There are endless cliches out there about the importance of a first impression, but whatever truth they may hold in our everyday lives they go double for film. When there’s only a couple of hours to tell a story and capture its players, an audience’s first chance to meet a character is an asset no filmmaker worth their salt is going to waste. So with that in mind, CHUD is going to take a look through the many decades of cinema to extract the most special of those moments when you are first introduced to a character, be they small moments that speak volumes, or large moments that simply can’t be ignored.
Inevitably it will be the major characters and leads that are granted the grandest of entrances, but don’t be surprised to see a few supporting players and minor individuals get their due, when the impact of their appearance lingers longer than their screentime. Also know that these moments may be chosen for any number of reasons, and the list could never be exhaustive. But here you’ll find moments that make a big splash, say a lot with a little, or we think are just particularly cool.
We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to hear from you about each and every entry. Don’t spend the effort guessing future choices or declaring what must be included– just enjoy the ride!
The Film… L.A. Confidential (1997)
Director… Curtis Hanson
Entering From Stage Left … Russell Crowe as Officer Wendell “Bud” White
What Makes It Special … The script, the setting, and the actor.
I write about L.A. Confidential a lot. I can’t help it. I just love this film so damn much that whenever it can be a candidate for anything, I nominate it and write about it. I can pick any scene to sum up why I love this film, but today’s honor goes to the introduction of Bud White.
First, we get the slow pan out on Crowe’s meaty, manly visage which was still a new sight to most Americans in 1997. There’s no sound, until we hear the faint din of screams, shouts, and furniture crashing. The camera quickly flicks to his point of view, where a humble bungalow is the setting for a brutal domestic dispute.
And then we’re back to Bud. He watches. He scowls. He waits.
His partner is sitting in the backseat, and takes a swig from a bottle. “You’re like Santa Claus with that list, Bud. Except everyone on it’s been naughty.”
“Guy’s been out of Q two weeks,” White says.
“Leave it for later. We gotta pick up the rest of the booze and get it to the station.”
Bud sets his jaw, reaches for the radio, and calls dispatch. And you know it’s about to get real when he closes with “We won’t be here, but tell them they’ll see him.” And then he’s out of the car, straightening his tie. Without hesitating, he walks up to the house, and yanks down their Christmas decorations. No polite knock-knock-it’s-the-LAPD for Officer White. And he waits, hands in pockets, rocking on his heels, for that primitive, violent speciman to roll out of the house and ask who the hell he is.
White even has a clever answer for that. “Ghost of Christmas Past.” And an invitation. “Why don’t you dance with a man for a change?”
As with most blown-up, beating buffoons, the wife-beater doesn’t stand a chance when he goes up against Bud. Bud takes him down with a few punches, a knee, and a good slam against a metal railing (oh, what a satisfying claaannng!) just to sweeten it. He handcuffs him to the porch.
“You’ll be out in a year and a half. I’ll get cozy with your parole officer. You touch her again, I’ll have you violated on a kiddie-raper beef. ” He grabs the Neanderthal. “You know what they do with kiddie rapers in Quentin.”
And then he kindly sees to the lady, giving her some money, and making sure he has someplace to go. “Go clean yourself up,” he says, and wishes her a merry Christmas.
Why It Resonates … It may not be as famous or iconic as others on this list, but it’s brilliant. A great entrance can often sum up everything about a character in a single moment, and that’s the case with Bud White. We know he’s a good cop, who isn’t going to look the other way just because booze and merriment call. We know he cares strongly about abusive men because he’s been checking up on this guy, keeping him on the radar, determined to put him behind bars until the numbskull learns his lesson. We know his partner (and with him, the entire LAPD) doesn’t think much of his ideals. And finally, we know he’s damn good with his fists, but that he’s not just a dumb thug. He sizes the situation up. “Say, these Christmas lights are hanging kinda low…”
As the film unspools on, all of these facets become fleshed out. We learn precisely why Bud feels so strongly about abused women. Whenever he has the merest inkling that a woman is in danger (as he will when he meets “Veronica Lake” and her bruised friend), he’s on it. Bud is a true knight, sworn to protect and defend the helpless and weak. His badge and gun are his sword and shield. He believes this deep down.
And yet, he doesn’t. Because in short order, we discover no one in the LAPD really think much of him. His fellow officers think he’s simple and violent, nothing but a dirty, mindless thug. Bud thinks of himself this way, too. For one shining moment, he lets himself believe he’ll be a detective, before meekly agreeing to carry out Captain Dudley Smith’s beatdown work, shrinking down behind that barrel chest.
The snappy script (and it’s equally cracking source material), the solid direction, all this help sell this character in a flash. But it also comes right down to Russell Crowe. This is why the guy was the second coming in the late 1990s.
Other Grand Entrances … Oh, so many! Bud White isn’t the only one illustrated with a quick and pretty flourish.
First, you get nerdy Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), who is outlined as an arrogant, brilliant, Dudley Do-Right who can’t resist telling anyone (especially the press) what a fantastic cop he is.
You have the intoxicating and mysterious introduction of Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), wearing what has to be one of the most beautiful costumes of late 20th century film. I don’t know if she really looks much like Veronica Lake, but I’ll be damned if you don’t feel Cupid’s arrow going through your chest just as cleanly as it goes through Bud’s.
Sgt. Jack Vincennes gets not one, but two great entrances — first dancing with a pretty lady, all flash, money, sex, celebrity, and good connections. This isn’t a cop, this is a player, who orchestrates his arrests to get the movie premiere in the background.
Even Los Angeles itself gets a great introduction, as narrated by the grubby tabloid reporter Sid Hudgens, who is the real face of the city. He knows everything about everyone, and can make and break the rich and famous with a single word…on the QT, and always hush hush…
What else can you expect in a movie set during Hollywood’s golden age but striking, memorable, and beautiful entrances? This isn’t a cop movie in Detroit. This is Los Angeles! None of them are going to slink into frame in an ordinary or ugly way. You have to remember each one, size them up, and note them later, because not a single player is unimportant in this little murder piece.