Meet Cutes - Tuesdays in May
Whether it's on a bus, in the city dump, at the shop around the corner or in Bombay or New York, the movies are full of happenstance encounters between potential lovers that spark a blossoming relationship and draws an audience into the plot. The "meet cute," a staple of the romantic comedy, usually places the actors in an awkward or uncomfortable position that must be worked through before their characters are free to consummate their love.
These "meet cutes" will be celebrated by TCM every Tuesday this month, featuring some of the oddest and most amusing introductory encounters from a variety of movies. Highlights include:
Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert meet on the open road in It Happened One Night (1934), when Gable's no-nonsense reporter clashes with Colbert's willful runaway heiress over a seat at the rear of a bus. In another classic 1930s comedy, My Man Godfrey (1936), "forgotten man" William Powell meets socialite Carole Lombard at his "residence" at the dump after he pushes her snooty sister (Gail Patrick) into an ash pile.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) costars James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as a pair who "meet cute" twice - once as correspondents who respond to a personal ad and fall in love through their letters, then again as unwitting coworkers at a leather-goods shop. They Met in Bombay (1941) refers to an encounter in India between competing jewel thieves with false identities (Gable again, this time with Rosalind Russell). He is posing as an insurance agent while she pretends to be a friend of the Royal Family.
In Dangerous When Wet (1953) Esther Williams is practicing to swim the foggy English Channel and thinks she is climbing into a rowboat with her trainer (Jack Carson). She instead finds herself being pulled aboard by a charming champagne salesman (Fernando Lamas, who would become Williams' third husband in real life). And did you hear the one about the farmer's daughter (Debbie Reynolds) who falls for an IRS agent (Tony Randall) without realizing the nature of his interest in her family? That "meet cute" happens in The Mating Game (1959).
Sunday in New York (1963) finds us back on a bus - this one on the Fifth Avenue line in Manhattan, where a young innocent (Jane Fonda) bumps into a handsome man of the world (Rod Taylor). Taylor shows up again for a "meet cute" with Doris Day in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), where she's playing a "mermaid" who entertains at a tourist attraction in Santa Catalina Island and he's a fisherman who accidentally "hooks" her tail. It doesn't get much cuter than that!
In The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), George Segal plays a writer who complains about noise coming from the next apartment, which belongs to an actress/prostitute played by Barbra Streisand. After the noisy neighbor is evicted, guess who shows up at the writer's door for a "cute" confrontation? The quippy lovers of The Goodbye Girl (1977) are also introduced through a clash over housing. Marsha Mason plays a former dancer whose lover has sneaked off to Italy after secretly subletting their apartment to a struggling actor played by Richard Dreyfuss.
Memorable "meet cutes" occur in two cross-dressing comedies of 1982 in which the lead character poses as a member of the opposite sex to further his/her career. In Tootsie, Jessica Lange meets fellow actor Dustin Hoffman as he pretends to be female in order to find work in a TV soap opera. And in Victor/Victoria James Garner encounters Julie Andrews as she plays a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a drag queen!
by Roger Fristoe