Jul 20, 2010

Dream Casting: The Classic Duos That Never Happened

Have you ever seen a classic movie and wished it would have been cast differently? Or have you seen a perfect pair in a supporting role and wished they were the leads? And then there’s the role that was nearly perfectly cast—but for some reason wasn’t.

I nearly always think in pairs when I pine for that kind of perfect casting. Here are some of the duos I wish could have been (some of which almost became a reality):

Joan Blondell and Louise Beavers run a numbers racket together As much as I love Edward G. Robinson in Bullets or Ballots (1936), my favorite part of this crime drama is the lively relationship between numbers racket business partners Joan Blondell and Louise Beavers. Their story was the movie I really wanted to see. Blondell runs the primary business, while her former maid Beavers handles the Harlem sector. I loved their snappy dialogue and gal pal chemistry—and I was so frustrated by how few scenes these two had together. Their relationship could have been the basis for a fantastic crime comedy. When I imagine it taking place in the pre-code period, I practically weep for the lost possibilities.

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable costar in a screwball comedy It’s hard to say how real life couples will play off each other on the big screen. They definitely aren’t all Bogey and Bacall. In fact, some of the worst romantic screen pairings are real life lovers (maybe they get self-conscious?) Lombard and Gable had such big personalities; I can see how they may have been too overwhelming together in a screwball comedy. And yet, what an idea! Imagine these two getting wild together on the screen. They were both comfortable in comedies, and they had the bravado and courage necessary to go for the big laughs. This could have been a dynamite pairing.

Marie Dressler and Jean Harlow costar in a comedy According to biographer David Stenn, Harlow was so proud of her comic performance in Dinner at Eight (1933) that she burst into tears in her dressing room after filming her last scene. Co-star Dressler was also impressed with the young star, and hoped that she could star in comedy with her. It could have been the start of an entirely new kind of comedy team—the glamour girl and the matron. Unfortunately, Dressler died in 1934 before the movie could be made.

A film noir with Marie Windsor and Robert Mitchum Windsor and Mitchum had a similar laid back menace, strangely interwoven with a down-to-earth quality. They stole scenes on their own, so I’m guessing they’d either cancel each other out, or be absolutely electric together in a noir. I envision Mitchum as a detective and Windsor as the tough-talking owner of a nightclub. Maybe she helps him solve a crime?

Cary Grant with Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954) I only learned last year that Billy Wilder wanted Cary Grant for the part of Linus, the older man who seduces Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina away from her girlhood crush, but that he wasn’t available. Now I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch that movie without imagining him in the role. I think that bit of casting could have made Sabrina my favorite romance. As it is, I can’t accept Bogie in that role; I never believed Linus loved Sabrina. I just wanted her to go back to David. I could see Grant playing the role in some Bringing up Baby-style glasses—and gradually revealing the handsome romantic beneath the serious businessman. It would have made so much more sense.

What classic duos do you wish could have been?


  1. Wonderful suggestions. Gosh, Gable and Carole. I really think it would have worked.

  2. You know, Cary Grant turned down a lot of parts -- Ninotchka, Love In The Afternoon, Some Like It Hot and Dr. No (Cary Grant as James Bond!).

    Not to mention he initially turned down Charade and had to be talked into To Catch A Thief. And a few days into shooting, he asked to get out of making The Awful Truth! (Imagine what his career would look like now without those three gems.)

    He had a good sense of what would make money at the box office, but aside from the Hitchcock movies, he never seemed to want to stretch himself or risk his reputation once he reached his forties. And apparently Billy Wilder, who always wanted to make a movie with him, made Cary Grant nervous. So no Sabrina, no Love In The Afternoon, no nothing where Billy Wilder was concerned.

  3. Actually, come to think of it, I've read Billy Wilder wanted to cast Jerry Lewis and Cary Grant in Some Like It Hot (in the Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis parts, respectively) and both actors turned him down. In Grant's case, Wilder understood, but in Jerry Lewis's ... well, thereafter Wilder always greeted Lewis with the line "Hello, schmuck."

  4. Wow just imagine Clark and Carole in a screwball comedy! That would have been so good =)

    I always wanted to see Irene Dunne with Clark Gable and James Stewart but that never happened =(

  5. Raquelle--Thanks. It was fun to write!

    thingy--I do think Gable and Lombard would have worked in a screwball. It was the perfect genre for both of them. But you know how all the pieces can seem right and end up not fitting. It probably wouldn't have happened that way, but I can see it.

    MM--I am disappointed about Love in the Afternoon as well. That one I did know about--and before I saw the flick--so I couldn't accept poor worn-out Coop in the role at all. Thank heaven he at least did Charade.

    Rena--Dunne and Gable would have been interesting! Especially in a comedy. I think Dunne and Stewart would have been great together in a romance. Good ideas.

  6. Katharine H. and Bette Davis. I mean, just gah. I heard it rumored that Bette wanted to play the Shirley MacLaine role in Steel Magnolias opposite Kate in the Olympia Dukakis role (apparently they were older in the original)...and the thought of Kate and Bette as "frenemies" is just awesome.

  7. Kate and Bette as frenemies--ooh that is juicy! I've never heard that rumor before.