Finding The Worst Character In Neo-Noir: And The Winner Is…

At 2:44 am on May 8, 2021, I tweeted the following using the handle @drnoir33:

Finding the worst character in #neonoir begins with this Corrupt Power matchup:

Noah Cross from CHINATOWN

Harry Angel from ANGEL HEART

#filmnoir #cinema #film

Attached to the tweet was a poll allowing a Twitter user to choose either Cross or Angel.

Realizing voting was a bit sluggish, at 6:21 pm I tweeted…

            For context:

…adding a link to this post and attaching this:

After 36 hours, the poll ended. Cross had beaten Angel, 72% to 28%, with 13 votes for Cross and five for Angel. Had I voted (see below), it would have been 14-5.

**********

Five days earlier, I published this post explaining the origins of my “search for the worst character in neo-noir.” Once voting began, a friend who tweets under the handle @disquiet sought clarification for “worst character,” wondering if it meant “poorly-written” as opposed to “villainous.” I assured him it was the latter, though I had hesitated to use the word because some bad characters like Angel are the nominal protagonists of their film.

Over the next two posts – the second of which is here – I described my character selection process, delineated four broad categories (Corrupt Power, Crime Boss, Cunning Manipulator, Psychotic Loner/Hired Assassin), explained how I “seeded” characters within each category, and reduced 64 characters to 16.

Shortly after publishing the third post, I tweeted the first poll, pitting Cross against Angel. Once voting ended, I tweeted the next Corrupt Power match-up: Dr. Hannibal Lecter vs. Dudley Smith.

While the first matchup was live, a fellow film enthusiast had opined that Smith, the corrupt Los Angeles homicide Captain from L.A. Confidential, was his choice to win the competition. I am now free to say he was my choice as well…but I had not realized that you cannot vote in your own Twitter poll. And my wife Nell voted for Lecter, arguing cannibalism trumps even Smith’s level of corruption.

It did not occur to me until after this match to create a different Twitter account solely to vote in my polls. Had I done so earlier, the Lecter-Smith matchup would have ended in an 8-8 tie. However, the public-facing results showed Lecter winning 8-7.

Which meant I faced a conundrum.

Do I announce my vote for Smith, then go to the tiebreaker – one I had not yet explained? Or do I leave the results as they were? My fear was that Smith would win the tiebreaker, and it would appear I had put my thumb on the scale – leading potential voters to deem the process “rigged.”

The tiebreaker itself was simple: generating a random number on my iPhone. If the number was below 0.500, the lower seed – in this case Smith (2) – advanced. If the number was above 0.500, the higher seed advanced. If the number was 0.500 exactly, I generated a new random number.

Mostly as an experiment, I mentally voted for Smith – then pushed “Rand”…and saw “0.972,” meaning Lecter advanced. As much as I wanted Smith to win, I was relieved. I tweeted none of this, opting simply to move on to the first Crime Boss matchup: Frank Booth vs. The Joker. For the purposes of this post, though, Lecter won 9-8.

**********

The remaining six Not-So-Sweet Sixteen matchups went smoothly.

Crime Boss

Booth beat Joker 77% to 23% (10-3).

In my first vote as “NeoNoirLover30” (@NLover30), I selected The Joker.

Keyser Soze beat Marsellus Wallace 75% to 25% (12-4).

I voted for Soze, as did another Twitter friend, who noted that as bad as Wallace was, Soze operated at an entirely different level of evil.

Cunning Manipulator

Leonard Shelby beat Catherine (Black Widow) 62% to 38% (8-5).

Tom Ripley beat Catherine Tramell 73% to 27% (11-4).

I voted for Shelby and Tramell. I was mildly surprised neither woman advanced to the Less-Than-Great Eight.

Psychotic Loner/Hired Assassin

Vincent (Collateral) beat Kevin (Sin City) 74% to 26% (17-6)

So much for cannibalism.

Anton Chigurh beat John Doe 53% to 47% (10-9)

I voted for Kevin and Doe, meaning I was on the winning side of only three of the first eight matchups; this pattern would continue, for better or for worse. A total of 135 votes were cast in these eight match-ups, an average of only 17 votes per matchup, a somewhat embarrassing number. The votes were divvied up thus:

Character1st Round2nd Round3rd Round4th RoundTotal
Harry Angel5   5
Frank Booth10    
Catherine5   5
Anton Chigurh10    
Noah Cross14    
John Doe9   9
The Joker3   3
Kevin6   6
Hannibal Lecter9    
Tom Ripley11    
Leonard Shelby8    
Dudley Smith8   8
Keyser Soze12    
Catherine Tramell4   4
Vincent17    
Marsellus Wallace4   4
TOTAL135   135

**********

With the Less-Than-Great Eight set, I began to “market” these matchups more aggressively, retweeting multiple exhortations to vote and to an expanding set of fellow film enthusiasts, and using photographs to remind potential voters of the characters.

It seemed to work, as the first match-up garnered 46 votes:

Corrupt Power: Cross beats Lecter 72% to 28% (33-13).

I was surprised Cross won so easily, even though I voted for Cross. One reason lies in what one voter argued: The Silence of the Lambs is not actually neo-noir, because Clarice (misspelled in the tweet) Starling was not a flawed protagonist. That latter point is debatable – I could counter Starling’s rookie “irrational exuberance” nearly gets her killed by Buffalo Bill – but instead pointed out the agnosticism of my selection method. Eight publicly-available lists included Silence, so it passes muster.

Crime Boss: Booth beats Soze 58% to 42% (15-11).

This was a very tight vote – tied at 11 late – until Booth finally pulled away; I voted for Soze. One voter simply noted how terrifying she recalled Booth being; having recently rewatched Blue Velvet, it is difficult to argue with her. Moreover, so much of what we think we know about Soze comes from one of most unreliable narrators in cinema.

Cunning Manipulator: Ripley beats Shelby 71% to 29% (24-10).

After voting for Shelby – who literally uses his anterograde amnesia to manipulate himself into becoming a serial killer – I was shocked how easily the talented Mr. Ripley won. But, Nell – who voted for Ripley – spoke for the majority when articulating how truly despicable she thinks Ripley is.

These kinds of surprises were part of what made this process so much fun.

Psychotic Loner/Hired Assassin: Chigurh beats Vincent 83% to 17% (24-5).

Once again, the lopsided vote surprised me. One reason may be that as much as I tried to make clear “Vincent” was the Tom Cruise character in Collateral, at least one voter thought it was “Vincent Vega” from Pulp Fiction; he was incredulous he had made it this deep into the voting. I myself voted for Vincent because while Chigurh occasionally uses a coin flip to spare his victims, Vincent never spared anyone.

Overall, 135 votes were cast in the second round, meaning the average vote exactly doubled to a somewhat-less-humiliating 34 per matchup.

Character1st Round2nd Round3rd Round4th RoundTotal
Harry Angel5   5
Frank Booth1015  25
Catherine5   5
Anton Chigurh1024  34
Noah Cross1433  47
John Doe9   9
The Joker3   3
Kevin6   6
Hannibal Lecter913  22
Tom Ripley1124  35
Leonard Shelby810  18
Dudley Smith8   8
Keyser Soze1211  23
Catherine Tramell4   4
Vincent175  22
Marsellus Wallace4   4
TOTAL135135  270

And with that, the Villainy Four was set.

**********

Despite lacking gender diversity, the Villainy Four covered a wide range of times and places: one character each from the 1970s (Cross), 1980s (Booth), 1990s (Ripley) and 2000s (Chigurh). Moreover, Cross operated in 1930s Los Angeles, Ripley in 1950s Italy, Chigurh in 1980 New Mexico, and Booth in an all-American town called Lumberton in a 1980s that felt like the 1950s.

To shake things up – and because the original category quadrants were simply arranged counter-clockwise alphabetically – I used initial seeds to determine the third-round matchups. Thus, Corrupt Power faced off against Cunning Manipulator, while Crime Boss faced off against Psychotic Loner/Hired Assassin.

Cross beats Ripley 89% to 11% (17-2).

This was an absolute beat-down, which would have been worse had one voter not admitted she voted for Ripley just to be contrarian. Meanwhile, @disquiet now bluntly stated his assumption Cross would win the entire competition. I demurred, anticipating a barn-burner championship vote.

Chigurh ties Booth 50%-50% (15-15); higher-seeded Chigurh wins tie-breaker (0.925)

This was a genuinely tough choice – for me and for everyone. I ultimately voted for Chigurh solely because Chigurh appears to survive at the end of No Country For Old Men, while Booth is killed in a shootout.

I was only mildly upset 50 (counting the tie-breaker) votes – an average of 25 per matchup – were cast in the third round; it may not have helped that, after seeing voting plummet on a previous Sunday, I waited until after the three-day Memorial Day weekend to post the first third-round matchup. After 14 matchups and 320 total votes, it all came down to Chinatown and No Country For Old Men, the two post-1966 films most often cited as film noir by my Opportunity-Adjusted POINTS metric.

Perfect.

Character1st Round2nd Round3rd Round4th RoundTotal
Harry Angel5   5
Frank Booth101515 40
Catherine5   5
Anton Chigurh102416 50
Noah Cross143317 64
John Doe9   9
The Joker3   3
Kevin6   6
Hannibal Lecter913  22
Tom Ripley11242 37
Leonard Shelby810  18
Dudley Smith8   8
Keyser Soze1211  23
Catherine Tramell4   4
Vincent175  22
Marsellus Wallace4   4
TOTAL13513550 320

**********

At 3:02 pm EST on June 7, 2021, I tweeted:

After 16 possibilities and 14 pairings…

…the search for the worst character in #neonoir concludes with this epic matchup!

Who will be crowned?

You decide!

#FilmNoir #film #FilmTwitter #Cinema #movies #villains #Chinatown #NoCountryForOldMen

By now, a small pool of Twitter users anticipated these matchups, and voting was brisk early. Nonetheless, as had happened in previous matchups, nearly all of the votes were cast in the first eight hours of voting – little changed over the final 28 hours. Still, a tournament-high 53 votes were cast.

I found this my toughest vote by far, but I finally voted for Chigurh, reasoning his willingness to kill people – many people – himself and his almost-robotic persistence made him worse than Cross, who – other than raping his own daughter and trying to kidnap their daughter – did almost no dirty work himself. It was not necessarily a good argument, but there it is.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I was again on the wrong side (and @disquiet nailed it):

Cross beats Chigurh 66% to 34% (35-18).

Character1st Round2nd Round3rd Round4th RoundTotal
Harry Angel5   5
Frank Booth101515 40
Catherine5   5
Anton Chigurh1024161868
Noah Cross1433173498
John Doe9   9
The Joker3   3
Kevin6   6
Hannibal Lecter913  22
Tom Ripley11242 37
Leonard Shelby810  18
Dudley Smith8   8
Keyser Soze1211  23
Catherine Tramell4   4
Vincent175  22
Marsellus Wallace4   4
TOTAL1351355053373

Cross was the heavy favorite going into the voting phase of the competition (and perhaps from the very beginning): for one thing, he was the only 1-seed to make it to the Not-So-Sweet Sixteen. Moreover, Chinatown is the only film not released between 1940 and 1959 to make the overall Top 100 by film noir POINTS; its 20 LISTS and 32.0 POINTS rank it #81. For the primary villain of THE neo-noir film to be named “Worst Character in Neo-Noir” suggest the wisdom of the crowd worked brilliantly this time.

Still, I was genuinely surprised how easily Cross won. He won his four matchups by an average of 3-1. Overall, he earned 26% of the 373 total votes cast – had he won his four votes 13-12 (using the average number of votes over 15 matchups), he would have won only 14% of total votes cast. Chigurh was 2nd at 18%, with Booth and Ripley garnering 11% and 10%, respectively. In total, the Villainy Four earned nearly two-thirds of all votes cast.

**********

Having been inspired to create this tournament by the Noir Alley March Badness competition on Twitter – which Phyllis Dietrichson of Double Indemnity won handily – I decided to hold a bonus vote: Cross vs. Dietrichson to crown the “Worst Character in ALL of #NOIR.”

The vote went live at 5 pm EST on June 9; I only kept it open 24 hours. Almost immediately, a mutual-Twitter follow woman tweeted: “This is my personal Sophie’s choice.” I suspect many votes were effectively mental coin flips. After my vote for Dietrichson – reasoning her doing all she did as a woman in 1944 gave her the villainy edge AND she has survived as a renowned villainess for more than 75 years – she took an early lead. But then Cross began to pull away, and within a few hours it was clear who was going to win. I still urged people to vote, and 41 did (42 if Nell – a Cross voter – had not had Twitter login issues), but when it was over:

Cross beats Dietrichson 69% to 31% (29-13)

That is what you call dominance – and it fits the man who embodies powerful white entitlement at its – he acquires everything he wants and expects to do so. Moreover, after I tweeted “You called it, @disquiet,” he responded, “This result gives me faith in humanity,” to which I responded, “It gives me faith in aggregation.”

Of course, we both simply could have said: forget it, Twitter, it’s Chinatown.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…and get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not already done so!

One thought on “Finding The Worst Character In Neo-Noir: And The Winner Is…

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