The Screen's 20 Most Seductive Scenes
Do you feel the need to brush up on the fine art of l'amour? From the silent era to the age of Moviefone, Hollywood moviemakers have consistently created memorable erotic scenes, lines of dialogue and privileged moments.
1 Flesh and the Devil (1926)
One of Greta Garbo's glories and enduring mysteries lies in her ephemeral, evanescent quality. Impossibly beautiful and quixotic, the "Divine One," as she was called, was as tangible as a smoke ring, as easy to grasp and lay claim to as a luminous vapor on the wind. In this silent classic, though, Garbo is at once sacred and profane, playing a mantrap who dallies with two soldier buddies while she is secretly already married. The Roman-candle scenes that make the film famous to this day occur when Garbo's character collides with her true object of desire, played by dashing John Gilbert. Their kisses and caresses--shot by director Clarence Brown in intimate close-up with lighting as shimmery as spun sugar--grow so intense, the stars appear intent on devouring each other. It's hard not to feel like an intruder. It's also hard to disbelieve the enduring legend that says when Brown yelled "Cut!" the stars (who were lovers offscreen) kept right on romancing.
2 Morocco (1930)
When this film steamed up America's movie houses, its stars, the young Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper, were so androgynously, exotically beautiful that a hilarious rumor ran through Hollywood that the two were the same person, their scenes done with trick photography. Nonsense, of course, but few stars have made narcissism more alluring or more justified. Dietrich, essaying her first Hollywood film, and her second with her Svengali, director Josef von Sternberg, radiates come-one-come-all Continental swagger as a cabaret singer. Cooper plays a foreign legionnaire with come-and-get-it insolence in his grin and, even more so, in his body language. A movie that swirls with heat, smoke and ripe exotica, it hits its seductive peak when Dietrich, dressed in gender-bending top hat and tails, performs a nightclub ditty that ends with Dietrich provocatively kissing a female patron at a ringside table. More than 60 years before Sharon Stone made brazen, unapologetic bisexuality irresistible in Basic Instinct, Dietrich had already blazed the trail.
3 Gone With the Wind (1939)
Offscreen, Clark Gable, then the reigning, no-nonsense King of the Movies, and Vivien Leigh, the vixenish, tautly wound English-rose newcomer, had no use for each other. On-screen, though, where it counted, they sizzled. This sweeping Civil War romance, set amid the dripping moss and genteel plantation barbarities of the Old South, remains piping hot today because of its thorny, sexually supercharged relationship between rakish gambler Rhett Butler, played by Gable, and tempestuous belle Scarlett O'Hara, played for keeps by Leigh. Things between the two get tangier than a mint julep in sequences set after the war when Rhett proposes marriage to Scarlett by grabbing her in his arms and planting a bad-boy, soul-shaking, knee-buckling kiss on her. When she whimpers that she's about to faint, he growls, "I want you to faint. This is what you were meant for. None of the fools you've ever known have kissed you like this, have they?" He kisses her again, extracting a breathless "yes" to his proposal, to seal the deal. Con¬temporary audiences have been known to burst into applause during this scene--once they've caught their collective breath.
4 Casablanca (1942)
Ingrid Bergman, arguably the '40s' most simultaneously revered and lusted-after Good Girl superstar, is at her most ravishingly sexy as The Woman Who Got Away from embittered, emotionally lacerated cafe owner Humphrey Bogart in this Oscar-winning World War II classic for wised-up romantics. Into Rick's Café Americain floats the radiant, carnal Bergman, the wife of a noble Nazi resistance hero desperate for letters of transit that will let the couple escape from their pursuers. Cynical, flippant Rick (his motto: "I stick my neck out for nobody") finds his principles and passions tested when, after he's closed the club for the night, he finds Bergman, his lost love, waiting for him in his apartment. Bergman begs Bogart for the letters of transit, then pulls a gun on him, then, with tears streaming, recalls their love affair: "The day you left Paris, if you knew what I went through...if you knew how much I loved you--how much I still love you." She's got him. And how. They kiss to the swoony swell of Max Steiner's theme music. Anyone who has ever loved and lost The One will feel the emotional tug.
5 Now, Voyager (1942)
The pairing of high-strung, whip-smart Bette Davis (then a top-five box-office attraction) with suave, sophisticated Paul Henreid created an audience meltdown in this tear duct-attacker about a dowdy, socially inept, proper Bostonian who transforms herself into a knockout before an ocean voyage, on which she is romanced by a Continental smoothy. Of course, we're in High Melodrama Land here, so he's hopelessly and unhappily married, with a needy young daughter to boot. In this classic's most famous scene, the lovers realize they can never be together. Today, of course, they would simply run away and let the others sort things out for themselves. Not gallant Henreid, though. He slips two cigarettes between his lips, lights them both, hands one sensually to Davis, and the tortured lovers share a final nicotine dream. Forbidden love, self-sacrifice and those cigarettes sent audiences swooning, and they still do today.
6 To Have and Have Not (1944)
The team of silken, brazen, whiskey-voiced Lauren Bacall and crusty, dashing, tough guy Humphrey Bogart was, on-screen and off, the stuff movie dreams are made of. Not only was this their first film together, it was also Bacall's first ever. She plays a sultry, tough-talking young saloon singer stranded in Martinique; he's a hard-boiled skipper-for-hire up to his neck in Nazis. Bogie and Bacall make a perfect matched set. She's all brash, youthful aggression; he's all cautious, seasoned wariness. Watching them simmer and stalk each other is as delicious and queasy as waiting for a time bomb to detonate. In the movie's most famous scene, Bacall, just to make sure Bogart gets the message about how hot she is for him, leans like a gunslinger into his hotel-room door and drawls, "You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything...Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." Romantic sparks were flying offscreen, as well. Within a year, the married Bogart divorced Mayo Methot and made Bacall his fourth and final wife.
7 Notorious (1946)
Director Alfred Hitchcock instinctively intuited that erotic lightning could strike by rubbing together Ingrid Bergman (gorgeous, warm, throbbing with sincerity, emotionally volatile) and Cary Grant (gorgeous, diamond-hard, rakish, emotionally ambiguous). Bergman plays a boozy, self-destructive playgirl lured by American government agents into sexually ensnaring the head of a Nazi cartel; Grant plays the callous American agent who falls for her while she's busy seducing and marrying a viper. In a film in which the stars are photographed like priceless jewels on velvet, the love affair between Bergman's and Grant's characters reaches full boil when, as the camera follows in voyeuristically intense close-up, the two kiss and cling feverishly as they stumble through her apartment. The scene is so intimate, the dialogue so sparse, the soundtrack almost silent except for the occasional rustling of their clothes, that this is as close to a metaphoric ménage-à-trois as one gets. We are hopelessly, willingly seduced.
8 Gilda (1946)
Even in an industry that once lived and died by serving up ravishing-looking creatures, Rita Hayworth--hair-tossing, hip-swinging, maddeningly alluring--was Hollywood outdoing itself? She's at her alluring peak here as the trophy wife of a rich, deeply creepy dandy who runs a Buenos Aires casino. "Are you decent, Gilda?" her husband asks just as he throws open the door to her room. "Me?...Sure, I'm decent," she says, mockingly, looking unbearably beautiful and throwing back her mane of hair. She's well-matched by Glenn Ford as her old flame, a slightly seedy gambler hired, unknowingly, as her hubby's muscle and errand boy. Naturally, since this is film at its most noir, that old feeling grabs the two of them by the throats and won't let go. Ever been hopelessly gaga for someone you know will ruin you? Then you'll definitely groove to the erotic push/pull when she snarls, "I hate you so much, I think I'm going to die from it," before the two kiss explosively. Audiences found the on-screen heat between Hayworth and Ford so combustible, the stars were paired several more times, though in nothing remotely as sexy or memorable as Gilda.
9 A Place in the Sun (1951)
During the filming of this screen adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, luscious young Elizabeth Taylor fell seriously in love with handsome, sexually conflicted Montgomery Clift. Not only does it show on-screen, it also supercharges the film with a dizzying air of l'amour fou. Taylor plays the pampered, self-possessed, riotously beautiful rich girl who wears white silk, speaks in breathy, finishing-school tones and lives in the house on the hill. Clift plays the hardworking, upwardly mobile, ridiculously beautiful poor boy who wears work boots and lives in the tenement. She wants the giddy rush that can come from pursuing a love from the wrong side of the tracks. He wants her, the unattainable princess, the prize. The erotic pull between the stars--and the characters--is positively palpable when, during a formal party sequence, Taylor, in velvety, erotic close-up, searches the needy, lost expression in Clift's face and urges him, "Tell mama...tell mama all."
10 Don't Look Now (1973)
Donald Sutherland, dour, rumpled and sexily offbeat, and the extraordinary, enigmatic Julie Christie costarred in one of cinema's most beautifully textured and widely imitated love scenes. No wonder legend has it that the stars were, how shall we put this, transported by passion while shooting it? They play a married couple struggling to grapple with the death of their child who drowned accidentally. While Sutherland's character is restoring a church in Venice, Italy, the couple confront the ghosts of troubles past and present in their relationship. The justifiably renowned seduction sequence is set in a hotel room. The couple reawaken their passion by making intense, steamy, almost frantic love rendered all the more melancholically beautiful and real by director Nicolas Roeg's intercutting of the ecstasy with scenes of passion's aftermath as the couple dress, make conversation and go about their everyday business later.
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