There’s nothing like a well-crafted film scene where the central couple meets for the first time to set a movie’s tone, whether it’s a sophisticated thriller, a sexy film noir or a good-old-fashioned romantic comedy.
I’ve got examples of all three here, mood-setting scenes with razor-sharp dialogue that both reveal the characters’ personalities and prepare us for the two-hour trip ahead.
(And I couldn’t resist jumping to TV to end with one of sitcoms’ classic “first meetings.”)
Check out these samples and add your nominees of other “well-introduced” movie pairings.
When it comes to screen sophistication, it’s hard to beat the high-class coupling of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The witty 1963 thriller “Charade” opens with a quick death and then a marvelously scripted scene introducing the romantic leads and featuring rapid-fire banter that also hints at the movie’s major theme that people and events aren’t quite what they seem.
Check out the film’s distinctive opening credits and first scenes below. The Grant-Hepburn exchanges ramp up at about the 3:10 mark.
An “updated,” more explicit version of the 1944 classic “Double Indemnity,” the 1981 film noir “Body Heat” (and its magnificent score) immediately sets the scene in steamy south Florida during a heat wave. When William Hurt as a lackadaisical lawyer in search of a quick score — financial and otherwise — and high-society femme fatale Kathleen Turner meet at a beachfront community concert, the sexually charged dialogue quickly steams up the plot.
Here’s the dialogue from that first meeting, followed by a video clip wrapping up the scene:
Ned Racine: You can stand here with me if you want, but you’ll have to agree not to talk about the heat.
Matty Walker: I’m a married woman.
Ned: Meaning what?
Matty: Meaning I’m not looking for company.
Ned: Then you should have said, “I’m a happily married woman.”
Matty: That’s my business.
Matty: How happy I am.
Ned: And how happy is that?
Matty: You’re not too smart, are you? … I like that in a man.
Ned: What else you like? Ugly? Lazy? Horny? I got ’em all.
Matty: You don’t look lazy. … Tell me, does chat like that work with most women?
Ned: Some. If they haven’t been around much.
Matty: I wondered. Thought maybe I was out of touch.
Ned: How ’bout I buy you a drink?
Matty: I told you. I’ve got a husband.
Ned: I’ll buy him one, too.
Matty: He’s out of town.
Ned: My favorite kind. We’ll drink to him.
Matty: He only comes up on the weekends.
Ned: I’m liking him better all the time. You better take me up on this quick. In another 45 minutes, I’m going to give up and walk away …
You can watch the scene’s conclusion here.
This film is so good it was remade two times. The 1940 romantic comedy “The Shop Around the Corner” starred Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in a wonderful love-hate relationship as co-workers who, at one point, can’t stand each other but fall in love through letters they exchange as anonymous pen pals.
The film was remade in 1949 as the musical “In the Good Old Summertime” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson (and a cameo by Garland toddler Liza Minnelli). Then, in 1998, director and screenwriter Nora Ephron updated the plot for the Internet age in “You’ve Got Mail,” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Check out Stewart and Sullavan’s first encounter here (it begins about 45 seconds into the clip). And listen for the fun use of the word “impossible” as well as Stewart’s clever explanation of his poetry-writing prowess: All he had to do, he says, is combine a bit of Shakespeare and a rhyme of the last line with Matuschek (the shop owner, played by Frank Morgan, who you may recognize from his title role a year earlier in “The Wizard of Oz”).
And one TV classic
The first meeting between Lou Grant and Mary Richards — in the 1970 opening episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — is a gem that never gets old. Plus, as you’ll recall, it’s got “spunk.”