You made it. Yes, you survived the most insidious corporate holiday of them all, Valentine’s Day. Some of you endured the added romantic relationship obligations that they day entails. Others sighed underneath the added attention brought to your own singleness or sexuality by either society or yourself. The best of you said “Eat me” and went about your business.
If the gift industry can invent its own holiday, then I feel that I can make up my own, as well. I declare tomorrow, 20 February ‘Buddy Day’. Everyone has a buddy, even if it’s not human, even if you’ve never met. Take the time to celebrate that buddy. Treat your buddy to a beer or a biscuit. Tell your buddy you love him. Don’t buy your buddy a card.
The best way to celebrate Buddy Day, though, is with a film feast of friend flicks. The Hollywood ‘Buddy Movie’ is a box office stand-by. Not nearly as popular today as it was ten years ago, many of the films of this genre stand up there with the best of all time. Well-known or forgotten, the manprint you leave on your couch with your buddy—no matter his species—will be worth it. Here are the films that me and my buddy will be celebrating Buddy Day with.
Casablanca (1942): The modern buddy film starts here. Casablanca would have earned a spot just for the immortal end scene of Claude Rains’ Renault and Humphrey Bogart’s Rick exiting the airport with Rick saying, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” No, the hero gets doesn’t get the girl. He gets the guy. And the guy he gets appears to be gay, to boot (of course, this holds true for all of Rains’ roles. The truth wills out, as it were.). Very progressive stuff, especially for 1942.
Casablanca hinges on Rick’s relationships with Sydney Greenstreet’s Ferrari, Peter Lorre’s Ugarte, and Paul Henreid’s Laszlo. When Rick realizes how genuine Laszlo is, his thoughts of a future with Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa “amount to a hill of beans.” A miracle of a film, and the gold standard of this genre.
My Darling Clementine (1946): Fate plays a big hand in all dramas, but none more so than director John Ford’s definitive recount of the mythical Gunfight at the OK Corral. Henry Fonda’s imminently decent Earp commits to cleaning up Dodge City after the death of his brother. There he encounters his polar opposite in Victor Mature’s dissolute, consumptive Holliday. The sure necessity of violence binds the two. Holliday’s decision to cast his lot with Earp in his battle with Walter Brennen’s maniacal Old Man Clanton leads to the most mystical gunfight of the Western genre.
Westerns explore male archetypes and relationships and no one understood these better than Ford. Both Earp and Holliday romance a Madonna (Cathy Downs’ titular Clementine) and a prostitute (Linda Darnell’s Chihuaha). The stark black and white morality of Dodge City ennobles Holliday’s grey soul. Yes, we know how it will end. Yes, there have been upteen remakes. None of these facts can take away the simple majesty of this film.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) & The Sting (1973): Director George Roy Hill brought the buddy film through the cultural revolution with these two films. Having Paul Newman and Robert Redford as his leading men didn’t hurt, either. Newman and Redford glow in every scene they share. The two enjoy Rick’s ‘beautiful friendship’ and, even if Katherine Ross gets in their way the boys are obviously consumed with each other.
In The Sting, Hill loses the faux love interest completely. Newman and Redford played petty thieves in both films, but the only theft which took place is that of our imagination. Crime never looked so glam.
Blazing Saddles (1974): First off, just imagine how off-the-hook this film would have been if the coked-up, out-of-his-mind comedic genius of Richard Pryor played Cleavon Little’s Sheriff Bart, as director Mel Brooks originally planned. Pryor and Gene Wilder would team up for later films, but none of those films hold a candle to this. Pryor does get a screenwriting nod, and what a script it is. Brook’s ridiculous examination of all of Hollywood’s –isms (racism, sexism, anti-semitism) centers on Bart and Wilder’s Jim’s relationship. The two bond instantly and go on a Looney Tunes-esque rampage through and any and every Western trope they find. Maybe even more pointed and funny today, in our post-PC world.
All the President’s Men (1976): Unfortunately for women, most men aren’t Paul Newman. Alas. Most of us are more Dustin Hoffman’s Carl Bernstein. Messy. Offensive. Unattractively neurotic. Alan Pakula’s dramatization of Richard Nixon’s political demise picks up pace with Bernstein and Redford’s Bob Woodward’s realization that their very survival hinges on how they handle the explosive information they uncover. Smart, believable, and edge-of-your seat thrilling. Made a generation want to be journalists. Said generation later killed journalism. Oh, well.
48 Hrs. (1982): Welcome to the ‘80s! I just streamed this film off of Netflix (thank you, Xbox 360), and wow, is it still great. This film pretty much defines the excess of the ‘80s, the decade where the buddy film reigned supreme. Gratuitous nudity? Check. Rampant profanity? Check. Heinous racism and sexism? Check. Over the top violence? Check. 48 Hrs. might just be the most un-PC film of all time, and I love every minute of it.
Nick Nolte’s Jack Cates loses his gun to a sociopath escaped criminal who goes on a rampage through San Francisco. Jack’s solution is to release Eddie Murphy’s Reggie Hammond from prison for 48 hours (that’s the pitch!) to catch said sociopath. Hijinks ensue. Nolte has always been, in my eyes, criminally overlooked as an actor. Murphy, in his first feature film role, attacks every scene with the relentless drive of someone who knows he’s a superstar. The rest of the world just hasn’t caught on. Their incendiary chemistry makes this film a rewatchable treat.
Lethal Weapon (1987): If you wanted to show someone what a ‘buddy film’ is, you would show them this. Mel Gibson is insane (and you know what, he actually is) ex-Special Forces LAPD detective Martin Riggs. Danny Glover is tired, perennial Dad-of-the-Year LAPD detective Roger Murtaugh. Murtaugh just wants to retire. Riggs just wants to kill himself. The two unite to solve the case of a young woman’s death. Hijinks, and Gary Busey, ensue. This formula gets repeated three more times. I still don’t know why.
Midnight Run (1988): This is the most underrated buddy film of all time. Sure, the plot makes no sense and the regular hijinks ensue, but Midnight Run earns its spurs because everybody in it is very aware of how high concept a comedy it is and has fun with it. What appears to have started off as some suits saying “We’ll take Woody Allen and team him with DeNiro! And hijinks will ensue!”
“We can’t get Woody Allen.”
”OK… well, who else is neurotic… What about Hoffman?”
”Hmm… I’m stumped.”
“Well, Charles Grodin was in my office today to get his parking validated.”
“Grodin…Grodin…Maybe I like it. Let’s lunch it over at Spago.”
This is Grodin’s career role. To this day, I smile every time I see him thinking of this film. And then I quickly lose the smile. DeNiro attempted comedy many more times after this, but this is the best. Bonus points for DeNiro’s Jack Walsh dropping a helicopter with a revolver.
Unforgiven (1992) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994): These are two very different films about violence and its consequences which have one thing in common: Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman is the Magic Johnson of acting. Not only is he great, but he makes everybody around him look great. Both his Ned Logan and his ‘Red’ Redding are world-weary sages full of truth. They’re also cold-blooded killers. Freeman gives each character just enough edge and guile to keep them from being a clichéd reformed con. Neither role is the hero, but both of these characters stay with you the longest.
Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne didn’t crawl through a river of s**t just to invite a nobody to join him in Paradise. Clint’s Bill Munny doesn’t go back to slaughter Gene Hackman and his goons over just anybody’s death. No, they do it for Freeman’s characters, and our cinematic selves would do the same thing.
Pulp Fiction (1994): Tarantino plays with any number of cinematic conventions in his post-modern noir tour-de-force, not the least of which is the buddy film. Sociopathic goons Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) walk in and out of three linked stories. The film opens with the two having a spirited discussion about international fast-food. Later, they have one about television, and, even later, another about pork and destiny. Sounds like a hipster My Dinner With Andre? OK, except in between those conversations Vincent almost ODs his Kingpin’s girlfriend, Jules blows off somebody’s head in his car, and Vincent gets killed while taking a dump. Except not all in that order. Er, at least I don’t think so.
Toy Story (1995): If any convention reaches its ultimate fulfillment in becoming a successful children’s story, then Toy Story is the best buddy film ever. Two male archetypes, the cowboy and the space hero, learn to get past their initial differences to uncover hidden truths about themselves. Pretty much sums up every film on this list. In the first, Buzz Lightyear gets over his denial at being a toy in time to save Woody from mortal, kiddie toy torture. In the sequel, it’s Woody’s turn for an identity crisis, as he struggles with what it means to be a toy.
Yes, we’re talking profound identity issues here, the kind which too many ‘award-worthy’ adult films fail to grasp. All of this, and Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head. Thank you, Pixar.
So what do you do if you have to watch a film with a significant other this weekend and she wants it to be all hetero coupley? Rear Window. Nothing less than the ultimate male fantasy, and a damn great movie, to boot. Think about it. You’re a photographer with a broken leg who has the best people watching in New York happening right across from you. You have a quick-witted nurse who helps you go to the bathroom and cook you meals.
Now for the best part: your girlfriend is none other than Grace Kelly, who shows up all the time dressed for a fashion spread while you’re in your pajamas. You get along like best friends, and she’s not hounding you for a ring.
Hallelujah! OK. So you do kinda go nuts, put yourself in grave danger, and frighten and embarrass your hottie friend-with-benefits. Hey, love ain’t easy.
Tell somebody you love them this weekend. Anybody, and not because a collaborative of balloon/flower/jewelry/card companies told you to.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.