2016 got in one final kick to the shins when writer and actor Carrie Fisher passed away unexpectedly, followed just a day later by her mother Debbie Reynolds. The two epitomized what female movie stars of their generations were capable of in unique ways, Reynolds as a no-holds-barred self-made star who powered her way into Hollywood’s A-list simply by working harder than everyone around her, Fisher as someone who catapulted to stardom in Star Wars but who then came to be a formidable comedic force in front of the camera and a prolific writer behind it.
The two of them passing in such close proximity – Reynolds apparently dying of what amounts to a broken heart after hearing her daughter was gone – was particularly tragic to movie fans of all ages and has resulted in an outpouring of appreciation for both. Reynolds’ role as a Hollywood giant and Fisher as not only Princess Leia Organa but also as one of the industry’s top ghostwriters for over a decade. While it’s been a couple weeks since this one-two punch to the gut, it’s not too late to look at some of the trailers for each actress’s more memorable roles. Because Star Wars would skew the curve for Fisher, though, the focus will instead be on some of her supporting roles in the years after she lead the Rebel Alliance to victory in the Battle of Endor.
When Harry Met Sally
Thankfully we get at least a bit more Fisher in the trailer for Rob Reiner’s 1989 classic about a couple of reluctant lovers. Stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan take up most of the screen time, which makes sense since they’re the leads and focus of the story, but it’s good to see Fisher show up a bit here. Mostly that comes in a short clip from the classic dueling phone conversation scene, with Fisher on the phone with Ryan and Bruno Kirby on the phone with Crystal. While we can be disappointed in how little Fisher’s Marie shows up in the trailer, especially given the important role she plays in the movie, it’s also shocking to see how many of the story’s big reveals and twists the trailer puts on display.
Singin’ In the Rain
Reynolds’s breakout role came alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Conner, two experience song-and-dance entertainers, something she at the time was not. That’s not apparent at all from the trailer, which puts her billing in third place understandably but continues to focus on her throughout the runtime. Her own formidable singing and dancing skills are well on display here and it very much positions her as someone the audience should – or at least will – know about.
One of Fisher’s more thankless post-Star Wars roles, she’s basically simply given the role of “understanding and patient wife to a husband who acts increasingly kooky.” The story, in case it’s been awhile since you last saw the movie at a drive-in while sitting in the back of a 1987 Caprice Classic, has Tom Hanks (Fisher’s on-screen husband) whose staycation is interrupted by the increasingly odd behavior of new neighbors and the paranoia that grips the other residents of the cul-de-sac. Fisher’s largely thankless role, which has her mostly just reacting to Hanks’ antics and trying to calm him down, is way below her skill level, and the trailer shows very little of her, just a couple shots of her reacting to co-star Tom Hanks, who drives almost all the action.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Reynolds was much more established as a box-office star by the time The Unsinkable Molly Brown came out and that’s apparent in the trailer, which puts her front and center as a woman who can’t and won’t give up, regardless of life’s circumstances. While the mid-section of the trailer focuses on the presence – and voice – of costar Harve Presnell the rest keeps Reynolds firmly in the spotlight, showing her as the star of this musical extravaganza based loosely on the life of a woman who rose from nothing to great riches and eventually gained notoriety as a survivor of the Titanic. What’s surprising, given the trailer’s focus, is that Reynolds gets third billing behind costar Ed Begley and Presnell, respectively.
Unfortunately Fisher doesn’t even make the cut in the trailer for Soapdish, the 1991 comedy starring Sally Field and Kevin Kline about the real-life drama that invades the set of a horribly cheesy soap opera. That’s too bad since Fisher’s role as the casting director who takes full advantage of her access to a steady stream of hot, not-too-bright actors basically sets the story in motion by bringing Lori (played by Elisabeth Shue) aboard the show. Her absence from the trailer doesn’t make this any less an essential part of the Fisher filmography, though, since the screenplay by Robert Harling, who also wrote Steel Magnolias and more, gives her plenty of opportunity to show off her amazing comedic delivery.
One of Reynolds’ last great live-action theatrical roles, this one came via writer/director Albert Brooks. He plays a twice-divorced writer who decides his problems with women go back to his relationship with his mother (Reynolds) and so moves back in with her. Because the story is all about the dynamic between the two of them it makes sense that the trailer gives her almost as much screentime as it does him, showing the way the communicate and the longing for her approval he continues to feel even as a grown man. Reynolds is responsible for some of the movie’s best bits, including the “layer of protective ice” that has coated her long-past-expired sherbet and more, many of which are on display here to show audiences exactly what they were signing up for.
Reynolds certainly had a longer on-screen career than Fisher, with more prominent roles well into her later years. But Fisher had a hand in rewriting many of the movies from the late-80s and into the 90s that you probably love or at least like more than you otherwise would have. That can’t be discounted, even if the roles she was offered weren’t exactly substantial. She also kept writing books, including the semi-autobiographical Postcards From the Edge, which she would then adapt for a movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as fictionalized versions of Fisher and Reynolds, respectively. Even without Star Wars, Fisher’s impact on Hollywood was just as big as her mother’s and both leave the world a little less fun.