WENDY’S CINEMATIC FRIENDSHIPS

by Wendy Merckel ~ Posted January 18th, 2020

When the holiday season rolled around a few short weeks ago, I looked to my friends to help make the season merry and bright. If you are dealing with loss or estrangement, that time of year can be very lonely. For many, our friends ARE our family. As I ponder on my great luck in finding WONDERFUL friends who share my love for classic films, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite cinematic friendships from the movies. Wendy Merckel

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“ALL ABOUT EVE” Thelma Ritter and Bette Davis

Frankly, I could make this ENTIRE LIST of great movie friends using only Thelma Ritter movies, but that would be too easy. I was going to pick only one, but my conscience bothered me badly while writing my first draft, because I left this one off.

Everything you need to know in All About Eve is stated in the glances between Thelma and Bette. EVERYTHING. I don’t think I’m wrong in stating that most communication between female friends happens this way – in unspoken communication. These two don’t even need words. The first person to become wise to Eve’s plotting is Thelma.

She is the first to understand the threat. And she comes out like a bulldog, at the risk of losing her friendship, by stating that danger out loud.

If you have a friend who is brutally honest with you, TREASURE THAT FRIEND. I do, and whenever I watch this movie, I think of how brave she was, to confront a situation she did not have to, just to let me know the score. As good friends as Bette and Celeste Holm are in the film, the friendship between Thelma and Bette is the one that has stood the test of time. It’s an old relationship, built on bedrock. It’s positively primordial – forged deep in the past, weathered through fire and cold, the staver-off of abject loneliness. Each knows everything about the other, the good and the bad, and they STILL like each other. It is history. That is true friendship.

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“A LETTER TO THREE WIVES” ~ Connie Gilchrist and Thelma Ritter 

I love these two as they sit and play cards as if they’ve been doing it for twenty five years together. You know they hang out every night and weekend and drink tons of coffee. They feel as familiar and warm to me as an old sweater. Great acting in the most mundane of roles.

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“THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR” ~ Gene Tierney and Edna Best

When Mrs. Muir moves to the haunted Gull Cottage, who’s there with the mop and bucket? Martha, played by Edna Best. Yes, she’s a servant, but these women live beyond those distinctions. They are past the point of politeness, which is what I love about them. They LIVE TOGETHER. They squabble and bicker like a couple of hens but they face things together. Thank goodness for friends like Martha, who make it possible for us to be on our own, but never be lonely.

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“CAMILLE” ~ Garbo and Rex O’Malley

What makes this movie all the more poignant for me is the performance of Rex O’Malley as Gaston. In the demi-monde, Gaston is that rare thing, a good friend, perhaps Marguerite’s only real one. There’s so much truth in this performance, it positively aches. One of the few honest portrayals of a gay man in classic film.

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“THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR” ~ Ginger Rogers and Diana Lynn

An odd friendship, but one that feels real. Ginger can’t fool Diana, they both have the same type of scrappy smarts. In the end, they come together because they both hate phony but ‘beguiling’ Rita Johnson. Friendships have been built on this for centuries.

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“HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT” ~ Charles Boyer and Leo Carrillo

Oh, gosh, I love these two together! These guys are so close that Carrillo hops aboard ship to follow his bestie to America. They are a great team, chef Carrillo cooking glorious food, head waiter Boyer conning restaurants into hiring him and his pal. There’s a little dust-up about the salade, but these two are never angry at each other for long.

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“THE PRISONER OF ZENDA” ~ Ronald Colman, David Niven and C. Aubrey Smith

These three cross back and forth from comedy to drama and back again in this good –natured film. Honestly, it is their camaraderie that makes the drama work so well. They all seem like they are having a wonderful time, not taking anything too seriously…even the possibility of death. They do such a good job of showing what loyalty and eternal friendship is, not to mention the fun they must have had, that I wish I had been on the set with them. It must have been a blast!

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“MY MAN GODFREY” ~ Carole Lombard and Jean Dixon

I had thought about posting Helen Broderick in “Top Hat” here, or maybe Charlotte Greenwood from “Moon Over Miami.” I also had Aline MacMahon down at one point, for her wonderful role as Trixie in “Gold-Diggers of 1933”. Or Ruth Donnelly and Edward Everett Horton in anything. All these folks portray terrific friends of the main character, but I think my favorite of these wisecrackers is Jean Dixon in “My Man Godfrey.” The rapport between Carole Lombard’s Irene and Jean’s Molly as they commiserate together, both having fallen for Godfrey, makes me laugh and cry at the same time. When they say, “I know JUST how you feel,” and cry together, you understand the bond two women can have when they are both suffering from unrequited love.

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“THE WESTERNER” ~ Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan

This friendship chokes me up. I realized, as I was compiling this list, that many of my favorite friendships on screen are the ones created through hardship suffered during the course of the film. Brennan is Judge Roy Bean, a crafty and delusional law-unto-himself, and he makes things plenty tough for Cooper, but there is a thread that draws them together: recognition. Cooper’s a bit foxy himself, a good bad man, with a past and a hankerin’ to leave it behind him. This recognition, and the friendship that ensues between the two is played so beautifully, that it makes me cry every time I see it. My favorite Brennan role, for sure, and possibly my favorite Coop western. Some of the rest of the film is sappy, but never Coop and Brennan.

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“HOLIDAY” ~ Cary Grant and Edward Everett Horton / Jean Dixon

The banter! The joy! The gymnastics! Oh, how I long to hang out with these three! Horton and Dixon, as the Potters, appreciate Cary’s Johnny for what he is – a force of nature. They don’t judge or condemn anyone, even the snooty Seton cousins played by Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes. The Potters make small talk about how unimportant they are, but the reality is that without them, Johnny would have no support at all, and neither would Kate Hepburn’s Linda, who finds herself through her friendship with Johnny and The Potters. I like to think that these down to earth folks come back to rescue Lew Ayres, who plays Linda’s brother Ned, who is unable to break free of his restrictive upbringing, which is killing him.

  

If anyone can break Ned out of his ivory tower, it’s The Potters. Ahead of their time, they would be right at home in the late 1960’s, as free-wheeling harbingers of the hippie generation.

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“GRAND ILLUSION” ~ Jean Gabin and Marcel Dalio

There are two great friendships at the heart of this movie, but I had to pick the earthy one because it feels more authentic to me. While the Von Stroheim/Fresnay friendship is based on class, and a realization that they are the last of a dying breed, the relationship between Gabin and Dalio is nothing short of astounding. They would never have been friends except for the randomness of war, and when they are thrust together, there is some friction. They learn to trust each other as prisoners of war, and when they escape, they come to appreciate the good in each other. In somewhat normal circumstances, at the farmhouse with Dita Parlo, their friendship deepens. It’s a remarkable story, especially considering the anti-semitism of the time. Even in one supreme moment of the film, when they are on the run, close to the border with soldiers searching for them….exhausted, Dalio hurt, and all their emotional baggage spilling out – Gabin calling Dalio a filthy Jew and Dalio telling Gabin to go his own way – even then their friendship cannot be destroyed. They literally hate each other in that moment….Gabin walks away in a huff and Dalio looks down, hurt and angry, his leg too painful to go on. Gabin walks a good way down the mountainside. Then he slows down. He stops. He returns and helps Dalio and they wordlessly move on, painfully slow. It is for me the greatest moment in almost any film. It shows that the agonies and boundaries (which only exist in the minds of men) of our world can be overcome – by friendship.

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“CALAMITY JANE” ~ Doris Day and Allyn Ann McLerie

 

I have no idea why this film friendship works so well. Honestly, if the movie was just about Calamity and Katie Brown, and had no men in it at all, I’d be happy. In fact, I’d prefer it! Allyn Ann and Doris have such great chemistry, I’d watch them sing and dance the phone book and be glad of the opportunity. It’s a love story between two friends. All other relationships in the movie pale by comparison. No more needs to be said.

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“GONE WITH THE WIND”  ~ Scarlett and Melanie 

I love the relationship that grows between these two women. When Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) says, “What a cool liar you are, Mellie,” and “I’m ashamed I didn’t think of that myself,” you can hear the grudging admiration in Scarlett’s voice.

From this point on, Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) is not a burden on Scarlett anymore. The relationship is so complex – Scarlett actually starts to feel guilt because of her contact with Melanie. Melanie’s goodness rubs off, forcing Scarlett to grow up… possibly having more effect than the war on her psyche. I think that at the end, Scarlett loved her, as much as she hated her in the beginning. Maybe all along, she loved Melanie without realizing it, just as she did Rhett. Melanie, in the end, DEEPLY UNDERSTOOD Scarlett. And understanding goes a long way…. it  is the underpinning of friendship – the thing that brings people together. Truly, the movie is more about Scarlett and Melanie than it is about Scarlett and Rhett.

 

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3 thoughts on “WENDY’S CINEMATIC FRIENDSHIPS

    • Fedo – Thank you so much for reading my post, and also for taking the time to comment. It was a fun post to write, and I’m very glad you enjoyed it. Friendship should never be taken lightly – and I appreciate yours immensely! 💚

      Liked by 1 person

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