The reunion of Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray for the new A24/Apple release “On the Rocks” comes 17 years after their first collaboration on the Oscar-winning “Lost in Translation.” Such repeated pairings between directors and actors have been mainstay a in Hollywood since the earliest days of cinema. In the silent era, there were multiple films from D.W. Griffith and Lillian Gish and Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance.
One of the great partnerships during the Golden Age of Hollywood was John Ford and John Wayne. Ford had actually befriended Wayne when the young man was doing odd jobs as well as extra work-including in few of the director’s films-at Fox Studios in the late 1920s. Wayne made his official film debut starring in Raoul Walsh’s 1930 epic western “The Big Trail.”
The film wasn’t a hit and Wayne found himself spending the decade doing “B” westerns including 1938’s “Overland Stage Riders” which marked Louise Brooks’ final film. But his career changed when Ford cast him in the pivotal role as the Ringo Kid in his 1939 Western masterpiece “Stagecoach.” Wayne was in his early 30s when he made “Stagecoach” and he had the gravitas and a decade of acting experience to bring this outlaw with a good heart to vibrant life.
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Over the next two decades, Ford continued to give Wayne complex, compelling characters to play in such Western classics as 1948’s “Fort Apache,” 1949’s “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” 1950’s “Rio Grande” and most notably 1956’s “The Searchers.” The two didn’t always do Westerns. One of their most popular collaborations was the glorious 1952 romantic comedy-drama “The Quiet Man,” for which Ford won his fourth and final Best Director Oscar.
Glenn Frankel, author of “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend,” told the L.A. Times in 2013 that Ford and Wayne didn’t have the best relationship. The filmmaker, in fact, berated his cast and crew including Wayne. The Duke brushed off Ford’s behavior because he was “an extremely loyal person. He was also a smart guy. He knows when he’s working with Ford and Howard Hawks, he was doing enduring work. That is the kind of bargain all of Ford’s people ended up striking because some of them just needed the work, but for a lot of them, it is knowing you are going to do great work.”
Jimmy Stewart also did great work in his pivotal collaborations with three directors: Frank Capra (1938’s “You Can’t Take It With You,” 1939’s “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”); Alfred Hitchcock (1948’s “Rope,” 1954’s “Rear Window,” 1956’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” 1958’s “Vertigo?”) and Anthony Mann.
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Mann, who came from the world of gut-punching film noirs, put an edge on Stewart’s post-World War II persona. Before he went into the service in 1941 and became a war hero, Stewart was best known for being the “aw shucks” boy-next-door. But he came back to Hollywood having seen the horrors of conflict and it was reflected even in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Mann and Stewart teamed up for a series of hard-nosed Westerns in the 1950s in which Stewart played conflicted characters who doggedly seeks to murder his brother in 1950’s “Winchester ‘73” or a bounty hunter losing his humanity in the best of their collaborations 1953’s “ The Naked Spur.” These Mann vehicles — which also included “Bend of the River,” “Thunder Bay,” The Glenn Miller Story,” “The Far Country,” “The Man from Laramie,” and “Strategic Air Command” — really pushed Stewart as an actor and paved for the way for his tortured turn in “Vertigo” and in his Oscar-nominated turn as a wily attorney in Otto Preminger’s 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder.”
More recent pairings include Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford; Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro; and Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
Then there are married collaborators. John Cassavetes directed his wife Gena Rowlands in the majority of his demanding dramas including 1974’s “Woman Under the Influence,” for which they were both Oscar nominated, and 1980’s “Gloria,” for which Rowlands was also nominated.
Frances McDormand has appeared in eight films directed by her husband Joel Coen and his brother Ethan Coen, winning the Best Actress Oscar for 1996’s “Fargo.” The married couple just wrapped filming of “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which showcases McDormand as the scheming Lady M. while another two-time Oscar winner, Denzel Washington, plays the title character.
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