Movie Romance

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It’s Valentine’s Day, which I wasn’t really giving any thought to, it not being one of the Major Holidays on my personal calendar, but now CBS has got me thinking.

As part of their feature on Valentine’s Day (the kick-off: don’t send money to someone you’ve only met on-line, followed by notice of an auction today in England of the world’s oldest-known valentine, which is believed to have resulted in marriage a year later), CBS This Morning looked at O Magazine’s list of top movie romances. Which I still wasn’t paying much attention to, because most of their choices wouldn’t have been mine (Harry and Sally topped the list), but then avuncular Anthony Mason said his favorite wasn’t on the list: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

Which was an eminently better pick than Dirty Dancing or the frippery of Titanic. (The sinking scenes came across as very authentic, says someone who wasn’t there, but I remember nothing of Leo and Kate, except that he found an inordinate number of reasons to go back below deck.)

Then everyone else at the CBS table cast their votes (all of them not on O’s list), and that got me thinking about my favorite movie romance. And so far I’m still thinking.

If you asked me about a book, I’d have a ready answer: Loyd (yes, with one L) and Codi in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams. It’s so short and understated that I can’t help but admire how far Kingsolver gets with so little. I’ll quote it here, but since I have no idea where any of my books are (I’m working on the shelves — don’t rush me), this is from memory and may not be completely right.

Codi (a woman, I will note for those who haven’t read the book) pokes Loyd in the chest and hears a crinkling noise. ” ‘Loyd Peregrina, if that’s a condom in your pocket, then this is my lucky day,’ ” Codi says. “He did. It was.”

Isn’t that remarkable? Four little words, and an entire scene takes place. It’s so beautifully understated — how can you not admire it?

But movies . . . It’s entirely possible there are 20 or more years of great love scenes out there that have escaped my notice since I so rarely watch movies anymore. But since everything’s so GCI these days, I have my doubts.

Like Anthony Mason, I’m probably going to harken back to movies made before I was born, because when I went to college I discovered this entire trove of movies made in the decades before my arrival in the world, and I fell totally in love with the entire concept of “old movies.”

I took film classes; I went to lots of movies. Then, as television offerings expanded and VCRs arrived, I found even more movies to watch. I — and many other film buffs — felt I’d hit the motherlode when Turner Classic Movies came on the scene.

So despite a dearth of current movies under my belt, I should have plenty of candidates to choose from, but nothing is immediately rising to the forefront.

Mr. Mason is correct that Roman Holiday is a fun movie and Mr. Peck and Ms. Hepburn make an elegant couple (although my favorite character in the movie is played by Eddie Albert), but it’s not going to make my list of contenders.

Rather than Gregory Peck, I’d lean more toward Cary Grant as the leading man, although this then makes me immediately think of Some Like It Hot, a movie he’s not even in. Instead, you’ve got Tony Curtis doing his best Cary Grant impersonation to win over Marilyn Monroe (who is such a tragic figure I can’t put her in my top movie couple moment). The true romance in that movie belongs to an actor whose name I don’t even know, as the millionaire wooing Jack Lemmon.

Mr. Lemmon has spent the movie masquerading as a woman, attracting the attention of this much older millionaire, who wants to elope. Mr. Lemmon tries a number of tactics to get out of marriage, starting with, “I can never have children” and finally resorting to taking off his wig and confessing he’s a man. None of this fazes the unflappable millionaire, just as prepared as ever to wed his intended. Now that’s true love.

As a movie couple, I like Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman best, and every time I see that Notorious is going to be on I get excited — but it’s never the Alfred Hitchcock pairing of these two, but some television series about a rapper or gangster or something.

I also am quite fond of Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies, which makes it sound like there’s more of them than there really are. They only made three together, all of them with Tony Randall as well, and of the three, one (Send Me No Flowers) is not nearly up to par. In the other two, Mr. Hudson is so busy trying to manipulate Ms. Day that he fails to notice he’s the one getting entangled. My favorite scene in Pillow Talk comes when Tony Randall tells Mr. Hudson that he’s going to Connecticut. A cocktail lounge piano player overhears all this, and Mr. Hudson’s subsequent lies to Ms. Day, and she launches into a song about lying “and you’ll be sorry.” It turns out, she’s right.

Mr. Hudson would actually factor into several of my considerations, including All That Heaven Allows, which is overly weepy and dramatic but puts Jane Wyman and all the forces of convention up against a younger live-and-let-live Rock Hudson. And while Lynn loses patience with it every time, the sprawling and gigantic Giant showcases a lifetime together for an absolutely marvelous Elizabeth Taylor and Mr. Hudson.

Maybe Mr. Hudson, never sexually interested in his co-stars, succeeded so well at these romances because he befriended so many of his female leads on such a genuine level. He treated these women as equals in an era where that often wasn’t the case, and perhaps that underlying affection and respect is what makes these movies so appealing.

One would expect that perhaps as I’ve run along, mulling this over, that I would be leading up to the big reveal of my favorite movie romance. But if that’s one’s expectation, one is going to be disappointed.

I’ve reaffirmed the love I held for movies, even if that all seems to be in the past, and I’ve reminded myself of many happy hours spent in the dark watching strips of celluloid make life seem so much larger, but I don’t know that I’ve landed on one movie to hold up as my Valentine’s ideal.

I know I’ve left several off the list, not intentionally — like Bogart and Bergman, whose impossible love does not win over the day in the unforgettable Casablanca (he walks off into the fog with Claude Rains, which is really not the same thing at all, even if it is the start of “a beautiful friendship”) — and now that I’ve started thinking about it, I could be at it all day.

But it’s a pleasant diversion on a day that often makes more people miserable than happy, and I invite you to play along with me. Feel free to leave your candidates in the comments section, and I’ll try not to scoff, even if it ends up being When Harry Met Sally.

A list without the enchanting Greer Garson? What was I thinking?

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