Politics, Technology, and Language

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

“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
Robin
Chewbacca
Dana Scully
Smithers
K.I.T.T.
Willow
Breakey

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?

walter-brennan-right-in-to-have-and-have-not.jpgmyrna-loy-in-the-thin-man.jpg

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.

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

  1. Vicki said

    Jingles (Andy Devine) in “Wild Bill Hickok”, 1951-’58, as Guy Madison’s (Wild Bill’s) sidekick. I remember “Hey, Wild Bill! Wait for me!” while the internets tell me that it’s “Wait for me, Wild Bill!” Either way, best sidekick ever.

    Pancho (Leo Carrillo) in “The Cisco Kid,” 1950-’56, as Duncan Renaldo’s (Cisco’s) sidekick. “Oh, Cisco!” “Oh, Pancho!”

  2. Hey pallie, thanks for rememberin’ our Dino and the jer. Just recently finished watchin’ most of the Dino and the kid flicks…they are like so much fun….Dino and the jer rule as buds….so thanks for rememberin’

  3. Emily said

    On the subject of the value of subscribing to Wired: Back when the old library was closing, weeded our subscription list by more than half, cancelling all the redundant scholarly journals and several of the less-obligatory leisure magazines, including Wired. Of the twenty or so cancelled titles, only Wired continued to send us the magazine for *three more years*, despite our best efforts to make them stop. The best part was when they’d send us the “ACT NOW or your subscription will END!!1!” postcards. So even $1 may be more than you need to spend.

    Are you sure the Sesame-Street-looking sidekick in the article wasn’t Beaker, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s assistant on The Muppet Show?

    Your list is great, and has pretty much covered the classic film era. But I would also add (or at least consider):

    Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey/Celeste Holm) in “The Philadelphia Story”/”High Society”. I include the latter because Celeste Holm made more of her film career out of portraying sidekicks, from “Gentleman’s Agreement” to “All About Eve”, and Liz Imbrie is closest to the sidekick epitome. Also, she’s the one aspect of “High Society” that I think truly rivals the original.

    Helen Broderick, as a footnote to the Edward Everett Horton entry, though she wasn’t in “Shall We Dance”. She’s one of the sterling sidekicks of the 30s, both in and out of the Astaire/Rogers series.

    And finally, what about Dr. Watson? In general or as specifically portrayed by Nigel Bruce.

  4. I am so far from being sure about Beaker that I’m confident you are correct; indeed, if it is possible to confuse the Muppets and Sesame Street, you may be sure I’ve done it. I’m one of three or people in the U.S. who neither grew up nor raised a child with them.

    I guess the Liz Imbrie role is a sidekick; it’s such a complicated set of friendships and romances one gets a little lost in it. And that calls to mind… is Della Street a sidekick role? Sure it is.

    And great catch on Nigel Bruce, the definitive Watson.

    Oh, and since posting, I remembered Rhoda, a sidekick role so good it got its own show.

  5. ClaireDePlume said

    Rhoda was a great sidekick and then there is also Lucy & Ethel; Lucy’s antics could never have worked at the chocolate factory without Ethel’s slow & steady hand.

    It’s a bit bit of a stretch but I’ve been wondering whether Clarence could be considered George Bailey’s sidekick? :) I’d like to think so.

  6. julie said

    Little John – Robin Hood. I can’t believe people forgot that one.

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