The Leading Ladies of Arnold Schwarzenegger
Spencer Tracy had Katharine Hepburn. Humphrey Bogart had Lauren Bacall. William Powell had Myrna Loy. Every male actor who’s made his mark in the great dynasty of Hollywood royalty has had a female actress to match him line for line, gesture for gesture — and her devotion to her craft enables both players to transcend their roles. Without one, the other couldn’t exist.
Such is the case with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former Governor of California and once-and-possibly-will-be-again action star has appeared in 41 movies, and it’s a safe bet that we wouldn’t even remember half of them if it weren’t for the hard work of the actors who parried his witty dialogue, shared awkward screen kisses with him and helped him to carry his ammo. Someday the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger will be forgotten, but these radiant stars will forever shine on Austria’s favorite son:
Deborah Loomis, “Hercules in New York” (1969). Truthfully, I don’t remember Schwarzenegger’s film debut very well. It’s been years since I’ve seen “Hercules,” and when I think of it now, I think of three things before I think of Deborah Loomis: 1. the bad vocal dub on the star (the film has since been re-released without it), 2. the discomfiting shots of the star flexing his mighty man-boobies; 3. the even more discomfiting Arnold Stang. However, I do remember the movie’s most romantic scene, in which Hercules takes his shirt off and Loomis’ character says something poignant. I think it was “Oh, wow!”
Ann-Margaret, “The Villain” (1979). This is a Hal “Cannonball Run” Needham live-action remake of the Road Runner cartoons, with Schwarzenegger as the Road Runner, Kirk Douglas as the Coyote, and Ann-Margaret as the busty saloon girl standing between them, a little-remembered mainstay of the cartoons. In an interview with Premiere Magazine, Schwarzenegger charitably described this film as “crappy.”
Sandahl Bergman, “Conan the Barbarian” (1982) and Grace Jones, “Conan the Destroyer” (1984). The treacly romance of these movies is best summed up by this Nora Ephron-like dialogue:
Linda Hamilton, “The Terminator” (1984) and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991). This was the first time I can remember Schwarzenegger taking an active interest in girls. I’m not saying he wasn’t interested in girls in the movies he made before this one, but the dogged way in which the Terminator pursues Sarah Connor brings to mind John Cusack’s devoted wooing of Ione Skye in “Say Anything.” She ends up crushing him in an industrial press and melting him in an iron smelt, but it’s really meaningful for the both of them, you know? Guy just won’t take no for answer! That big, lovable lug of a killing machine.
Kelly Preston, “Twins” (1988). Schwarzenegger and Preston have a meet-cute as Schwarzenegger’s character eyeballs an issue of Playboy. He feigns embarrassment, which demonstrates that he’s learned a lighter touch since the Linda Hamilton crash-and-burn. I think Preston has maybe three lines in the movie, but at least one of them isn’t “Oh, wow.”
Rachel Ticotin and Sharon Stone, “Total Recall” (1990). Schwarzenegger’s box office ascendancy is rewarded with not one, but two leading ladies. He shows his gratitude by only shooting one of them in the head.
Emma Thompson, “Junior” (1994). Schwarzenegger likes the Oscar-winning Thompson so much in this one that he gets impregnated by her. A groundbreaking documentary.
Tom Arnold, “True Lies” (1994). What’s there to say? Tom Arnold made him laugh. Schwarzenegger allowed himself to get knocked up by Emma Thompson for less.
Uma Thurman, “Batman & Robin” (1997). This was Schwarzenegger’s last romantic lead role. By now, the physical act of love has become second-nature to him: His Mr. Freeze listens intently as Thurman’s Poison Ivy prattles on about plant life, and as his suit runs on diamonds, it’s a safe bet he went to Jared.
There’s one more amazing thing about Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Batman & Robin”: For the first time, I would describe his work in the context of a film as “understated.” More like this, please!