Thursday, February 14, 2008  

Sexiest Screen Kisses

We celebrate 10 of cinema's hottest smooches

By Kathleen Murphy
Special to MSN Movies

In "Bull Durham," while sizing up a potential bedmate, Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), sexy baseball groupie and muse, asks veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) what he believes in. This baseball stud's been around the diamond a few times, so he drawls out a provocative list that includes everything from "the hangin' curveball" to good Scotch to soft-core pornography. But it's his last entry that hits a home run: "I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days." Crash's notion of slow-burn kissing requires time and expertise. In the lexicon of his libido, locking lips means a delicious slide into sensual meltdown -- not just a brief hiatus in the mechanics of hooking up.

When nightclub hottie Barbara Stanwyck takes her own good time savoring Gary Cooper's lips in "Ball of Fire" -- "I'm gonna show you what yum-yum is" -- she sends the novice's temperature skyrocketing so high, cold water must be applied. And who can argue with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) when he growls at Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) with virile menace in "Gone with the Wind": "You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how." And then there's tough-guy Humphrey Bogart's romantic tribute to the woman he's loved and lost in "In a Lonely Place": "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

But that was then -- and this is now. Despite the lure of Angelina Jolie's impossibly plush mouth, Julia Roberts' wide-as-all-outdoors grin and Reese Witherspoon's perky lips, not to mention the boyish charms of Brad and Leo and Colin and Jake and Heath, does it sometimes seem to you that there's an insufficiency of genuinely sexy smooching in the movies? For your Valentine's Day pleasure, we've compiled 10 silver-screen kisses that hit us where we live. Enjoy -- and don't forget to share your own favorite sizzlers.

10. "The More the Merrier" (1943)
Walking home through dark quiet streets, punctuated by embracing soldiers and their girls (it's World War II), lanky Joel McCrea keeps draping his hand over adorable Jean Arthur's shoulder. This move causes her to angle out from under her fur wrap, which he gallantly re-adjusts so that his hand can return to its happy position. While chatting away about girls he's "gone with," their voices lower into the languorous rhythms of mutual desire. After they practically collapse on her brownstone steps, Arthur babbles bravely on about the man she's engaged to marry (not McCrea), while he purrs at her as though she were a saucer of milk, fondling her hand, her arm, her waist, then leaning into her neck and placing his hand on her breast and throat -- she, of course, fending and lifting and re-adjusting and talking, until finally, just as we are about to melt down, they kiss. It's one of the hottest love scenes in the movies.

9. 'Notorious' (1946)
Signing on for some kind of post-World War II spy mission in South America, the party girl has gotten sober and fallen in love with the guy who recruited her in "Notorious." Now, in a Rio hotel room, the sleekly dark Devlin (Cary Grant) stalks around the radiant Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) like a hungry but wary cat. Their kissing is so passionate, she sighs with its intensity; what whispered words they can get out fall between the more important business of keeping the kisses coming. As they drift in off the balcony, she leans on him, turning him for another kiss as he phones his office. "This is a very strange love affair." Kiss. "You don't love me." Kiss. "When I don't love you, I'll let you know." Heartbreakingly luminous, deliquescent with love, Bergman exposes her very soul in those deep kisses, whereas Grant remains opaque, ramrod straight, a hard man not easily taken in. Director Alfred Hitchcock faked out the censors -- who forbade kisses that lasted for more than two seconds -- by interspersing conversation with lovemaking, thereby making the scene one of the most erotic ever filmed.

8. 'Vertigo' (1958)
In "Vertigo," former-cop-turned-private-eye Scottie (James Stewart) falls head over heels for Madeleine (Kim Novak), a mysterious beauty with a Mona Lisa smile. She's his platonic ideal of cool blond beauty, more illusion than flesh-and-blood woman. As he eyeballs Madeleine obsessively, it's clear that looking at her is all the carnal possession this loving voyeur needs. After her death, Scottie discovers her earthy brunette "twin" and proceeds to methodically remake Judy into Madeleine, his ghostly object of desire. Only when the transformation is complete can he embrace her -- locking lips with the new Judy as though he'd like to swallow this walking dream. Deliberately dizzying us Peeping Toms, Alfred Hitchcock's camera circles the kissing couple, locking them in their fatal fantasy.

7. 'To Have and Have Not' (1944)
When 19-year-old Lauren Bacall insolently draped her long, lean self in a doorframe, bottle of Scotch in hand, old-hand Humphrey Bogart grinned appreciatively at the newcomer's come-hither, keep-your-distance sexiness -- and promptly fell in love in "To Have and Have Not." Slim (Bacall) soon gets sore at something Steve (Bogey) says and sashays back to her own room, just across the hall. Moments later, he's at her door, with the same bottle, to further amp up their sexually charged chat. So heated is this coded exchange, they almost kiss, but he retreats. In good time, Slim turns up in his doorway again, toting that same fifth of Scotch. She kisses him this time -- admitting she's been wondering "whether I'd like it," then tries it out a second time, drawling huskily, "It's even better when you help." This room-to-room foreplay is some of the sexiest stuff in the movies, thanks to Bogey and Bacall's chemistry -- and it climaxes with that classic, no-holds-barred invitation to true love / lust: "You don't have to say anything or do anything. Not a thing. Or, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow."

6. 'Brokeback Mountain' (2005)
Cowboying up on "Brokeback Mountain," sheepherders Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) fall into unlikely love. Boys without fathers or friends, these two loners create a sustaining community of two in the high country. Trouble is, they must come down from paradise -- and like the lovers in "Wuthering Heights," their passion makes them unfit for any but each other, unsuitable as husbands and fathers. Now, four years have passed, with intervening marriages and children, yet at first sight, the two men come together as though magnetized, in a face-smashing kiss so powerful, it's like two halves of one soul, one body violently re-uniting. That kiss speaks volumes, the words these mostly inarticulate men could never say -- and Ennis' wife, looking down at that hot embrace, turns away, her face turned gaunt by a loss this green girl doesn't yet understand.

5. 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)
In "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey (James Stewart) has just learned that once again his long-cherished dream of leaving Bedford Falls to seek adventure must be shelved. He and Mary (Donna Reed), the hometown beauty who's always loved him, put their heads together, a phone receiver between them, to listen to a mutual friend's business proposition -- something about getting in on the ground floor in plastics. Vibrating between rage and desire, George finally explodes, attacking the woman he loves like a cornered animal. Shaking her ferociously, he sobs: "Now, you listen to me, I don't want any plastics, I don't want in on any ground floor, and I don't want to get married ever to anyone!" Then, raining hot kisses on his girl's rapt, upturned face, he surrenders forever his ambitions to leave her and hometown behind. It's the conflicted complexity of George's passionate violence that pumps up the erotic impact of this embrace.

4. 'Lost in Translation' (2003)
"Lost in Translation" catches the flavor of being slightly adrift and sleepless in a foreign city, done in by jetlag and culture shock -- that lost feeling you get sometimes even if you haven't been traveling. Movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray), visiting Tokyo to make a Suntory commercial, seems to have been living this experience for years, while newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is at loose ends because her moviemaker husband's run off to hang with a starlet. These two castaways meet in a bar, play, talk, sleep (platonically) together, creating the kind of lovely human connection that gives life renewed meaning. When it's time to part company, he whispers something (we must imagine what) in her ear and then, embracing in the middle of a street full of humanity, they share a long, poignant kiss. A nowhere man and a nowhere girl just hours ago, these two "lovers" create their own private island, refuge from anonymity and loneliness.

3. 'Mulholland Dr.' (2001)
For awhile, David Lynch's far-out fever dream of a movie, "Mulholland Dr.," feels like "Nancy Drew in Hollywood," what with blond ingénue Betty (Naomi Watts) teaming up with a curvaceous, amnesiac brunette (Laura Harring) to solve the mystery of the latter's identity. After turning up a nasty "clue" in the form of a woman's rotting corpse, the girl detectives bed down for the evening, with cheerleader Betty assuring her pal that "Everything is A-OK." "Good night, sweet Betty," whispers Rita, leaning nakedly over her PJ'ed friend to brush her mouth gently. After a beat, that sweet-dreams buss heats up into hungry soul-kissing, and the two beauties -- Dream Factory icons of light and darkness -- passionately caress each other as though bent on erasing every boundary between them. Just one moment in Lynch's lubricious plunge into our movie-mad/movie-made unconscious, but it's a shocker -- like spying on Rita Hayworth in the hay with Doris Day.

2. 'Some Like It Hot' (1959)
Taking a break from impersonating a girl in an all-woman band in "Some Like It Hot," lothario Tony Curtis cross-dresses up in captain's cap and yachting jacket to make a play for luscious Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Doing an over-the-top Cary Grant drawl, he confesses that love leaves him cold ever since his childhood sweetheart fell into the Grand Canyon just as they were about to lock lips. Despite Freud, the Mayo Clinic, Balinese dancing girls, French upstairs maids and all the mineral oil that money could buy, this poor little rich boy can't rise to the occasion. All sweet sympathy, Monroe begins to work her magic, aided by champagne, soft music and dim lighting. As torrid kiss follows torrid kiss, the supine Curtis ever-more-weakly insists his libido can't be resurrected. Reduced finally to a simmering puddle of lust, he takes off his steamed-up spectacles and surrenders: "I've got a funny sensation in my toes, like someone was barbecuing them over a slow flame." Sugar, delighted: "Let's throw another log on the fire."

1. 'Spider-Man' (2002)
Science-nerd-turned-superhero Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) aches for firecracker Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), but Spidey's such a busy swinger, he never has time to hook up with M.J. One rainy night, Peter, stalking his lady-love from rooftops, obliterates a quartet of slavering hoods who've backed her up against a wall, threatening rape and worse. Afterward, M.J.'s gallant arachnid slips into an alley to get his mask on, then drops down -- head first -- the wall beside her. As good as naked in a wet T-shirt, the voluptuous M.J. moves in to carefully peel down Spider-Man's mask, so that his exposed mouth can receive her deep, adrenalin-charged kiss. Cute doesn't nail it -- M.J.'s "undressing" of bug-eyed Spidey to get at the warm human flesh beneath the mask generates a weirdly erotic charge. No shrinking violet, this redhead knows exactly how to handle a superhero who's just a wee bit conflicted in the clinches.

Kathleen Murphy currently reviews films for Seattle's Queen Anne News. A frequent speaker on film, Murphy has contributed numerous essays to magazines (Film Comment, the Village Voice, Film West, Newsweek-Japan), books ("Best American Movie Writing of 1998," "Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West") and Web sites (,, Once upon a time, in another life, she wrote speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Art Garfunkel and Diana Ross.