The Art of Being Shady and Shifty: The Top 10 Movie Weasels

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There is something about getting a kick out of the sleazy celluloid cretins that feels rather intriguing. Whether these movie weasels are unctuous lawyers, abusive spouses or borderline bullies the concept of being a big screen weasel brings to mind some of the most colorful cast of conniving cohorts of misbehaving ever assembled. Okay…maybe that is a stretch as there are countless of other worthy weasels deserving of making a top ten list–probably even better known or notorious than the selection being presented currently.

Nevertheless, let’s check out the weasel-like wonders that movie audiences have learned to love or despise depending on the frame of mind in celebrating these shifty oddballs.

NOTE: The selections of The Art of Being Shady and Shifty: The Top 10 Movie Weasels featured below are presented in no particular preference or order:

1.) Igor from Young Frankenstein (1974)

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Now how can anyone omit one of the cinema’s best known creepy laboratory assistants known to serve and be obedient in the name of creature feature perfection? Let’s face it folks…Dr. Frankenstein and his famous monster could not cope as much without the hunchback helper at their side to ensure the efficiency of the scientific experimentation.

In the riotous Young Frankenstein, the late great comedian Marty Feldman portrayed the bugged-eyed, black-clad dressed Igor with impish relish and a comedic naughtiness that is too indescribable to put into words. Feldman’s Igor was an eerie weasel that belonged in the manic madness that was Mel Brooks’s twisted, satirical world.

2.) Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy (1969):

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Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-nominated turn as the crippled New York street hustler Ratso (call me “Rico”) Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy was a challenging character study in the realm of an urban weasel trying to hustle and make his brand of dreams come true. Rizzo was seedy and conniving and would steal the sunglasses off of your face if you were not paying attention closely. He was desperate but was never devious in the mean-spirited sense. Ratso Rizzo was just a poor down-and-out soul that caught a bad break in life and turned to the art of the hustle as his dependable surviving skills.

Of course Ratso’s teaming up with naive Texan cowboy stud Joe Buck (Jon Voight) made for one of cinema’s provocative yet poignant pairings where a worn-down weasel and his “meal ticket” in his good ole’ high-priced bed-hopping male escort made for some compelling social drama in an unlikely friendship forged out of deceit and disillusionment.

3.) David Kleinfeld from Carlito’s Way (1993)

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Mob lawyer David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) was the essence of a slimy, two-faced court jester for his criminal clients. With a receding hairline, frizzy hair and ratty demeanor Kleinfeld often looked more undesirable and morally corrupt than the caseload of individuals he was defending.

Kleinfeld happened to be the lawyer for his best friend Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) whose inability to stay away from trouble with the bad element haunts the ex-con trying his best to go straight.  The essence of the sludge that seemed to colorize the shifty-minded Kleinfeld made for some unintentional (well…maybe a bit intentional) comic overtones.

Penn’s Kleinfeld earned the resilient actor a Golden Globe nomination (he was unfairly overlooked for an Oscar nomination). Almost unrecognizable in appearance as Penn disappeared into the twitchy weasel legal eagle his unique role highlighted what was a familiar routine underworld crime drama from the otherwise innovative filmmaker Brian DePalma.

4.) C.W. Moss from Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

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Some could argue that slow-witted gas station attendant C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard) was a young and impressionable kid that got caught up in the high-flying hedonism of famed bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty). But others will also argue that the young and misguided Moss was a willing lackey that embraced the criminal lifestyle and served as the ultimate weasel in the way he covered for his beloved bandits-on-the-run.

The scene that comes to mind when Moss’s father tries to get the truth out of his defiant son C.W. about his association with the Barrow bunch only to get a sarcastic grin in return tells of the weasel–however innocent or guilty– that Moss was in unapologetic fashion. Pollard earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for playing the reliable rogue that had the gun-toting lovebirds’ back in his brief adventurous with the infamous.

5.) Otis from Superman–The Movie (1978)

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As we know weasels in the walk of cinema life tend to have an unlikable vibe about them more often than not. However, nobody was as affable and sympathetic like Superman’s Otis, the oafish and bumbling aide to the scheming arch criminal Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman).  Otis would please his boss even if it meant getting down on the floor and serve as a human rug for Luthor to step over figuratively and literally.

Otis was like the chubby child that was ignored in the classroom until a manipulative bully such as a Lex Luthor came along and showed him some attention and gave his a mistaken sense of purpose and prestige. In theory, Otis could not hurt a fly and his mentor Luthor was probably a way more convincing weasel to Superman and the movie audience than Otis was at heart. Still, Otis has to accept his label as a weasel at large…and own up to his naughty antics because in the long run if you make your messy bed sooner or later you will have to lie down.

6.) Simon from True Lies (1999)

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Sure, we know about the stereotype concerning how some lawyers can be professional weasels. Well, equally as confirming in this belief system is the scaly reputation of the used car salesman…should we have to say more? The despicable Simon (Bill Paxton) from True Lies reinforces the tricky tactics of the fast-talking, wheeling-and-dealing sleazebag whose selling pitch “what do I have to do to get you in this car?” translates to “what do I have to do to get in your skirt?” Simon is too much.

Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwartzenegger) puts the slimy Simon through the ringer in attempts to punish the car-selling creep for constantly putting the moves on his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) by passing himself off as a secret agent to impress her among other things. Simon gets his comeuppance when his hilarious close-up encounter with Tasker and his partner Albert (Tom Arnold) results in the motormouth miscreant peeing his pants in fear involving a potential plunge into the darkness below. The rancid Romeo didn’t seem so polished in that moment, huh?

7.) Herman “Fergee” Ferguson from Judge Dredd (1995)

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Fergee (Rob Schneider) was as oily as they came in terms of weasel-minded sidekicks. Judge Joseph Dredd (Sylvester Stallone) was responsible for jailing the law-breaking hacker several times. But eventually the roguish and criminal-minded cad would team up with a falsely accused Judge Dredd and act as an anti-hero of sorts although sometimes his weasel tendencies were immersed in shades of jittery cowardice.

Former SNL alum Schneider played Fergee for obvious comic relief as he was probably the most enjoyable component in the sluggish and disjointed sci-fi action film that was dismissive at the box office back in its anemic 1995 release.

8.) Donald Gennaro from Jurassic Park (1993)

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Meet the calculating, profit-hungry lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) that met his fate while sitting on a toilet hiding away in an outhouse only to become human snack food for a Tyrannosaurus dinosaur in Jurassic Park. One cannot cry too much for the doomed Gennaro whose questionable dealings was in the name of the InGen corporation that he represented. Basically, Gennaro was to oversee the operation at Jurassic Park in the concerned wake of a death that took place there.

Essentially, Gennaro saw some major dollar signs in exploiting the real-life dinosaurs and imagined what a payday that would be for him and his investors. Later on as an escaped Tyrannosaurus would run loose and cause terror during a tour the panicky and pathetic Gennaro would incorporate his “everyone fend for themselves” motto and abandon the kids in his company to save his own hide. Well, Gennaro would soon learn that sweaty weasels that leave minors high and dry will soon make for some tasty gumdrops in the rage of a dinosaur he previously saw as a money-making opportunity.

9.) Biff Tannen from Back to the Future (1985)

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Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) did some serious double duty as both a bully and a weasel. In addition to being a constant thorn to Marty McFly’s (Michale J. Fox) side, Biff just lived to be an intimidating weasel. Of course Biff was instrumental in making a fool out of Marty’s nerdy father George (Crispin Glover) while finding ways to force himself on Marty’s mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) during their high school years in the 1950’s.

Biff Tannen was insufferable and an overbearing blockhead–a weasel with power through his bombastic behavior. Tannen proves that being a weasel is not always about being sheepish, wiry, subservient or vulnerable. But the main ingredient in being underhanded, shifty and intolerable all fits the qualities that made Biff Tannen an iconic imbecile in the devilishly entertaining Back to the Future installments.  The accidental manure-munching menace was always good for a hearty laugh.

10.) Ike Turner from What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)

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Ike Turner’s fictional fist-wielding weasel mentality (and alleged real-life terrorizing tactics) is what anchored the explosive biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It in an Oscar-nominated turn by Laurence Fishburne as the combative and unstable musician that severely battered and cheated on his wife and musical act partner in legendary songbird Tina Turner ( Angela Bassett).

Some can note that Ike’s erratic foray into womanizing, drug addiction and of course spousal abuse should not be trivialized in the form of giving him a “weasel” tag as his demonstrative antics went beyond just being a shady scamp. Still, Ike had his shared moments that defined what a weasel-minded menace can do when provoked to his fullest potential of personalized demons. Ike Turner was an enigma of a tortured soul–talented, charismatic, creepy, caustic and broken.

–Frank Ochieng

 

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