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Outback Chemistry

Marvelling, on a rewatch today, at the relationship Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr conjure in The Sundowners (1960). This marriage is incredibly specific, and they give you their lived-in camraderie, their longstanding grievances, their happy-sex-life vibes, and even their future together constantly. 

What actors have wowed you in terms of conjuring authentic marriage vibes onscreen? 

Unrelated P.S.: It's a pity that Robert Mitchum only ever received one Oscar nomination in his career. His & hers would have not been untenable here and he very obviously should have been in the mix for Night of the Hunter (1955). 

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Reader Comments (32)

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEli

Not a deep cut but still true: Streep and Tucci in Julie & Julia

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

I was thinking about this the other day; Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd in Knocked Up. Mann is pigeonholed into the exasperated wife role quite a bit, but never has her relationship been as authentic than with Rudd. I kept forgetting they weren’t married irl.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

liz and dick in '...virginia woolf'

[i'm a little cynical about relationships]

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano in The Big Sick.

Richard Dreyfuss and Teri Garr in Close Encounters.

Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond.

Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman in Love Actually.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

Biggs --- oooh good choices.

par -- a "little" cynical ;)

Tom -- 1000% true

Eli - just thinking of them makes me so sad.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Peter Falk & Gena Rowlands, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams, BLUE VALENTINE

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

William Powell & Myrna Loy in all their films but especially The Thin Man.

Jean Simmons & Robert Preston in All the Way Home

Beulah Bondi & Victor Moore in Make Way for Tomorrow

Could not agree more about Mitchum. A career full of worthy work and only one nod. He's brilliant in Night of the Hunter but I think the real miss is for his work in the lesser known but excellent The Lusty Men where he should have been the winner.

But then at least he received one nomination unlike so many greats-Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, Donald Sutherland, the aforementioned Myrna Loy and many others who were completely stiffed.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Deborah Kerr like Doris Day and some other actresses has chemistry with everybody and everything. The Sundowners is already for a good time in my list of future watch.
What actors have wowed you in terms of conjuring authentic marriage vibes onscreen? Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon (my forever cruch and favorite screen husband/father), William Powell and Myrna Loy, and James Stewart and June Allyson.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

I LOVE THIS MOVIE SO MUCH. You described it perfectly. And I agree with Gwen - Deborah Kerr had chemistry with everyone (though her chemistry with Mitchum is indeed the best).

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLeehee

Clark and Ellen Griswold
The Turnblads - Hairspray
In America

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrezz

Liv Ullmann and Erland Josepson in Scenes of a marriage

Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin in Blue Jasmine

Nicole Kidman and Stephen Dillane in The Hours

Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter in A streetcar Named Desire

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in 45 Years

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan Murder Mystery

Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid in Casablanca

Celia Johnson and Cyril Raymond in Brief Encounter

William Holden and Beatrice Straight in Network

Allen and Keaton have chemistry to spare in every film they have made together, but in this one they are married!

My other three choices here: none of them is the focal point of the film but in all three we need to believe they are a plausible married couple in order for the main love story (with the other person) to work, and I do believe all of these.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

What Eli said -- Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour came to mind right away.


Clive Owen & Julianne Moore in Children of God
Gong Li & You Ge in To Live
Julie Christie & Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now
Isaach de Bankolé & Danai Gurira in Mother of George
Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward in Mr & Mrs Bridge
Demi Moore & Patrick Swayze in Ghost
Shuli Rand & Michal Bat-Sheva Rand in Ushpizin
Judy Davis & Sydney Pollack in Husbands and Wives
Mandy Patinkin & Glenn Close in Maxie
Chishū Ryū & Chieko Higashiyama in Tokyo Story

and for the strange catharsis of the union:

Kathleen Turner & Michael Douglas in The War of the Roses
Héctor Alterio & Norma Alendro in The Official Story
Judy Davis & Peter Weller in Naked Lunch
Lubna Azabal & Abdelghafour Elaaziz in Incendies
Jeremy Irons & Miranda Richardson in Damage
Olivier Gourmet & Isabelle Huppert in Home
Sigourney Weaver & Stuart Wilson in Death and a Maiden

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

Broadbent and Sheen in Another Year.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones in Blue Sky were absolutely fabulous

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterclement_paris

I'm delighted you dug The Sundowners; it always struck me as a perfect thing to watch with the family.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

I love Mitchum and Kerr together in the wonderful Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.

But of course Gena & Falk make the most painful marriage ever put to film. Liz & Dick would sell their kidneys to reach that depth, and I love Liz & Dick.

Other than that, I was very very impressed with Auteil and Binoche in Caché. They are not an obvious couple, and they're kind of detached, but there are so many things happening in that movie in many tiny details.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Mary Tyler Moore & Donald Sutherland in ORDINARY PEOPLE, obvs

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

More recently, Kathryn Hahn & Paul Giamatti in Private Life; Lupita N'yongo & Winston Duke in Us; and Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob


Yes, Kathleen Turner & Michael Douglas in The War of the Roses - those two have the most remarkable chemistry. You believe both their love and their seething resentments in that (brilliant) film.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Cool question. Mostly married life is used as a side-story and not the central theme so it's a difficult answer.

Some others that come to mind:

Stewart and Reed - It's a Wonderful Life
Williams and Lane - The Birdcage
(in a very strange way) Binoche and Shimell - Certified Copy

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

This post is why TFE is my favorite site! You are marvelous!

What Gwen said re Garson and Pidgeon. Mrs. Parkington was on TCM the other night and I was mesmerized by their chemistry.

Though not a movie, what Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton do in Friday Night Lights is extraordinary.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson in The Incredibles comes to mind.

Shout outs too to Ordinary People and Friday Night Lights.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterShmeebs

SO MANY great choices here. A couple that haven't been name-dropped yet:

Sakura and Lily in Shoplifters
Michael and Amira in Call Me By Your Name
Sissy and Tom in In the Bedroom
Dustin and Valerie in Lenny
Kate and Leo in Revolutionary Road
Michelle and Seth in Take This Waltz
Julianne and Annette in The Kids Are Alright

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJ.B.

Ever since I saw Pauline Kael on a talk show in the late 70s discussing how unconvincing Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman were as a married couple in Kramer vs Kramer (I think she was totally right), I've always paid attention to this factor in movies. Another couple who I felt had zero chemistry and thus weren't convincing: Julianne Moore & Alec Baldwin in Still Alice. Chemistry is such an intangible thing. It's either there or it isn't, no matter how gifted each of the actors are. At any rate, this is a great topic, TFE - thanks!

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Tracy & Hepburn in Adam's Rib is the very first time I loved a marriage on the movies, and it still holds up.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

Pam -- i was actually thinking of Kyle & Connie & Friday Night Lights when I posted this. It's my all time favourite TV marriage because I absolutely bought that they were a married couple and had been together forever every. single. scene. over the whole series, to the point where I kept being surprised when they were just themselves at premieres, interviews, awards shows, and not actually a couple.

July 18, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Peter Finch and Murray Head...Sunday Bloody Sunday

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDO

More an example of a toxic-relation than a chemistry-marriage but the first couple come to my mind are Laia Marull and Luis Tosar who are perfect together in Take My Eyes

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCésar Gaytán

Robert Mitchum was so charismatic that in many movies he could make almost no effort and be OK in it, but when he decided to act he was terrific.

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterWimsey

Definitely Greer and Walter. I remember them being on The Dinah Shore Show in the 70s and saying that she was known as the daytime Mrs. Pigeon. So cute!

July 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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