Want to celebrate Valentine's Day right? Do you need inspiration, or maybe solace? Don't forget a fine bottle of wine, a delicious meal, and a trip to the video rental store.
There are myriad love stories to choose from, whether your taste runs from classic tearjerkers to suspense to screwball farces. (And don't miss our slideshow of film flings, at right.)
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
One might as well start at the top: If you haven't seen Casablanca, you are to be envied, because you can still see it for the first time without knowing the passion and heartbreak facing war-torn lovers Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. It's a perfect example of a Hollywood studio product in which all the elements — acting, script, direction, photography, music — come together with panache. It's a cliché now, but it's a cliché because it's true: They don't make 'em like this anymore.
David Lean is best known for his epics (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia), but he is also remembered for a pair of comparatively smaller love stories: Brief Encounter (in which Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson meet and begin an affair), and Summertime (in which Katharine Hepburn visits Venice, where romance with a Continental blooms).
Among the great tearjerkers of Hollywood's past is Now, Voyager, with Bette Davis as a dowdy New England spinster getting out from under her oppressive mother's thumb in order to experience life and love on her own terms.
Speed Bumps on the Road to Happiness
It's not for nothing that "romance" and "comedy" blend so well, as the aches and pains of love can be so amusing to an audience that's been there, done that.
Scottish director Bill Forsythe became an international sensation with his sparkling and observant comedy of bubbly teenage romance, Gregory's Girl. Dee Hepburn is the ravishing young female soccer player who catches the eye of gangly John Gordon Sinclair. Compared to Hollywood's typical high octane sturm-und-drang teenage romances, Gregory's Girl (and Forsythe's later comedy Local Hero) are like light breezes on the heather, ticklish and welcome.
But often romantic comedies focus on what goes wrong in relationships, as that usually makes a more compelling narrative than two blissful souls strolling down the lane without a care in the world. Audiences want to see cares, lots of 'em, even if it means torture for the characters.
A woman about to marry the “wrong” gent — will she go for love or go for the gold (It Happened One Night)? Will a snobby divorcée marry her new beau or re-attach to her former flame, or snag the snooping reporter (The Philadelphia Story)? Will an egotistical weatherman ever change and win the fair maiden's heart, or is he doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again (Groundhog Day)? Will a con artist swindle a naïve beer tycoon out of his fortune or fall for him — as he literally falls for her (The Lady Eve)?
Speed bumps on the road to happiness are what make these films watchable again and again, even if it turns out the love of your life is unapproachable (The Fisher King), illegal (Lolita), or dead (The Abominable Dr. Phibes).
And what if the apple of your eye isn't the gender you think he/she is? As Joe E. Brown memorably states at the close of Some Like It Hot, "Nobody's perfect!"
Apples and Oranges, and Fish Out of Water