How Screenwriters Described Iconic Female Characters

Posted on April 10, 2018 at 3:22 pm

We’ve seen so many awful stories about the way that female characters are described in movie scripts that it was a real relief and pleasure to read Vulture’s list of the way that fifty great characters were first imagined and described by their screenwriters.  There’s a whole extra level of delight in getting to see writing by some of the best writers in Hollywood that we would normally not get to see.  We think of them as only being responsible for the witty dialogue, but they are also every bit as good at defining a character in a few short sentences of description as they are with what we will actually hear her say on screen.  (Note: The odd capitalization of character names and other words is standard for movie scripts.)

Kyle Buchanan and Jordan Crucchiola lead off with one of the most vivid characters in the history of movies, aging theatrical star Margo Channing, as played by Bette Davis in “All About Eve :”

How do you create a memorable female character? It helps if you get it right from the very beginning, as Joseph L. Mankiewicz did in his screenplay for All About Eve when he introduced the woman who would be played by Bette Davis. “The CAMERA follows the bottle to MARGO CHANNING,” wrote Mankiewicz in his stage directions. “An attractive, strong face. She is childish, adult, reasonable, unreasonable — usually one when she should be the other, but always positive.”  

via GIPHY

One of the best ones is this wonderfully evocative introduction of the faded movie star played by Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard:”

via GIPHY

Norma Desmond stands down the corridor next to a doorway from which emerges a flickering light. She is a little woman. There is a curious style, a great sense of high voltage about her. She is dressed in black house pajamas and black high-heeled pumps. Around her throat there is a leopard-patterned scarf, and wound around her head a turban of the same material. Her skin is very pale, and she is wearing dark glasses.

Few women but Audrey Hepburn could truly live up to this description in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s:”

The girl walks briskly up the block in her low cut evening dress. We get a look at her now for the first time. For all her chic thinness she has an almost breakfast-cereal air of health. Her mouth is large, her nose upturned. Her sunglasses blot out her eyes. She could be anywhere from sixteen to thirty. As it happens she is two months short of nineteen. Her name (as we will soon discover) is HOLLY GOLIGHTLY.

via GIPHY

One of the best screen couples has got to be Nick and Nora Charles from “The Thin Man.” If you haven’t had the pleasure of falling in love with them onscreen, rest assured that this description of Nora will do it for you:

NORA CHARLES, Nick’s wife, is coming through. She is a woman of about twenty-six… a tremendously vital person, interested in everybody and everything, in contrast to Nick’s apparent indifference to anything except when he is going to get his next drink. There is a warm understanding relationship between them. They are really crazy about each other, but undemonstrative and humorous in their companionship. They are tolerant, easy-going, taking drink for drink, and battling their way together with a dry humor.

via GIPHY

I especially enjoyed the contrast between the descriptions of Sarah Connor in the first and second “Terminator” movies. And the quiz to try to guess the character from the description.

Related Tags:

 

Film History For Your Netflix Queue Gender and Diversity Great Characters Movie History Understanding Media and Pop Culture

AWFJ: Best Female Characters of 2017

Posted on December 27, 2017 at 10:16 pm

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has a list of the most significant female characters we saw at the movies this year.  I got to write about Meryl Streep’s performance as Katherine Graham again!  Other characters selected by the group included Agnes Varda (as herself) in “Faces Places,” Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Frances McDormand’s Mildred in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,” writer/director/star Zoe Lister-Jones in “Band Aid,” and Gal Gadot’s Diana in “Wonder Woman.”

Related Tags:

 

Actors Critics Great Characters

For the What a Character! Blogathon: Thelma Ritter

Posted on December 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

I am honored to participate in this year’s “What a Character!” blogathon, featuring essays about great character actors by movie bloggers across the internet. And I am thrilled to have an opportunity to write about one of my very favorite character actors, the magnificent Thelma Ritter. Whether in comedy or drama, her honest earthiness gave her characters a blunt authenticity that was enormously appealing.

She was nominated six times for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, still a record, three Golden Globes and an Emmy. And she won a Tony for “New Girl in Town.”

She was born in Brooklyn on Valentine’s Day in 1902, and never tried to lose her New York accent, which gave a lot of flavor to the characters she played. She did some acting and was an agent while her children were growing up, but did not get her first movie role until 1945’s “Miracle on 34th Street,” where she had a brief, unbilled scene as a tired mother who could not find a special toy for her son.

Her characters were usually blunt and smarter than the more educated and upper class characters around her. She brought warmth, humanity, street smarts, and crackerjack timing to all of her roles, opposite the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Ritter nursed James Stewart in “Rear Window.”

She was a tipsy maid in “Pillow Talk,” starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.  And she was Bette Davis’ assistant in “All About Eve,” memorably responding to Eve’s sad story with, “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.”

One of the most complex characters she played was a sometime police informant with her own code of honor in “Pickup on South Street.”

She also appeared in the very silly romantic comedy “A New Kind of Love,” with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and in “The Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe.

One of my favorite Ritter performances is in “The Mating Season,” where she a hamburger joint owner whose new daughter-in-law mistakes her for a maid.

And another is opposite Kirk Douglas and Mitzi Gaynor in “For Love of Money.”  It’s a rare role for her because she plays a woman who is wealthy and powerful.  Douglas plays a lawyer she hires to get her estranged daughters to marry the men she has picked for them.

Ritter is the very essence of the character actor, creating vitally real, relatable characters who made the world around the stars real and illuminating the story’s themes.

Announcement: Sixth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

Related Tags:

 

Actors Great Characters

Lisbeth Salander is Coming Back to the Screen

Posted on March 19, 2017 at 8:00 am

All three of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” films were made in Sweden with Noomi Rapace, but only the first was filmed in English, with Rooney Mara. Now, for the first time, the fourth book in the series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, written by David Lagercrantz after the death of Stieg Larsson, is going to be filmed, with a new English-speaking cast.

IndieWire has some intriguing suggestions for the part of Salander. All are such good choices I hope it inspires casting directors to consider them for a bunch of new women-led action films.

Related Tags:

 

Actors Great Characters
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2018, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik