My Top Ten Bit Parts in Films

March 15, 2020
The saying goes, there are no small parts only small actors, and when you consider Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for Network on the basis of one scene, there might be something to it. In honour of this, I have collected a list of my top ten favourite bit parts in movies.

1) Danielle Duclois who plays Denise, the daughter of Robert de Niro in Midnight Run (1988)

Possibly my favourite sequence/scene in a great film. Wendy Phillips is outstanding as the wife too. I love how director Martin Brest gives the end of the scene to Duclois, and the storyline with Jack and his family isn’t resolved patly, and the scene pushes the story forward.

2)  Michelle Joyner in Cliffhanger (1993)

Superb sequence and she’s amazing… (I actually can’t remember anything else in the film)… and I can’t recall her in any other movie… but what a moment…

3) Joy Page in Casablanca (1943)

You probably don’t remember the name – I had to google it – but if you’ve seen the film you’ll remember the scene. She’s the Bulgarian refugee who asks Rick if she should sleep with Major Strasser to get a visa. The scene is a marvel of screenwriting to get around the censor. Maybe she’s not the world’s best actor but she was effective. She got the gig because she was Jack Warner’s step daughter and didn’t do much acting after that but for these moments she’s absolute magic.

4) Linda Rae Jurgens who plays Mrs. Metcalf in Top Gun (1986)

Tom Skeritt’s wife – she’s in the scene where Maverick, having his end of act 2 crisis of confidence, comes to see Viper for a pep talk after Goose has (spoilers, but seriously, who ever is reading this wouldn’t know that?) died – he knocks on the door and Mrs. Metcalf answers it, and he asks to see her husband, and she says he’s out back, and then she lingers and asks how Maverick is and what he’s been up to, and tells him to come over for dinner sometime, and Cruiser looks sort of awkward waiting for the scene to end – and it’s so random – and I love I because it feels so obviously like a bit part actor trying to drag out their bit with some impro (she clearly doesn’t want to move out of shot) but you can also see why they kept it in because it does expand the world of the film, eg. life at Top Gun isn’t just about flying comps and homoerotic volleyball games and singalongs it’s also about families and going to have dinner at the homes of senior officers – and her role raises all sorts of interesting questions (is this the life awaiting Kelly McGillis?, does she have a crush on Maverick?, is it lonely for the women of Top Gun with all the men playing endless games of volleyball and standing around in locker rooms?). The actress is lobbying on twitter for a role in the sequel and I say why not?

Check out some of the clip here in Linda’s showreel. 

5) John McGiver as the clerk in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Mickey Rooney’s yellowface has tended to overshadow the excellence of the support cast – Buddy Ebsen, Patricia Neal and McGiver… who does wonders in his one scene. An aside – is this the first Hollywood movie where two prostitutes go off into the sunset together?

6) Estelle Reiner in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

You know the scene. You know the line. Magic. (An aside… it’s a shame Estelle Reiner never teamed up with Martin Scorsese’s mother in a film-director’s-mothers-who-steal-scenes-in-their-son’s-movies mega match.)

7) Xander Berkeley as Dr Lamar in Gattaca (1998)

To go into too much detail would give away spoilers, so I’ll just say he has one of the most affecting lines (to me anyway) ever, “my son’s not all that they promised. But then, who knows what he could do.” (to get the full impact you really have to see the whole film, which is worth it.)

8) Frederick Piper as the milkman in Hitchcock’s version of The 39 Steps (1935)

Very clever writing… a model of how to do the comic thriller, perhaps the hardest genre of all to do well… Charles Bennett did the bulk of the script (he’s shamefully not credited in the play adaptation of the film), though I’m not sure if he was responsible for that particular scene… there is a scene like it in the original novel though it’s not treated comically.

9) Mickey Rourke in Body Heat (1981) as Teddy the arsonist

This is kind of cheating since Rourke went on to become famous, but it’s a great debut… it’s a brilliantly written part, as a smart con with a code of honour (Lawrence Kasdan’s script is incredible) and Rourke’s casting makes it sing… you can see why everyone thought he was going to be a star…

10) Adelina Poerio in Don’t Look Now (1973)

If you’ve seen the film you’ll probably guess who it is (nothing to do with the sex scene unless there’s a longer cut version I’m unaware of!)… if you haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil it for you… and it’s a film worth seeing (maybe not right before a trip to Venice though…)

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