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Three Great Screen Couples

Better Living Through On-Screen Chemistry


Myrna Loy and Dick Powell

The Thin Man DVD

(c) Warner Home Video
It’s all about chemistry – that spark and sizzle between two people that makes it fun to watch them – and makes a really good movie romance oh-so-satisfying.

Whether it’s sophisticated wordplay, battles of will, or double entendre, if you find yourself thinking, “All right already, when’s he going to kiss her?” that’s great chemistry. Here are three classic Hollywood couples whose on-screen chemistry was money in the bank.

Myrna Loy and William Powell

The ultimate sophisticated couple of the ‘30s and ‘40s, these two made an impressive 14 movies together, most famously in the six-flick “Thin Man” series as wise-cracking Nick and Nora Charles. Powell is a former gumshoe who just wants to settle into a life of recreational drinking with his wife, the madcap heiress, and their adorable back-flipping terrier Asta – but they keep getting interrupted by unsavory characters from Powell’s past with mysteries to solve.

Powell almost doesn’t look natural unless he’s in white tie and tails, and Loy is gorgeous, whether she’s nursing a hangover in a filmy peignoir, or arranging a formal sit-down dinner for the local mob heavies. The perfect couple on screen, they were great friends off screen, and their collaboration lasted longer than many Hollywood marriages.

Don’t miss The Thin Man, or Manhattan Melodrama (infamous as the film John Dillinger saw the night he was gunned down outside the theater).

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Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

“Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? Just put your lips together…and blow.” Those instructions from a sultry, 19-year-old Lauren Bacall to Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not all but scorched the screen and ignited an off-screen romance as well. Bogart, 45, divorced his wife and married the sensational Bacall when she was 20.

The two co-starred in three more films, including the film noir masterpiece The Big Sleep. Their screen relationship in the subsequent films generates the same great heat, but more than a little tenderness as well. The chemistry off-screen stayed strong as well in a happy marriage that produced two children and lasted until Bogart’s death in 1957.

Hollywood royalty, the hard-drinking Bogart and Bacall founded the infamous Rat Pack after an off-hand comment Bacall made amid the ruins of a particularly raucous party: “You all look like a goddamned rat pack.”

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Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

The rumpled Midwestern Catholic who wouldn’t get a divorce and the free-spirited New England liberal who loved him are the stuff of legend, and it’s always hard to know where Hollywood fact leaves off and Hollywood fiction begins. Nevertheless, Hepburn and Tracy were one of Hollywood’s great couples, and nobody could do an on-screen battle of wills like these two.

They were physically mismatched -- she was tall, athletic, angular and lovely. He was short, heavy-set, with a classic Irish mug and a cleft chin. Their first film together was Woman of the Year, which is a touch dated for my taste. I like the rough-and-tumble of Pat and Mike, where Tracy plays coach to Hepburn’s famous female golfer, and the arch byplay of Desk Set with Tracy as the computer expert and Hepburn as the reference librarian his creation is meant to replace.

Also dated now, but still moving as their last collaboration is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a pairing all the more poignant when you know that Tracy died just 17 days after filming.

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