Great Classic Films: Date Night
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, so in the spirit of romance I’ve compiled a list of five classic romantic films. This is my latest installment of Great Classic Films for various occasions and audiences, including my picks for the Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas, and Classics for Kids. This list was harder than usual to make because Old Hollywood did romance really, really well. There are dozens of great romantic movies I could have chosen, but I’ve whittled it down to these five suggestions.
So, if you’re skipping Fifty Shades of Grey this Valentine’s Day and need something else to watch, here are my picks of great love stories and classic romantic comedies perfect for date night.
1. An Affair to Remember (1957)
If you want intense romance, grab some tissues and settle in for one of the most romantic movies of all time (ranked #5 on AFI’s list of Greatest Love Stories). Cary Grant meets Deborah Kerr onboard an ocean liner sailing from Europe to New York. They’re both in serious relationships with other people, but love isn’t always convenient! The ship docks in New York, and the lovesick pair make a plan: they will meet in exactly six months at the top of the Empire State Building if they decide to give the relationship a go. (If you’ve seen Sleepless in Seattle, you know this movie!)
Something goes wrong, though, and we are afraid that our couple won’t live happily ever after. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s amazing, and the whole film is drenched in romance and feelings. Fun fact: This movie is a very faithful remake of Love Affair (1939), starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. In fact, both films were directed by Leo McCarey!
2. The More the Merrier (1943)
This film is the romantic comedy, in my opinion. I absolutely love its enchanting combination of goofiness, romance, comedy, and swoon-worthy moments. Plus, it stars my favorite actor and eternal crush, Joel McCrea.
The More the Merrier is set in WWII in Washington, D.C., which is struggling with a housing shortage. An elderly millionaire (Charles Coburn) arrives on business and worms his way into becoming a young woman’s roommate (Jean Arthur). He then sets about finding her a “high-type, clean-cut, nice young fellow.”
He meets Joel McCrea and decides he is the perfect candidate, so he invites him to share his half of the apartment. Naturally, all sorts of hijinks ensue, most of which are hilarious, sexy, sweet, ridiculously romantic, or all of the above.
This is a marvelous movie that gets around Production Code norms in some very creative ways. The pillow talk separated by a wall and the stoop scene are personal favorites. Fun fact: This movie was nominated for Best Picture, and was re-made with Cary Grant as Walk, Don’t Run in 1966, but it can’t compare to the original.
3. Roman Holiday (1953)
This movie has a wonderful love story, iconic actors, one of the greatest days ever, and an ending that will make you cry and smile at the same time. Audrey Hepburn plays Princess Anne from an unnamed country on a goodwill European tour. She’s poised and dignified, but she’s also very young, and her royal duties don’t allow much time for relaxation or fun. During her visit to Rome, all the pressure, responsibilities, and exhaustion finally get to her, and the doctor gives her a sedative to help her sleep. But before it takes hold, she sneaks out and wanders the streets of Rome, where a very handsome and very decent American (Gregory Peck) finds her. She doesn’t know that he is actually a reporter planning to use her “Roman holiday” as his big scoop…
This movie is charming, poignant, damn romantic (#4 on AFI’s list of Greatest Love Stories), and overall incredibly delightful. Fun fact: it was Audrey Hepburn’s first Hollywood film, and she won the Oscar for her performance! Here’s the trailer, and here is my full-length review of the film. You can buy this movie here.
4. Casablanca (1942)
This was also one of my Fourth of July picks, but this movie is just so darn timeless and amazing that it works for just about any occasion! If there was an entry for “timeless classic” in a film encyclopedia, it would be Casablanca.
Unlike some other classics that can feel like a chore to watch, and that you “appreciate” but don’t really enjoy, this movie remains gripping, funny, romantic, and crazy-watchable, even seventy-three years later.
The cast can’t be beat: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid, among many other greats. The script is taut perfection, it’s packed with incredible moments, and the love story is one for the ages. Even if you haven’t seen it, you probably know some of its famous lines. “We’ll always have Paris,” anyone?
Rick (Bogart) is an American living in Vichy-occupied but really Nazi-controlled Casablanca, a city full of refugees fleeing Europe. The dream is to get to America through Casablanca via neutral Portugal, but many get stuck in Casablanca indefinitely. Rick runs his nightclub and remains “neutral,” but things get complicated when an old love arrives and needs his help to escape the Nazis.
I cannot emphasize enough what a must-see this movie is. Fun fact: Casablanca ranked #1 on AFI’s Greatest Love Stories, and #3 on the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list. Here’s the trailer, and click here to buy this classic.
5. The Palm Beach Story (1942)
This film is a grown-up romantic comedy that starts after the happy ending. It’s got a bit more bite than the typical romance, but that makes it more fun.
Witty, goofy, writer-director Preston Sturges brings his trademark snappy dialogue, hilarious, farcical sophistication, and pratfalls to this amazing movie. Joel McCrea (can’t help myself) and Claudette Colbert are married and in love, but money is tight, so Colbert decides to divorce her husband and use her beauty to entice wealthy men to invest in McCrea’s invention.
She is convinced that she’ll be much more helpful to McCrea as a pretty divorcée than as his wife. She sets off for Palm Beach (where the millionaires are, dahling) with McCrea in pursuit. They meet fabulous characters (Mary Astor, and Rudy Vallee, among others) as McCrea tries to get Colbert back and she attempts to fight their powerful love and attraction for each other. You’d think she’d learn not to ask for his help undoing a stubborn zipper on her dress…
Fun fact: Sturges later wrote that this movie was all about his theory of “the aristocracy of beauty,” as demonstrated by the film’s notion that a beautiful woman can get just about anything she wants. He also claimed the story was based in part on his own experiences amongst the millionaires of Palm Beach, writing simply: “Millionaires are funny.”
I hope that one of these romantic classics strikes your fancy. For more, follow me on Twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram at BlondeAtTheFilm, and Facebook. As always, thanks for reading, and Happy Valentine’s Day!