Saturday, December 10, 2011

Great Movie Couples

One of the compelling aspects of "El Cid" is that the two leads, Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, in strength of personality are equally matched. A key aspect of the plot is that Chimene, daughter of a strong father, is looking for a strong mate. The contempt she shows the young king, for instance, is a sign that she holds men to an almost-impossible ideal. Indeed, in some ways she's the strongest character in the story, and is as strong a presence as Heston on the screen.
What are the best movie couples? What makes a great on-screen pairing?

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett and Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind" might be thought of. Theirs is an interesting relationship. Rhett is physically dominant, while Scarlett dominates Rhett-- and everyone else in the film-- in other ways, through her mind and her will. It's obvious that Rhett is looking for a daughter-- someone he can spoil-- as much as a wife, and in effect says this. This is in part attributable to the age difference. We have a fascinating coupling, who balance each other out, but it's not a combination of equals.

I've selected three movies, past and more recent, where the chemistry between the leads is dynamic . I'd argue, because their equals. They try, but neither person in each of the three pairings gets the upper hand.

1.) "WESTWARD THE WOMEN." 1951. A hugely underrated film about a wagon train taking potential brides west to California. After encountering Indians, floods, and other disasters, the women end up virtually taking over. You'll never see a more "feminist" film! If you haven't seen it, do so. A true classic.

The leads are Robert Taylor and Denise Darcel, he playing the cowboy hired to get the wagon train to its destination, she one of the more improper ladies along. They clash often-- including a fantastic riding scene-- but in the end. . . .

2.) "NORTH BY NORTHWEST." 1959. Top-shelf Hitchcock involving spies and, interestingly, another cross country journey. Cary Grant trying to rescue cold and edgy Eva Marie Saint is nothing so much as a man going after his mate.

3.) "OUT OF SIGHT." 1998. Based on a Elmore Leonard novel, this able film is a about a U.S. Marshal, Jennifer Lopez, tracking down an escaped convict in the person of George Clooney. More travel! What is it about sending your characters out into the world? There are several key moments between the two in the film. For my money, the best movie either of them has made. The sparks are palpable.

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