By Maureen Lee Lenker
If there’s one thing old Hollywood was superb at, it was crafting swoon-worthy romances on screen. Part of that magic was creating a perfect onscreen kiss – one that could be romantic, sexy, steamy, and express all the internal longings of the characters without crossing the lines of the production code. And frankly, those restrictions often made the kisses and the their implications all the more erotic.
We love a good Hollywood romance, so here are our 8 favorite classic kisses…
8. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard - Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Truth be told the romance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s often leaves something to be desired. The connection between Peppard and Hepburn is slightly dissatisfying and she certainly had better chemistry matches with other co-stars. But we’ll never forget the final kiss between Holly and Paul – she leaps out of a cab in the rain to chase after her cat and he follows. After finding the cat, Paul confesses his love to her and pulls her into a rain-soaked kiss for the ages.
7. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer - West Side Story (1961)
Tony and Maria have only just met when they share their first kiss on a crowded dance floor at the gym in West Side Story. The world swirls around them while they seem to move in slow motion, dancing an iconic pas de deux. They have both been waiting for something big to happen and when they meet, despite being from different worlds, it’s love at first sight. Their kiss is tender, romantic, and forbidden as their friends and families tear them apart. They share many other kisses throughout the film but nothing quite compares to the quiet beauty of their first moments together.
6. Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift - A Place in the Sun (1951)
Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor were easily two of the most beautiful people to ever exist and when they united onscreen it was as if two perfect puzzle pieces had been fit together. In A Place in the Sun, they are Angela Vickers (a society belle) and George Eastman (an ambitious man from the “wrong side of the tracks”). When they share a kiss together in her car, we could nearly ache at the beauty of it. Their happiness and perfection for each other is fleeting, which makes it all the more heartbreaking and lovely.
5. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr - From Here to Eternity (1953)
Who hasn’t at one time wanted to replicate Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster’s iconic beach kiss in From Here to Eternity? The two lovers meet at dawn in a Hawaiian cove to share some stolen hours together and create one of the most memorable movie clinches in history in the process. Tourists in Oahu today still try to sneak down to this on-location cove and have their own roll in the crashing surf. Everything here is working at full blast – the waves crashing and lapping over them making them sopping wet. Bonus points for being more explicit than many classic Hollywood kisses due to the characters wearing classic bathing suits of the era.
4. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart - The Big Sleep (1946)
Bacall and Bogart remain one of Hollywood’s greatest couples, and they shared many memorable onscreen lip locks. Many people remember the kiss in To Have and Have Not accompanied by the line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” But we think their kiss in The Big Sleep has a slight edge – Bacall’s Vivian leans back against the front seat of a car, swathed in her fur and looking at Bogart with a mix of desire and barely concealed insolence. Her sleepy bedroom eyes make this a great kiss, but it’s her line following the kiss, “I like that. I’d like more” that really puts it high on our list.
3. Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne - The Quiet Man (1952)
Alongside Bogart and Bacall, Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne are perhaps the most beloved classic Hollywood couple. Her fiery personality and red hair were the perfect match for his hulking heroic persona. Never were they more romantic together than in The Quiet Man where his Sean Thornton falls for his neighbor, local Irish lass Mary Kate Danaher. The two share one of the most thrilling screen kisses in movie history. Mary Kate expects to have to adhere to the old-fashioned rules of Irish courting, but as an American, Sean is having none of it. Their desire comes to a head when they’re caught in a rainstorm in a cemetery in the Irish countryside – sopping wet, they kiss under a stone arch, Wayne’s white shirt so soaked you can see straight through it.
2. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman - Notorious (1946)
Fittingly Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman’s kiss in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious is one of the most notorious in movie-making history. One of the production code stipulations was that kisses not exceed a certain amount of seconds onscreen, but Hitchcock wanted to craft a love scene that implied all of the lust between Grant’s Devlin and Bergman’s Alicia. So, he gave them a nearly two-minute kiss. It’s constantly interrupted by snatches of dialogue and even a phone call, but they barely stop touching in all that time – they break apart long enough to satisfy censors, but for the audience it feels like an unending, toe-curling kiss.
1. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable - Gone with the Wind (1939)
There are a lot of kisses shared between Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. And if he’s not kissing her, he’s at least commenting on her choice in kissing partners (“You need kissing and badly and by someone who knows how”). Many prefer the kiss they share when he comes to finally propose to Scarlett in the second act, and there’s of course the iconic kiss that accompanies him picking her up and carrying her up the stairs. But for our money, they’re most memorable and swoon-worthy kiss is their first – he has just saved Scarlett and Melanie from a burning Atlanta and is about to leave Scarlett. He wants a kiss to send him off to war and he takes her in his arms while they’re backlit by the oranges and reds of the burning Atlanta. It’s one of the most memorable screen images ever created and for all who love classic film, it remains etched in silhouette in our memories.
It doesn’t get much better than a classic Hollywood kiss, but these are our favorites.