You know who they are.
You’ve seen them in movies you really wanted to like only to have the film taken down a peg, maybe two, by those annoying, bothersome supporting characters who, for some reason, writers, producers, or some studio suit considered indispensable. Sometimes they’re sidekicks, sometimes comedy relief, sometimes they’re kids, and sometimes they’re just plain head scratchers. But in every case, they stick out like sore thumbs, dragging down the quality of otherwise decent pictures or films that could have been great but fell short due to bad casting.
We speak of the mysterious extra punch that movie makers throughout cinema history have at one time or another considered indispensable to the success of a film. Often such instincts have proven on the money (literally!) as endless numbers of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers films can attest! And in case modern audiences have become too smug in their belief that today’s filmmakers are way too sophisticated to fall back on such dubious casting, they’re asked to look no farther than the string of Star Wars movies, blockbusters all!
But even as we disparage their use, there has been a method to filmmakers’ madness in casting such annoying characters. Often they’re used to keep the stars from getting too full of themselves — taking the air out of their sails when it threatens to carry them away. Other times, it’s to inject some needed comedy relief in tense situations. In still others, it might be to inject some pearls of wisdom or unconscious bits of philosophical truth to the goings on. Sometimes they might be allowed to display certain kinds of emotions such as fright or sentimentality not allowed the hero lest he seem less heroic. Sometimes he might even play cupid, maneuvering the hero and his romantic interest into each other’s arms. Which is to say, under the proper circumstances, the supporting character can work, but when they don’t, movie buffs end up with Supporting Characters Who Spoiled Their Movies!
10) Alan Hale
Perhaps in love with the jovial nature he projected on film, producers in the golden age of Hollywood seemed to have high regard for Alan Hale, Sr., who appeared in countless films from the silent era until his death in 1950. Although Hale worked in many of his parts, his oft-repeated role as comedy relief for Errol Flynn managed to take such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Desperate Journey, and The Sea Hawk down a notch or two from perfection.
To prove that modern films aren’t immune from the comedy-relief syndrome comes Dobby, the house elf from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Sure, he was in the book of the same name and so had to be included in any slavish adaptation of a J.K. Rowling novel, no matter how annoying the character was. If Dobby wasn’t designed to make the movie come to a screeching halt every time he appeared on screen, that sure as heck was the result!
8) Kevin Corcoran
Of all the child stars in the history of cinema, was there ever one as annoying as Kevin Corcoran? (Okay, if you leave out Jake Lloyd in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.) This squeaky-voiced urchin specialized in nice but mischievous roles, mostly for Disney Studios, with his most blackboard-screeching performance in 1960’s Pollyanna. Argh!
7) Edward Everett Horton
The popularity among studio heads of Edward Everett Horton, who specialized in befuddled, limp-wristed, nervous types, is one of the great mysteries of cinema history. Whether hen-pecked husband, harried agent, or out-of-it hotel manager, he played the same character in all of his roles, which most often turned up in Fred Astaire films of the 1930s.
6) Nigel Bruce
Specializing in dominated-husband types and unlikely Somerset Light Infantry officers — which he’d been in real life! — Nigel Bruce is best remembered as the clueless Dr. Watson in 14 Sherlock Holmes films produced mostly in the 1940s. Frustrated fans of the great detective who know of the pair from Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales barely recognized Bruce’s befuddled interpretation of the more with-it character of the stories.
5) Stellan Skarsgård
If it wasn’t annoying enough to have Jane Foster demoted from a registered nurse to storm chaser, the 2013 film Thor: The Dark World also co-starred Stellan Skarsgård as her sidekick Dr. Erik Selvig, who spends much of his time either running naked among the standing stones of Stonehenge or in his whitey tighties as he tries to give a physics lessons to his fellow actors. Creepy.
4) Una O’Connor
A thin-faced, hawk-nosed actress who specialized in maids, ladies in waiting, or nagging housewives, Una O’Connor’s most remembered roles were those she had in Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. A favorite of director James Whale (who knows why), she managed to drag down the otherwise classic Invisible Man, ruining Claude Rains’ portrayal of a man driven mad by the power of invisibility with her over-the-top antics.
3) Manuel Padilla, Jr.
Another child actor who practically destroyed such classic Tarzan film fare as Tarzan and the Valley of Gold and Great River. Cute but annoying (especially in conjunction with some animal like a chimpanzee or lion), Manuel Padilla, Jr. single-handedly managed to slow the evolution of the Tarzan franchise as it moved closer to the vision held by creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. What was producer Sy Weintraub thinking?
2) Smiley Burnette
Gad! Fans of Hollywood’s singing cowboys had to put up with a lot to follow the adventures of their favorite saddle tramps, but has any higher sacrifice ever been asked by viewers than to sit through bass-voiced utterances by Smiley Burnette, or “Froggy” as he was endearingly known by saddle pal Gene Autry in over 62 Saturday matinee oaters?
1) Jar Jar Binks