such a silly joke with way too much effort put forward to land it, but the timing is perfect. It sets the tone for a 68-minute long scathing political satire and solidifies Groucho’s place as the head of the troupe and as cinema’s greatest and most beloved bastard – his ridicule of pomp and circumstance is often imitated but never bested.
2. Ebeneezer Scrooge
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
When Charles Dickens’ festive novel’s most memorable adaption stars furry Muppet creatures, it’s certainly a weird universe we live in. As strange as it sounds, it’s absolutely true: The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the most popular Christmas movies and greatest book adaptions of all time.
Much of the film’s success can be owed to Michael Caine’s stellar performance as the main character Ebeneezer Scrooge, who receives one of The Muppets’ most memorable musical numbers as his introduction. The scene is set with a sweeping shot of a snowy Victorian London and Charles Dickens himself (well, in the incarnation of Great Gonzo) begins the story with lines straight from his novel:
“The Marley(‘s) were dead to begin with”
Spines now tingled, pangs of anxiety are induced within the audience as Dickens announces Scrooge’s imminent arrival:
“You will meet him as he comes round that corner.”
Ebeneezer Scrooge appears cloaked in darkness and ice…. holy crap!
With this being a Muppet flick, the resulting number “Scrooge” is full of gags and fourth wall breaks; typical of Jim Henson’s patented light entertainment. The song is incredibly catchy and the most memorable from the whole movie, but this is more than a mere diss track. Heavy hitting lyrics combine with Scrooge’s arrogant shoves past the Muppet cavalcade to establishe the man as a cold, greedy and utterly irredeemable character. Finished off with Caine’s characteristic hard stare, Scrooge chills the blood.
The genius of pairing Caine’s straight performance with Muppet madness creates an adaption which boasts the most believable transformation of literature’s most famous miser to a genial grandfather figure. For certain generations, Caine will forever be immortalised by his pimp walk in the snow.
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