You read that right: my husband Vinnie Bartilucci and I collaborated on this week’s blog post. Together we are...Team Bartilucci! Hope you enjoy our playful labor of love!
It all began on a car trip home from visiting the
Long Island branch of our clan. Ever chatty, we lapsed into a conversation on who in films was truly suave, and who was just cool. It occurred to us that there were a million gradations between the two types, and an equal number of rules and tests to measure people against in order to determine their suaveability. We hope to analyze these in this exhaustive treatise.
Let’s start with the obvious and unimaginative beginning of the article that we all learned in college: list the definition:
Let’s start with the obvious and unimaginative beginning of the article that we all learned in college: list the definition:
suave (swäv) adj. suaver, suavest.
Smoothly agreeable and courteous. —suavely
adv. —suaveness or suavity (swäv_-i-ty) n.
Adjective: Effortlessly gracious and tactful in
social manner. Smooth, bland, urbane.
—From The American Heritage Dictionary
About as helpful as a street map of
, isn’t it? Okay, let’s get more specific. London
WHAT MAKES A MAN (all right, PERSON...) SUAVE?
NUMERO ONE-O) If there’s one characteristic that is crucial to the definition of suave, it is BOREDOM. The truly Suave Person yawns his/her way through life (or the film or show they’re in) and nothing that happens to them rates more than an arched eyebrow. The Suave Person’s relaxed demeanor says, “Look, I’ve seen it all, done it all; you are not going to impress me with a mere F#@*ing gun.”
|"Me, not suave? How can this be?! |
I demand a recount!"
NUMERO TWO-O) The Suave Person is CONFIDENT. No tedious soul-searching or hesitation for the suave; whatever they do in a situation is the right thing to do, and if you don’t think so, it’s simply because your feeble, un-suave brain is incapable of understanding the situation. Confidence comes easy to many action stars, but it’s important to keep Criterion One (as opposed to Cineplex Odeon Three) in mind as well. Bruce Willis has always been confident, but never bored, or even relaxed. (Nobody who was in Hudson Hawk can ever really relax ever again.)
Let’s say you have a person who you believe is suave. You believe he or she meets the criteria for suavaciousness, but you don’t trust your own judgment. (This is in itself another test; suave people in your proximity often make you doubt your own faculties.) Try these simple tests….
THE TUXEDO TEST. Suave People look good in tuxedoes. No matter where they are. A suave, tuxedoed person on the moon of Praxiton IV would look perfectly in place, and in fact, you’d feel the desire to shed your spacesuit and wear one, too. NOTE: This test works equally well for both men and women. Examples to follow.
THE MUD PUDDLE TEST. Ask (politely, of course; if the person is indeed suave, you shouldn’t be rude) your test subject to walk through a small mud puddle. If your subject looks down at all, s/he has failed the test. An average person would tiptoe, or perhaps walk around the puddle. Pretenders to the suave throne—Faux-Suave people, if you will (more about them later)—would walk through the puddle, perhaps making some clothing-related quip (“Well, I’ll have to tip that shoeshine boy next time.”), but they are betrayed by their acknowledgement of the situation. Truly suave people would simply walk through the puddle, totally confident that the mud would not dare dirty them.
Now that we’ve defined the rules, let’s line up a few people and see how they hold up against the harsh light of suavity.
First, a note of respect to the KING AND QUEEN OF SUAVE:
GEORGE SANDERS. As of this writing, George Sanders has been dead for thirty-eight years, and he is still more suave than anyone else in the world. Sanders set the standards; right up to his suicide note (“Dear world, I am leaving you because I am bored. I am leaving you with your worries. Good Luck.”), he lived the suave ideal. No situation was too odd for the man. Cases in point: The 1960s TV incarnation of Batman (where Sanders, the inventor of the freezing glare, was inspired casting in the role of Mr. Freeze) and his last film, Psychomania (1972), as a devil worshiper dealing with a zombie biker gang. Sanders played The Saint (before that pretender Roger Moore got to it) and The Falcon (Sanders’s brother, Tom Conway, tried his best, but in the end he was just a reflection of his sibling’s sun source). Sanders played countless charming scoundrels (indeed, the title of his 1960 biography was Memoirs of a Professional Cad), including the voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book (Tony Jay took over the role in later Disney work, including TV’s Tale Spin, and nailed it) and, in short, graced the world with his Oscar-winning presence (1950’s All About Eve).
MARLENE DIETRICH. Remember what we said about the tuxedo test working for women, too? Case in bloody point. Cool, sexy, and commanding even into her old age, Dietrich could turn any man or woman into a dribbling puddle of goo. Rumor has it that she and Sanders were in a film together but all copies were destroyed, the producers deciding we were all unworthy to see it. Dietrich had a sort of female auxiliary of boredom: Bemusement. While Sanders would arch an eyebrow at a person, Dietrich would more likely give one of those little titters that says, “That’s so cute, here’s a dollar. Leave me now.”
Joining Sanders and Dietrich in our SUAVE HALL OF FAME are:
North by Northwest, making Mason the hero. Suppose the nigh-unflappable Mason had asked the
police, “Do you honestly believe that this happened the way you think it did?” They would have immediately replied, “No, you must be right, you’re free to go, sorry we bothered you.” Mason was also the only person to come out the other side of a Warren Beatty film (Heaven Can Wait, 1978) smelling good (talk about a practical application of the Mud Puddle test!). Glen Cove
NIGEL HAWTHORNE. He made Sylvester Stallone look small and puny(er) in 1993’s Demolition Man just by showing up. His role of Sir Humphrey in TV’s Yes, Minister set the 1980s and ’90s standards for proper and British. It’s because
was so good that when he finally lost it (in either role), it was that much better to watch. Hawthorne
ROGER DELGADO. This is an example of a role being suave, although the actor may not be (I don’t know enough about the late Delgado to say for sure). Delgado was the original portrayer of The Master on the British SF series Doctor Who. The Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, he was just way cool. Advising the British government on the threat of nuclear Armageddon, he advises that they just follow the standard operating procedure they’ve set up: “Sticky tape on the windows, that sort of thing.” Anthony Ainley never achieved suaveness in his time in the role, suggesting that Delgado himself was indeed suave.
PATRICK McGOOHAN. Even in TV’s The Prisoner, when he was trapped in The Village, the brittle-voiced McGoohan seemed like he could outsmart his captors and torturers with a twitch of an eyebrow (lending credence to fans’ theories that he only stayed in The Village to test himself). McGoohan was so suave and in control, he didn’t even carry a gun in Secret Agent (“Ugly, oily things. They could hurt someone.”), though he could use one if called upon to do so.
But an actor doesn’t necessarily have to be British to be suave, as these Suave Hall of Famers prove:
JOHN HOUSEMAN. The stately, formidable, Oscar-winning director/producer/
character actor best known as Professor Kingsfield in the movie and TV versions of The Paper Chase was, we bet, the only person George Sanders would have called “Sir.”
BETTE DAVIS. Boy, would we have liked to see Davis and McGoohan in the same movie, preferably as mother and son! Listen carefully to their speech in their respective films and TV shows—they had the same kind of delivery! Our Ms. Bette was almost invariably a strong, unflappable presence. She didn’t need to get into catfights (though some scripts forced her to, anyway); one word in her no-nonsense tones and one look from her, well, Bette Davis eyes, and the competition was wiped out. It was truly a casting coup when Davis and Sanders were both cast in one of the wittiest, suavest, most gleefully cynical movies of all time, the Oscar-winning All About Eve.
CHOW YUN-FAT. Even amid the frenetic yet stylish action of John Woo’s Hard-Boiled thrillers, Chow hardly seems to break a sweat. He’s still
Hong Kong’s coolest, suavest import.
OWEN WILSON. When it comes to suave, Owen Wilson and his brother Luke are like the titular characters from Twins (1988)—all of it went in one direction. Owen swaggers through life with a smirk and an unspoken air of “I know you like me” surrounding him, while Luke has a sort of puzzled look and an unspoken air of “How come you don’t like me?”
MICHAEL CAINE. Anyone who thinks that Brits of Cockney origin can’t be as suave as their more aristocratic countrymen need only check out the urbane Caine in Alfie and Gambit (both 1966), Sleuth (1972), California Suite (1978), Dressed To Kill (1980), Deathtrap (1982), and ironically enough, his three movies as Everyman non-Bondlike spy Harry Palmer (1965’s The Ipcress File, 1966’s Funeral in Berlin, and 1967’s Billion Dollar Brain). Caine isn’t suave all the time or in every role, but when he is, yowza!
|Baldwin as Shadow|
|Baldwin as Lamont Cranston|
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER. This year (2012, for those keeping up with updates), the ever-suave and versatile Christopher Plummer finally won his way-overdue Oscar to add to his Tonys, Golden Globes, and Emmys: namely, the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his witty and poignant performance in Beginners. However, Plummer has been on the scene on stage and in movies since the 1950s, in a panorama of different roles, from The Sound of Music to adventures like The Man Who Would be King (as Rudyard Kipling), thrillers like The Silent Partner, Murder By Decree, Inside Man, and so much more!
SEEMS SUAVE IN REAL LIFE BUT NOT NECESSARILY IN HIS MOVIES:
THE JAMES BOND PARADOX
SEAN CONNERY. Connery comes tantalizingly close, but he’s just too intense to be defined as truly suave.
TIMOTHY DALTON. It’s no surprise that the dashingly broody Dalton’s pre-Bond lead roles included tormented Bronte heroes in 1970’s Wuthering Heights and the 1983 British TV miniseries Jane Eyre.
GEORGE LAZENBY. Please.
PIERCE BROSNAN. Much as we liked him as TV’s Remington Steele, Brosnan had initially struck us as Faux-Suave in his pre-007 days. But The Fourth Protocol (1987)and Goldeneye (1995) changed all that, and Brosnan blended suavity, action, and a touch of playfulness in his four James Bond films.
DANIEL CRAIG. Wags initially pronounced chameleon Craig as “blond, brutish, and short,” but when we saw him in the 2004 British thriller Layer Cake, we knew he’d kick ass as James Bond! Admittedly, Craig’s take on 007 is more brusque than suave, though he’s also shown an unexpected tender side in Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008).
THEY WHO ARE NOT SUAVE:
In many cases, one can define something by observing things that are the antithesis of that thing, such as defining white by pointing to black and saying, “Not that.” To illustrate our point, we will list some people who are not suave, and explain why they are not.
HUMPHREY BOGART. He was bored, confident, streetwise, and ready for anything, but Bogie’s appeal came from his very lack of polish.
JAMES STEWART. Certainly not naive, but too “aw-shucks” and uncomfortable with his body to be truly suave (when was the last time you saw a gangly Suave Person?).
PAUL NEWMAN. The Oscar-winning (The Color of Money, 1986) veteran actor and salad dressing king was handsome in a way that would have helped him squeak through the Tux Test (like in 1963’s playfully Hitchcockian The Prize), and films like The Sting (1973) had shown that he could be a sly charmer, but Newman had a strong grumpy streak that kept him short of the suave mark.
TOM CRUISE. Too boyish, too cocky (as opposed to confident), and lately, a little too odd.
HUGH GRANT. The British heartthrob has always been too cuddly and too flustered for true suavity, though in recent years he’s shown a promising caddish streak in the Bridget Jones films, among others.
ROBERT DeNIRO. Too scary.
RICHARD GERE. Too hyper!
JOHNNY DEPP. Too eccentric (though we like him anyway).
KEVIN KLINE. The Oscar-winning (A Fish Called Wanda, 1988), ever-versatile Kline can be everything from Everyman to a swashbuckling hero, but he’s never been quite cool enough or bored enough to be genuinely suave.
JEFF GOLDBLUM. Too gangly and too strange (but we like him anyway).
|Adrien Brody passes the|
Tux Test with flying colors!
ADRIEN BRODY. Our household’s favorite Best Actor Oscar-winner usually plays quirky and/or troubled types, but he can do Suave quite well when called upon to do so, like in The Affair of the Necklace (he even gets in a little swordplay in this 2001 period piece), The Brothers Bloom (2008), the romantic scenes between Brody and Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake, and early scenes in the film that made him a star, The Pianist (2002).
Funny how most of our Ultimate Suave People are veteran thespians or actors from another era entirely. Christoph Waltz rose to Suave levels in Inglorious Basterds, but we haven’t seen enough of his work to know if he can pull it off time and time again. Maybe it’s just that most of today’s movies seem to be about either everyday people or brusque tough guys, neither of which lend themselves to suaveness. And there’s that desire to see the baddies brought down a peg, popping the balloon of pomposity. And a truly suave person wouldn’t allow themselves to fall in mud at the end of the film (see earlier test) so you end up with one of those I Must And Yet I Cannot" situations.
Got anyone you’d like to add to our Suave Hall of Fame? Let us know!