Monday, November 5, 2012

14 Really Bad Movie Husbands (Will Contain Spoilers!)

This list was inspired in part by watching Rosemary's Baby last week and partly by a couple of Alex Withrow's lists.

When I was a counselor, I attended a long workshop on domestic abuse and -- of course -- I dealt with some violent families. I'm not sure anything in cinema can compare to some of the stories I heard. :-(

Happily, while real life suffering is soul-crushing, for everyone involved, when we see it in films? It's safely fictional, it has artistic value, and it's often perversely entertaining.

This post is just something my daughter and I brainstormed while driving back from Charlottesville today -- it's by no means a definitive list. Feel free to throw out your own additions in the comments. :-) I can't wait to see what you come up with.

14. Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels) Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983) -- On her wedding day, Emma's abrasive busybody mother tells her this marriage is a mistake of major proportions. Unfortunately, she's right. Flap is a serial adulterer, a liar, and an uninvolved husband and father.

When his wife became seriously ill, I kept waiting for Flap to step up and show that he did -- in fact -- have a soul. But he never did. And when Emma died, he didn't think twice about handing the kids over to their grandmother. I guess he knew, despite having sired three children, he had no hope of really being a father. It was kind of sad.

13. Dylan (Steve Coogan) -- Our Idiot Brother (Jesse Peretz, 2011) -- This pretentious putz covers his adultery by convincing his wife she's nuts -- clearly she's the one with the problem. Sounds like a good example of gaslighting (see below).

12. Earl Hunterson (Jeremy Sisto) -- Waitress (Adrienne Shelly, 2007)

When Early's wife becomes pregnant, his strongest sentiment is "Hey. You remember what I said - don't you go lovin' that baby too much." And his evolution from a dim-witted, demanding loser to an unstable, controlling husband is jarring.

11. Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio) -- Men in Black (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997)

When we meet Edgar, he's loudly bullying his timid, defeated wife. "The only thing that pulls its weight around here is my god. damned. truck!" When he becomes the Evil Alien Bug Dude, it's almost an improvement.

10. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)

Ennis's wife, Alma, is unwittingly trapped in his tortured life. He is ruled by fear and can't express his feelings for Jack, the true love of his life. In the beginning, Ennis wins our heart, especially since we fully understand the source of his fear. Watching the metamorphosis of his character from an open-hearted young man to one driven by rage, even cruelty, is devastating. Seeing Alma caught in this vise is equally painful.

9. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) -- American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Every time this character was on screen, my chest became tight. It was as if the air was being sucked out of the room. His tightly coiled rage was constantly palpable.

He bullies his wife and son. His son has an escape plan, but we get the impression his wife (Allison Janney) is too broken. I'll never forget that dead look in her eyes. Given his own harsh upbringing and suppressed homosexuality, I could almost feel some sympathy for Frank. Almost.

8. Doyle Hargraves (Dwight Yoakam) -- Slingblade (Billy Bob Thornton, 1996)

He's not technically a husband, but he's live-in boyfriend of good-hearted single mom Linda Wheatley. We don't quite see him overtly abuse Linda and her son, Frank. Somehow this just makes the tension worse. Every moment Doyle is onscreen, the feeling that the powder keg is about to blow is palpable. And there's no doubt he'll kill her if she tries to leave.

7. Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy) -- Fried Green Tomatoes (Jon Avnet, 1991)

When Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) escapes from her abusive husband, he comes after her to steal their newborn baby. The women looking after Ruth and her son extract their own form of revenge. "The secret's in the sauce."

6. Mister (Danny Glover) -- The Color Purple (Stephen Spielberg, 1985)

After surviving years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) is conditioned for the life "Mister" has in store for her when her stepfather hands her over to him in marriage. He batters her, demeans her, and deliberately cuts her off from the only person who loves her -- her sister Nettie. Then he moves his mistress into the house, expecting Celie to accommodate her and wait on her hand and foot. Ironically, this proves the most positive development in Celie's life in a long time.

The first time I saw this movie in a theater, I was sitting near some guys. They had sat through Mister abusing his wife without batting an eyelash. But when two women started kissing, they freaked out. This is a strange society we live in, people.

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight
5. Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) -- Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944)

Gregory isolates his wife from other people and schemes to convince his her she is going mad. He removes things, trying to convince her she has stolen them. He also dims the gaslights. When she comments on it, he insists the change in lighting is a figment of her imagination. After she is certified insane and institutionalized, he'll be free to take her family's jewels.

I'll confess, this is a cheat -- I haven't actually seen the movie. I'm familiar with it because "gaslighting" is now a psychological term used by counselors, and in clinical and research literature, to describe the behavior of emotional abusive partners. The perpetrator denies the abuse occurred, and when his or her partner calls him on it, insists it's the victim's distorted perceptions. The message is: "I haven't done anything wrong -- you're just going crazy."

Sadly, this tends to be incredibly effective. Instead of standing up for yourself, you're questioning your sanity -- doubting your own inner truth, and the abuser maintains the upper hand.

Ray Milland as Tony Wendice
4. Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) -- Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

Cheating on your husband is not a nice thing to do. But blackmailing someone to murder your wife, so you can inherit her fortune? Definitely worse. Do not try this at home.

Young King Joffrey seems to be channeling his inner Jack Torrence.
3. Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) -- Game of Thrones (David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, 2011- ) -- O.K., I'm cheating a bit here, slipping in a television series. But how can we withhold recognition from a man who had his wife's father murdered, right in front of her, then showed her his head on a spike?

Edited to Add: I made an error -- Joffrey is not Sansa's husband -- they are betrothed. But he's worth bending the rules for. ;-)

The movie's barely started & Jack already looks a sandwich short of a full picnic.
2. Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson, 1980) -- The Shining (Stanley Kubrick) -- Many people have anger management issues, but pursuing your wife with an axe is way over the line.

As I've mentioned before, in another blog post, I thought both Stephen King's novel and Kubrick's film adaptation are brilliant, but they're quite different. King famously disliked Kubrick's masterpiece as not being true to his novel. I've heard the difference summed up this way: "The book is a about an ordinary guy going crazy; the movie is about a crazy guy going crazier."

The Jack Torrence we saw in the novel was definitely flawed, and he was struggling with his recovery from alcoholism. If he'd stayed the fuck away from secluded hotels and had a good 12-step sponsor, he probably would've been O.K. The addiction made him vulnerable, but it was the hotel that took him down. It was heart-wrenching to watch.

The Jack Torrence in the film already seems whackadoodle -- his mask of sanity tied on with a flimsy thread. When he starts charging through the hotel with an axe, promising to bash his wife's brains in -- "I'm going to bash them ... the fuck ... in," it's almost as if he's just coming out of the closet as the lunatic he truly is.

I was SO longing to see this man get his comeuppance.
1. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) -- Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) -- I had to save the worst for last. Granted -- unlike some characters who earned places on this list of shame -- he didn't physically abuse or murder his wife. But let's face it. When you sell out your wife, forcing her to become the Handmaiden of Satan, just to further your career? It's REALLY hard to top that.

Guy starts out as a garden-variety self-absorbed, narcissistic asshole. His self-satisfied, condescending vibe just seems to ooze out of every pore. The he sedates her and allows her to be raped by The Beast while a crowd of naked septuagenarian cultists stands around ogling the spectacle.

'Nuff said. This guy is in a class by himself.


  1. Doyle! God yes. He was my nominee before I even got to him on your list. Most of the other movies I've never seen (fortunately?).

    Are you going to give the bad wives equal time?

    1. He was a scary guy. How awful is it that when he started throwing a tantrum, it made me laugh? It was scary but perversely funny. Jack Torrence's rants crack me up too. I'm a very sick woman.

      And yes, I'm definitely working on a list of bad wives!

  2. Very inventive list, haha. Earl in Waitress made my blood boil. Even though I adore that movie, I always throw things when he is on screen.

    1. I know, he was infuriating! Thanks, Stevee. :)

  3. I'm so glad you included Mister from A Color Purple, I wanted to punch him every time he was on screen. What a horrible human being! I think it's hilarious that you included King Joffrey, he's got to be the most hated character on TV right now.

    1. But when Celie finally stands up for herself and breaks free of Mister, it is glorious! I loved that movie -- the book is even better.

  4. I definitely don't want to be married to any of these guys!

  5. First, thanks for the link, glad my post could help inspire yours. Second: were you in Charlottesville on Sunday? I was there all day!

    Excellent choices on the list. Jeremy Sisto’s performance in Waitress never gets talked about enough. Always honking that damn horn.

    Ennis, Frank Fitts, Jack Torrence, Guy Woodhouse – all solid picks. And Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade is just perfect. A flawless incarnation of evil.

    1. We were in Charlottesville Monday -- we're there at least twice a month for medical appointments and such. Considering it's a fairly quick jaunt over the mountain from Staunton, where we live, I don't know why we've never been to that film festival. :)

      I agree -- Waitress didn't get enough attention, and Jeremy Sisto's performance is definitely overlooked. He was great. And yes, him and his damn horn!

      Wasn't Dwight Yoakam amazing in Sling Blade? That's one of my favorite movies of all time.

  6. Very good list. Sadly, of all the films on this list, I have only seen Men in Black and the TV show Game of Thrones. Also, Joffrey technically isn't married to Sansa, she's just promised to him, but he is vile enough to be an exception.

    1. You're right -- I should've pointed out, in my post, that Joffrey and Sansa are just betrothed. Several people have pointed out my mistake. :-) Good catch!

      I really like Men in Black. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith play off each other so well.

  7. Joffrey is a douche bag but Sansa and him aren't married, she is only promised to him for now :)

    Awesome choices all around, though I never blamed Ennis for what was going on, I didn't even seen the cruelty - him and Alma were victims of the society they lived in - their closemindenss and fear of everything different.

    I'd add David Stathairn from Dolores Claiborne to the list, amazing movie and he was a very despicable character.

    1. True -- Joffrey and Sansa are just betrothed -- I made an error in not pointing that out in my post. Doyle and Linda aren't married either, but he's definitely vile enough to be worthy of a small exception. ;-)

      Great point about Ennis Del Mar. I never blamed Ennis either, but I still felt he was cruel to Alma, particularly when she confronted him about his infidelity and he flipped out, terrified she would "out" him. I felt sorry for him, in that scene, but it was still devastating seeing him treat Alma that way.

      I absolutely agree about Ennis and Alma both being victims of a close-minded society. But I still feel he fits.

      Dolores Claiborne ... great pick! I never actually saw the movie, but I read the book. I was definitely rooting for her to push him into the well. ;-)

  8. Yes, sad AND entertaining. I've only seen half these movies, though. I had not heard the term gaslighting!

  9. Fantastic list!!
    Yes, Flap was such a jerk. What about the scene where Emma runs after him with the baby in tow when she catches him at the school campus flirting with a student?
    Ugh, Jack Torrence deserves his own post. He was god awful. I do think in the novel King tried to show us a bit more of his humanity. When his wife finds out what he's been typing all those months, I got the chills.

    Guy Woodhouse tops them all, he had that condescending attitude down pact.
    And The Color Purple is a fav film, Mister was such a sad case, but so was his dad. That movie had me crying buckets when he separated Celie and her sister :(

  10. Love this list. Earl Hunterson, Gregory Anton, Tony Wendice, Jack Torrence, and Guy Woodhouse would definitely make my list. Great job!

  11. Great list! Mister from The Color Purple is the first one that came to my mind.

  12. So I love love love Waitress, but Earl makes me so frustrated. And it's harder for me because I like Jeremy Sisto so much too!

    Lots of great choices on this list :)

  13. Great list! My wife and I watched the beginning of The Shining last night (she's never seen it). It took about 7 minutes and she was terrified by Jack (and this is just when he gets the job).

    Loved the call on Dylan in Our Idiot Brother - that guy was a huge d-bag.

    I'd like to nominate Kiefer Sutherland's character in Melancholia. That guy was a shitty husband!


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