Hollywood has had a longtime fixation with depicting the life and times of geniuses in film. And often, these characters aren’t as we’d expect groundbreakers and innovators to be. Whether fictional, like autistic-savant Raymond Babbitt of Rain Man, or drawn from real life, such as schizophrenic math whiz John Nash of A Beautiful Mind, these characters illustrate the proverbial fine line between genius and madness.
To celebrate these brainy heroes, we’ve scoured film history to rank the Top 5 Unlikely Geniuses of Hollywood Film. Drum roll, please…
#5 Raymond “The Rain Man” Babbitt in Rain Man (1987):
At times Raymond’s debilitating autism makes him an infant terrible –- he throws a tantrum, for example, when his daily diet of “People’s Court” is interrupted. But as Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond shows, we all have gifts to share. Raymond’s happens to be an uncanny talent for numbers and memory. In fact, he’s so good at card-counting he beats the stingy odds of the Vegas casinos, doing alone what it took an entire team of card-counting MIT brainiacs to do (read “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions”). For this Raymond cracks the top 5.
#4 Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther (1964):
The bumbling Inspector Clouseau seems a touch dim-witted and clumsy throughout the Pink Panther series. But the French inspector always stumbles on to the trail of the bad guys. The lesson here could be that persistence pays. So there’s hope even for those who, like Clouseau, haven’t got a clue. Of course, the Pink Panther movies would not have been as successful without Peter Sellers, whose comic timing and delivery are simply masterful. For always getting his man, and getting us to bust a gut, Inspector Clouseau nabs spot #4.
#3 Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future (1985):
With his scientific breakthrough, the “flux capacitator,” and his wild Einstein-like hairdo, Dr. Emmett Brown perfects time travel, allowing his buddy Marty McFly to travel back to the 1950s and right some family wrongs. Not to mention Dr. Brown, A.K.A., Doc, also immortalizes the DeLorean, the defunct gull wing-door sports car of the 80s. For his stick-to-it’ism, unique style and the aforementioned achievements, Doc, played to spastic perfection by Christopher Lloyd, wins 3rd place.
#2 John Nash in A Beautiful Mind (2001):
Can one live a more or less normal life with full-blown schizophrenia? The real-life story of math genius and Nobel Prize-winner John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, seems to suggest so. Despite having cloak-and-dagger delusions, such as believing he’s a code breaker for the government, Nash manages to winnow the real world from the fictional one created by his psychosis. Now, that’s what we call walking the tightrope between genius and madness! This earns Nash our runner-up spot.
#1 Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump (1994):
Forrest Gump’s genius is definitely hands-on rather than bookish in nature. Despite his low I.Q., the man’s had quite a hand in shaping the latter half of 20th-century American culture, from teaching Elvis how to swivel his legendary hips to uncovering Watergate and rubbing elbows with the likes of Nixon and JFK. Sure, the microphone cutting out during his Vietnam War rally speech proves this movie’s more special effects than substance. But for us, Gump himself remains the ultimate overachiever.
Amadeus in Amadeus (1984):
Bawdy and boorish, actor Tom Hulce’s rendition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart seemed more frat-boy prankster than musical prodigy, and this lies at the very heart of what we’re getting at here — genius comes in all forms, sizes and sensibilities.
Jenny Anderman in The Manhattan Project (1986):
Before achieving “Sex in the City” fame, redhead Cynthia Nixon played Jenny Anderson, a precocious teen who, along with her boyfriend, steals plutonium and assembles an atomic bomb.
David Helfgott in Shine (1996):
Despite a despotic father and mental problems, David Helfgott manages to Shine by conquering Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the Mount Everest of classical pianists.
Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956):
The real Van Gogh bequeathed us a body of cherished artwork, but Kirk Douglas’s portrayal of the man demonstrated the immense price he paid. And that makes this movie Van Gogh worthy of a mention.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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