Tuesday, November 25, 2014

10 Romantic Films to Cuddle Up With in a Snowstorm

Dee Nickerson - source

Snow is a'coming round the bend on the morrow - or so they promise. Plus it's Thanksgiving Weekend as well. Time for family, friends, good food, good films, good books. So I thought I'd revamp a couple of older posts primarily because I seem to be plagued lately by an attack of the 'what goes around, comes around' or words to that effect.

10 assorted films that make you 'sigh', along with a few runners up at the end. This is a re-working of two film posts from two years ago but I thought, 'what the heck', I love these films and never tire of talking about them. At my advanced age, I seem to go in a lot for repeating the things I'm most fond of (hence my current Re-reading Martha Grimes Marathon) - just wait, it will likely happen to you too. Why romance now? Well, why not? So, just in case you missed these the first time around:

(Warning: Stand by for overblown language. Romance and overblown often go together - at least in my mind.)

1) Jean Cocteau's LA BELLE ET LA BETTE (1946) Starring Jean Marais and Josette Day.

In my consideration, the most romantic film of all time. At least, my own favorite romantic film of all time. In its expert, occasionally startling visualization (the film often looks as if it takes place inside a darkened snow globe minus the snow). Cocteau reveals an enrichment of gorgeousness such as hasn't been seen on film since; dazzling imagery and the gift of a rampaging imagination capable of visualizing 'romance' as no one else ever had or has. If this is too overblown for you, my language, I mean, then so be it. I run out of superlatives.

(And for God's sake, if you haven't seen it and choose to do so, please see it in French with subtitles. The language, the sound of it, is part of the mysterious presence of the film. Though, of course, if you speak French, I imagine this would be less so.)

Starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

An unique film that refused to leave my conscious/sub-conscious thoughts for days and days when I first saw it. Even now, I can still visualize certain scenes and some of the spare, bitter dialogue. (This is one of those films that you just never can forget.) This is a story of thwarted love that, at any moment, might have been otherwise had 'society' been otherwise. 

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the story of two young men, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, dirt-poor, end of the road Wyoming sheep herders, wannabe-be cowboys, and the summer on Brokeback which indelibly marks them for the rest of their lives. Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger are both fearless actors and hold nothing back. They make you believe in what is happening.

Annie Proulx's short story is quietly and honestly told (not a single wrong note) by master film maker, Ang Lee. Yet, somehow, despite the bleakness at its core, it is a lovely, lovely film full of nuance and images seared in the heart.

When was the last time you saw a film and simply ached for the characters? BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is one of my all around favorite films of all time primarily because of the lasting impression it made on me.

Starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert

At the height of their attractiveness and screen power, there was no one quite like Gable and Colbert. And to think they hated making this picture and thought it would be the biggest flop of their careers - instead they all (film-makers included) won Oscars. One of the very few times a comedy has been so honored in Hollywood.

I saw this recently and again was struck by how well it holds up. The charm of it never grows old. Colbert is perfection in her part as the confused, spoiled, rich (but intelligent) runaway heiress who comes to rely on reporter Gable (she doesn't know he's a reporter) to guide her through the tricks and traps of the everyday world of folks who work for a living. She's come crashing down from her high tower (jumped off a yacht on her wedding day) and must now learn to navigate in murky waters she knows little about. Wise-cracking Gable has rarely been better. He is superb as the reporter who sees Colbert as his meal-ticket to Big Time journalism.

The film is scattered with the kind of superb character actors this golden era is noted for. Stand-outs: Walter Connolly as Colbert's rich, financier father. This guy made a career out of playing rich fathers. He exemplified them. I think he was born playing one. I love him. And of course there's also, Roscoe Karns about whom very little needs to be said. This guy was born with a wise-crack in his mouth.

4) MOONSTRUCK (1987)
Starring Cher and Nicholas Cage

Who would have thought that songstress Cher could act? Could carry a whole film on her shoulders? Could fashion the movie slap heard round the world? Not me, that's for sure. But Cher is unstoppable, unsinkable. The unflappable Miss Cher became a movie star in this film. (She won an Oscar too.)
And rightly so.

I'll never forget the scene at Lincoln Center: she, beautifully dolled up to meet Nicholas Cage, the loony bread-maker with the leather hand, their first and only date, to see LA BOHEME. After playing most of her part with graying hair and little make-up, she's a knock-out. Sigh. Of such stuff are dreams made. (I'm a woman and I'm not gay and yet I still felt the tug of her allure.)

It's not only Cage that falls in love with Cher in this movie. She is radiant. Matter of fact, it's the only film in which I've EVER liked Nicholas Cage. The very satisfactory ending round the kitchen table in the family's brownstone in Brooklyn, is just perfect. And by the way, this is one of those films that makes the simple warmth of family (even if some of them are nuts) devoutly to be wished for. And another by the way, this film introduces some of us to the elderly and charming Italian actor Feodor Chaliapin, who plays the eccentric grandfather in the film with very little spoken language, followed about by his gang of about 8 smallish dogs. The entry scenes of the dogs and the grandfather are highlights in the film.

Starring Johnny Weismuller and Maureen O'Sullivan

I've seen all the Tarzan films over the years - the Weismuller ones and others - but this remains my very favorite and, to my mind, the most romantic of what is, essentially, a series of jungle romances. (When they try to be anything else, they fail.) Though TARZAN THE APE MAN (the first in the series) could give this one a run for its money. If it weren't for the nude underwater scenes shot as if they were ballet (in TARZAN AND HIS MATE), I'd switch the numbers around. These scenes were censored when the film was originally aired on TV and for many years thereafter. Then, finally, they were returned to their rightful place. (Thankfully they weren't destroyed.) The last two times I've seen the film, the sequence was there.

The film also implies that Tarzan and Jane have, somehow, gotten married in the interim between this film (second in the series) and the first. But of course, we know better. I mean, who was there to marry them? They live on the freakin' Mutea Escarpment where the only neighbors appear to be animals, blood thirsty cannibals and other assorted unpleasant native tribes.

Well, either/or, this time out, Jane's friend Harry Holt, from the earlier safari which brought her to Tarzan's attentions and Holt's friend, a rather unscrupulous type, Martin Arlington, played by Paul Cavanaugh (in need of the fortune the cache of ivory in the elephant's burial ground would bring) head back to the Escarpment, a perilous journey every step of the way.

This film is notable for several things. The gorgeous nude underwater scenes. Maureen O'Sullivan (at least it looks like her, not a body double, though you never know) and Johnny Weissmuller, he in only his Tarzan regulation loin-cloth. They swim for several beautiful minutes, all underwater. (He has ripped a dress off her just before they dive in.)

The gown (among several outfits, dresses, hats, shoes etc.) was brought from England by Harry and the vile Martin in hopes that Jane, as a woman, would be shallow enough to be swayed by fripperies into returning to England with them. Do these men know women or what?

They've even brought a wind-up record player which, by the way, scares the hell out of the native bearers and transfixes Tarzan. The lascivious Martin, openly drooling over Jane who has tried on one of the gowns, dances with her - Tarzan should have dealt with him then and there.

Otherwise, Jane's fetching little jungle outfit is the scimpiest it will ever be. Between this and the third film, the censorship board came into being and Jane shows up in later films in this ridiculous neck to mid thigh outfit that just used to make us laugh. She became then and forever, Jane the mom.

There is also, unaccountably, one nearly nude scene in the film's beginning when Martin strips for a bath in a portable tub while having a conversation with Harry Holt. The only thing that prevents us seeing Martin's spare parts are a timely arrival of a servant who steps in front of the camera for a moment. Lots of nudity going on here. But all tastefully done. It does make you wonder, though...What? Oh sorry, my mind...uh, wandered.

A fun film. And never has the magic attraction between Weismuller and O'Sullivan been more apparent. I love it.

6) GIGI (1958)
Starring Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold.

This delightful, and at its core, somewhat sophisticated story of courtesans and the men who keep them, is based on the novels of the French turn of the century writer, Collette. The story was adapted expressly for the screen and turned into a musical French pastry (as only Hollywood can) by director Vincente Minnelli and writers Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

Leslie Caron plays the young Gigi, a schoolgirl being trained for eventual duties by her grandmother and grand-aunt, both 'retired' courtesans, one more successful than the other. Gigi goes to her wealthy great-aunt's beautiful Parisian flat every day after school for lessons in deportment, the proper way to judge jewels and wines and how to clip cigars so the man won't have to do this little chore. Oh, and how to eat these annoying little bony birds with knife and fork and talk while chewing without opening the mouth. These are some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Leslie Caron is perfection as a girl judged a bit 'backward' by her family. She is viewed as too gauche, straight-forward and gasp, perhaps too intelligently precocious. How will they ever turn her into a 'proper' member of the courtesan class they do not know.

Louis Jourdan is also perfection as Gaston Lachaille, the wealthy Parisian man about town who, at a relatively young age, is already bored to tears with life. When his uncle, Maurice Chevalier, ever the zesty optimist tries to chivy Gaston out of his doldrums by proclaiming, in song, all that Paris has to offer, Gaston grimaces, "What a bore!" He refuses to be happy except when he's in the company of Gigi and her grandmother in their little flat with bright red painted walls. There he can be himself.

And by the way, isn't Gigi a delightful child? One very telling scene: when Gigi (spurred on by her grandmother and grand-aunt when they sense which way the wind is blowing - Gaston-wise), puts on a 'grown-up' sort of gown, Gaston, caught off guard, is affronted by the sight and storms out of the apartment. He has not seen what is happening right in front of his eyes. Gigi is growing up.

This is the most wonderful moment in the film for me, when Jourdan who is not a singer, still manages the song by Lerner and Loewe. As Paris slowly darkens around him Gaston walks, aimlessly with his dark coat, top hat and walking stick - such a dashing figure - so confused and unsure.

"Gigi, am I fool without a mind or have I really been too blind to realize?" Sigh! Double sigh!

Before you can sing a second chorus of the The Night They Invented Champagne, you will guess what happens next. The film is a delicious whirl of nights at Maxims, beautiful women, handsome men, champagne, sparkling jewels, gorgeous costumes, heartbreak, dramatic suicide attempts, reunions, and everything else frothy you can think of when it comes to turn-of-the century Paris. Shot on location, GIGI is a visual feast from beginning to end. Oh, and of course there's Maurice Chevalier at his most bon-vivant. What a charming personality. Just thinking about him makes me smile. He is superb as an aging roue who, somehow, still manages to stay young in spirit. "Thank heaven for little girls, for little girls grow bigger every day. Thank heaven for little girls, they grow up in the most delightful way."

(This is probably a sentiment that could not be expressed today without horrifying the politcally correct, but back then, delight in the difference between the sexes was still an allowable emotion.)

If you love Romance (with a capital R) and the whole idea of being in love, even if you're currently not, you must love this film. The funny thing is that though this is one of the most romantic films ever, there's really not a single love scene between Gaston and Gigi. It's all implied. Perfection.

7) A NEW LEAF (1971)
Starring Walter Matthau and Elaine May (who also directed)

Who would have thought that Matthau would make an excellent leading man in a romantic comedy? I mean, his was not, exactly, the handsomest facade in movies. We chatted about this for a moment or two over at Pattinase's blog - Matthau as leading man. Patti made a very wise observation, she says that Matthau had an 'impishness' about him. And it rang the bell for me. Yes! It was there in the eyes when he turned it on and the camera always picked it up.

It is this quality that stood him heads and tails above the handsome, glittering movie-star leading men of his era. Plus, the fact that Matthau practically steals every scene he's in AND thus is able to carry a movie effortlessly on his shoulders. There are some actors like that. Matthau was one of them. There may never be his like again.

I wrote about A NEW LEAF here on the blog a while back. So really, I have nothing more to add except: see this oh-so-wonderful film! If you haven't, already, that is.

8) TOP HAT (1935)
Starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Oh the plot, the plot, the plot makes little sense except that somehow, it all works. Here goes: Ginger Rogers meets Fred Astaire in London. He is a dancing star working on a show produced by his friend, Horace Hardwick, played by the inimitable Edward Everett Horton. Through a series of missteps Ginger thinks Fred is married - she's mistaken him for the Horace Hardwick character.

Fred is staying in Horton's hotel room because the hotel is full or some other nonsense. That night, while showing Horace his new steps, Fred's tap-dancing wakes Ginger who is sleeping in the room below. Fred goes downstairs to see what the fuss is about since Ginger has complained to management that the guest upstairs from her is making it impossible for her to sleep. ANYWAY, once they meet, Fred is instantly smitten.

Ginger is a model working for a designer played by the wonderful Erik Rhodes (Alberto Beddini, a priceless caricature of an Italian designer who refers to himself in the third person), showing off his clothes in various tourist spots around Europe. (I think that's what she does, not sure.) Well, Ginger and her friend Madge, played by Helen Broderick, (who is married to Horace but, for some reason, Ginger has never met him, at least until the tap-dancing incident, she thinks.) go off to Venice for the weekend so that Ginger can get away and think things through. They're joined there by Fred who has followed Ginger and Horace, who is meeting up with his wife Madge. Get it?

Now this is a Venice never dreamed of except in Hollywood. It beats even the one in Las Vegas. What an immaculately perfect place, everything white and sparkling. Such gorgeous, gleaming effervescence, the enormous hotel rooms, the set decorations, the gowns, the men in black tie, anyone likely, at any moment, to break out in song and dance.This was the age of art-deco writ large across the silver screen, mostly in dazzling white against black. It was all a lovely musical dream. An era that will never come again.

Once there, all sorts of further missteps are taken by our little group, though not, of course when Fred dances with Ginger to the tune of Irving Berlin's Cheek To Cheek. (Ginger wearing the famous feathered gown which Fred and the director had thought impractical since feathers fall off the dress as they move about, still I love the way Ginger looks in it.) OMG, no wonder she falls in love with him. Fred Astaire had the knack, once he started dancing, of making women swoon with very little effort. When he and Ginger get to the end of this particular number, she gives him such a wondrous look, really as if he'd actually just made love to her. Which, I suppose he had, in dance. Wonderful scene.

Anyway, after a few more missed connections, Ginger marries her ludicrous designer boss, reasoning that Fred wouldn't dare come after a married woman. But then, after yet another mis-understanding, it turns out that Ginger isn't REALLY married, Madge finally figures out what's going on and sets Ginger straight. All is forgiven. Edward Everett Horton gets a black eye and Ginger and Fred dance off into their happy ending.

Starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn

Cary Grant at his zenith. Katherine Hepburn at hers. Both at the top of their comedy game. Who couldn't love this movie? He plays a befuddled, distracted paleontologist who is about to be married to the wrong woman (not Hepburn). They both work at a small museum which is desperately short of grant money. Despite being socially inept, he must figure out how to get an endowment from a wealthy type he's never met. In the meantime he is putting together the huge skeleton of a brontosaurus. (They're not called brontosaurus now, but you know what I mean.)

In his search for an endowment, Grant is off to Connecticut to try and meet up with a certain society-type money-man. There he makes the mistake of running into Katherine Hepburn who plays a scatter-brained, very wealthy society girl who, instantly, falls in love with Grant and spends the rest of the movie chasing him. Basically that's it. Oh, there's a leopard involved too, the 'baby' of the title. Two leopards, really. One sent from Africa as a gift for Hepburn and one escaped from a circus - one sweet-natured, one not. Lots of confusion when one leopard is mistaken for the other. And last, but not least,there's a funny little monster of a dog who practically steals all the scenes he is in.

Not only are Grant and Hepburn wonderful (they seem made to play these sorts of roles with ease and finesse), but the supporting cast of characters is top-notch as was often the case in films of this era. There are hilarious scenes at Hepburn's family's country estate where Hepburn steals Grant's clothes so he can't leave and he's forced to wear one of her dressing gowns, jodhpurs and riding boots. (The only clothing he can find in that moment.) He walks around adjusting his eyeglasses and looking absolutely lost at sea.

In the meantime, the small monster dog (really a wire-haired terrier) has stolen the fossil bone Grant had been carrying around (for reasons I can't remember). He'd left it in a box on the bed in a guest room at the estate. The dog, naturally, runs off with it and buries it somewhere on the grounds.

There's a very funny dinner table scene with Grant, Hepburn, the aunt, played perfectly by May Robson AND the aunt's dinner guest, a big game hunter played by Charlie Ruggles. Every time the dog leaves the dining room Grant thinks he's going to find the bone so he jumps up, then Hepburn jumps up and they both run around chasing the dog then return to the table and continue the meal. In fact, there are funny scenes all throughout this very screwball comedy as Grant tries to get away from Hepburn, find the bone and get back to his original purpose of searching out an endowment for the museum. But every step he takes is thwarted by Hepburn. I mean, she is relentless.

Now played by anyone else, this part might not have worked. You might have wanted Grant to strangle Hepburn and be done with it - OR - let the leopard have her. But instead of being annoying, most of the time, Hepburn is endearing. She is SUCH a lunatic. But a lunatic in love. Someone not to be trifled with.

Grant, helpless, just falls deeper and deeper into this maze of confusion until, after awhile, there doesn't seem to be a way out except to give in to Hepburn. He is delightful as a man whose whole life is turned upside down in one short 48 hour period. And, let's face it, he does play something of a dweeb which makes you wonder what Hepburn sees in him from the get-go. What, am I kidding? Look at the man. Ha!

The ending is unforgettable. Won't say a word except: brontosaurus skeleton. Well, that's two words. Figure it out.

A great romantic farce of a movie made at a time when actors knew how to do screwball. No one knows how to do this anymore. It's a dead art. Lucky for us, we have these films to show us how it was done, once upon a time.

Starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson

One of famed director Douglas Sirk's romantic extravaganzas filmed in the lushest technicolor imaginable. Middle-aged, upper class widow, Jane Wyman has two grown children and a very settled life with her country club friends, playing cards, always behaving and doing all the boring stuff that a woman in her position was expected to do in the 50's. She is not really very happy though she pretends she is. Well, she is EXPECTED to be happy. Even her grown children seem to think her restlessness is untoward. What else could Wyman want? (Well, how about a television at Christmas - that ought to keep a mom satisfied.)

Even better how about Rock Hudson? He is the gardener she's recently hired to work around her property. He is younger than she (very daring in those times) and the sort of man her friends and her children would never in a million years suspect Jane might have an eye on.

He is the sort of man who sees no social barriers or if he does, steps right over them. He's a disciple of Thoreau, all he-man lumberjack physicality, a nature-lover with the soul of a poet. A perfect part for the young god that was Rock in his prime.

Anyway, they fall in love after Rock shows Jane a different sort of life than the dreary one she's used to. And once he takes her to his magical mill house complete with ancient wheel and stone walls and fireplace, well, what's a girl to do? He also has great salt-of-the-earth friends who drink cheap wine, fashion pot-luck dinners, sing songs at the drop of a hint and probably write poetry.

Well, once Jane introduces Rock as her new beau to her friends and children, the you-know-what hits the fan. Oh no, mother, he's not your sort, he's not your kind, he's a - horrors! - gardener. What would people think? Eventually all this wears Jane down and she breaks it off with Rock. Fool that she is.

As a reward, the kids buy her a large console television set so she won't ever be lonely. (This is an especially sad little scene.)

Well, eventually Jane comes to her senses and she and Rock work their way back to each other. But not before tears are shed, apologies are tendered, and Jane's daughter comes to the realization that being a woman of a certain age doesn't mean her mother's emotional life is over.

Certainly not a great film, but a great romantic film. The sort that makes you sigh and makes you believe, at least for a minute or two, that love really does conquer all.

NOW, for some runners-up:

starring Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshero and Andy Lao

starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal

14) NOTTING HILL (1999)
starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant

15) A ROOM WITH A VIEW (1985)
starring Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Maggie Smith and Daniel Day-Lewis

16) ROXANNE (1987)
starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah

17) MAURICE (1987)
starring Hugh Grant, James Wilby and Rupert Graves

18) SPLASH (1984)
starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah

19) DIRTY DANCING (1987)
starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey

starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney

starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr

You will no doubt notice that I've left off the Colin Firth version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE though it is hard to beat this for romance with a capital R. But I have a reason: It was a television series. Not strictly a film

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other films other bloggers are talking about today. 


  1. I loved Walter Matthau with Carol Burnett in Pete 'n Tillie :-)

    1. I never did see that one, Gram. I'll have to add it to my list.

  2. I wasn't with you until you got to GIGI, then, yes, fully agree. Very nice reviews. Now what are your favorite Christmas movies?

    And... Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Thanks, Richard, at least we can agree on a few things. :) I'll list my favorite Christmas films a bit later. I list the same films every year. Nothing new to add. :)

  3. A great list, Yvette. With interesting descriptions. I loved GIGI, TOP HAT, and BRINGING UP BABY. I will have to look into some of your also rans.

    1. Thanks Tracy, glad you enjoyed it. Maybe you'll find one or two more to like in my also-rans. :)

  4. Have a lovely Christmas, Yvette. I've been a little worried about your lack of recent posts, but notice that your 'recently read' list continues to grow, so assume all is well.

  5. I love A New Leaf, could watch it yearly. Would fall over laughing every time.

    I just saw on TMC an old movie I've wanted to see with Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford: Above Suspicion. Good light-hearted anti-Nazi movie set in 1939. Of course, the good guys win and get away, but who knew what was coming at that time? Joan Crawford not a favorite actress, but she was fine here.


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