Friday, 21 February 2014

2013 in Review: Forgotten Characters (Bumbling Sidekicks)


…preparing for my Year-End laurels by examining 2013 characters who made an impression despite roles which gave them little to do, or used them sparsely…

Performances tend to fall under the moniker of “Forgotten Characters” for a number of reasons, but the easiest way is playing someone who is specifically designed as only an incidental background player without any promise of any indication of a character arc. It’s the classic example of a forgotten character, consistently lost in the shuffle. And when the film is a would-be epic it’s even more likely that those sideline players get forgotten. The following entry is a prime example.

Matt O’Leary in The Lone Ranger
as Skinny (Frank)

O’Leary appears as one of Butch Cavendish’s henchmen, a role that immediately suggests constant presence but lack of any real importance. But it’s an interesting performance to watch just for how O’Leary manages to make his specific, eccentric bandit interesting. And even though he's a traditional flat character, even the narrative seems occasionally intrigued by him. His character is referred to once by name as “Frank”, although he’s credited as Skinny everywhere. The first significant shot of him occurs about a fifth-way into The Lone Ranger. Cavendish cuts out, and eats, Dan Reid’s heart as his crew look on in various stages of disgust but for Skinny who has an odd look of exultation on his face. He’s not the most essential member of the gang, but even the way he’s shot – at the fore-front of the lot in that brief scene – seems to indicate his, relative, significance.

It’s later in the film when Cavendish’s men, disguised as Comanches, raid the settlements that we meet Skinny again. The crew have just abducted Dan Reid’s widow and son and he’s tormenting an Indian woman where we find him in the oddest positions. The woman sits before him with a slew of dresses before her. He picks one up.

“This one’s nice, ain’t it? I love me some aquamarine.”

The jury’s out on just what this means about Skinny or more specifically, the film’s sexuality politics. It’s probably not overreaching to say he has a predilection for cross-dressing, perhaps even a homosexual as when Tonto and John Reid make their way in he stutters. “This ain’t what it looks like, I just like them pretty things.” The moment moves between cringe-worthy and truly humorous when John threatens to let the Tonto do what he likes with Skinny when Skinny’s reply is said with equal trepidation and intrigue, “What does he want to do to me?” It’s less a question of how political correct Skinny is than an indication of just how on-point Skinny is with his line-readings. Although he's just as good with the facial expressions watching Tonto and John outwit his two allies.

Lucky for him, he escapes Tonto and John to return to his crew becoming a plot-point as the knowledge of this Lone Ranger's presence is spread.  “You shouldn't have done what you did,” he tells Cavendish plaintively, clearly spooked by his time with the masked bandit. His fear could be a legitimate manifestation of the moment, but I'm more willing to attribute to his obvious youth among these more hardened men. I find myself wondering, how did he even get mixed up in all this to begin with? Not questions essential to the enjoyment of The Lone Ranger (which I did enjoy) but when he tries, foolishly, to convince Cavendish to take what little jewels they can carry and get out of the desert, his youthful folly is so discernible. Naturally, in keeping with that folly things don't end well for him.
Poor Skinny, as the youngest member of Cavendish’s crew he’s the easy one for Cavendish to place is misdirected anger on, so when the workers on the cave refuse to go in for fear of the “Indian ghost” he gets forced in with his lamp – fearful of what he might find in there. Sure, it’s only Tonto – which is not as fearsome as the supernatural – but when his lamp goes out and the screen turns to black I do feel a bit badly for the fool. I wonder what became of him...

Previously: Portia Doubleday in Her

1 comment:

William Kragline said...

While I 100% agree with what you are saying, I just wanted to point out that:

1) This man is Harry Treadaway.
2) Treadaway's character was called Frank.
3) Skinny, or to give the full name, 'Skinny Kyle', was a different character entirely, played by Matt O'Leary.

Soz.