Back in the days of the old ‘Studio System,’ movies studio execs would look for actors who had good on-screen chemistry and repeatedly cast them together in films. This was called “packaging”, and it lead to the frequent teaming of people like Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers; William Powell & Myrna Loy; Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall; Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi; Bob Hope & Bing Crosby; Errol Flynn & Olivia de Havilland; Nelson Eddy & Jeannette MacDonald; etc., etc.
The ‘Studio System’ is long gone and so is “packaging”. It’s a pity because it means that actors who work together once and have terrific chemistry might never work together again. Here are Six pairings of actors who worked together one time, clicked together very well but never teamed up a second time.
Johnny Depp and Martin Landau in Ed Wood (1994)
On the surface, this movie is a bio-pic about an inept filmmaker, oblivious to his own incompetence, carving out a career for himself as a legend among schlockmeisters. Beneath that, however, the real heart of this film is the relationship between Z-list director Ed Wood (Depp) and fading star Bela Lugosi (Landau.) As depicted in the film, Wood sees Lugosi as a hybrid of his leading man, friend and patient all rolled into one. Lugosi initially sees Wood as a way to make some money acting again, but comes to regard him as a trusted confidant, as well as his only hope for a career resurgence. The two actors play this bizarre yet strangely touching relationship superbly, building up a symbiotic relationship between odd outcasts. (Landau won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.) Wood’s indestructible optimism is a great contrast to Lugosi’s bitterness. The two actors nail this complex relationship perfectly.
Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny (1992)
This may initially seem like an unlikely pairing; seeing young, hot Tomei on the arm of shorter, older and plain-looking Pesci. However, the rapport between them is undeniable. They not only work well as a comedy team, there is clear sexual chemistry. Watching them in this film, you can easily believe that inexperienced lawyer Vinny Gambini (Pesci) and sexy hairdresser/mechanic Mona Lisa Vito (great name!) are really a couple. (Tomei won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this movie.)
Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in Running Scared (1986)
Buddy cop movies are churned out on a conveyor belt, but few of them are as good as this under-appreciated action comedy. The reason this one works so well is the constantly entertaining banter between officers Ray Hughes (Hines) and Danny Costanzo (Crystal). The easy-going comedic rapport between Hines and Crystal lifts an otherwise standard, by-the-numbers cop movie to a whole new level. While the casting of Billy Crystal as a tough street cop seems crazy, he pulls it off, mostly due to the way he plays off Hines. It’s a shame there was never a sequel. Why this movie isn’t better remembered is beyond me.
Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
It’s a joy for long-time film lovers to see two of the cinema’s finest actors sharing the screen together. Connery was in his post-Bond period, and this light-hearted adventure was a nice change of pace for him. Watching him and Caine chew-up the scenery in such a wonderfully over-the-top style is priceless. Portraying ex-soldiers turned con-men Daniel Dravot (Connery) and “Peachy” Carnahan (Caine), the two actors—who have long been good friends—came up with many of the visual hijinks that the two characters enact throughout the film. When you watch two actors this good, clearly having a lot of fun, directed by the legendary John Huston, in such an unabashedly entertaining movie, you’ll be glad to be a movie fan. (Actually, Connery and Caine were both in the epic war film A Bridge Too Far but they had no scenes together.)
Spencer Tracy and Frederic March in Inherit the Wind (1960)
Based on the real-life 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial”, this film features two of the most legendary, respected actors in film history going head-to-head, giving performances that should be shown in every acting class. The veteran actors play high-powered lawyers Henry Drummond (Tracy) who is based on Clarence Darrow, and Matthew Harrison Brady (March) who is based on William Jennings Bryan. The characters are former friends who find themselves on the opposite sides of a case because they are diametrically opposed in their beliefs on science vs. religion. Whichever side of the evolution vs. creationism arguments you’re on, you can’t deny that the performances here are absolutely epic, and the two stars play well off each other.
Mae West and W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee (1940)
Two of the biggest comedy stars of their era teamed up to make this comedy classic. Despite the fact that the two leads actually hated each other off-screen, they managed to co-write and co-star in the film they are both best remembered for today. The story is a western shoot-‘em-up parody about promiscuous Flower Bell Lee (West) who is run out of town due to her sexual liaisons, and must enter into a phony marriage with verbose conman Cuthbert B. Twillie (Fields). The two stars play their usual roles of a temptress and a huckster, while competing to out-do each other in their scenes together. West comes across the better of the two but Fields gives a memorable comic performance, as well. The movie itself is not the best work for either comic but this one-time partnership is a notable part of film history.