5 of the Best: Double Acts

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

Chemistry. That almost indefinable connection between two actors that is capable of making mediocre material and good material great. Two performers who just seem to naturally bounce off each other, taking them far beyond what they are capable of on their own. So, to celebrate those duos with the effortless rapport that makes everything they do together immediately watchable, here are 5 of my favourite on-screen double acts.

Abbott and Costello

Best Parody Films - Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Originally a a vaudeville double act, Bud and Lou rose through the ranks and at one time were among the most bankable stars in Hollywood. The skinny, grumpy Abbott is arguably the greatest straight man of all time, his gravel voice, base sneakiness and ever-growing exasperation being the perfect foil for his squeaky sidekick. The rotund Costello was a bundle of idiotic nervous energy, easily befuddled and as sweet and charming an on-screen presence as he was the opposite off-camera. Their interplay was slick, refined through years of vaudeville, but still flowed naturally, the material always feeling fresh and natural no matter how many times they performed it. Here were two men who elevated each other through well defined personas and crisp interplay, the very definition of a double-act.

Must watch: Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein

Pegg and Frost

In an era where the traditional double act is almost dead, here are two men keeping it going. There on-screen partnership started in the sitcom “Spaced” (which also brought them together with directorial collaborator Edgar Wright) but they had been close friends for years before that. Both are naturally gifted individual performers with their own independent careers but their best work (by far) has been in tandem. Rather than rely on one dynamic they have taken each film made together as an opportunity to explore different facets of the double act, from the tight established friendships in “Shawn of the Dead” and “Paul”, the meditation on odd couple buddy movies in “Hot Fuzz”, and the disintegration of an old friendship in “The World’s End”. Making of all these stand out is an intelligence far above that normally seen in genre movies and a flexibility that both offer as performers. The quintessential modern double-act, and hopefully there will be many more entries in their canon.

Must watch: Shawn of the Dead

Travolta and Jackson

How can a double act appear on this list on the basis of one movie? When the movie is “Pulp Fiction” and the double act are Travolta and Jackson. Possibly the most iconic moment of one of the finest films of the 1990s is simply two guys in a car making smalltalk. Their chemistry is undeniable; two actors delivering performances as strong as they ever managed playing two characters who needed each other but didn’t know it.

They re-teamed later on for the John McTiernan military mystery “Basic”, but the best thing to do is to pretend that film didn’t happen.

Must watch: Pulp Fiction

Powell and Loy

As Nick and Nora Charles, the husband and wife detective team at the centre of “The Thin Man” film series, William Powell and Myrna Loy captured the hearts of a generation of cinema goers in the 1930s. Powell was the witty urbane sleuth, a man with confidence, style and underworld connections. Loy was his dazzling wife, a woman who was every bit his equal, as capable of putting him down with a sly one-liner as a withering look. They worked together 14 times, including best picture winner “The Great Ziegfried’ (a strong contender for the worst Oscar winning film of all time) but Nick and Nora were the roles that really defined them as a duo, bringing the best out of them both.

Must watch: After the Thin Man.

Matthau and Lemmon

Many duos have been called “the original odd couple” but these two are the genuine article, establishing their double act in an adaptation of Neil Simon’s broadway play. As the uptight Felix and slovenly Oscar Lemmon and Matthau reinvigorated the notion of the double act, both simultaneously the straight man and the comic, making simon’s expert one-liners zing. They worked together nine times in total, including in the shamefully forgotten Billy Wilder comedy “The Fortune Cookie” and the under-appreciated remake of “His Girl Friday”, “The Front Page”, again with Wilder in the director’s chair. Their double act was rekindled for a late career renaissance with mixed results, ranging from the entertaining (“Grumpy Old Men”) to the execrable (“Out To Sea”), but through it all their perfectly poised dynamic, enduring talent and obvious friendship made them a watchable duo.

Must watch: The Odd Couple

Of course thee are many that could (and perhaps should) have made the list, so apologies for any glaring omissions, and particularly to fans of Laurel & Hardy, Wilder & Pryor, Hope & Crosby and Ferrell & Reilly; all of whom could easily have made this list on a different day. No apologies at all to fans of Martin & Lewis however. They were awful. Just awful.


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