Movie’s Mightiest Worriers

Hello to you, geeky chums! Join us in welcoming a new member to the WGN family Marc Paterson. Naturally, he was anxious about making his debut, so what better way to relieve that nervous tension than to look at some of cinema’s greatest worriers.

Over to you Marc…

Bonnie Tyler sang, ‘I need a hero,’ and often is the time when all of us need exactly that – especially in these trying times – but sometimes heroes can be a bit too gung ho. Look at what Bruce Willis did to that building in Los Angeles, or what the Avengers did to pretty much everyone (before they literally had to go back in time and fix everything). Sometimes we need someone to worry on our behalf, to persistently point out the worst-case scenario. Here’s my top ten of the movie’s ultimate worriers.

Marty Gilbert – Independence Day (1996)

I know, pretty much everyone is panicking to some extent in this movie – the world is being destroyed by a hostile alien force after all – but this guy looks like he’d be just as panicked if he’d arrived at work and realised he’d forgotten his lunch.

Marty Gilbert, hiding under a desk, on the phone to his mother, saying, ‘just try to stay calm,’ is one of the funniest moments in the film. Played by award-winning playwright and actor, Harvey Fierstein (recently known for creating the musical Kinky Boots, based on the 2005 film by Julian Jarrold), Marty is a worrier who cares. He worries for everyone who he loves and wants only for them to be safe.

Chunk – The Goonies (1985)

Everybody’s favourite Goonie surely, Chunk is the loveable, if irritating, worrier of the group. Of course, he has good reason to after being captured by the Fratelli gang, where he proceeds to confess to every misdemeanour he’s committed since kindergarten. His biggest worry of course is getting stuck underground and missing a meal.

He’s played by former actor, turned entertainment lawyer, Jeff Cohen, who couldn’t be more different. Cohen used his association with director Richard Donner to get more involved on the business side of the movies, starting with summer jobs at the studios, and moving on to a law degree from UCLA.

Phillip – Rope (1948)

Philip has a very good reason to be on this list. It’s no spoiler to reveal that he is an accessory to murder. Both he and Brandon share a New York apartment and, just for shits and giggles, decide their old classmate is the perfect candidate for the perfect murder. Perfect, of course, except for Phillip’s exponentially rising guilt.

He becomes Brandon’s burden to bear as he has to nanny him through the ever more tense dinner party they’ve thrown for their former mentor, Rupert (played by the inimitable James Stewart).

Farley Granger – who also played Guy Haines, the tennis player in Strangers on a Train – was asked to change his name by executives, early in his career. He wasn’t keen and offered to be called Kent Clarke, which didn’t go down well. As much as the character of Phillip was a worrier, Granger was far from it, proudly being an openly bisexual man.

Dr Melissa Reeves – Twister (1996)

Twister is one of my guilty pleasures so it’s with great joy that I write about Jami Gertz’s wonderful comic role. As a reproductive therapist, Melissa’s usually the soothing voice on the end of the phone for wannabe and soon-to-be parents, but when the wind changes (both literally and with her relationship) she goes into full panic station mode.

Her worries are twofold: being killed by flying debris, like cars and cows, and losing her fiancé to his ex-wife. Neither of these things are helpful when she’s trying to soothe clients over the phone whilst driving into the damage path of a tornado. Best line: “You know when you used to tell me you chased tornadoes? Deep down, I always thought it was a metaphor!”

Jami Gertz was also in one of my all-time favourite films, and probably yours too, The Lost Boys, where she played the half-vampire love interest, Star. She was also nominated for an Emmy for her performance in Ally McBeal as Kimmy Bishop.

Rex – Toy Story (1995)

He’s the fearsome dinosaur, terrorising the toy room with his bone-chilling roar… in his dreams. Rex suffers from anxieties based on deep-seated feelings of inferiority. He longs to be a terrifying beast but his nerves always get the better of him.

His fear of being superseded by a stronger, uglier, scarier monster sends him into a total panic. Always looking on the bleak side of life, Rex is the worrier whose panic-stricken outbursts often lead to problems for his friends.

Rex is played by Wallace Shawn, who said that director, John Lassiter, may have seen his roles in My Dinner With Andre, and The Princess Bride, and saw him as ‘excitable’, which captures Rex’s neurosis perfectly.

Leo Bloom – The Producers (1967)

Wow. Where do I start? Gene Wilder’s nervous wreck of an accountant goes from zero to ‘AARRGGH!!’ in less time than it takes to realise that an upbeat musical about Hitler is a bad idea. And whatever you do, don’t touch his little blue blanket. Best line: ‘I’m wet! I’m wet and I’m hysterical!’

Leo Bloom is the hair-triggered, hand wringing, foetally positioned bag of nerves that finds himself up to his necktie in trouble when the unscrupulous producer he’s doing accounts for, Max Bialystock (played by the fabulous Zero Mostel), seizes upon the idea to get rich by producing a terrible flop for the theatre.

Gene Wilder’s performance in this is perfection. That ability to skip from mild-mannered to total frenzy is unique to Wilder and it certainly gets exploited to full effect in his other stand out role as the unpredictable Willy Wonker.

Lambert – Alien (1979)

Okay, you’re on a ship in deep space with no possibility of rescue and there’s a killer alien stalking you. Nobody’s feeling particularly chipper aboard the Nostromo but Lambert – first name Joan, middle name, We’reallgonnadie! (played excellently by Veronica Cartwright) – is the worrier supreme in this sci-fi slasher.

With all her worrying and tear-flecked wails and woes you’d think she was an albatross around Ripley’s neck but her hastily thrown together plan was exactly what was needed in the end. Sometimes you need a worrier to survive.

Cartwright, speaking at the Texas Fright Fest in 2013, said of Bolaji Badejo – the man inside the Xenomorph – ‘they sent him to tai chi classes so that he could move slowly. When he (came) after me in that scene I didn’t have to do anything! People ask me, “how did you make yourself scared?” I just had to look at him.’

The Cowardly Lion – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Much like Rex, the Cowardly Lion puts on a front to hide his insecurities. He’s scared of pretty much everything. When he sings the song, ‘if only had the nerve,’ he refers to himself as an ‘awful dandy lion’, and bless him it’s a fate he doesn’t deserve.

All he wants is to be brave and feared and ferocious. What he doesn’t realise is that he’s all of those things. The Cowardly Lion has been played on screen by Fred Woodward and Spencer Bell but most famously by Ber Lahr, who defined the role for generations.

Cameron Frye – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

If you believe in reincarnation then you’ll have no trouble being convinced that Cameron is Eeyore in human form. He worries about skipping school, he worries about feeling guilty about not skipping school, he worries about his dad’s car getting so much as bird poop on its pristine finish… until he doesn’t.

Cameron’s life is completely dominated by a fear of his father, but one day’s truancy is enough to change his life forever. Cameron’s taking a stand. And when he takes that stand, a very expensive sports car goes for a short flight into the woods.

By the way, if you want to score extra geek points with your friends, actor Tim Ruck shared a little insight into Cameron’s iconic Rochester Red Wings baseball jersey.

Speaking to Rich Eisen in 2018, he revealed that, ‘that was some backstory [which director, John Hughes made up]. [Cameron’s] relationship was so bad with his father [but] he had a really great relationship with his grandfather… who lived in Detroit. [Cameron] went to games with his grandfather.’

C-3P0 – Star Wars (1977)

This golden droid from a galaxy far, far away is the ultimate worrier. The first words out of his mouth (chronologically speaking) are, ‘Did you hear that? They shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!’ and it just gets worse for him from that point on.

Across nine movies (and a cartoon show), Threepio has whimpered and complained and yelped and even prayed to the Maker – although this was during one notably pleasurable moment in an oil bath when he wasn’t being chased or shot at.

He’s been left in bits, both emotionally and literally, more than once.

His favourite thing to point out is the lamentable statistics of himself and his fellow heroes’ chances of survival.

‘Artoo says the chances of survival are 725… to one’

‘Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.’

‘The odds of successfully surviving an attack on an Imperial Star Destroyer are approximately…’

Shut up!

Anthony Daniels has said in an interview that his favourite line from the whole franchise is one that sums up Threepio’s personality and his entire outlook on life:

‘We’re doomed!’

  1. Very 2020.

Thanks Marc!

You can read more of Marc’s work over at his Medium page, and he can also be found on Twitter.

If there is anything you are feeling worried or anxious about then please talk to someone about your concerns. If you don’t feel like you can do that with someone in person you may want to consider a phone call with the good folk at organisations like CALM, Anxiety UK, Mind or Samaritans for example. Don’t suffer in silence – they are there to help.

Marc Paterson

Freelance writer living in Norfolk. Film nut.

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