Now That’s Support I Could Use!

When people talk about a great supporting character, the character can be good or bad.  The character of Mr. Potter in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a great supporting character brought to full life in a magnificent performance delivered by Lionel Barrymore.   But he’s also the King of Jerks.  A selfish, scheming, deceptive, rotten old man.  Sometimes when I watch a movie, I not only think the character is a good one and the actor portraying the character does a fine job but I also think, “Hey, I wouldn’t mind that character in my life.”  It’s when a supporting character gives the lead the kind of support you wouldn’t mind having in your everyday life.

Supporting Characters 01

And let’s start with It’s a Wonderful Life, mentioned in the preceding paragraph.  Old Man Potter may be a poisonous snake but you know who’s great?  Martini, played by Bill Edmunds.  Let me tell something about Martini as a friend.  Let’s say you helped him out in the past.   You did him a favor, maybe got him a good rate on his first mortgage.  Now let’s say you go into his bar, act rude and surly towards him and his patrons.  Then let’s say one of those patrons is married to a woman you made cry earlier because your kid got sick and she was her teacher and she had absolutely no control over your kid getting sick and the husband’s so over you and your stinking attitude that he belts you.  Well, guess what?  Martini’s kicking that guy out and banning him forever even though you were the real jerk in the first place.  Martini, that guy’s a  loyal friend. (And Sam Wainwright’s nothing to sneeze at either.  Sure, the “hee haw” stuff wears down your last nerve but in a pinch the guy authorizes 25 grand in 1945 dollars to you.  Click here to go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator.  Put in 25,000 for the year 1945.  Yep, in today’s money it’s almost $325,000!!!  So, um, yeah, I’ll put up with the “hee haws.”)

When it comes to supporting characters you wouldn’t mind having as real life friends, it’s hard to top Thelma Ritter’s gallery of characters but if I limited myself to two, they would definitely be Moe from Pickup on South Street and Stella from Rear Window.  You want to talk about support?  You got it.  Moe won’t rat out her friend Skip even though it costs her her life.  I mean, she didn’t know it was going to cost her her life but she knew it was looking pretty bad for her and she still didn’t do it.  Not that I’d have anything to hide worth anyone’s life but if someone else had something to hide, like the guy across the courtyard who just may have killed his wife, well then Ritter’s Stella’s your go-to-gal.  What makes Stella stand out is how much she dissuades L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) at first but when presented with a persuasive argument, hops on board and helps dig up some clues.

Thelma 01

But you know, it doesn’t always have to be life or death.  Sometimes, it’s just reliability.  Like Jack Ridley (Levon Helm), best friend to Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), in The Right Stuff.   Not only will he come through for you when you need him most (like, say that time you broke your ribs and needed to close the hatch on your jet before you broke the sound barrier and he went and sawed off a broom handle for you) but he always has a stick of Beeman’s for you, just when you want it, and never asks for anything in return.  And even though you say you’ll pay him back later, and you know you never will, he just smiles and says, “Fair enough.”  Great guy.

And speaking of someone coming through for you, how about Margaret Phelps (Jane Alexander in Kramer vs. Kramer)?  Imagine you’re getting divorced from your wife.  Further imagine Margaret was her best friend, not yours.  And yet, Margaret recognizes you’re left holding down the fort and does what she can to help and, in the process, becomes your best friend.  Hell, she even goes to court and testifies on your behalf when it comes down to it.  Margaret is the kind of person that stands by what’s right, so she might not be loyal to you if you’re in the wrong but she will fight on your behalf to the bitter end if you’re in the right.  And, really, isn’t that the best kind of friend to have?

Sometimes, however, you need support at work, not just in your personal life.  And that’s where Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn in The Parallax View) comes in.  This guy’s an editor of the “tough as nails” variety.  And just like every “tough as nails” editor (or police lieutenant or army sergeant or what have you) you expect him to tell you you’ve got one last chance before he kicks your butt out!  But not Bill.  Oh no, he believes in you.  He believes in you to the point that he helps you conceal your own faked death (or escaped death, as the case may be, since you were luckily on the front of the boat when the bomb went off)!  Gives you hundreds of dollars, cash, to get around town digging up clues and never once loses faith in you.  He loses his life, though, and that’s a killer, because this guy had to be the best editor a newspaper reporter ever had.

Louis 01

Of course, I can’t finish this without mentioning one of the most helpful supporting characters in movie history.  He plays for the other team and even shuts down your business from time to time (sometimes he gets shocked, SHOCKED at things) but in the end, when it really counts, and I mean really counts, he comes through for you.  I speak, of course, of Capt. Louis Renault, portrayed brilliantly by the great Claude Rains in the all-time classic, Casablanca.   Louis has always been on your side and you kind of know it but you didn’t know until that last moment where his true loyalties lay.   Then it happened.   He gave you the “shoot a Nazi for free” card and let you use when it counted the most.   Yes, if you can ignore the horrifying implications of all of it (rounding up the “usual suspects” means someone else, someone innocent of the charges, will take the fall), it’s an incredible act of friendship (but, yeah, those implications are still pretty horrifying).  When you walk away with Louis after the plane has safely taken off, you tell him it looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  And that’s how I feel about each one of these characters every time the credits roll.

40 Responses Now That’s Support I Could Use!
Posted By swac44 : May 5, 2013 10:57 am

Reading this makes me want to go off and get drunk with Frank McHugh.

Posted By swac44 : May 5, 2013 10:57 am

Reading this makes me want to go off and get drunk with Frank McHugh.

Posted By Ken Zimmerman Jr. : May 5, 2013 11:22 am

I also thought about Sydney Greenstreet’s portrayal of Kaspar Gutman in the Maltese Falcon, Peter Lorre playing Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace, and John Hannah as Jonathan Carnahan in the Mummy. Good support is hard to find.

Posted By Ken Zimmerman Jr. : May 5, 2013 11:22 am

I also thought about Sydney Greenstreet’s portrayal of Kaspar Gutman in the Maltese Falcon, Peter Lorre playing Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace, and John Hannah as Jonathan Carnahan in the Mummy. Good support is hard to find.

Posted By Doug : May 5, 2013 2:03 pm

One more gem from Thelma Ritter-Grace Arden, the mother in law of Doris Day’s Ellen Arden,in “Move Over, Darling”, the remake of “My Favorite Wife”. Not only does Grace allow Ellen to take her time telling the kids that she’s their mother, but she assists in “Operation:Get rid of the new wife”.
Now I’m stuck. I would nominate Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey and Roland Young and Virginia Weidler for great support of the leads Grant and Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story”. They all shine.

Posted By Doug : May 5, 2013 2:03 pm

One more gem from Thelma Ritter-Grace Arden, the mother in law of Doris Day’s Ellen Arden,in “Move Over, Darling”, the remake of “My Favorite Wife”. Not only does Grace allow Ellen to take her time telling the kids that she’s their mother, but she assists in “Operation:Get rid of the new wife”.
Now I’m stuck. I would nominate Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey and Roland Young and Virginia Weidler for great support of the leads Grant and Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story”. They all shine.

Posted By idlemendacity : May 5, 2013 5:43 pm

An interesting post. In addition to pretty much any character played by Thelma Ritter as someone I would like as my “friend”, I’m think an interesting sub-category on this theme would be supporting characters who are more interesting and at times more likable than the titular leads. Characters who you wouldn’t mind seeing a film about their lives.

This would include Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce, Ralph Bellamy (who did not get the girl again but was probably the better man) in Hands Across the Table, Suzanne Pleshette’s doomed character in The Birds, Joan Blondell in Adventure (which technically starred Greer Garson), Gail Patrick’s Cordelia in My Man Godfrey (who undergoes more positive character development by the end than her screwball sister played by Carole Lombard) as well as Jean Dixon’s maid, Molly in the same film who was also clearly in love with Godfrey, Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story, Diana Lynn’s little sister in The Major and the Minor, and Una Merkle and Ginger Rogers’ showgirls in 42nd Street who pretty much steal that film are ultimately responsible for launching Ruby Keeler’s character to stardom (especially ironic given that by modern eyes even within the film both Merkle and especially Ginger are better performers than Keeler).

An interesting film in this vein is Henry Hathaway’s 1941 film Sundown which technically stars Gene Tierney and Bruce Cabot as the leads but the real reason to watch is to see the interplay between the supporting cast – George Sanders, Harry Carey Sr., Joseph Calleia and Reginald Gardiner, all of whom are acted by veteran scene stealers who make the most of their time playing the film’s secondary heroes (while the leads basically phone it in).

Posted By idlemendacity : May 5, 2013 5:43 pm

An interesting post. In addition to pretty much any character played by Thelma Ritter as someone I would like as my “friend”, I’m think an interesting sub-category on this theme would be supporting characters who are more interesting and at times more likable than the titular leads. Characters who you wouldn’t mind seeing a film about their lives.

This would include Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce, Ralph Bellamy (who did not get the girl again but was probably the better man) in Hands Across the Table, Suzanne Pleshette’s doomed character in The Birds, Joan Blondell in Adventure (which technically starred Greer Garson), Gail Patrick’s Cordelia in My Man Godfrey (who undergoes more positive character development by the end than her screwball sister played by Carole Lombard) as well as Jean Dixon’s maid, Molly in the same film who was also clearly in love with Godfrey, Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story, Diana Lynn’s little sister in The Major and the Minor, and Una Merkle and Ginger Rogers’ showgirls in 42nd Street who pretty much steal that film are ultimately responsible for launching Ruby Keeler’s character to stardom (especially ironic given that by modern eyes even within the film both Merkle and especially Ginger are better performers than Keeler).

An interesting film in this vein is Henry Hathaway’s 1941 film Sundown which technically stars Gene Tierney and Bruce Cabot as the leads but the real reason to watch is to see the interplay between the supporting cast – George Sanders, Harry Carey Sr., Joseph Calleia and Reginald Gardiner, all of whom are acted by veteran scene stealers who make the most of their time playing the film’s secondary heroes (while the leads basically phone it in).

Posted By MDR : May 5, 2013 6:12 pm

Those are certainly some great examples of selfless, loyal friends … the best kinds to have. In addition to Ritter, Joseph Cotten always seemed to turn up in “reliable friend”, sometimes friend-of-the-family roles.

Obviously there’s a whole genre – buddy films – which explores friendships of various sorts, and I’m glad that Hollywood recognized (fairly early on) and exploited various tandems of “guys” that might fight with you – e.g. over a girl or some business – one day but always have your back. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were one such pairing, Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan another.

But to your list, I’d definitely add Antoninus (Tony Curtis) to Spartacus (Kirk Douglas).

Posted By MDR : May 5, 2013 6:12 pm

Those are certainly some great examples of selfless, loyal friends … the best kinds to have. In addition to Ritter, Joseph Cotten always seemed to turn up in “reliable friend”, sometimes friend-of-the-family roles.

Obviously there’s a whole genre – buddy films – which explores friendships of various sorts, and I’m glad that Hollywood recognized (fairly early on) and exploited various tandems of “guys” that might fight with you – e.g. over a girl or some business – one day but always have your back. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were one such pairing, Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan another.

But to your list, I’d definitely add Antoninus (Tony Curtis) to Spartacus (Kirk Douglas).

Posted By DevlinCarnate : May 5, 2013 7:40 pm

if you want to talk about supporting characters ,how about Joan Blondell in Nightmare Alley?…she took all of Tyrone Power’s BS through half the movie,and gave him his comeuppance via Tarot cards in the last half…and let us not forget the most endearing of supporting characters,Nigel Bruce as Dr.Watson and Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade in the Universal Holmes movies…even if they both only appeared a handful of times their interaction always provides chuckles from me

Posted By DevlinCarnate : May 5, 2013 7:40 pm

if you want to talk about supporting characters ,how about Joan Blondell in Nightmare Alley?…she took all of Tyrone Power’s BS through half the movie,and gave him his comeuppance via Tarot cards in the last half…and let us not forget the most endearing of supporting characters,Nigel Bruce as Dr.Watson and Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade in the Universal Holmes movies…even if they both only appeared a handful of times their interaction always provides chuckles from me

Posted By David : May 5, 2013 8:18 pm

How about Edmund O’Brien’s offer to Robert Ryan to ” . . . come along if you want. It ain’t like the old days, but it’ll do”, in the final moments of The Wild Bunch?

Posted By David : May 5, 2013 8:18 pm

How about Edmund O’Brien’s offer to Robert Ryan to ” . . . come along if you want. It ain’t like the old days, but it’ll do”, in the final moments of The Wild Bunch?

Posted By Muriel : May 5, 2013 9:26 pm

idlemendacity is correct about Gail Patrick in “My Man Godfrey”. That character pulled herself together and showed she had common sense. The Carol Lombard character was just as ditzy in the end as she was in the beginning. She was a very annoying person the whole time, no matter how kind her intentions.

Posted By Muriel : May 5, 2013 9:26 pm

idlemendacity is correct about Gail Patrick in “My Man Godfrey”. That character pulled herself together and showed she had common sense. The Carol Lombard character was just as ditzy in the end as she was in the beginning. She was a very annoying person the whole time, no matter how kind her intentions.

Posted By Muriel Schwenck : May 5, 2013 9:28 pm

JACK CARSON – Sometimes he was a nice guy, more often he was the lovable weasel. But he can put his shoes under my bed any day.

Posted By Muriel Schwenck : May 5, 2013 9:28 pm

JACK CARSON – Sometimes he was a nice guy, more often he was the lovable weasel. But he can put his shoes under my bed any day.

Posted By Doug : May 6, 2013 1:47 am

This may be a cheat, but Fred and Ginger supported Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond Flying Down To Rio”.
I recently watched Abbott and Costello in “One Night In The Tropics” but that would be cheating also as they didn’t really help the leads as much as they helped themselves.

Posted By Doug : May 6, 2013 1:47 am

This may be a cheat, but Fred and Ginger supported Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond Flying Down To Rio”.
I recently watched Abbott and Costello in “One Night In The Tropics” but that would be cheating also as they didn’t really help the leads as much as they helped themselves.

Posted By Richard Brandt : May 6, 2013 3:22 am

Speaking of Jack Carson, he and Jane Wyman are the movies’ best married couple ever in “Princess O’Rourke”…while the antics of stars Bob Cummings and Olivia de Havilland may have dated badly, their relationship still holds up.

Posted By Richard Brandt : May 6, 2013 3:22 am

Speaking of Jack Carson, he and Jane Wyman are the movies’ best married couple ever in “Princess O’Rourke”…while the antics of stars Bob Cummings and Olivia de Havilland may have dated badly, their relationship still holds up.

Posted By Jamie N : May 6, 2013 4:44 am

Mr. Potter as a warped, frustrated old man in It’s a Wonderful Life is someone we love to hate and helps us to see George Bailey’s good moral character more clearly. However, I absolutely do not want that kind of “support” in my everyday life!

Posted By Jamie N : May 6, 2013 4:44 am

Mr. Potter as a warped, frustrated old man in It’s a Wonderful Life is someone we love to hate and helps us to see George Bailey’s good moral character more clearly. However, I absolutely do not want that kind of “support” in my everyday life!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : May 6, 2013 3:12 pm

Looking back on the great additions in the comments, I realize I probably should have just written “Thelma Ritter in anything” but Pickup on South Street and Rear Window came to mind first.

Another one comes not from the movies but tv. Anyone here a fan of As Time Goes By? One of my favorite shows from the BBC. Anyway, Alistair Deacon is a supporting character I would definitely love to have as a friend in real life. He’s a millionaire who always pays for everything (and I mean everything – having trouble with your mortgage? He’ll buy the house and give it to you)!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : May 6, 2013 3:12 pm

Looking back on the great additions in the comments, I realize I probably should have just written “Thelma Ritter in anything” but Pickup on South Street and Rear Window came to mind first.

Another one comes not from the movies but tv. Anyone here a fan of As Time Goes By? One of my favorite shows from the BBC. Anyway, Alistair Deacon is a supporting character I would definitely love to have as a friend in real life. He’s a millionaire who always pays for everything (and I mean everything – having trouble with your mortgage? He’ll buy the house and give it to you)!

Posted By jennifromrollamo : May 6, 2013 11:36 pm

So glad that you included Claude Rains, he was the first name I thought of when reading the first couple of paragraphs in your post. I would add an oldie but a goodie, Edna May Oliver. I would want her in my corner any day of the week! She especially saved Freddie Bartholomew’s David Copperfield from his icky stepfather Murdstone, played by Basil Rathbone. Then she plays Miss Pross in A Tale of Two Cities, where I believe she beats up Madame Defarge, who wants the Darnay family to be killed. She also plays Norma Shearer’s nurse in Romeo and Juliette. She comes shining through as Aunt March to Kate Hepburn’s Jo in Little Women. Her tart tongue gets Mr. Darcy the girl in Pride and Prejudice, starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Yep, Edna May, despite her quick retorts and raised eyebrows, she would be a loyal friend, through thick and thin.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : May 6, 2013 11:36 pm

So glad that you included Claude Rains, he was the first name I thought of when reading the first couple of paragraphs in your post. I would add an oldie but a goodie, Edna May Oliver. I would want her in my corner any day of the week! She especially saved Freddie Bartholomew’s David Copperfield from his icky stepfather Murdstone, played by Basil Rathbone. Then she plays Miss Pross in A Tale of Two Cities, where I believe she beats up Madame Defarge, who wants the Darnay family to be killed. She also plays Norma Shearer’s nurse in Romeo and Juliette. She comes shining through as Aunt March to Kate Hepburn’s Jo in Little Women. Her tart tongue gets Mr. Darcy the girl in Pride and Prejudice, starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Yep, Edna May, despite her quick retorts and raised eyebrows, she would be a loyal friend, through thick and thin.

Posted By Doug : May 7, 2013 11:38 am

jenni’s mention of Edna Mae Oliver reminded me of Jessie Ralph, who played in a few of the Myrna Loy/William Powell films, notably “Double Wedding” and “Evelyn Prentice”.
Jessie Ralph was born in the middle of the Civil War, and we get to enjoy her acting thanks to the movies.

Posted By Doug : May 7, 2013 11:38 am

jenni’s mention of Edna Mae Oliver reminded me of Jessie Ralph, who played in a few of the Myrna Loy/William Powell films, notably “Double Wedding” and “Evelyn Prentice”.
Jessie Ralph was born in the middle of the Civil War, and we get to enjoy her acting thanks to the movies.

Posted By Jane H : May 7, 2013 10:09 pm

Alan Young as Filby in “The Time Machine” is my idea of a true pal (or Pal pal). Filby is so fixed in my brain as the epitome of faithful friendship that merely hearing the music behind the credits can get me teary-eyed. (Oh, and I own the soundtrack.)

Posted By Jane H : May 7, 2013 10:09 pm

Alan Young as Filby in “The Time Machine” is my idea of a true pal (or Pal pal). Filby is so fixed in my brain as the epitome of faithful friendship that merely hearing the music behind the credits can get me teary-eyed. (Oh, and I own the soundtrack.)

Posted By The Mutt : May 8, 2013 7:24 am

Jack Warden’s character in The Verdict. Paul Newman would have been lost without him.

Posted By The Mutt : May 8, 2013 7:24 am

Jack Warden’s character in The Verdict. Paul Newman would have been lost without him.

Posted By robbushblog : May 9, 2013 12:38 pm

Since the character crossed over into the realm of film in two mid to late 50′s offerings, Jay Silverheels as Tonto is the loyal friend that everyone should be able to claim. He’ll save your life and risk his own for you, anytime.

Also, when you need a good friend to have your back, why not call up Don Cheadle as Mouse from Devil in a Blue Dress?

Posted By robbushblog : May 9, 2013 12:38 pm

Since the character crossed over into the realm of film in two mid to late 50′s offerings, Jay Silverheels as Tonto is the loyal friend that everyone should be able to claim. He’ll save your life and risk his own for you, anytime.

Also, when you need a good friend to have your back, why not call up Don Cheadle as Mouse from Devil in a Blue Dress?

Posted By robbushblog : May 9, 2013 12:39 pm

This post just reminds me of how lacking my own best friendships might be. :(

Posted By robbushblog : May 9, 2013 12:39 pm

This post just reminds me of how lacking my own best friendships might be. :(

Posted By Benzadmiral : June 4, 2013 3:12 pm

Though they were originally TV characters, there were 8 “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movies; so I nominate David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin as partner to Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo. In one episode, Solo is suspected of being a double agent. It’s all up to Illya; if he believes that the double agent could still be Solo, he’s to call the conference of U.N.C.L.E. bigwigs off. And he says, “Don’t be ridiculous,” and strides *without hesitation* to the comm panel to give the go-ahead. Wow!

Posted By Benzadmiral : June 4, 2013 3:12 pm

Though they were originally TV characters, there were 8 “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movies; so I nominate David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin as partner to Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo. In one episode, Solo is suspected of being a double agent. It’s all up to Illya; if he believes that the double agent could still be Solo, he’s to call the conference of U.N.C.L.E. bigwigs off. And he says, “Don’t be ridiculous,” and strides *without hesitation* to the comm panel to give the go-ahead. Wow!

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