Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for February 23rd, 2008

“Best Sidekicks Ever”? Sending Wired back to the silver screening room

Posted by metaphorical on 23 February 2008

No, I don’t exactly know why I still subscribe to Wired, except that it’s only $12, which, per-issue, meets my going price for never saying no to something ($1). And there’s always one article that’s worth breaking into the plastic bag it comes in. Wired is no longer a technology publication, if it ever was, it’s a tech-oriented lifestyle magazine. Not surprising, since it’s published by Conde Nast—GQ and Self, for example, are, lifestyle magazines as well, the one fashion-oriented, the other fitness-related.

So it’s useless to ask, why would Wired run an article, “The 9 Best Sidekicks Ever.” This is just the kind of pop-culture pap that it now excels at. The March issue isn’t online yet, so I can’t point to it. I’ll just name them:

Sam from Lord of the Rings
Mr. Spock
Dana Scully

Some of these are hard to disagree with (Scully, Smithers, Spock); others are bizarre—I thought Michael Knight was the sidekick, for example, and if Willow was Buffy’s sidekick in the first season, she wasn’t one by the last one. And I don’t even know who Beakey is (the picture looks Sesame Street-related).

But, whatever. Rational people can disagree about these things. What I find objectionable is that that none goes back to before 1966 and hardly any are pre-1980. (Admittedly, the Sam and Robin characters predate their televison and film instantiations, but as there are no pure book or comic book entries in the Wired list, I’m supposing that some form of video life is a prerequisite.)

I’ve taken it upon myself, then, to come up with another list—not necessarily the “Best Ever,” just a list of great black-and-white sidekicks that, by being at least as good as Wired’s “best ever,” refute their list.

By the way, even sticking to the modern era, the list is not hard to refute: From TV, its two greatest buddy-roles: Bill Cosby (I’m not even going to mention the character’s name… okay, it turns out to be Alexander Scott) in I, Spy, and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. From film, the two greatest buddies are surely Bob Hope’s sidekick roles to Bing Crosby in the Road movies, and Jerry Lewis to Dean Martin.

And I’ll just mention in passing two other glaring omissions: Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Hobson (John Gielgud) in Arthur. Oh, and let me just put in a good word for Bruno Kirby, an exceptional sidekick to Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally (and again in City Slickers) and to Matthew Broderick in the highly underrated The Freshman.

Without further ado, my black-and-white sidekick list.

Muggsy (William Demarest) in The Lady Eve

A movie so terrific, it has two sidekicks – Gerald (Melville Cooper), is Charles Coburn’s, and the dueling between them makes this the best sidekick movie ever.

Eddie (Walter Brennan), in To Have and Have Not

Was you ever stung by a dead bee?


Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) in The Thin Man

Dick Powell is a bit miscast as Nick, but Myrna Loy will forever be the perfect Nora.

Jeffrey Baird (Edward Everett Horton) in Shall We Dance

Horton was the perfect sidekick in dozens of films; this might be his biggest role, so it’s my choice to represent him.

Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) in Singin’ In The Rain

Over in rec.climbing, someone once said, “Mount Meeker would be a really impressive mountain if God had not decided to place it right next to Long’s Peak.” Donald O’Connor might have been Hollywood’s greatest dancer if Fred Astaire had never lived. He was certainly a better dancer than Gene Kelly, and hiding that fact in Singin’ In The Rain makes him the best dance sidekick ever.

Alma (Thelma Ritter), Doris Day’s inebriated sidekick in Pillow Talk

Ritter’s most memorable role might be The Misfits, where she was Marilyn Monroe’s sidekick, but Pillow Talk was probably the most sidekick-y of her 6 Oscar nominations.

Top Sgt. Quincannon (Victor McLaglen) in Rio Grande and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon

John Wayne always brings out the best in supporting actors, and many of them are sidekicks. The Quincannon role is simply the best of the best, the classic one-dimensional heart-of-gold supporting character who will take a bullet for the star, has a not-very-well-hidden unrequited crush for his wife, and loves their children more than life itself. McLaglen, like Brennan, Demerest, and Horton, did it his entire career.

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