Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
When students study classic film its always under the guise of censorship. With the Hays Code and the Legion of Decency patrolling what was “safe” for public consumption, it’s no surprise current audiences find classic films unsexy. This article seeks to prove that adage untrue as there are several classic films (pre-1970) that are fairly sexy or risqué. In fact, I consider classic films to be sexier because of the dynamic leading men in them who didn’t have to have sex with a woman in order to be seductive. Certain movies and the actors in them oozed sex with their reliance on dialogue or presence to show that the buildup could be just as enticing as the end result. The movies themselves may not have been sexy in all instances, but damn if these actors couldn’t instantly steam up a scene.
I always get strange looks when I mention “William Powell” and “sexy” in the same sentence but he’s mostly known as a comedian. Many would agree that the actor is hilarious in movies like the countless Thin Man films but there’s something about his way with words that is appealing to me (I’m an English major…words turn me on). The Thin Man movies relied on Powell’s detective skills and he combined that with his hilarious moments of being a socialite’s husband but to me, his best work was in the 1936 film Libeled Lady. His character is a Lothario trying to seduce an heiress named Connie (Thin Man co-star Myrna Loy) in order to incite a publicity scandal. At the same time he’s using a reporter’s put-upon fiancée, Gladys, (Jean Harlow) as a fake bride for himself. It’s a screwball comedy so they’re never easy to summarize. Regardless, Powell’s best moments of hotness are with real-life lover Jean Harlow. The two’s pretend marriage originally is one of contempt yet underneath all that you can feel the love between these two. The scene I’ve included is not only hilarious but the way Powell lilts the word “naturally” and is revealed to be a gentlemen are enough to make me swoon. Add to that him and Harlow snuggling over flowers and I was totally ready to be his fake bride.
I know there’s nothing special about a sex article that involves Warren Beatty but as a young girl of 13 I didn’t know men could look that gorgeous! I always go back to Splendor in the Grass (1961) as the best Beatty movie ever, and it was only his film debut. The story of two teens that go insane with the urge to have sex is still universal to audiences today but Beatty played the character so well. He’s charming, he’s got swagger to spare, and his character Bud knows he’s got everything, yet isn’t smug about it. He’s the perfect boyfriend in this film, yet there are moments where Beatty grins and you know he has other things on his mind. The guy permeates sex walking down a hallway and the 1920s clothes were definitely adding to his appeal. Sure he wasn’t very bright, but Beatty elevates the character of a small-town boy to a teenage heartbreaker.
If Warren Beatty is the teenage heartthrob, then Robert Mitchum is the dirty old man trolling the high school who you just can’t resist no matter how hard you try. There’s something dangerous, disturbing, and damn hot about Robert Mitchum. At times I’m frightened yet highly intrigued when watching Mitchum’s movies and no movie combined sex, power, and fear than the original 1962 version of Cape Fear. I’m sorry but Robert De Niro wished he could throw out the pheromones like Mitchum did in this movie. There’s no one scene that is better than the others, but the entire film is Mitchum implying nothing but sex, horror, and lust from the way he leers at Sam Bowden’s (Gregory Peck) young daughter, calling her “juicy,” to the disturbing story he tells Sam of “occupying” his ex-wife’s time for three days which implies many unsettling things. He promises to bring down something so terrible on Sam’s wife and daughter “they won’t ever forget” and it’s enough to unsettle you, but it’s tinged with such ferocious sexuality. He’s the dangerous man you shouldn’t meet, but you’ll have a fun time if you do and probably end up needing a long hospital stay.
**Best moment is 6 minutes in***
William Holden always played a man-whore in his films, plain and simple. Even in the sweet romantic comedie Sabrina, he was juggling women and seducing them into….well you never really knew because sex was too taboo a topic. Despite his womanizing ways his characters always suggested places where you knew “proper girls” didn’t go, but he made it sound like your idea. I bring up the 1953 film The Moon is Blue as an example. In first ten minutes his character Donald meets the naïve Patty (Maggie McNamara) and attempts to pick her up. They meet at the Empire State Building where he conveniently loses a button on his coat and asks her to come down to his office and find a needle and thread. Even more conveniently his secretary is out and the office is empty, “I never said she was here, I said she’d have a needle and thread!” That sneaky Holden even proposes taking Patty to dinner then says he has to make a quick stop at his apartment. This guy is dying to sleep with this girl, yet Patty (and the audience) never feels anything dangerous about this. If this movie were remade Donald would be some type of serial killer, but instead Donald is a loveable rascal that you’d be okay seducing and moving on. Holden always played the guy with the fast lines, the sly smile, and the ability to get you in bed while saying “we should go look for something there!”
Holy mother of God was Marlon Brando gorgeous in the day (and by that I ignore everything post-1980 thereabouts). A Streetcar Named Desire is one of my favorite movies and that’s all due to Marlon Brando. His entrance into the movie is the most erotic entrance ever committed to celluloid. When he first meets his wife’s sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh) he checks out with a roving eye that’s like a mental undressing. He’s constantly asking her questions before “making himself comfortable” and taking his shirt off in front of her (see why I ignore everything when he started to gain the weight?). In fact, it’s been said Brando revitalized the t-shirt in this film and by the way it clings to him, he definitely deserved a cut of the t-shirt profits. The little bits of stage business he does in the scene from the scratching to his cat sound effect after Blanche grabs his arm…it’s enough to make you want to attack him right then and there.
There are a lot of other actors I could have included, but hopefully this list inspires others to find more classic movies with sexual stars. It just proves the movies didn’t have to show the act of sex to make audiences hot.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.