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Movie Psychopaths We Have Loved


TomJH
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And, let's face it, we do love them, too. Not necessarily their characters, of course (fascinating as they may be, at times) but for the great, at times, full blooded, opportunities they have provided for the actors playing them.

 

While the movies did show a few loony turn characterizations before the 1940s, it seems to me that it was during that decade that Hollywood really started to seriously explore the labyrinth of the mind in its portrayals some of its bad boys with mental health issues.

 

Here's just the tip of the (very dark) iceberg when it comes to pick a few of my favourites performances by actors playing psychopaths on screen:

 

James Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949).

 

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Cagney's '30s gangsters, especially at the end of the decade, had been of the society-drove-me-to-it variety. Such was not the case in the post war WHITE HEAT. Jarrett was a mother obsessed psychopath who thought nothing of shooting a helpless victim trapped in a car trunk. Society has nothing to do with this Cagney character turning bad. He gives a frightening performance that remains a very huge part of the actor's acting legacy today.

 

The photo above, of course, is of the jolting moment when Jarrett completely loses it in a prison cafeteria after hearing that his mother is dead. The scene remains unsettling today even if you know it's coming, the final sounds heard as Cagney is carried away by prison guards reflecting the anguished cries heard in a lunatic asylum (Cagney had visited one as a young boy, and never forgot the sounds).

 

A great performance by a great actor.

 

Robert Mitchum as Preacher Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (1955).

 

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With "LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed on the fingers of his hands, Mitchum's "Preacher" Powell travels the southern countryside ready to charm and then murder rich widows. He talks to God as if he is a casual companion, "knowing" that the Lord understands his "mission." We also see him at one point, seemingly in communication with God before, what, receiving His permission to perform another murder? Mitchum always had a hint of the brute about him, even when playing a good guy, but rarely (excluding the later Cape Fear) would he have the magnificent opportunity to portray such a soulless monster-like creation, as he does here. He also shows us the charm that can mask the darkness beneath.

 

The performance of Robert Mitchum's career, in my opinion.

 

Joseph Cotton as Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

 

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And speaking of charm, there's this performance. Joseph Cotton as the Merry Widow Murderer, on the run from the police, who returns to the innocent small town of his sister's family for a visit (actually, a hideout for him, though the family doesn't realize it). Cotton brings charm and grace to the externally affable uncle, while the scenes in which his serial killer character reveals his true feelings about rich widows and the world, in general, are played with an implacable monotone voice and deadpan expression.

 

My favourite Joseph Cotton performance.

 

Any other fans of these performances here (I suspect there will be more than a few). Even more so, are than any other favourite screen psychopaths that you would like to mention now. (Even if their characters do seem like something that crawled out from underneath a rock or big city sewer grating).

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I know this movie is more recent, but I would really like to give a mention to Kathy Bates' outstanding performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery.  Her obsession with Paul Sheldon and her twisted thought processes is chilling.  I've seen this movie a number of times and would see it again.

 

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While Mantee is a cold blooded killer he didn't derive any sadistic pleasure out of it. He feels a certain kinship for Leslie Howard in Petrified Forest and is even a bit reluctant to knock him off, as was their original deal.

 

He was a tired gangster on the run, forced to kiill, if necessary, and fatalistic about his future, in the same sense as some aging western badmen, but I never thought of him a being psychopathic, Fred. At least the way Bogart played him.

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Tom, when  I first saw the title of this thread I assumed there  would be mention of  Robert Walker and his most memorable role of "Bruno" in the Hitchcock classic STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (airing tonight no less). I rate "Bruno" right at the top of a "psychopath" list, along with some others already mentioned here.  Read the little bio of Walker's all too brief life and career on the TCM home page, it is very, very sad. That guy had a lot of potential to build a great career as an actor, playing various character types. SOAT is one of Hitchcock's very best films and Walker and Farley Granger both shine here.

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Tom, when  I first saw the title of this thread I assumed there  would be mention of  Robert Walker and his most memorable role of "Bruno" in the Hitchcock classic STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (airing tonight no less). I rate "Bruno" right at the top of a "psychopath" list, along with some others already mentioned here.  Read the little bio of Walker's all too brief life and career on the TCM home page, it is very, very sad. That guy had a lot of potential to build a great career as an actor, playing various character types. SOAT is one of Hitchcock's very best films and Walker and Farley Granger both shine here.

Walker's a classic pick, mrroberts.

 

I don't know much about his personal life, except that he suffered from the loss of Jennifer Jones. I'll have to read up on him a bit.

 

You're such a Richard Widmark fan. I was expecting you to mention him.

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Perhaps Rod Steiger in No Way to Treat a Lady.

 

What we may need is a working definition of psychopath. Shall we consult a psychologist?

Fair enough.

 

This is from the Urban Dictionary:

 

Psychopath:

 

A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.

 

Psychopaths tend to lack normal human emotions such as guilt. They are also often highly intelligent and skilled at manipulating others.

 

Also, psychopaths seem to appear normal. You would probably never guess there was something wrong with them.

 

Note, not all psychopaths are serial killers.

 

Following up on that last sentence, I assume that all serial killers are psychopaths.

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Good question that's almost impossible to narrow down, but here would be my two nominations, one from the studio era and one from the 21st century.  Order would be determined by a coin flip.

 

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 Robert Ryan as Montgomery in Crossfire

 

 

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, in There Will Be Blood

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Glenn Anders THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

 

To Orson Wells: "I wancha to kill me!"

 

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This is one strange bird, I admit, but he doesn't fall into that Urban Dictionary definition, at least, of any kind of psychopath.

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cannot post photo

 

Patty McCormick in The Bad Seed-  Rhoda, played by Patty McCormick fits Rich's description perfectly

Thanks, lav. We must not forget that psychopaths can exist at any age.

 

I'm sure that others will have some further examples of child psychos in the movies, though I can't come up with any outside of your pick of The Bad Seed.

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This is one strange bird, I admit, but he doesn't fall into that Urban Dictionary definition, at least, of any kind of psychopath.

 

Is this some kind of game, with you as the sole judge, or are we supposed to post our opinions of psychopaths in movies?

 

 


 

Dictionary.com

 

noun
1.
a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.
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Arch Hall, Jr., in The Sadist (1963). An incredibly weird, scary, and convincingly maniacal performance. This film is loosely based on the same Charlie Starkweather story as Badlands (1973), and after some meager research it seems that Archie came much closer to reality in his characterization; in his looks and speech, that is.

 

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Thanks, lav. We must not forget that psychopaths can exist at any age.

 

I'm sure that others will have some further examples of child psychos in the movies, though I can't come up with any outside of your pick of The Bad Seed.

 

Well Cody Jarrett qualifies as it relates to a iconic movie psychopath.    

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Is this some kind of game, with you as the sole judge, or are we supposed to post our opinions of sociopaths in movies?

No, Fred, I'm just offering an opinion. Do you think that Glenn Anders qualifies as such after reading that definition from the Urban Dictionary? 

 

Likewise, Duke Mantee could show some compassion for a potential victim (and even decide to not kill someone) as opposed to Cagney's Cody Jarrett. I don't think that all killers or gangsters qualify as being psychos.

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