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Needing the One You Hate: Frenemies from Casablanca to The Eagle

Slide 1: Roman/Celt

In The Eagle, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tautum) teams up with his Celtic slave Esca (Jamie Bell) to journey past the edge of the known world in search of the lost Eagle of the Ninth.  Far from best friends, these two are born enemies whose tentative truce springs from a rough gratitude. While Esca, a Brigantes prince whose father was killed by the Romans, has been turned into a slave, he begrudgingly owes Aquila his life. And while Aquila’s father and his legion of the Ninth was supposedly massacred by Celtic tribes (like the Brigantes), Aquila needs Esca to guide him North of Hadrian’s Wall.  As such a marriage of inconvenience is negotiated. But over time, their fragile alliance matures into a real friendship. It is, of course, a classic tale––enemies who become friends. In The Eagle, this bond is forged by and for adventure. But it could just easily be the stuff of comedy or melodrama. In the following slideshow, we look at a handful of these pairs, from Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains finding an unlikely friendship in the classic World War II drama Casablanca to Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy's combative, enforced partnership in the comedy thriller 48 Hours.  

Slide 2: Apolitical/Collaborator | Casablanca (1942)
Among the many memorable lines in Michael Curtiz' quote-worthy Hollywood romance Casablanca is the aside that Rick (Humphrey Bogart) gives to Captain Louis Renault’s (Claude Rains) on a fog-draped airport runway at night: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” This sentiment alone could well become the rally cry for the Frennemy genre. The two men, while not passionate enemies, were each cynical and hardened it their own way. Rick, an ex-pat bar owner in Casablanca, wants nothing to do with the Nazi conflict sweeping Europe. Renault, a French bureaucrat now working for the pro-Nazi Vichy government, had long ago traded patriotism for the profit motive. But when Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), the luminous wife of a Czech Resistance fighter, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) (and Rick’s ex-love), find themselves in Casablanca trying to secure safe passage out of occupied territories, the two men find a strange bond. Initially the Rick and Renault simply trade favors (Rick providing tidbits of info, Renault looking the other way), but over time the two men seem to risk more and more. Assessing the import and meaning of the friendship that emerges between Bogart and Rains' characters, film historian Kevin Starr writes, “Interpretations of Casablanca, and they are multiple, range from straight allegory, with Rick (Humphrey Bogart) as Roosevelt, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) as Churchill, and Casablanca as exactly that, the White House. Rick and Renault, Roosevelt and Churchill, agree at Casablanca that, in Renault's phrase, theirs is going to be a beautiful friendship. ...Others detect a submerged homosexual attraction between Rick and Renault or at least a strong homoerotic bond, while others, more plausibly, see Casablanca as a paradigm of the new world order brought on by the Second World War with its mixing of cultures, nations and languages.”
Slide 3: The Heiress/the Reporter | It Happened One Night (1934)

Frank Capra's sassy 1934 romantic comedy It Happened One Night, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is a spoiled heiress on the run from her dad. King Westley (Clark Gable) is an out-of-work newspaper reporter in need of a good story.  The two hammer out a bitter bargain. Andrew will give Westley the scoop to her scandalous elopement story if he’ll help her get to New York to meet up with her prospective husband. Part of the film’s charm lies in the way that the pair of star-crossed lovers inevitably learn that they have not only misjudged each other, but themselves as well. Gable’s character proves to be not quite as cynical and rough-hewn as he pretends to be, and Colbert’s heiress is deeper and more sincere that her flighty behavior would first suggest.  The most famous scene in the movie demonstrates the fact that Colbert's Ellie Andrews is in fact a little wiser in the ways of the world than she may seem, while Gable's Peter Warne is not as capable as he might like to think. Forced to hitchhike, Peter's “expert” techniques all fail, but Ellie simply has to show a little leg, and the very first car stops and offers them a lift. Reviewing this pre-Code gem, which became the first movie ever to claim all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay), Salon's Stephanie Zacharek wrote that the film “still feels unbeatably fresh and shiveringly touching. It's partly in the way Gable, with his whip-smart devilishness, softens just enough to reach out to meet Colbert, saucily innocent yet nobody's fool, more than halfway. And Colbert, with her wisenheimer smirk and stylishly trim frame, represents cultured coolness that's as far as you can get from coldness: When she thinks Gable has turned against her, the soft tear that glimmers in her eye (without doing anything so gauche as actually rolling down her cheek) is like a miniature novel encompassing a world of restraint, longing and fear of loss.”

Slide 4: Sober/Drunk | The African Queen (1951)

Following Casablanca, here's another wartime movie set in Africa during a global conflict (this time World War I) and starring Humphrey Bogart, yet The African Queen is a radically different movie. Based on the novel by English author C.S. Forester (most famous for his Horatio Hornblower books), The African Queen stars Bogart as the gruff, alcoholic boat captain Charlie Allnut, a Canadian expat in German East Africa, while his foil is the prim, middle-aged English missionary Rose Sayer, played by Catherine Hepburn. Adversity, however, helps them not only overcome the chasm in class, nationality and manners, after they decide to take on the improbable task of navigating a series of treacherous rapids in the Allnut's aging boat, the African Queen, and then blowing up a pivotal German gunboat. Bogart as the grouchy bachelor unused to the company of women, and Hepburn, playing a missionary who is prim and proper but just as gutsy and capable as any man, give superb performances (Bogart won the Best Actor Oscar), and make us believe that these odd souls make sense as a team, and then as a romantic couple. Writing about the John Huston-directed movie in The New Yorker, Pauline Kael said that Bogart and Hepburn play together “with an ease and humor that makes their love affair – the mating of a forbidding, ironclad spinster and a tough, gin-soaked riverboat captain – seem not only inevitable, but perfect.”

Slide 5: Black/White | The Defiant Ones (1958)

The dominant image of Stanley Kramer's movie The Defiant Ones is of Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis running while handcuffed together. It's an emblematic image from this highly symbolic movie about two prisoners in the American South––African-American Noah Cullen (Poitier) and white racist John “Joker” Jackson (Curtis)––who escape from a chain gang and must work together to keep their freedom and their lives. Through their shared struggle, they learn to overcome their initial hatred and distrust of one another, and ultimately find a brotherly solidarity. When a woman they meet sends Poitier's Noah off towards a swamp and inevitable death, “Joker” opts to risk his newly won freedom in order to save the man towards whom he so recently felt only disdain and enmity. In his New York Times review, Bosley Crowther wrote that Kramer's movie was a “candid presentment of racial conflict and resentment between Negroes and whites [that] rips right into the subject with clawing ferocity and flails it about with merciless fury until all the viciousness in conflict is spent. ...As his fugitives pause for brief recovery after perilous fording of streams, racing across open country or hairbreadth escape from a mob, he has them slash at each other with bitter accusations that reveal with startling illumination their complete commonality. In the end, it is clear that they are brothers, stripped of all vulgar bigotry.”

Slide 6: Old/Young | True Grit (1969)

Many unlikely pairings are brought together by chance, happenstance or plain bad luck, but in the case of True Grit, the classic 1969 movie based on Charles Portis' novel (and recently remade by the Coen brothers), the partnership is by design. After her father is murdered, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) hires grizzled, drunken U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" J. Cogburn (John Wayne) to track down and bring to justice the man responsible, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). For $100, the one-eyed, famously tough Cogburn helps Mattie, and the two have to overcome gender and generational divides in order to become traveling companions. On the road, though, it becomes clear that Mattie is tougher than her young years might suggest, and that Cogburn has a (well-hidden) softer side. “Wayne's most touching sequences are with the young girl Mattie (Kim Darby), “ writes critic Emanuel Levy in his overview of the movie, “especially when he tells her how, as a young man, he had single-handedly charged a whole gang of outlaws. In another scene, he tells Kim of his past, his broken marriage and his son who did not like him.”

Slide 7: Cop/Crook | 48 Hours (1982)

Cops and convicts really don't get along, so it's inevitable that the main characters in Walter Hill's 48 Hours don't exactly start out on the best of terms. Gruff, hard-living murder detective Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) is out to catch the thief and cop-killer Albert Ganz (James Remar). But to succeed he must enlist the assistance of Ganz's former partner in crime, a slick, fast-talking jailbird named Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy). The two could not be more different. In addition to being on opposites sides of the law, Hammond is black, sassy, and quick, while Cates is white, laconic, and taciturn. In the end, however, the qualities that each disparage in the other turn out to be very elements that each needs. In one celebrated scene, Hammond in his jive and blustery way turns into Cates’ perfect crime fighting partner. Posing as a detective, he brings a rowdy redneck bar to a standstill, declaring, “I'm your worst fucking nightmare, man! A nigger with a badge.” In her New York Times review of Hill's movie, Janet Maslin wrote, “Mr. Murphy and Mr. Nolte make a fine, unlikely team, seeming to enjoy each other's company even when saying the rottenest things, and rising bravely to meet each new challenge. Mr. Nolte, as the grouch of the pair, handles the less showy role expertly, while Mr. Murphy runs away with every comic situation that comes his way. At times, these two sound so tough it's almost funny, especially when they're forced to trade the lines, 'You're gonna be sorry you ever met me' and, 'I'm already sorry.'”

Slide 8: Prisoner/Keeper | Midnight Run (1988)

The comedy of opposites is exploited in the very casting of Martin Brest’s 1988 comedy thriller Midnight Run. Robert De Niro, who rose to fame playing gangsters and psychopaths, was cast as the law––bounty hunter Jack Walsh. Charles Grodin, who was Hollywood go-to milquetoast, was picked to play the criminal, Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas, a sticky-fingered accountant who has embezzled $15 from a Las Vegas gangster. Catching Mardukas proves the easy part; Walsh’s real challenge is transporting him from New York to Los Angeles. In addition to Mardukas’ neurotic whims (for example, he refuses to fly), Walsh must also deal with the mob (who wants Mardukas dead) and a fellow bounty hunter (who wants Mardukas for himself). Although there is a major personality clash between the tough Walsh and the weaselly Mardukas, they just about make it to the end of their journey without being caught – or killing each other – and even manage to find some common ground. “Along the way, of course, they discover that, despite their opposite natures, they really do like and respect one another,” wrote Roger Ebert of De Niro and Grodin's characters. “This sounds like a formula, and it is a formula. But Midnight Run is not a formula movie, because the writing and acting make these two characters into specific, quirky individuals whose relationship becomes more interesting even as the chase grows more predictable. …It's rare for a thriller to end with a scene of genuinely moving intimacy, but this one does, and it earns it.”

Slide 9: Hippie/Straight Dude | Flashback (1990)

Dennis Hopper riffed on his Easy Rider hippiepersona in the enjoyable comic thriller Flashback, in which he played an aging 60s radical, Huey Walker, who has been finally caught for a 20-year-old crime he did not commit. (In a nice in-joke, Hopper's character at one point refers to the era-defining movie, saying, “It takes more than going down to your local video store and renting Easy Rider to be a rebel.") The man charged with bringing the ponytailed, shaggy bearded Walker to trial is straight-laced, conservative young FBI agent John Buckner (Kiefer Sutherland), a model professional who seems diametrically opposed to Walker in every way. It's not long, however, before the two have to work together after they fall foul of corrupt lawman Sheriff Hightower (Cliff De Young) – and it is revealed that Buckner is in fact the son of hippies, and was brought up on a commune with the name Free! Also in 1990, Hopper appeared in another film about unlikely pairings, playing opposite Jodie Foster in the flawed but fascinating Catchfire, which he directed but subsequently disowned. The decidedly offbeat plot revolves around a solitary hitman (Hopper) who is hired by to kill a conceptual artist (Foster) after she witnesses a mob slaying, but ends up taking her hostage and, against reason and all odds, winning her heart. Hopper removed his name from the film as director after it was re-cut, and crucial scenes showing the shift in the relationship between the two protagonists were removed.

Slide 10: Finn/Russian | The Cuckoo (2002)

It is difficult for enemies to overcome their grave differences in any scenario, but it is particularly hard when the antagonists are at war. However, this is exactly the scenario presented in Russian director Alexander Rogozhkin's World War II fable The Cuckoo. The two foes in question are Veiko (Ville Haapasalo), a soldier in the Finnish army (who were allies of the Nazis) who is punished for his pacifism by being dressed in a Nazi uniform and shackled to a boulder out in the wilds with only a rifle and a little food, and Ivan (Viktor Bychkov), an injured soldier from the Russian Army. Both men end up in the care of Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), a lonely young Lapp woman whose husband has been away at war for the past four years, and only fail in killing each other because they are both so weak from their respective ailments. Incapable of understanding each other or Anni because of the language barrier, the opposing soldiers learn to coexist, though relations are complicated by Anni's seduction of first one and then the other. “The Cuckoo settles into the snappy rhythms of a promising sitcom pilot,” wrote Scott Tobias in his review for The Onion's A.V. Club, “at least until Rogozhkin decides to get serious and posit their miscommunication as a honking metaphor for war: These men are enemies, he implies, but at heart they're really the same.”

Slide 11: Old Man/Korean Kid | Gran Torino (2008)

Take a curmudgeonly, xenophobic Korean war veteran, Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), and a young Asian American teenager, Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang), and it's not difficult to see that they're not going to get along. And good relations are even more unlikely if you add in the fact that Thao tries to steal Walt's beloved 1972 Gran Torino. And yet in Clint Eastwood's final movie before retiring as an actor, Gran Torino, the two form a surprising bond. They are neighbors in Highland Park, a Detroit suburb where gangs run rampant, and when Thao (who was made to steal Walt's car as an initiation rite and makes it up to Walt by doing work for him) wants to retreat from gang life, Walt assumes the role of protector for both him and his sister Sue. “Gradually and grudgingly, Walt takes the boy under his wing and takes it upon himself to "man him up" a bit—but only after Walt first steps across the property line and into the Hmong world,” wrote the Village Voice's Scott Foundas. “At its most didactic, Gran Torino has Walt stare into a mirror and realize that he has more in common with these "foreigners" than he does with his own flesh and blood, but more often, the movie works by subtle implication. Where Korea was Walt's war, Vietnam was the Hmong's. Both understand that a man who has seen war can never not be that man, and that the kind of absolution Walt Kowalski seeks won't be found in a confessional.” 

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