Kiss Connection - Thursdays in February
Kissing has provided a touch of titillation to the movies since the early days of the cinema. One of the first movies ever shown commercially to the public was The Kiss, an 1896 snippet of film showing John Rice bussing May Irwin in a now-quaint scene from the stage musical The Widow Jones. Since then, almost all movie romances have been sealed with kisses. So, we thought it might be fun to play a kind of “One Degree of Separation” game in which we connect a number of stars by smooching partners they have in common. Hence The Kiss Connection, in which we trace a trail of osculation in movies of the 1930s-60s that begins and ends with Irene Dunne.
Shown below are the star kissers and the films that link them, along with anecdotes about specific scenes.
February 4: In My Favorite Wife (1940) Irene Dunne kisses Cary Grant, who in Charade (1963) kisses Audrey Hepburn, who in Love in the Afternoon (1957) kisses Gary Cooper, who in Ball of Fire (1941) kisses Barbara Stanwyck, who in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) kisses Humphrey Bogart, who in To Have and Have Not (1944) kisses Lauren Bacall.
Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck enjoyed a potent romantic chemistry in Ball of Fire, their first of three films together. In this comedy directed by Howard Hawks, Cooper is an innocent, bumbling professor of semantics and Stanwyck a jaded, confident showgirl. In the movie’s most delicious scene, the diminutive Stanwyck stands on a couple of books to bring herself to kissing level with the tall, gangly Cooper.
She declares, “I’m going to show you what yum-yum is” as she wraps her arms around his neck. “Here’s yum,” she says, and plants a big kiss on his lips. Then, “Here’s the other yum,” with a longer, even more emphatic kiss. Finally, “And here’s yum-yum,” with a kiss so intense and forward-leaning that they both tumble over and into a nearby chair.
The other films in which Cooper and Stanwyck costarred were Meet John Doe (1941) and Blowing Wild (1953). Anthony Quinn, who costarred in the later film, wrote in his memoirs that, at the time, Cooper was “keeping company” with Stanwyck. According to Quinn, both onscreen and off, Cooper considered Stanwyck to be a true “ball of fire.”
February 11: In Written on the Wind (1956) Bacall kisses Rock Hudson, who in Lover Come Back (1961) kisses Doris Day, who in The Thrill of It All (1963) kisses James Garner, who in Boys’ Night Out (1962) kisses Kim Novak, who in Vertigo (1958) kisses James Stewart, who in Rear Window (1954) kisses Grace Kelly, who in High Society (1956) kisses Frank Sinatra.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window features one of the director’s most famous kissing scenes. It begins with a pan across the movie’s apartment-house set as a singer, who is one of the residents, practices her scales. The camera moves inside the window of the James Stewart character, who is confined with a broken leg, and comes to rest on his sleeping face.
A shadow that passes over his face seems ominous at first, but the source is revealed to be Grace Kelly’s head as she leans over Stewart and into one of the most intimate close-ups in all of cinema. He awakens with her shadow still darkening his face. Then a tight shot of the two famous profiles shows her kissing him passionately. In a husky, intimate voice she asks, “How’s your leg?”
Kelly was noted for enjoying offscreen romances with her leading men, which may have been the reason that Stewart’s wife, Gloria, reportedly drove him to and from the set of Rear Window every day of shooting and watched the filming of all scenes involving Kelly and her husband!
February 18: In The Tender Trap (1955) Sinatra kisses Debbie Reynolds, who in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) kisses Gene Kelly, who in Brigadoon (1954) kisses Cyd Charisse, who in The Band Wagon (1953) kisses Fred Astaire, who in Carefree (1938) kisses Ginger Rogers, who in The Primrose Path (1940) kisses Joel McCrea.
Fred Astaire was famously averse to “mushy love scenes” with his leading ladies. He was said to have preferred that any ardor between him and Ginger Rogers, his celebrated partner in 10 movie musicals, be expressed through their dancing. At best, they exchanged quick pecks onscreen.
But, perhaps to quell rumors that he didn’t like Rogers or that his wife didn’t want him to do kissing scenes, Astaire made an issue of giving Rogers a major smooch in Carefree. Playing a psychiatrist and his patient (!), the famous pair teases the idea of a passionate embrace throughout the film, including one smooch that takes place behind a door.
Astaire finally delivers the goods at the end of the number “I Used to Be Color Blind.” In this dream sequence, with Rogers trailing yards of chiffon, they share a graceful dance photographed partly in slow motion. After Astaire serenades Rogers, he finally plants a lingering kiss that goes on for several seconds. Astaire said later he felt it made up “for all the kisses I didn’t give Ginger over the years.”
February 25: In The Palm Beach Story (1942) Joel McCrea kisses Claudette Colbert, who in Boom Town (1940) kisses Clark Gable, who in Mogambo (1953) kisses Ava Gardner, who in Knights of the Round Table (1953) kisses Robert Taylor, who in Camille (1937) kisses Greta Garbo, who in Ninotchka (1939) kisses Melvyn Douglas, who in Theodora Goes Wild (1936) kisses Irene Dunne – which brings us back full circle to Miss Dunne.
Robert Taylor was considered unlikely casting as Armand in Camille, with Greta Garbo in the title role. The athletic young actor from Nebraska was, in his own way, almost as beautiful as Garbo. But he was relatively inexperienced, resolutely American, and reportedly in awe of his legendary Swedish costar.
Director George Cukor defended the casting, noting that Taylor’s “very crudity, that intensity of young passion” made him “an extremely good Armand.” As it turned out, the stars had good chemistry, and the film worked so well that Garbo would choose Camille as her favorite among all her pictures. It bolstered Taylor’s considerable following among female film fans, who swooned at the many love scenes.
Nevertheless, there were some awkward moments between the stars during filming, including an unfortunate incident during their first kissing scene when Taylor, beset by nerves, let Garbo slip from his arms and fall on the floor. He said later that “she was laughing and I was stumbling all over myself trying to help her up.”
As an actress, Garbo took control of the lovemaking and often played the aggressor. She reportedly startled Taylor in one sequence in which she is seated on his lap and, instead of kissing him just once, does so repeatedly. As critic Charles Taylor puts it in an article in The Observer, “She rains petite nibbling kisses all over his face as if he were a dessert she doesn’t know where to begin tasting.”
By Roger Fristoe