Outlaw couples have proven a firm favourite for film lovers almost since the beginning of cinema. From Bonnie and Clyde to Badlands’ Kit and Holly, Thelma and Louise, Clarence and Alabama in True Romance, and Mickey and Mallory Knox in Natural Born Killers — there’s something about rooting for renegade lovers on the run from the law that we just can’t get enough of.
With the recent arrival on Netflix of Queen & Slim — the excellent Black Lives Matter-era spin on the outlaw couple genre, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner Smith, written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas — here are three other takes from cinema history that offer proof of the possibilities that this simple but effective premise has mined to very different but always satisfying and intriguing effect.
The art house classic: Ossesione — YouTube
More “lovers in cahoots” than straight outlaw couple on the run, master Italian director Luchino Visconti’s 1942 debut is a smart adaptation of the perennial pulp novel adaptation favourite The Postman Always Rings Twice with the action transposed to the vast landscapes of Italy’s Po Delta.
Often described as an early example of the famed Italian neorealist movement, Vischonti’s version of the story — in which an itinerant labourer is seduced by the wife of a restaurant owner and entangled in a plot to murder her oafish, obese husband — is still distinctively something other than an earthy piece of kitchen sink working-class drama.
Like many of the films for which he would later become renowned it has a keen sense of melodrama and a carefully controlled simple but striking aesthetic and use of ironic music that keep it from being classified as a completely neorealist exercise.
There’s a heavy film noir atmosphere and claustrophobic sexual tension that remains unshown but always present and keeps everything slowly boiling over to its tragic conclusion. Passion, lust, murder, betrayal, greed and retribution are all intertwined against the broader anguish of the oppressive conditions of fascist-era Italy, giving the film an added layer of slight but present political critique that doesn’t deter from its all-too-relatable base human nature explorations.
It would also set Visconti well on his way to carving a long and prestigious career as one of Italian and European cinema’s most singular and wide-ranging creators.
The stone-cold classic: The Honeymoon Killer — YouTube
Martin Scorsese was originally going to direct this 1969 eerie adaptation of the true story of outsider couple and “Lonely Hearts Killers,” Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez but he was fired and replaced by scriptwriter Leonard Kastle.
We all know what happened to Scorsese and while this would be Kastle’s only film, it has become a cult-classic thanks to its unnerving, empathetic and sometimes all too sickeningly real depiction of the relationship between overweight nursing sister Beck (Shirley Stoler) and her gigolo hustler boyfriend Ray (Tony Lo Bianco) and their life on the run after they begin to murder several of Ray’s elderly spinster clients.
Filmed in gritty black and white and featuring a cleverly selected soundtrack of the works of classical composer Gustav Mahler — it still holds up as a unique blend of love, violence and death that reflects its era’s own feelings of paranoia and uncertainty within the frames of its 1950s setting.
It’s not always easy to watch as Kastle makes sure not to sanitise the violence and ugliness of the action of the doomed protagonists — who were electrocuted for their crimes in 1951 — but it is always hard to look away from thanks to a pair of dedicated and moving performances from its leads and a strong dedication on the part of its director to creating a vividly realistic portrait of them and their actions that tries to understand them on their own, grubby but undeniably passionate terms.
It’s still one of cinema’s greatest one-off films and has gradually but deservedly earned praise from critics and filmmakers over the years as a rare, honest piece of storytelling.
The diamond in the rough: A Perfect World — Rent or buy from Apple TV +
Clint Eastwood’s slight, sometimes perhaps too on-the-nose but finally quite moving and tender 1993 drama features an outlaw romance of a different kind.
When convict Robert “Butch” Haynes (Kevin Costner) — “the most dangerous man in West Texas” — makes his escape from a Texas jail in 1963 with an unreliable fellow prisoner who soon lands the pair in a sticky situation, he’s forced to kidnap a child and go on the run from the law under the determined leadership of Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Eastwood).
What follows is an easy-to-fall-for story of the unlikely relationship between Butch and his hostage and the begrudging respect that his pursuer develops as he gets closer to bringing them all to an inevitable point of no return.
It’s a small but dramatically engaging and emotionally compelling journey through rural 60s America that unlike many of Eastwood’s later output manages to steer clear of obvious melodrama and conservative dogma and even extracts a strong performance out of Costner, whose all too often one of the more wooden and plodding of leading men.