Suave: Ten Cool Characters

To be suave, is to be…


pleasantly tactful and well-mannered

high cultivation and poise coming from wide social experience


stresses an ability to deal with ticklish situations tactfully

emphasizes mildness of mannerand absence of irritating qualities


10. T.R. Devlin in Notorious (1946)

Though Cary Grant’s name is often synonymous with cool and suave, his best known films often take advantage of both appearance and reputation to somehow compromise his composure. Whether it be the absurdity of a screwball comedy or the constant confusion of North by Northwest, filmmakers seem to take a special joy in ruining the illusion of Grant’s seemingly impenetrable cool. Notorious is perhaps his most serious role, he plays an American double agent who acts as something of a guide for an unexperienced woman who could be of great value to the American government. Watching this film, it’s no surprise that Ian Fleming modeled James Bond after Grant, and though there is little proof this film was the direct example, the assumption doesn’t seem all together ridiculous. Cultured, cool and seductive Devlin uses his collected exterior to mask a wounded soul. I rank him at just number ten, because though on the outside he seems unphazed, he can’t help hiding his anger and frustration over love, and betrayal. If you liked the hardened Bond of Casino Royale, this is a film worth checking out. The films have more in common than Fleming and spies, but at heart, characters that hold explosive emotions boiling just below the surface of the man, men want to be, and women want to be with.

9. James Bond in From Russia with Love (1964)

As much as I like the rough around the edges and gritty Bond that Daniel Craig embodies, he still can’t compare to the brutish masculinity and coolness of Sean Connery. I’m sure many will argue this is far too low, and maybe they’re right. If I were to choose a character on a whole, perhaps he would be number one, but I personally decided to choose characters within the realm of a single film. Why of all Bond films do I choose From Russia with Love? Well, the complicated answer would be that I appreciate the gritty, small mission oriented Bond films that don’t involve potential world destruction and a vignette of different locations and beauties (though it certainly HAS that element), the easy answer is, it’s just my favourite Bond film. I have a soft spot for the most emotional and feminine accessible On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale, I think From Russia With Love is the best film of it’s kind. It’s pure espionage and pure action, and Connery goes through series after series of interaction without breaking a hypothetical sweat. His dealings in both work and pleasure is admirably effortless. It might not be the hardened image that Fleming envisioned when writing the character, but Connery’s masculinity and charm sells the lighter role of the film Bond.

8. Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950)

Masculinity is not a pre-requisite for being either cool or suave, which is at least, in part my justification for including Addison DeWitt on my suave list. Low on tactfulness, DeWitt excels at cultured intelligence. He is the evil cool, though he does not exist in a world of villains of heroes and villains, but rather variant levels of grays. The world of theater involves a high level of crazies, and an even higher level of battling egos. No one compares to DeWitt in this category, though, his inflated self-worth is perhaps one of the few cases where it is warranted. Though you could probably argue his callous abuse of the world around him is never called for, he does it with such grace and wit that one easily forgives his character flaws. No one is as cultured, or as critical of said culture as he is, and he uses it to his advantage. George Sanders not only had the sneer to pull it off, but the voice. For those unfamiliar with All About Eve, they would still no doubt recognize his voice work in Disney’s Jungle Book as the tiger, Shere Khan. His voice alone is like poison being poured into your ear, a sweet dream that only leads to a painful social death.

7. Adam Belinski in Cluny Brown (1946)

An important element in being suave, is the ability to maintain composure. Charles Boyer made a career of it, but never was he put against more strain than when in Cluny Brown. One of two characters from an Ernst Lubitsch film to make my list, no director was able to bring sophistication to the screen quite like him. Though Cluny Brown is perhaps his own parody of these rich socialites, there is no denying that Boyer was consistently charming and cool throughout his career. His inclusion on the list have to do with his every day battles with coolness. First, he’s introduced as a professor on the run from the Nazis. His ability to brush off both his heroism, in such a humble and unassuming way, for me synthesizes suavity at it’s best. Though Addison DeWitt used his culture and manners to push others down, Belinski uses it to bring others up to his own level. Throughout the film, his composure is tested in the most delightfully simple, but equally strenuous ways. His interactions with the troublesome but sincere Cluny Brown whom he yearns for, in more ways than one. Watching him attempt to keep his cool, and succeeding, while she describes a “censored” sex dream about him and her, is reason enough to warrant his inclusion.

6. Det. Lt. Mark McPherson in Laura (1944)


The first reason why Det. McPherson makes my list is that he’s dead sexy. Dana Andrews is one of the most blood boiling, panty wetting, dreamboat to come out of classic Hollywood. He had this grin! And a swagger… as a detective he was almost unshakeable. He was so cool he didn’t even try caring about what was going on most of the time. Whenever he needed to think, he pulled out of his pocket one of those little games kids have with the little metal balls where you try to get them in the holes… it’s charming, and endearing. A sensitive and neurotic touch to the unshakeable detective. His voice was smooth and though he always played an “everyman”, he always had an intelligence lying beneath his eyes. His tough exterior was unravelled by his thoughtful eyes. He was able to keep those haunting thoughts boiled below the surface. What really pushes him over the edge, is his ability to handle pressure. Not only is it a daily occurence as a police detective, but there is a twist in this film that would break anyones cool… not McPherson. This is the first, but not the last detective to mae the list. There is something so effortless cool about a 40s style detective, the clothes, the persona… the situations… the women? What’s not to love!

5. Gaston Monescu in Trouble in Paradise (1932)

The second Lubitsch character to grace my list, Gaston Monescu is in many ways a proto-type of the suave gentlemen that Cary Grant would embody throughout most of his career. He was cultured, he was witty, and he was far too clever. His chosen profession was thievery, and he impersonated wealthy dukes and princes so he could woo naive socialites and rob them blind. The film’s opening scene sees him courting a young countess, there is no indication that things are going awry, but something is most definitely amiss. His efforts to both persuade and pilfer are meeting an unfortunate dead end, as the countess seems to “unknowingly” foil all his attempts. Things progress, both maintain their composure, ignoring the oddities of each other’s behavior until, overtaken by pleasure they confess their true identities! He falls for a crook, she falls for a crook and they fall for each other. From here on out, Gaston has another woman in his grasp, this one ripe for robbery. He does it with such grace and affection, it would be of no surprise that if you were to catch him red handed, he’d be able to convince you he is doing you a favour and you would thank him for robbing you. His handling of the affections of two very intelligent women and a few ridiculous situations only further his suave persona.

4. Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946)

I had a few Bogart characters I could have easily replaced in the place of this, but I finally settled on Marlowe for his ability to remain cool in a world of chaos. What distinguished Marlowe from the other noir heroes, was his ability to sit outside the world of crime and corruption. Whereas most noir protagonists became somewhat entangled with the crime and the ethical dilemmas, Marlowe had a clear set of motives and morals that he was able to follow even under the most difficult strain. Though in the novels he has moments of frustration and anger, Hawks stripped them for the screen, creating a masculine ideal as far as he was concerned. Hawks’ Marlowe was strong, smart and something of a womanizer. He was so self consciously cool, he had to play a “poof” to convince that he was anything but a hard boiled detective. He was effortlessly sexy even though he was hardly conventionally good looking. His scenes with Bacall consistently oozed with sexual tension, but same could be said with his interactions with any woman that pops up.

3. Blondie in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Clint Eastwood is too cool, and though he might be missing on the higher cultural elements one might commonly associate with someone who is suave, he has a certain intelligence that elevates him beyond simple bad-assery. He is more than just a brutish package of testosterone, but would rather use skills and intelligence to get his way. Furthermore, he is well mannered, especially alongside the boisterous and crude Tuco. He doesn’t have to do much of anything to demand respect from those around him. This is a large part of why he is ranked so high; the esteem he’s held in by all those who meet or need him. Whereas Tuco’s stupidity and impulsive nature put him in compromising situations, it’s Blondie’s grace that saves him. The final aspect that puts him on the list, is his sensitivity towards the world around him. Though he is “gifted” with the tools to destroy and kill, more so than most, he also is allowed a huge amount of humanity. Him playing with kittens, or giving his jacket to a dying boy are just moments of incredible awareness.

2. Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934)

It’s almost cheating… but not quite. It’s impossible to divorce the characters Nick and Nora when discussing The Thin Man, or even characteristics. One of the few married couples on screen depicted with no real hitch, they seem to complete and compliment each other completely. Each bouncing and benefiting the other in every way. Nick and Nora make for the coolest couple you can imagine. Parties, presents and detecting; they never break a sweat, even under the most strenuous circumstances. Their repartee is classy, filled with wit. They’re clever and funny, never allowing an opportunity for jest or humor miss each other. I think their greatest advantage though, is they have no fear of looking the fool. They take more risks, and come across the better for it. Even in brief moments of silliness, the lack of shame they show, allows us to laugh with them, rather than at them. It’s a defense mechanism that works wonders for the series, and the audience is swept up in the thrills and luxury of their lives. Just cool.

1. Lisa in Rear Window (1954)

As the list suggests, I tend to understand suave as a male characteristic. I think the female alternative would be poise or well… grace… but somehow, it’s impossible for me not to include Lisa. Though undeniably feminine, she exhibits all the characteristics I’ve associated with being suave throughout the thread more than all the rest, and she has the added strength of being perfectly womanly throughout. I’d even argue, beyond being far more cultured, calm, diplomatic, and anything but irritating, she possesses incredible strength and bravery. As much as the detectives, spies and thieves of my list are forced to place themselves in compromising situations, it’s Lisa’s unfamiliarity with the environment and risk that makes her ventures all the more thrilling and requiring almost more poise and strength than those forced to confront it by choice. However, like them, she seems to thrive off the adrenaline, and watching a beautiful woman put her life on the line is perversely arousing. This plays into her incredible energy and suave-ness, her sexual appeal. The cherry on the cake of cool, is sex, and Grace Kelly could not be more beautiful, could not be more sensual… could not be more liberated. More-so than her contemporaries, she seemed experienced without ever being a slut. She’s the woman who holds herself beautifully in all situations, but most of all we yearn to see her behind closed doors. It’s not an issue of appearances being deceiving, but her appearance of unshakable confidence that only alludes to that kind of lack of sexual inhibitions. She’s hot, she’s smart, and she’s effortless.

42 responses to “Suave: Ten Cool Characters

  1. some of Bogart’s “conversations” with Lauren Bacall just turned me into a slack-jawed, retarded heap. I had no idea what they were saying and why they were talking so fast, but by god I wanted to be him 😆

  2. and not only could you have gone with a different Bogart role, you could’ve gone with a different Philip Marlowe. I am shocked, SHOCKED, you didn’t so much as mention Eliot Gould in the role of a lifetime.

  3. I know what you mean, it’s a dazzling effect that Hawks’ films have. They just make you drool.

    I prefer both the Long Goodbye and Gould’s Marlowee to Bogart, but I think Hawks’ vision was far more cool, and suave. By nature, the Long Goodbye as a work (novel/film)is a little more unhinged, and Marlowe loses his “cool”. IT’s why I love it.

  4. Your #1 was an incredible disappointment–I have always considered Grace Kelly awkward, probably because she is too-forcefully made to be a symbol of poise and sophistication.

    #6 also seems out of place–Dana Andrews continually plays one who is cool-headed, but suave? Even Clint pushes it as one who is in a primarily gritty, male backdrop, whereas suave implies a sexual control and grace (Clint’s westerns always rough-house the women, which is definitely NOT cool).

    The Lubitsch hero is THE suave stereotype, and I think you picked the two best embodiments of the Lubitsch ideal. Bogart and Grant are a must on any list of suave. The Charleses are a great and surprising add. Which leads me to suggest replacements for Grace as the female suave: Barbara Stanwyck? Irene Dunne? Veronica Lake?

    EH, what’s it to me?

  5. I’ve never seen it as forced, I don’t know, for me Kelly embodies a sort of effortlessly poise and sophistication. For me, she embodies the term. Perhaps there is a certain air of force involved, but I’ve never felt it.

    I do agree that both are somewhat out of place, but I did feel a need to push the limits to a certain extent… I think Andrews had the grace, though perhaps he lacked the culture, while Clint Eastwood… is just cool. I think you have a point about women, and it’s always been a concern to me while watching Leone’s epics. Eastwood’s own films, seem to handle it apologetically, but still fall victim to it. Your point is valid enough that if I were to redo the list, I would take it into consideration,probably bumping him down or off the list entirely. It honestly just did not cross my mind.

    I could have done only Lubitsch protagonists and I think the list would be almost indisputeable. His characters were truly effortless, and even when the actors were crude or far off from my idea of sophistication, he somehow made it work.

    I understand what you mean, but as I mention, there is something very male in the word suave. And as feminine as Kelly is, I think she embodies the male qualities more than the female ones. Perhaps that’s why she is such an enduring sex symbol amongs men. If I were to do a list of elegance or sophistication, I think it would be dominated by women, at least several of the ones you mention.

    It doesn’t matter, I enjoy your comments Mango 🙂 Keeps me on my toes!

  6. Trouble in Paradise was probably my first experience with Herbert Marshall, and it’s funny to remember just how suave he IS in it, because he was an unmitigated DOOF in everything he did after (particularly, Angel Face, Girls’ Dormitory &c &c). But I still love him, suave or kinda-pudgy goon.

    Powell, Grant, Boyer, Bogart, no complaints — although, troublingly, I have a hard time imagining a Feminine Suave at all. 😕 Dietrich, maybe, but at her most manly.

  7. That’s exactly why most of my list is made up of men, Dietrich might be a good choice though :p

    I don’t know if I’ve seen any other Herbert Marshall films, maybe I’m just forgetting… I’ve never heard of him being good in other roles, you seem to confirm that.

  8. To really answer your question though, yes I’m sure there are. I just don’t personally consider them favourites. I think Clive Owen is suave incarnate, though I couldn’t think of a precise role of his that captures that natural elegance he has. I also mentioned in my Bond write-up that Craig falls just short, he would have been my alternative answer. Bond is something of an endearing symbol of cool and collectivity. Robert Downey Jr. too could have made it, though I find his bravura slightly crass to be considered “suave”. Javier Bardem in Vicky Christina Barcelona narrowly missed the list too. I clearly don’t watch enough modern cinema to really tell.

  9. Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell: “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”. That dude is suave. My runner up would be Alec Baldwin’s un-named character from “Glengarry, Glen Ross”

  10. I can’t believe Dean Stockwell’s Ben from Blue Velvet wasn’t your number one pick. I’m sure a lot of moviegoers are like me and can’t hear the word suave without thinking of him. Here’s to Ben!

  11. great idea for a list but i think you lost the plot with grace kelly. no woman was ever more suave than kathleen turner in body heat. cultured, rich, sexy as hell. and she got away with it!!

  12. I think it’s great to include Blondie in the list, he is a western kind of suave!
    Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) should be somewhere in this list too.

  13. I would have to agree that, by definition, suave is inherently a male characteristic. And I disagree that there could not have been one single character in the past 32 (!) years. My personal favorite would be Jack Foley from Out of Sight (1998). How can you make a list of suave without including George Clooney?

  14. This is a thought-provoking exercise in cataloging some very iconic film presences, but I have to agree with some of your other readers– when Cary Grant’s only at number 10 on the “Suave” list, prepare for some shockers!!

    I like what you say about Eastwood’s Blondie, it just feels odd putting such a “gritty” character high on the list. I partly see it but I still have to dissent: there’s definitely a very “cool” and exciting appeal to his embodiment of the character, but I wouldn’t think to call it “suave”, not if I’m thinking of suave in Cary Grant terms (which, again, are the intuitive ones!: as the saying goes, “the picture in the dictionary” next to suave is Cary Grant.

    Your ranking of Sean Connery right above him is interesting too. “From Russia With Love” is a real pleasure, but I’d have to see all Bonds in the shadow of Grant’s “North by Northwest” performance.

    But what do you think of Timothy Dalton? You know, I really enjoyed his work; it’s one of my perrennial sadsack themes in life that he didn’t do another Bond film. And “License to Kill” is too nasty and dour; for me, “The Living Daylights” is the last canonical Bond film (the last classical Bond film, anyway). But I really enjoy his performances in both; I think he’s terribly underrated.

    And I’d better not get started on Roger Moore. See, I LOVE Roger Moore!!!!

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  16. As soon as I read the part about modern suave people, Owen was instantly who popped into my head. I can’t decide which movie best represents, that, though. I’ll get back to you when I do

  17. Brilliant! Most lists are made by twits who don’t seem to realise there were films being made before 1980. This was a very refreshing change.

  18. “But there are all actors from 40+ years ago. Aren’t there any suave characters in the movies today?”

    To answer your question, JM, not like there were 40+ years ago.

    Your assignment is to subscribe to TCM and start watching.

  19. Annett: I didn’t forget Rhett Butler, I never thought of him as really being suave. Sexy and alluring maybe, but he doesn’t quite fit the bill with me.

    James: Z-Man? A good laugh to wake up to, seriously. I love Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, one of my all-time favourites. I’ve never seen anything in a Russ Meyer film that was suave though. Maybe I’ll make-up an anti-thesis of this list, and some of his characters might make an appearance :p I haven’t seen Glengarry Glen Ross.

    Matt: I’m not sure I’m on the Dean Stockwell boat. Too much of a Miss Havisham’s vision of class and sophistication, at least in Blue Velvet.

    neeley ohara: I actually haven’t seen Body Heat, so if I do, maybe I’ll update the list if I agree with you.

    fft5305 and Simon: George Clooney! You guys are killing me, I completely forgot about him. Out of Sight would have been the perfect choice too. I’m usually very careful not to forget people when making theses lists, but I definetely forgot Clooney 😦

    Jason: It was a difficult choice, and I think part of me did it ONLY to elicit reactions. That was bad of me.

    I actually think, hearing others thoughts, Blondie is the one character that yes, is out of place for several reasons. Mango had a compelling argument, and I think if I were to revise the list, he might not be on it. I’d have room for Clooney then.

    As much as I LOVE Cary Grant, I don’t LOVE North by Northwest, or his performance. It’s kinda swarmy, as if Hitchcock wanted to humiliate and make Grant more unappealing than any of his pre-decessor. He didn’t quite succeed, but his characters is constantly indignated and sorta whiny. The final act perhaps, is a saving grace for his persona, but it doesn’t quite work for me.

    I’ve actually never seen a Timothy Dalton Bond film 😦 I’m also warming up to Roger Moore :p

    Talmadge : Thanks, I’d be interested in seeing what you choose.

    Scaramouche: I’ll take the compliment, I’m almost too myopically involved with classic cinema though. It’s not bad to look a little beyond it now and then.

  20. In a list of suave, I expected to see at least one Dean Martin. While known more for music than film, his work in Kiss Me, Stupid certainly should be mentioned.

    Honorable mention also goes to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.

    As for modern day suave, how about Jack Vincennes in LA Confidential?

  21. Kevin: Dean Martin is usually suave, I don’t think he is in Kiss Me, STupid. It’s a parody of his persona, and instead of playing up his “smoothness”, it plays up the ridiculous nature of his ladies man personality, it’s almost creepily accurate. Not suave. Perhaps in a different role though, Martin does have that definete suaveness too him in general.

    Newman in Cool Hand Luke is actually not that bad, would be a good alternative to Blondie as a sort of gritty suave.

    I haven’t seen LA Confidential, so I wouldn’t know.

  22. Hey, I don’t find very much to quibble with in your list; it’s an excellent listing, and not the least because you seem to understand that what passes for “cool” in movies in this millenium falls short of what you could see forty or fifty years ago.

    I would perhaps add to the list:
    Robert Mitchum — who also played the same character as Bogart did in a later version of Farewell My Lovely. (I might have picked Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, instead, but that’s my personal preference.) I recently saw Out Of The Past for the first time ever, and the scenes between him and Kirk Douglas just crackle with electricity and tension. (And the dialog makes me want to weep. How come nobody writes dialog like that anymore?) Then there’s The Grass Is Always Greener where he, Cary Grant, and Deborah Kerr ALL play very cool, smart, and sophisticated characters.

    James Garner in the Americanization of Emily — you wouldn’t normally think of him as someone cool, suave AND sophisticated, but he certainly was in that movie.

    For the person above who mentioned Clive Owen, but couldn’t think of a good example, I’d suggest possibly his role in Croupier. Also, his role in the BMW series of shorts, The Driver — although strictly speaking those aren’t feature films. You’re correct in thinking that he ought to be on this list, but if you look at his roles, he’s had damn few that were cool and sophisticated characters.

    I would say that as well considered as this list is, if you wanted to make the task more challenging, you’d limit it to characters/actors from the past two decades. Good luck with that, eh?

  23. Thank you for the thoughtful response grapeshot 🙂

    I haven’t seen Farewell my Lovely, but Robert Mitchum is a good choice, especially Out of the Past. He is suave, and big and masculine. Actually thinking back, one of my first posts on the blog was dedicated solely to his chest. He showed it off, and often :p

    I haven’t seen The Americanization of Emily or Croupier unfortunately.

    I might try my hand at it, another actors comes to mind, Tony Leung… he’s soo damn suave.

  24. I was doing this, along with the rest of the ‘Definitive Cool’ List when I got sidetracked with life. I’m glad you made a list (and a popular one at that I see! Yay!) and this means that you can now submit these ten characters to the upcoming giant cool list for the blog you NEGLECTED. :deal: 😦

    Also, some really inspired and surprising choices! Question: Did you choose Grace Kelly because she’s cool or because her character is cool? Because I have to admit, that’s not the first thing I think of when I see her in that role. She was calm, but I’m not sure about #1 cool character. But it’s your list! 🙂

  25. This is excellent! You can apply this to a number of genres of movies, gangster film, African American film, biopics, etc.

  26. I liked the list but I guess you missed Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in ‘To kill a mockingbird’ .He was awesome and yes suave in that movie and even won his only oscar for that.

  27. I agreed with most picks. Devlin is right on, but no Paul Newman or Sidney Poitier roles? They create several characters who would have to qualify. And I would’ve taken Bill Simpson over Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (though Addison’s voice is simply amazing). And so, I had some trepidation approaching your #1.

    I had no cause to.

    Grace Kelly is the epitome of culture, always beautifully confident, and smooth in every way; in body, in speech, in movement. She is cultured and brings refinement to everything around her, and her intelligent only hightens her refinement and impact. In Rear Window Lisa is the counterpoint to Jeff’s brashness and she is perfect in the role.


  28. Oh, and please don’t warm up to Roger Moore. I appreciate all other Bonds, but the only word for Moore is smarmy. I’ve seen all his 007 roles, and none compare to the other Bonds, let alone anyone on your list.

  29. Aurelle: I’m forever sorry :(!

    I think it’s mostly that role actually, she’s very cool in To Catch a Thief as well, but there is something about her introduction, and pre-mystery that already has you aching. Then when she just dives in, I’m completely sold. I think there is something masculine about her behavior though her package is so feminine, I don’t know, it feels suave.

    Grassrootsmovement: Paul Newman and Poitier are SO cool. Both could have easily made my list, in many roles. If ever I redo this, they have a shot at it for sure. My opinion is always changing and evolving.

    I’m happy you agree with Kelly.

    I never liked him because he is, as you say, “swarmy”. I don’t see him ever competing with Connery or even Craig in my mind, but I can at least enjoy one of his films now and then.

  30. Perfectly acceptable . . . just don’t let it be Moonraker! 😉

    I’m enjoying your site immensely. It even helped inspire me to start a list on my own blog of media everyone should experience. I’m starting off with the obvious and going a little more obscure. I want to start in on your ‘100 best films I’ve never seen’ as well (or the 96 or so I haven’t seen).

    Too many people have no idea of the beautiful cinema that lies beyond the 80s. I’m glad to find a place it’s discussed!

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