Cinema #7: Cinematic Humiliation

Ever watch a particularly embarrassing scene in a movie and asked yourself, “Why the hell would this actor agree to do this?” That's Barbara Crampton in the picture above. She's about to film a scene in Re-Animator that will be especially wince worthy. She looks like she knows she's just made a poor judgement call. More about this movie later.

God knows, there’s been plenty of awful movie moments; too many to count. However, I’m talkin’ about stuff that makes you feel downright uncomfortable. I’m talking about actors and actresses making bad decisions.

Before I give you my top “what were they thinking?” list, let me spell it out a bit more:

1. Regret and humiliation go hand-in-hand with pornography. However, I’d rather not make this a list of the most degrading and twisted pornos. So, pornos don’t count.

2. I’m not talking about bad career decisions. There's not an actor who hasn’t starred in at least one pathetic flop. We're talking here about isolated movie scenes that make you wince with pain.

Movie: Making the Grade
Actor: Judd Nelson
Scene: The Breakdance

Judd Nelson is a skid row loser who’s posing as a private school preppy. To earn the respect of his peers and win over the ladies, Nelson tells the band to stop playing moldy oldies, and shouts “It’s break time!!!” At which point he (and an obvious body double) perform some wicked breakdancing moves…. and by wicked I mean painfully bad. The scene where Judd Nelson does the robot slowly and turns to catch the eye of a girl is about as embarrassing as it gets.

Movie: The Nude Bomb
Actress: Andrea Howard
Scene: Awkward manhandle by Don Adams

The first theatrical film adaption of the television show, Get Smart, ended up being not a nude bomb (it was rated PG) but a box office bomb. The climactic scene involves Maxwell Smart and his female sidekick, actress Andrea Howard in the Barbara Feldon role.

They’re in a control room and some kind of nerve gas is released causing Howard to lose the ability to move from the waist down(?). Doesn’t sound particularly funny, does it? It gets worse. Maxwell then proceeds to try to carry her to safety, but is unable to do so without slamming her around with her dress pulled up, dragging, dropping her all over the place. This might’ve been okay for a minute or two, but it seems to last for an eternity! No laugh track, no dialogue, no music…. just the uncomfortable soft clatter of Maxwell Smart manhandling Andrea Howard for seemingly ten straight agonizing minutes.

Movie: Re-Animator
Actress: Barbara Crampton
Scene: Severed head sex scene

Re-Animator is actually a great movie. It’s over the top and quite graphic at times, but it doesn't take itself very seriously; so, you're more inclined to view it as campy fun than nihilistic gore like Saw IV or Last House on the Left. That being said, the movie does contain a rather shocking scene - the kind that makes you wonder if you actually just saw that. That couldn't have just happened, could it?

The scene I'm referring to is where a headless mad doctor kidnaps Barbara Crampton, takes her clothes off, then takes his still animated severed head (which was lying in a pan of blood) and puts it between her legs to.... well, I think you can guess the rest.

How in the world did the director get Barbara (who was currently starring on Santa Barbara) to agree to this? Well, you might argue that it was also just good campy fun. True. However, the fact remains: she was naked and had a talking decapitated head put between her legs!

Movie: Doctor Detroit
Actor: Dan Akroyd
Scene: Dance number with James Brown

OK. First off, Akroyd looks like a cross between David Bowie in Labyrinth and Will Ferrell’s impersonation of Harry Carey. Plus, for no apparent reason, he has a metal claw hand (?) and sounds like Truman Capote doing an intoxicated impersonation of Dr. Evil!
Add to that, the movie’s climax has him doing a dance with Fran Drescher, James Brown, Donna Dixon, and the whole audience keeping step. It was like someone’s sick, twisted joke. You cannot convince me that Akroyd was not doing dangerous amounts of coke while filming this movie.

And the winner is....

Movie: Deliverance
Actor: Ned Beatty
Scene: (do I really need to tell you?)

This scene makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. The minute those two hillbillies detain Jon Voight and Ned Beatty, things get rough. The guy with the knife tells Ned to take his "panties" off, and we get to see ol' Ned remove his tighty whities. Then we're treated to an incredibly graphic rape scene, where the hillbilly handles Ned like a hog, smacking him and telling him to squeal.... and, lucky us, we get to see it all. (gag)

Not surprisingly, Ned never really lived this one down. Once you've seen it, you can't really look at him again without being reminded of it. The image will be permanently burned onto your retina. No acting roles, no matter how diverse, will ever erase this from our collective memory. Way to go, Ned.

Runners Up:
1. Ralph Macchio air guitar in Karate Kid II
2. In Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker delivers this line: ""I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth." I would have refused on principle.

I could go on and on, but I'll let you fill in the gaps. Please leave a comment with your suggestion of a wince worthy scene that had you cringing and feeling uncomfortable.


  1. I dunno; Ned Beatty in 'White Lightning' is as menacing as those hillbilly degenerates.

    Ned Beatty's bad luck in 'Deliverance' was all the more disturbing when I saw as an edited Sunday afternoon movie when I was 11. I didn't understand what was being done to him (though I knew he was being humiliated in some kind of way); it was waaaay harsher than the treatment he got as 'Otis' in 'Superman.'

  2. How about David Carradine's whole role in "Sonny Boy"???

  3. I have GOT to check out the one with Judd Nelson in it - sounds hilarious

  4. I should've also mentioned Never Too Young to Die (1986) where Gene Simmons plays a hermaphrodite. Don't ask me to explain more, the memories are too painful.

  5. Leslie Uggams is repeatedly humiliated in the 1975 B-movie POOR PRETTY EDDIE, which I just watched this afternoon. Traumatizing. Just traumatizing.

  6. Tom Petty famously wrote the lyric, "The waiting is the hardest part." Bob & Tom, of THE BOB & TOM SHOW on radio, once wrote a parody song referencing DELIVERANCE. Sung to Petty's tune, it was entitled, "NED BEATTY has the hardest part!."

  7. Maureen McCormick's rape scene in TEXAS LIGHTNING (1981).

    Why Marcia, why?!

  8. But Making the Grade is so bad it's good! It's on YouTube in separate clips. The Judd Nelson dance scene starts here at about 8:40 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6f7LRRm56Q&feature=related, and continues at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tdrTEmdFAc&NR=1. You've gotta love Biff's line: "Tracey, I just bought the new Neil Diamond tape."

  9. Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal - Running Scared

    At one point in the film, they go on a Caribbean vacation. Then we get a montage of them, wearing rollerskates, cutoff shirts and short shorts, skating around to Michael McDonald song "Sweet Freedom".

    Seemed innocent enough in '86. Now, not so much...

  10. Linda Blair's rape at the end of a mop handle in the TV movie BORN INNOCENT, anyone?

    The opening shower scene in CARRIE, and the prom scene?

  11. franklin mint- Just dropped Texas Lightning in my Netflix queue and promptly movied it to position #1. Don't really want to see Marcia raped, but the morbid curiosity will eventually kill me, so I might as well get it over with.

    Anonymous- Sweet Jesus, that sounds bad! I saw Running Scared in the theater and haven't thought about it since. I remember the Sweet Freedom music video was pretty cheezy as well, with Billy and Gregory lip synching and hamming it up.

    bud- A mop handle rape on a TV movie? Yeesh, that sounds not fit for prime time! And, yes, the Carrie opener is pretty brutal.

  12. "Rhinestone" with Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton. I'm pretty sure someone with a truck filled with cash and drugs had to pull up in front of their houses because its just so terrible. At this point Stallone had already made "Rocky" and was an Oscar nominated actor and screenplay writer (the last person before him to be nominated for acting and writing in the same year was Welles for "Citizen Kane") and Dolly had already won a Grammy.
    The best line is when Stallone tells Dolly's character that she's like a "Baby Hitler."

  13. I remember seeing Deliverance as a kid. I at that time had no clue that could be done to another man. My eyes were definitely opened. I've never looked at Ned the same way.

  14. These both probably cross over from your earlier post, Movies That Make You Want To Take a Shower, but how about these for cinematic humiliation?

    * Camille Keaton in I Spit on Your Grave
    * The entire female cast of Bloodsucking Freaks

  15. Excellent post Gilligan! The break dance scene from Making the Grade was as painful as it gets for me. Judge Reinhold's masturbation scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High comes to mind as an embarrassing scene for an actor to perform. That scene will forever be associated with him; tossing off in his bathroom while wearing a ridiculous Captain Hook's Fish n Chips pirate outfit. He is a decent actor, but Brad Hamilton and masturbation will always go hand in hand (no pun intended). Just as Bill Buckner and tanking the '86 World Series will always go hand in hand. Buckner was not a bad player, but will always be associated with a monumental bad play.

  16. I have never seen a more acutely embarrassed actor than Christopher Plummer in his 2 minutes onscreen as the emperor of the galaxy in STARCRASH.

  17. By the way, what a difference a year made for Judd Nelson.
    1984 - Making the Grade (piece o' excrement)
    1985 - The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire (cult classics)

  18. I've read that Beatty has had severe psychological problems resulting from the Deliverance role, and his place as being recognized and stigmatized because that one movie. Even for today's standards, it's still one of the most disburbing move sequences ever.

  19. What makes that Making the Grade scene even more humiliating is that I am in the crowd watching. My first movie gig!

    I'd add the horrendous moment of Michael Douglas dancing in Romancing the Stone. He even does "white boy dance lips."

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  21. AnonymousJuly 20, 2011

    Deliverance was Ned Beatty's very first role (Bobby).
    Check it out at IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000885/

  22. The bad part, Don Adams did an almost similar bad carry in an episode Get Smart. Only it was with Don Rickles! The bloopers have made the rounds for years and are pretty funny.

  23. In some Retrospace like blog of the future an intire post will be devoted to Nick Cage's embarrassing moments. Wicker Man for example, "Not the bees..".

  24. I'm in the crowd of that breakdance scene! The movie was shot on the college campus right across the street from me. I also helped build the dorm room set.

    It is always fun to watch a movie shot in your home town. The scene where Judd runs through a rail yard and jumps over a wall onto the college campus? The two locations are actually miles apart.

  25. AnonymousJuly 26, 2015

    At least the Ned Beatty rape scene was in a great movie and was a central part of the story, it was not gratuitous. And he's continued on to a very good career, earning two Oscar noms. It would be an absolute miscarriage of justice if that's all he'll be remembered for.

  26. Burt Reynolds said once that the scene went on so graphically and for so long , that he couldn't stand it anymore . He himself broke up the scene . When he asked the director why he had let it go on as long as he did , the director told him it was to get that reaction . If Reynolds could not stand it anymore , the audience could not either .Thus , that made it as uncomfortable as possible .