Movie Trope Thursday: Beta Couple

Goodbye Again

This is the secondary couple in a movie or TV show or other form of media. They usually are the simpler pairing next to the official couple who usually has to get together through tougher means. The beta couple is commonly the fun one, and frequently in old Hollywood the beta couple was filled by comic reliefs. Sometimes they were an attractive duo much like the alpha couple, but had a simpler relationship that could be regulated to secondary interest. Sometimes the beta couple was more awesome and fun compared to the main one, but usually this pairing was fun to watch or at least a good-looking bunch. Having a beta couple over a love triangle was also usually a better solution to flex a movie’s romantic sub-plot’s muscles. Although, keep in mind, a beta couple and a romantic sub-plot aren’t the same things.

Many old movies loved to include more than one couple in their films whether they were comedies, dramas, musicals, Westerns, etc. One of the funniest examples would have to be Lupino Lane and Lillian Roth in The Love Parade (1929). They are more entertaining and even more sexually active than the main couple of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald that go through relationship issues throughout the film’s run being royalty and all. Lane and Roth even sing a song called “Let’s Be Common” about sex and how common people can have sex as much as they please as the lyrics go “Let’s be common and do it again!” Lane and Roth also aren’t married to one another and get together during the movie, but they lack the problems that plague our main couple who move the plot forward. They are generally created to add laughs and easy-going interest to the audience. Still, this is one of those times where our beta couple steals the movie.

Show Boat

MGM in particular seemed to be fond of these in a more romantic sense compared to the more common staple contradiction between alpha and beta couples. This is because many MGM beta couples were filled by attractive people and weren’t meant to add humor or contradict with the main couple. Some MGM examples include Richard Carlson and Jane Bryan in These Glamour Girls (1939), William T. Orr and Marsha Hunt in Unholy Partners (1941), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Anita Page in Our Modern Maidens (1929), Kenny Baker and Cyd Charisse in The Harvey Girls (1946), and Marge and Gower Champion in a number of musicals. MGM had a lot of talented people under contract or on loan, so they likely wanted to give a majority of them good parts and not just waste them. Surprisingly, many of these beta couple examples are entertaining to watch and certainly do not feel like padding for the movie’s run-time. They just give the films they are in extra interest and it is hard to find fault with that.

One Way Passage

Other studios tended to use this trope as well, usually when the plot involved many characters and romance was the main theme of the story. Sometimes there was a love triangle and the loser still got with someone not a part of the triangle, but these love triangle run-off pairings usually aren’t beta couples. In fact, taking a closer look, there are many examples of side-couples whether they be the other side of a love triangle or a romantic sub-plot, but these plots often didn’t fill the void of a beta couple. While beta couples were pretty common in old movies, today you’re more likely to witness them on television as the beta couple is always meant to be the stable one contrasting the rocky main relationship. Back in old movies, beta couples didn’t always play this part. Sometimes they were similar to the main pair, they just had less focus to them. Other times they were just meant to be funny and make the audience laugh in the midst of whatever turmoil the main couple was going through. This is a trope open to a little variety, although old Hollywood seemed more likely to play around with it than other eras of film. This trope is not a bad idea and when done correctly they made for some interesting pairs and characters, although they weren’t above eclipsing the alpha couple in terms of interest from time to time.


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