Thursday, February 13, 2014

Romantic films worth seeking out for Valentine’s Day

[Note: Published on February 10, 1995 in The Kansas City Kansan, this article references movie titles from 19+ years ago. It has been somewhat edited since VHS has since given way to DVDs. This affected my original introduction and conclusion. I realize there have been many Valentine-appropriate flicks since then, but not addressed here.] 

By Steve Crum

“Where do I begin…” asks the musical question in the 1970 hit song, “Theme from Love Story,” and with that romantic day in February just a few roses away, a loving look at Valentine’s Day movies is appropriate. So add a couple of logs in the fireplace, snuggle up, and tenderly watch a film at least partially devoted to love. Most if not all these titles are available on DVD—or via stream, cable, satellite, pay-per-view, Red Box, pony express rider….
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THE ABYSS (1989)
On the surface, so to speak, it might not seem to be a love story. But one fathoms it truly is after Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is forced to die, trusting her husband (Ed Harris) to bring her back to life. She does, and he does.

THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)
The love story between Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn is the strength of this film, sweetheart. 

BEAUTY AND THE  BEAST (1992)
One o fthe great love stories, this animated musical version is also a Broadway hit. Check out the non-musical versions from ’46 and ’63. Also see the very stretched interpretations from 1933 and 1976: King Kong. (Don’t forget the former’s closing line: “Twas beauty that killed the beast.”)

BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)
Two Generation-Xers meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend the night walking around Vienna together, and talk and talk and talk. If watching two people trying to put the make on each other for two hours is entertainment, be sure to see it. This critic left the theater before sundown. A better bet is the vastly superior inspiration, 1945’s Brief Encounter.

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)
Makes the list just for its hit theme song, “Moon River,” if nothing else. But Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard make it that something else.

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
Well, at least Boris Karloff’s monster falls madly in love with his stitched-up soul mate. Sadly, it is unrequited love; Frankenstein’s womanster screams her borrowed guts out when she first sees him. 

BRINGING UP BABY (1938)
The best screwball comedy ever made is also one of the funniest love stories. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant are the duo. “Baby” is a leopard. (Note that Cary does not say, “Judy, Judy, Judy” in this or any of his films.) The remake, What’s Up Doc?, is just as zany.

DEFENDING YOUR LIFE (1992)
Albert Brooks wrote this romantic fantasy-comedy about life and love in the hereafter. Meryl Streep co-stars. 

GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
The king of all love stories for many, perhaps because of King Clark Gable as Rhett and Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett. 

HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953)
Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable each eventually fall in love with the man instead of the money in this sophisticated comedy.

IRMA LA DOUCE (1963)
Seldom seen Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine comedy directed by Billy Wilder centers on a Parisian cop and his hilarious devotion to a prostitute girlfriend. 

LADYHAWKE (1985)
An extremely romantic fantasy-adventure about two lovers cursed to spend alternating hours with each other as a hawk and a wolf. No, this is not a dog. 

THE LONG, LONG TRAILER (1954)
Lucy and Desi star in the best of the two features they made together. 

LOVE AFFAIR (1937)
Take notes on this one. The 1937 version with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunn spawned the 1994 remake with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. In between there was the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr ’57 version (An Affair to Remember) which was a more direct inspiration for the ’93 Sleepless in Seattle. Got it? You’ll be tested. 

LOVE STORY (1970)
Sure it is sappy and maudlin, and sure it was the apex of Ryan O’Neal’s career. But it sure made a lot of people cry buckets of cash at the box office.

ROMANTIC MUSICALS
Probably 90 percent of musicals have a love story as the central theme. Some of the most musically romantic are 1967’s Camelot, 1951’s An American in Paris, 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain, 1982’s Victor/Victoria, and My Fair Lady (1964). Add to this list the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical library and the Astaire-Rogers set. Factor in 1953’s Calamity Jane, 1956’s High Society, 1982’s Gigi, and Grease (1982). Need we mention the Elvis lineup? 

ONLY THE LONELY (1991)
John Candy shines as a lonely guy just trying to fall in love in spite of mother Maureen O’Hara’s control.

THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942)
Of the Preston Sturges written-directed comedies, this one and 1941’s The Lady Eve are sophisticated gems dealing with gotten and misbegotten relationships.

PICNIC (1953)
A love story set and shot in Kansas, and one of the most hotly romantic. The film that asks us to pull for Kim Novak to catch up with William Holden on the departing train.

ROMEO AND JULIET (1936, ’66, ’68)
Hollywoodized Shakespeare is still super romantic with two young lovers willing to live and literally die for each other. 

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940)
Purely romantic vehicle of two who work in the same store, unknowingly writing pen-pal letters to each other. Remade as the musical In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland nine years later. 

UNTAMED HEART (1993)
A weeper with a tearful ending, starring Christian Slater as a loner with a baboon’s heart (for real—“untamed”!) who becomes the love interest of waitress Marisa Tomei. 
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And remember that love means to kindly rewind. (This was my original videotape-referenced tag line.) 
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My favorite date flick, Camelot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zezwYtRW6m4

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