Stress kills, goes the old saying, and can cause a host of maladies before it does. Hypertension, heart disease and even Bruxism, otherwise known as grinding of the teeth, can be its unfortunate byproducts. In that spirit, here are 10 examples of stress in on-screen, and its most masterful portraits.
1. Jack Lemmon--Save the Tiger (1973)
Jack Lemmon took home a Best Actor Academy Award for his incendiary turn as Harry Stoner, a once-prosperous businessman who finds his carefully-tailored life crashing down around him. His garment business in downtown LA is going bust, his marriage is dead in the water, and the crazy hippies who hitchhike on the Sunset Strip just don't match his WW II era sensibilities. When Harry decides to have his business "torched" for the insurance money, he goes on a self-destructive odyssey through early '70s LA. His word association game with a cute hippie chick after an ocean-side tryst is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in movie history.
2. Anne Hathaway--The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Anne Hathaway cemented her star status with her performance as Andy Sachs, a sweet-natured recent college grad who lands a seemingly dream job as assistant to legendary fashion magazine maven Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep, playing a version of Anna Wintour). The sheer hell that Hathaway is put through during the film's 109 minute running time results in one of the great cinematic meltdowns, showing that Hathaway had chops to spare matched up against the iconic Streep.
3. Frank Whaley--Swimming With Sharks (1994)
This indie film hit, which many consider Prada's predecessor, is also one of the best show biz satires in recent years. Frank Whaley plays Guy (a metaphorical name if ever there was) a freshly-minted film school grad who gets his dream job as assistant to Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey), a legendary and notorious studio boss who heaps abuse upon those around him worse than any Marine Corps drill sergeant. When Guy finally snaps, he literally takes Buddy hostage and turns the torture tables.
4. Melanie Griffith--Working Girl (1988)
The film that started it all, Mike Nichols' blue chip satire stars Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill, a blue collar secretary from New Jersey whose lack of formal education doesn't keep her from hiding her native smarts and ambition. When her shrewish boss Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) steals one of Tess' ideas and passes it off as her own, Tess turns the tables when Katharine is laid up after a skiing accident, finding both business and personal chemistry with exec hotshot Harrison Ford, one of the Reagan era's great Cinderella stories takes off.
5. Faye Dunaway--Network (1976)
Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet's biting indictment of television culture has become less satirical and more reality as the years have passed. Faye Dunaway's Oscar-winning portrait of soulless network exec Diana Christensen, a woman so obsessed with her job that she can't stop talking about network ratings during sex with May-December lover William Holden, has entered the pantheon of Greatest Movie Characters of All-Time. Never once during the movie's two hour running time do we see a single cell in Diana relax or take a breath, particularly when she's mercilessly exploiting mentally ill news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch, also an Oscar-winner) as the "mad prophet of the airwaves."
6. Edmund O'Brien--D.O.A. (1950)
Few things are more stress-inducing than knowing you have only hours to live. This is what ails accountant Frank Bigelow (Edmund O'Brien) after a weekend bender in San Francisco wakes him up with the worst kind of hangover: a dose of lethal poison. Frank must track down his killer as the clock inside him ticks down mercilessly.
7. Gene Hackman--The French Connection (1971)
Gene Hackman's Oscar-winning portrait of dogged cop Popeye Doyle, a virtual sociopath who is often more detestable than the criminals he's tracking and busting, is one of cinema's great angry men. When slippery French heroin kingpin Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) gives Popeye the slip in the Big Apple, his boss takes him off the case after a botched stakeout. After a hitman (Marcel Bozzuffi) working for Charnier nearly ices Popeye with a sniper rifle, one of the greatest car chases in film history ensues. Popeye's angry snarl never ceases, to the film's final frames.
8. Gregory Peck--The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)
Gregory Peck's portrait of Tom Rath is the best portrait of American post-WW II life and identity of its time. Tom struggles financially to support his wife (Jennifer Jones) and children, in finding a new, higher paying job, and finds himself being shaken down by both his wealthy grandmother's former servant, as well as one of his former army comrades (Keenan Wynn) who knows a dark secret Tom keeps. A primary influence on Mad Men, with Tom Rath clearly an inspiration for Jon Hamm's Don Draper, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit remains a touching portrait of a good man trying to hold it all together.
9. Marlon Brando--Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Marlon Brando had a major comeback in 1972 after a long professional drought, landing leads in The Godfather and this controversial, X-rated classic. Brando's portrait of Paul, a recently-widowed American expat in Paris is like watching an open wound crawl his way through the vestiges of his life. When Paul encounters Jeanne (Maria Schneider) in a seedy Paris apartment building, the two engage in a torrid sexual affair based on total anonymity. Paul's sorrow never lessens as his anxiety increases, resulting in an escalating abusive relationship with the fragile Jeanne, and a devastating climax.
10. Quentin Tarantino--From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Tarantino wrote, as well as co-stars, in this wacky crime/horror hybrid directed by Robert Rodriguez. Q.T. and George Clooney are Richard and Seth Gecko, two career criminals. While Clooney's Seth is purely a thief, Quentin's Richard is a full-stop psycho, whose seemingly calm demeanor can suddenly explode into a homicidal rage that will turn any human in his path into a grease spot. Seth is in such a constant state of stress, in fact, that Richard must remind him to wear his mouth guard, as he suffers from persistent Bruxism.
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