The battle of the sexes is alive and well in Hollywood, and whether it is the subject of a rom-com or an indie flick, audiences love to watch a good ol' fashioned throw down. But what makes a 'battle of the sexes' comedy a tricky proposition is that someone has to lose. So how do you make your audience (who is for the most part, female) accept the idea that a strong and feisty gal has learned the error of her ways and has 'surrendered to love''? Granted, it was a heck of a lot easier when they were making these movies in the '30s and '40s and marriage was the inevitable 'happy ending' for most gals.
Today, The Ugly Truth has been released on DVD and just like a million films to go before it, the story centers on a man and a woman who 'meet cute', fight a lot, and then fall in love -- and just like every other film, the whole thing hinges on the happy couple. When you're covering well trod ground like a battle of the sexes comedy, the charm and likability of your leads are your bread and butter -- and on a personal note, I just don't think Truth pulled it off, and I never got that charge from watching Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler engage in a little 'verbal foreplay'.
So at risk of sounding like somebody's grandmother, I decided that when it comes to the battle of the sexes comedy, nobody did it better than classic Hollywood, and it didn't matter whether it was during the hay day of screwball comedies or gritty films noir. That's why this Cinematical Seven is dedicated to those classic Hollywood couples that could battle with the best of them, but unlike Heigl and Butler, their chemistry became the stuff of movie legend.
After the jump; seven classic couples that are all-time champs when it comes to the battle of the sexes....
1. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy
There is a famous story of the first meeting of Hepburn and Tracy when the actress made a remark about her being too tall for her new co-star, and Tracy famously replied; "Don't worry, I'll cut you down to size" -- and with that quip it was true love on-screen and off. Their style was a little more acidic than some of the other couples on this list, but we wouldn't have it any other way. Nobody could do Patrician disdain like Hepburn and Tracy was her perfect partner as the everyman that loved to snub his nose at it all.
2. Myrna Loy and William Powell
Myrna Loy was known for playing exotic beauties until teaming up with William Powell to play society wife and part time sleuth Nora Charles in the Thin Man series. The two became synonymous with each other, and it was even an old Hollywood legend that when the two traveled for press events, hotels would automatically assume they were a real couple and book them in the same room. That's what these two captured, (and something that very few onscreen couples have); a feeling of true intimacy, and it didn't matter how much they would bicker or fight, or how many times Nick would ditch Nora while on a case, they always looked like they were having so much fun.
3. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell
In the remake of The Front Page, one of the smartest things Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht did was to change one of the roles to a woman. In His Girl Friday, Grant and Russell snap and bicker, but what makes their relationship special is that just like in Adam's Rib, these two people work together. So the personal and the professional get all mixed up, and suddenly what was just a romantic comedy is layered with these ideas of work and identity and whether a woman can truly have both.
4. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew is probably the granddaddy of men vs. women stories. Here's another real life couple that have played the lighter and the darker sides of a true battle of the sexes. In Zeffirelli's adaptation of the classic play, you can't help but wonder if the two brought their tempestuous relationship into their roles because their battle might be over the usual things like love and money, but damn if it isn't about a little lust too. So in spite of a slightly odd 'iambic pentameter' on the part of Taylor, I never fail to giggle when the two first meet and Burton is busy pontificating while Taylor flings furniture and screams in the background.
5. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda
They just don't make them like Stanwyck anymore. She may not have been a classic beauty, but the lady knew how to work her assets, and in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve, she played a con artist that uses those assets to swindle a brewing heir (played by Henry Fonda). But the tables turn when she's the one that gets played, forcing her to look for for a little revenge. There was a brainy pride to all of Stanwyck's roles and you always got the sense that she knew the score, which makes Fonda as the wide-eyed dolt the perfect foil for somebody like her -- I mean how do you play someone when they don't even know they're in the game?
6. Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable
If I ever started a religion (it could happen!), you can guarantee that Colbert will be one of my patron saints. Born in France, and raised in New York, Colbert was one of the premier ladies of screwball comedy and was one of the highest paid entertainers of her day. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of the spoiled society girl who falls for Clark Gable in Capra's It Happened One Night, and even though she had to be convinced to take the role, her wacky heiress was the template for every lovable flake to come after her, and who better to put her in her place than a wisecracking newspaperman (played to perfection by Gable)?
7. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Bogey and Bacall were never the couple to go to when you were looking for a light-hearted comedy, but in films like To Have and To Have Not and Key Largo, the couple proved that even in the midst of a criminal conspiracy, there is still time to trade a few sexed-up witticisms. So even though I'm sure their personal attraction had plenty to do with their onscreen chemistry, it takes a certain kind of gal to stand up to Bogart, and when he worked with Bacall, he had finally met his match.