As I mentioned in my last contribution to Movierob’s Genre Grandeur series, I was kindly selected by Rob himself to choose the topic that myself and other classic film bloggers would write about during the month of January. I opted to make this month’s theme “Romantic Films” for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it’s my own personal favorite genre in cinema, despite how vague it might seem. I just adore movies in which a couple and their story is the driving force, be it comedy, drama, or what have you. Luckily I was also chosen at an opportune time to be discussing love in the movies, as not only is this the month before Valentine’s Day, this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival’s theme is Follow Your Heart: Love in the Movies! I thought that a romantic theme to start out the new year would not only allow for lots of room for interpretation and creativity, but it would also make way for lots of discussion about love and films in the months to come. Once I decided on the genre, I admit that I had trouble deciding which romantic picture to write about. I thought of trying out a new-to-me picture, but realized that it would be difficult to gauge just how much romance is in a particular film without seeing it first, and at the same time it would also be nearly impossible to discuss just one romantic movie that I’ve already seen. So, I decided to write up a quick ranking of five of my favorite romantic movies! I’m positive that I’ve missed quite a few that I hold dear, but these are some of the classic love stories that I always find myself going back to.
5. Come Live With Me (1941)
It just goes to show how much I adore romantic movies when I place this at the bottom of my list, because for years I’ve been trying to spread the word about how Come Live With Me (1941) is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated romantic comedies of all time. In the film, Hedy Lamarr stars as Johnny Jones, a Viennese refugee who has illegally evaded deportation for months by using a masculine name. Finally, the immigration department catches up with Johnny, but the agent feels so sorry for her that he gives her one week to marry and stay in the country. To her dismay, however, her hotshot publisher beau (Ian Hunter) is already married, and Johnny quickly gives up hope that she’ll find a man to marry her and allow her to remain in America. But soon she finds out that all is not lost when she accidentally stumbles upon Bill Smith (James Stewart), a forlorn writer who is down to his last dime. Johnny quickly devises and offers a plan: Bill could marry Johnny so that she could stay in the country, and in return Johnny could pay for his expenses, which would allow him to write the novel he’s always dreamed of completing. Bill reluctantly agrees, but a battle of the sexes ensues once he grows tired of Johnny paying his way, and once he grows even more tired of being wed in name only! I don’t exaggerate when I say that Lamarr and Stewart make for the most wonderful onscreen pair that I have ever witnessed. The raven-haired, exotic, and mysterious beauty that Hedy brings to the role proves to be the perfect yang to James Stewart’s squeaky clean, all-American yin, and it’s a match made in heaven. Sure, Stewart’s overly religious grandmother (Adeline de Walt Reynolds) single-handedly drags the plot down, but at the end of the day this movie is absolutely delightful, and proves that opposites really do attract.
4. Gilda (1946)
Here we follow a lighthearted romantic comedy with a tense, deadly romantic noir. This is a classic that deserves to be on any Old Hollywood fan’s “already watched” list, but if you’re unaware of Gilda (1946), you’re in for a sizzling treat. The picture first focuses on yet another Johnny (Glenn Ford), only this one is much more deft at winning at the gambler’s table by cutting cards and using crooked dice than he is at arranging marriages of convenience. His unique set of skills soon introduces him to Ballin Mundson (George MacReady), owner of the most elite (and illegal) gambling establishment in Buenos Aires. You might first believe that the film’s romance is between Johnny and Mundson due to how close the pair become, but as soon as Johnny locks eyes with his friend and employer’s new wife Gilda (Rita Hayworth), their entire backstory unfolds before us without a word of explanation necessary. It’s clear that Johnny and Gilda were once in love when they both lived in America, and that at one point they irreparably broke each other’s hearts. The two fight like a pair of wild cats throughout the picture, both of them refusing to admit that their actions hurt the other or that they’re still in love despite the fact that Gilda is married to the most important, yet deranged man in their lives. You might think that with lines like “I hate you so much that I would destroy myself to take you down with me” and “I hated her so I couldn’t get her out of my mind for a minute”, these two would be the stars of anything but a steamy romance, but as Mundson states in the film, hate is an exciting emotion, and it definitely is exciting to see every nuanced piece of acting in this movie between Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. Their chemistry is so palpable that I beg you to watch this film if you haven’t seen it yet.
3. Waterloo Bridge (1940)
First we’ve had “sweet and innocent” romance, then we’ve had “angsty and intense” romance, and now we have “so beautiful and tragic that this film makes you want to rip your own heart out by the end” romance. Waterloo Bridge (1940) begins with British officer Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor), who near the beginning of World War II makes a detour to the title spot and reminisces about the love of his life, ballerina Myra Lester (Vivien Leigh), who he met there during the last war. Their story is shown in flashback, and the two instantly hit it off after seeking shelter during an air raid near the bridge. Myra invites Roy to see her perform as part of her illustrious ballet company, and the smitten military captain agrees, abandoning an important dinner with his superior to do so. After the show, Roy attempts to slip her a note inviting her to dine with him, but her strict ballet instructor Madame Olga (Maria Ouspenskaya) intercepts the correspondence and forbids her to go. Already falling in love with Roy, Myra and disobeys her and sneaks away, sharing a romantic candlelight dinner that other pictures on the silver screen could only dream of, but the outing costs the ballerina her job and Roy is forced to the battlefront to fight for his country. A series of terrible misunderstandings follow one after another, and Myra, waiting for her true love to return, is led to believe that Roy has been killed in action. Her grief and unemployment drive her deeper and deeper into despair, and eventually Myra and fellow unemployed ballerina Kitty (Virginia Field) are forced into prostitution in order to survive. But when Roy miraculously re-enters her life, will the two live happily ever after, or will Myra’s depression and guilt be too much for her to bear? In short, this movie is absolutely beautiful, both visually and in its dialogue. It has everything that a romantic film should have, including a passionate kiss in the rain and an intense attraction that makes this movie one that I’ll never forget.
2. Rebecca (1940)
I didn’t realize until compiling this list that I really do admire beautiful and tragic romances, but in Rebecca (1940) I especially admire Laurence Olivier, who portrays my favorite fictional character of all time in the only Alfred Hitchcock film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Mr. de Winter instantly captures the audience’s attention as he stands on a precipice in Monte Carlo, and the nameless leading lady (Joan Fontaine) mistakenly believes that he intends to commit suicide. We soon find out that Maxim is a broken man who’s become desperately lonely after his wife Rebecca drowned while sailing the year before. Soon the girl gets to know Maxim as he takes an almost immediate interest in her, sweeping her off her feet while her boss remains sick in bed. At first she believes that his outings with her are charity on Mr. de Winter’s part, but he quickly puts the thought out of her mind as he passionately admits that he wants to be near her. Their dalliance almost comes to an end when Mrs. Van Hopper tries to take her away to New York, but Maxim saves the day by giving her an ultimatum: either she leaves with her boss or marries him and accompanies him to his glorious estate. Like any sane person would do, she accepts his proposal and becomes the second Mrs. de Winter, but there’s more than meets the eye when she arrives to Manderley. It appears to her that Maxim and everyone on the estate is still consumed with Rebecca’s death, and the incident haunts her more and more until it eventually threatens her life. While this film is considered primarily a tale of suspense by most, I think Rebecca (1940) is vastly underrated as a captivating romantic drama. Maxim is to die for, and it’s simply fascinating to watch him fall deeper and deeper in love with his new wife, while at the same time battling the inner demons that threaten to consume him. I find this film singularly unique in mixing both the romance and horror genres so divinely, and this picture definitely deserves more notoriety than it’s received.
1. Jewel Robbery (1932)
I find it really intriguing that I consider Jewel Robbery (1932) my favorite film of all time, yet I’ve never taken the opportunity to discuss it on my blog until now. It’s difficult for me to describe the profound effect that it’s had on me throughout the years, but I can only tell you that the physical and emotional chemistry between William Powell and Kay Francis in this picture is unmatched. With a running time of only an hour and eight minutes, Jewel Robbery (1932) flawlessly sets the scene: a nameless jewel thief (William Powell) has been expertly committing crimes all throughout Europe, swiping priceless gems and inexplicably evading every security system available. The threat fails to deter Teri (Kay Francis), wife of a wealthy yet boring elderly Baron (Henry Kolker), as she intends to visit one of the premier jewelry shops in Vienna and convince her husband to purchase a magnificent twenty-carat diamond ring especially for her. The two enter the store and the Baron talks the shopkeeper down in price, but just before the purchase is finalized, the store is predictably held up by the infamous jewel thief. Teri is eager for the excitement that the robbery will bring to her social life, and while her husband quivers with fear, the Baroness remains calm and inquisitive, desiring to learn more about the handsome and mystifying criminal. From the moment they meet it’s easy to see that they’re meant for each other despite their unique circumstances, and their witty banter is the best part of the picture. Jewel Robbery (1932) includes everything that a daring, sexy pre-code should, namely William Powell and Kay Francis, but also a scorching sexual chemistry between the leads that includes references to bondage, marijuana, and even more scandalous subjects. I’ll never stop campaigning for this film to receive the attention that it desperately deserves, and I’ll never stop watching it at every possible opportunity, either!