Cinema Reservoir
Breaking Cinematic Opinion and Observation

A Brief History of “The Cougar” in Film

sunset blvd

While the term ‘Cougar’ is a relatively new definition – an older woman who ‘preys’ on young guys – the concept is certainly an age old one.  In fact, films have been exploring the subject for a long, long time.   Throughout the thirties, Mae West famously woo’ed a slew of young leading men (including a 20 something Cary Grant) and since then there have been several memorable films about this special kind of May/December romance.

Sunset Blvd. (1950)  –  Norma Desmond

gloria swanson

Probably the most famous cougar in film (at the very least the most quotable),  Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond sets the mold for every modern day cougar.  She’s rich, well connected, elegant, and filled with enough promises and one liners to keep the object of her obsession, struggling screenwriter Joe, interested and around for a while.  Though perhaps a bit crazier than most cougars ( she does shoot Joe when he finally gets the balls to leave), she’s easily the most sympathetic.  For those of you who don’t know the story: aging and forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond toils away in her Sunset Blvd.  mansion – having funerals for her chimpanzes – until Joe Gillis accidentaly wanders in while trying to escape from repo men.  BOOM! Norma’s in love and thinks that Joe is the perfect man to write her comeback role… so she uses everything at her disposal to keep him in her life.

PENULTIMATE COUGAR SCENE: Norma dresses like Charlie Chaplin and gives Joe a performance as ‘The Tramp’ and his expression looks like he realizes he’s been abducted by some kind of alien. 

GREAT COUGAR LINE: Norma describes her assets to Joe:  “Shut up, I’m Rich. Richer than all this new Hollywood Trash!  I have a million dollars.  Own three blocks downtown,  I’ve got oil in Bakersfield pumping, Pumping, PUMPING!

THE GRADUATE (1967)   –   Mrs. Robinson

Awesome Robinson

Coming in a close second to Norma Desmond would be Mrs. Robinson, played by Mrs. Mel Brooks… Anne Bancroft.  After reaquainting herself with young Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) at his graduation party, Mrs. Robinson begins her art of seduction even though she’s roughly the age of his mother.  When asked if he finds her attractive, Braddock’s reply is classic “Oh, yes, I think you’re the prettiest of my mother’s friends.”  Their hotel rendevous eventually end quite badly when Ben starts dating Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, and the elder Robinson suddenly morphs into a crazy, Disney level evil queen.

PENULTIMATE COUGAR SCENE: The first time Ben realizes Mrs. Robinson’s intentions… trapped in Elaine Robinson’s bedroom while Mrs. Robinson quickly strips. 

GREAT COUGAR LINE: “Benjamin I want you to know that I’m available to you, and if you won’t sleep with me this time I want you to know that you can call me up anytime and we can make some kind of arrangement.”

HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)  –  Maude

harold and maude

Most people think this is one of the strangest movies ever made.  Bud Cort plays Harold, a rich kid – obsessed with death- whos parents think he should settle down, so they create a series of dates that go hilariously wrong.  Ruth Gordon plays Maude, an elderly woman living life to the fullest.  Their paths intersect at a funeral, where Harold spies Maude trying to steal his hearse, beginning their adventure.  Along the way, she steals several other vehicles, as well as Harold’s heart.  Maude teaches Harold to curb his suicidal appetites and embrace life like she has.  Like with all “Cougar Films” it ends in tragedy.  Maude, for all her talk of life, transplanting trees in parks to the forrest, lecturing Harold on how sad most people are, etc… has no intention of living past the age of 80.  Indeed, he meets her on her 80’th birthday, wishing her well, only to get the reply “I took the tablets an hour ago… I’ll be gone by midnight…”

PENULTIMATE COUGAR SCENE:  Harold gives Maude a gift – a coin with the engraving “Harold loves Maude.”  Maude admires it, then throws it into a fountain right in front of him.

GREAT COUGAR LINE: “Vice.  Virtue.  It’s best not to be too moral.  You cheat yourself out of too much life.”

** RUNNER UP (this line is not uttered by the Cougar in question, but it’s too amazing not to mention.)  Priest: ” I’d be remiss in my duties if I did not tell you that the idea of  intercourse – the act of your firm, young body… comingling with withered flesh… sagging breasts… and flabby b..b..buttocks… makes me want… to vomit.”

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (2001)  –  Luisa Cortez

e tu mama

Road trip films are great, so even better that Alfonso Cuaron weaved into his mini masterpiece a cougar (Maribel Verdu) so enticing she could snag not one, but two young men (Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal)! The story involves two best friends who embark on a trip to a beach called Boca del Cielo with an older woman, Luisa, that they are both attracted to.  Little do they know her situation or intentions… Luisa has terminal cancer and just found out her husband is cheating on her and sees the road trip as an opportunity to teach her two co-pilots a thing or two about the ways of the world.

PENULTIMATE COUGAR LINE: ” You have to make the clitoris your best friend.”  RESPONSE: “What kind of friend is always hiding?”

GREAT COUGAR SCENE: Near the end, in a nearly wordless scene, Luisa takes the two guys out to a restaurant, plays from the juke box and her dance is enough to attract both guys into bed with her for one of the most talked about threesomes in recent film history.


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