"Love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a six-alarm fire in a bamboo and canvas tent." (Rod Serling)
Young Son has a tendency to sneer at movies wherein a Love Interest is all too obviously inserted ("their eyes met across a crowded room . . ."). Imagine his shock and delight upon watching "In the Heat of the Night" and learning that Lee Grant wasn't going to get the hot puppies for Sidney Poitier.
Even a sentimental old poop such as myself is willing to grant Young Son his justifications. I have also carried the occasional jade chip on my shoulder whenever I spot a Romantic Element clumsily shoe-horned into a movie. Consider with me, pumpkins, the notion that Love shares two qualities with motion pictures: both are a spectator sport, and both can be Artistic. I certainly don't mind the tenderer emotions entering into a movie, but admittedly I prefer at least a sincere attempt at cleverness sprinkled with some common sense. When James Kirk ends up stranded on a desolate alien planet and just happens to stumble across a knock-down gorgeous babe . . . or when James Bond encounters some Playmate of the Month while hacking his way through a jungle . . . well, you can understand why I tend to sigh and rub my aching temples.
Of course True Love can be messed up rather royally in real life, so it should come as no surprise that movies very often get the whole thing wrong as well. It doesn't help that there are as many flavors of romance as there are titles in the direct-to-video bin at the Dollar General. In movies, Love runs the gamut from the sentimental ("Dear Heart", "An Affair to Remember") to the rocky ("Moonstruck", "Romeo and Juliet"), to the interestingly non-physical ("Lost in Translation", "Educating Rita") and on to just flat weird ("Warm Bodies", "King Kong").
It is certainly not going to be my intention to try and use this space to provide a complete list of what I consider worthwhile romantic films. Far from it. For one thing, I'm working under something of a deadline here. But with Valentine's Day fast approaching I thought I'd blithely throw out a small list of titles you might consider looking into. Some of them will be immediately familiar (or at least they should be), and some will form grounds for argument. Just keep in mind, pumpkins, that Cupid's quiver holds many arrows.
Yeah, you didn't think I could do something like this and not mention a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn film, huh? Huh? Purists might prefer another Tracy/Hepburn outing altogether, but not only did this feature two equally literate and intelligent characters, but (as I've mentioned before) it featured computers back in the days when computers were interesting.
And here's where I'm gonna cheat a little. Since I've already written extensively on this film you might want to go to http://www.examiner.com/review/desk-set-kate-hepburn-and-computers and peruse a more in-depth account on my views.
(For an alternate title: Eric Till's charming 1968 feature "Hot Millions".)
And speaking of cheating, yeah . . . here's another film I've held court on. Interested parties may pick up the thread at http://www.examiner.com/review/moonrise-kingdom-what-kind-of-bird-are-you.
(Hey, if I don't promote myself, who will?)
Nothing has happened since writing my earlier comments to change my view of this being one of the most originally sincere love stories (or would "sincerely original" be better?) to come along in quite some time.
People Will Talk
Kids, I promise. This is the absolute last time I'll insert a reference to a previous article. It's just that this is a nicely orchestrated "fun" romance, with just enough of a taste of the Unusual to make it even more eminently watchable.
The Quiet Man
Actually I'm surprised I haven't already covered this one. Not only is this a perennial favorite for St. Patrick's Day, but it's perhaps the best of all the pairings between John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara (with director John Ford riding shotgun). Wayne and O'Hara practically wrote the book on depicting lovers who manage to fit themselves together in spite of all differences . . . and getting the audience to come along for the ride. So many people who should've known better pooh-poohed this project, but it managed to outlive its critics. Raucous romance, or rationalization for wife beating . . . you make the call.
The Thin Man
Along with Romance, Marriage is a subject which so many would be "creative people" get wrong in a big way. Too many self-important idiots believe that married life is empty of any sort of excitement or lasting interest.
Along comes W.S. Van Dyke who, ably abetted by William Powell and Myrna Loy, parlayed a Dashiell Hammett mystery novel into a series of romantic comedies where the wit was as dry as the martinis consumed by the characters. The chemistry between Powell and Loy easily overshadowed the mysteries which Nick and Nora Charles were embroiled in, demonstrating how a married couple could have more fun than most unattached people. Throw in perhaps some of the best comeback lines ever written for the screen (as well as Loy's patented sphinx-like gaze of amusement at Powell's antics) and the "Thin Man" films easily leave most stories about uncommitted couples in the shade.
Somewhere in Time
I know people who absolutely loathe this film. I also know people who hold the film very close to their hearts. My own fondness for the fiction of Richard Matheson overrides either emotional extreme and I offer it up as a gentle fantasy worth spending time with (especially if you're a male and happen to know an easily impressionable member of the female persuasion you'd like to get much closer to). It doesn't hurt that the film gave Christopher Reeve a chance to show what he could do when not otherwise flying around Metropolis, and Jane Seymour never looked dreamier.
The Closer You Get
As the accompanying photo attests, the film is also known as "American Women"; but here I'm employing the title under which it's usually known when it makes occasional appearances on cable. In my opinion this 2000 production by Aileen Ritchie deserves greater appreciation. A group of men in a small Irish fishing village are fed up with what they perceive as the dullness of the local girls and hit upon the idea of putting an ad in the Miami Herald with the object of enticing American women to visit. This being a small town, the local girls immediately find out about the ad and, as they say in the trades, Complications Prevail. What follows is a nicely constructed account of the locals . . . both male and female . . . trying to sort things out, and True Love eventually prevails.
(Another romance set in Ireland. Must be the water.)
84 Charing Cross Road
One of my all-time favorite books is a slim release by Helene Hanff where the reader follows the nineteen year correspondence between the author and the owner of a modest London bookstore. The letters would occasionally reach out to include the other employees of the store, but the majority involved Hanff and proprietor Frank Doel.
The BBC produced the book as a 1975 entry in its "Play for Today" series, but most people are familiar with David Jones' 1987 film adaptation. Hard to ignore, actually, seeing as how the leads were portrayed by Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. More than a talking heads story, the viewer follows both characters as the world slowly changes over the course of the years. Not only are the books ordered and sent out, but a warm relationship grows between the two principles. Bancroft and Hopkins make it easily convincing, and anyone with an ounce of sentiment inside them (and who isn't employed by the New York Times) should find themselves smiling.
Besides, book lovers need love too.
Oops! Curve ball here.
And yeah, I'm referring to Ken Russell's 1980 science-fiction film dealing with exploring alternate forms of consciousness at the atomic level. But take a closer look, pumpkins. This was an adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's only novel. Chayefsky certainly had his critics, but few American writers possessed a sharper or more uncompromising eye for the human condition. And this included Romance. To my way of thinking, Russell and screenwriter Sidney Aaron ably captured what Chayefsky was pushing here. Over and above the laboratory trappings of the story, "Altered States" dealt with two people tearing themselves apart, but who ultimately become willing to cross Hell to rebuild what they feel for each other.
I know people who've watched Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and speculated on what sort of relationship the James Stewart and Grace Kelly characters would've had if they'd married. I hereby promote "Altered States" as the answer to the question. As with Stewart and Kelly, John Hurt and Blair Brown play two sophisticated and strong-willed people who love each other in spite of all the differences they seem compelled to throw between themselves. The marriage of their characters didn't automatically signal eternal happiness, and both would learn that a ceremonial commitment wouldn't erase all problems. What would be necessary to put happiness within reach would be an ultimate and all-consuming crisis (literally, in the case of "Altered States").
They're young . . . they're in love . . . they're in an Alfred Hitchcock movie . . .
And yeah, as with the Tracy/Hepburn movies, I bet there're some of you out there who'd prefer one of Hitchcock's other entries in terms of Romance. In all honesty I almost selected "To Catch a Thief". But whereas so many of the Master's films feature Love as a subplot, this 1946 film actually uses it as a card on the table in terms of plot development. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are practically letter-perfect as the romantic couple who are obligated to throw their relationship in the gutter for the sake of Mom and Apple Pie. A lesser director than Hitchcock would've made an unholy mess out of any effort towards reconciliation. But, as usual, Hitch pulls our strings and we find ourselves not caring so much about the Dastardly Plot as we do about whether or not Grant and Bergman's characters will get back together.
Plus we have Claude Rains serving up another smoothie, and Leopoldine Konstantin as one of the more evil wearers of the "motherhood" mantle to appear onscreen.
(Memo to myself: a possible article dealing with Hitchcock's use of mothers as characters.)
The Long Hot Summer
Let's see . . . Tracy/Hepburn (check) . . . Wayne/O'Hara (check) . . . Powell/Loy (check) . . . a Hitchcock couple (check) . . .
Which leaves us with one of my favorite Hollywood relationships: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. They would marry a year after making this film and, as with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not", one can see the chemicals already bubbling away.
One can also see what seems to be another example of an obvious recurring pattern in this list: two strong-willed and intelligent characters at first faced with what seem to be irreconcilable differences but who soon manage to recognize that they are ultimately made for each other. The fun comes in watching the give and take between the characters played by Newman and Woodward. Neither seem willing to give ground while, at the same time, increasingly advertising the mutual interest they feel.
Speaking of romances, "The Long Hot Summer" provides viewers with a two-fer. Along with the hearts and pickaxes floating between Newman and Woodward there's also a nice little subplot involving the characters played by Orson Welles and Angela Lansbury. Watching Lansbury trying to maneuver Welles into a committed relationship is a bit of fun, and seldom has a capitulation been more sweetly depicted.
(At least one involving Welles.)