New movies are reviewed regularly in the pages of REASON, but what about older movies? What of the many movies of the '30s, '40s, and '50s that appear on television on the "late show," "early show," and anywhere in-between? Some, surely, would be of interest to the readers of REASON. Often, however, it is not clear from the brief descriptions given in TV Guide whether a particular movie might be worth watching. In many cases, the decision to spend two hours or so watching a movie on TV is pretty much a shot in the dark, and the end result may be two hours wasted. It would be helpful to have some kind of prior indication whether a given movie has some sort of romantic/heroic/value-oriented qualities. The list that follows is an attempt to provide such an indication.
Probably the most common reactions to a list such as this are, How on earth could that moron have left out_______ or_______? or, How could anybody possibly think that_______ deserves to be listed among favorite romantic films? Both reactions are not only understandable but valid. Responses to particular works of art are individual and personal. Thoughtful, intelligent, dedicated, articulate people who share some values—say political values—may (and often do) differ significantly in their artistic preferences, depending on their own unique and different tastes, character development, temperament, etc.
This is a very personal list, then, based on my own individual taste and preferences, of my favorite romantic films. They are presented as a guideline for your viewing choice, showing what one particular romantic-movie fan, with a particular set of values, regards as worth looking at. If you find that your tastes are similar to mine, and you share my opinions, I'll be pleased. And if you don't agree with my views, if you wonder what in heaven's name I ever found worthwhile about this or that movie, that's neither an indictment of your taste nor or mine; it merely indicates that we are different. Nevertheless, I hope I am enough of an individualist/romantic "everyman" to have tapped some common interests.
To repeat, what this list attempts to do is to provide you, the reader, with one man's opinion (presumably informed) on movies I have found worth watching when they appear on television. If, as a result of comparing your judgment with mine and finding a congeniality of tastes, you are thereby led to view (and enjoy) a movie you would otherwise have passed up, this article will have served its purpose.
All of the movies listed are ones I have seen and enjoyed and would enjoy seeing again. Some I would watch if I had nothing pressing to do; a few I would neglect almost anything else to watch. If you see any of them scheduled in your TV magazine, give it a look and see if you agree with me. Happy viewing!
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. The special delight of the Sherlock Holmes movies is observing probably the most relentlessly rational, logical character in the English-speaking cinema. Basil Rathbone is the definitive Holmes, always in control of any situation, never at a loss for ideas. In this splendidly atmospheric film, the full powers of his intellect are required to prevent his archenemy Moriarty from stealing the British crown jewels.
THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Excellent comedy-drama of hard-drinking river-boat captain Humphrey Bogart who, under the goading of Katherine Hepburn, transcends his limitations to become an admirable and resourceful hero as the two of them battle the elements and a German cruiser in WW I Central Africa.
AMERICANS ON EVEREST. National Geographic Society's superb film of the 1963 American expedition to Mt. Everest. Thrilling depiction of the surmounting of overwhelming obstacles and human limitations by indomitable strength of will, to place six climbers on Everest's summit. Stirring narration by Orson Welles.
AUNTIE MAME. Uproarious comedy of madcap heiress Rosalind Russell as she uses wit and resource to overcome numerous reverses, raise an orphaned nephew, and puncture pomposity over a two-decade span. Russell is brilliant.
BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. Spencer Tracy as one-armed WW II veteran who arrives in small western town to deliver a posthumous battle decoration and encounters strange hostility. Tracy, as always a mountain of integrity and steadfastness, rallies the decent, but initially cowardly, element in the town to prevail over evil big shot Robert Ryan.
THE BLACK ARROW. Among the very best of knight-in-armor melodramas. Louis Hayward is perfect as hero battling villain George Macready to save the life of Janet Blair during War of the Roses. Exciting finale featuring joust between Hayward and Macready.
BLITHE SPIRIT. Sparkling, delightful version of Noel Coward comedy about placid English couple (Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings), whose lives are traumatically upset by the appearance of the ghost of the husband's first wife (Kay Hammond). Superior performances (particularly Margaret Rutherford as a medium) but, as in so many Coward comedies, sparkling dialogue is the main attraction.
BORN FREE. The story of Elsa the lioness, raised from a cub as a tame pet by African game wardens (Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers). It then becomes necessary to train Elsa to cope for herself in the wild. Elsa's desperate struggle and eventual success in becoming self-sufficient is a moving and breathtaking story of achievement.
BREAKING THE SOUND-BARRIER. Gripping story of the intensity and dedication of aircraft industrialist Ralph Richardson as he attempts to build the first plane to fly faster than sound. In addition, vivid illustration of how intelligence and mental resourcefulness are the key differences between the pilot who first successfully breaks the sound barrier and the one who dies trying.
BRINGING UP BABY. Hilarious screwball comedy with Cary Grant as a shy anthropologist being pursued by dizzy heiress Katherine Hepburn. "Baby" of title is Hepburn's pet leopard, which gets loose on her New England farm and is the object of mishap-strewn (and romance-strewn) hunt by her and Grant.
BRIEF ENCOUNTER. Noel Coward's play of two married people (Trevor Howard, Celia Johnson) who meet by chance in a train station, contrive to meet again, and drift into a brief, but touching, love affair. Poignant story, beautifully told; background music (Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto) underscores romantic atmosphere.
CAPTAIN BLOOD. No actor in the sound era could swashbuckle like Errol Flynn; this movie is one of his best. Falsely imprisoned doctor becomes pirate to escape from slavery; by courage and ingenuity saves Jamaica from destruction and wins royal pardon and hand of Olivia DeHavilland.
CASABLANCA. The ultimate Warner Brothers film. Immensely entertaining story of intrigue, romance, courage, and idealism in Casablanca during the early days of WW II. Marvelous cast (Bogart, Bergman, Henreid, Rains, Veidt, Greenstreet, etc.), many memorable scenes (singing of French national anthem in night club still raises goose-bumps) and, of course, "As Time Goes By."
CHARADE. Suave, delightful espionage-type adventure with new widow Audrey Hepburn being menaced by an assortment of thugs after her late husband's alleged fortune, helped (and romanced) by mysterious stranger Cary Grant, who may or may not be connected with thugs. Chic early '60s Parisian setting.
THE COURT JESTER. Highly amusing comedy-spoof of knighthood and Robin Hood stories. Danny Kaye, as jester, is mistaken for hired assassin, takes part in overthrowing wicked king, engages in uproarious joust with Robert Middleton. Excellent vehicle for Kaye; contains his best patter songs.
CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Rostand's magnificent drama of the legendary Cyrano—a man of monumental nobility of character, who, because of his grotesque appearance, is afraid to express his feelings to the woman he loves and instead uses a physically handsome, but intellectually empty, man as his romantic stand-in. Oscar-winning title performance by Jose Ferrer.
DARK VICTORY. Superb Bette Davis soaper. Excellent performance by Davis as spoiled socialite who learns she has a terminal illness, moves from petulant rebellion to frenzied hedonism to mature acceptance. Moving depiction of growing love for surgeon who treats her and whom she marries and finds happiness with before she dies.
A DAY AT THE RACES. Excellent Marx Brothers comedy, with Groucho as veterinarian Dr. Hackenbush, who becomes medical director of sanitarium backed financially by his great foil Margaret Dumont. Chico and Harpo involved in "National Velvet"-type subplot about a racehorse. Hilarious scene when Groucho tries to buy inside tip on a race from tout Chico.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Superior science fiction about man from another planet (Michael Rennie) who comes to earth. To learn about human culture, he takes a room in a small boarding house, has a brief but touching relationship with widow and her son. Vivid depiction of widespread xenophobic reaction to his presence. Exciting melodrama, memorable performance by Rennie.
DESK SET. Delightful, highly entertaining comedy with Spencer Tracy as efficiency expert investigating the feasibility of installing computer in TV network research department; tangles with Katherine Hepburn, the walking-encyclopedia department head. Naturally, they fall in love. The hallmark of so many Tracy-Hepburn films, a warm, affectionate mutual respect between the two, is particularly evident here.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. Shattering story of a Jewish family in Amsterdam, hiding from the Nazis while living in secret room behind small shop for over two years. Vivid portrayal of the psychological strength and stability of family head Otto Frank and his daughter Anne during terrible adversity. Immensely moving, almost unbearably poignant; beautiful Alfred Newman score.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. Moving Hemingway story of loyalist guerrilla band during Spanish Civil War, aided by demolitions expert Gary Cooper. Poignant romance between Cooper and peasant girl Ingrid Bergman during preparations for blowing up key Fascist bridge. Cooper gives performance of quiet strength, and Katina Paxinou won Oscar for her indomitable resistance leader.
THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Very effective and worthwhile movie version of Ayn Rand's masterpiece of the individual vs. the collective—the story of the architect who will not compromise his integrity, the woman who loves him, and the newspaper publisher who defaults on his own greatness. Gary Cooper is Roark, Raymond Massey is Wynand, and Patricia Neal is superb as Dominique. Brilliant final scene of Dominique riding freight elevator up side of skyscraper; memorable Max Steiner score.
HIGH NOON. Taut, gripping western with Oscar-winning performance by Gary Cooper as small-town marshal whose integrity will not permit him to avoid deadly confrontation with outlaws, despite apathy and cowardice of the town's citizenry. Superlative, tight-as-a-drum editing, many vivid cameos by supporting cast, award-winning score by Dimitri Tiomkin.
HOLIDAY. Cary Grant as man of independent character is all set to marry stuffy society girl; when he is pressured to compromise his beliefs by her family, he receives first moral, then romantic, support from his fiancee's nonconformist older sister (Katherine Hepburn). Both Grant and Hepburn are standouts as easy-going but steadfast pillars of integrity.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Delightful Oscar Wilde comedy of manners about the course of true love in Victorian England, somewhat complicated by mistaken identity. Devastating deadpan humor, splendidly delivered by expert British cast including Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, Margaret Rutherford, and Dorothy Tutin.
KEY LARGO. Good vs. evil in small Florida Keys hotel. Gangster Edward G. Robinson and his hoods take cover in hotel during hurricane, hold Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and others captive. Sparked by psychological clashes with Robinson, Bogart regains courage and self-esteem lost during war, leading up to final shoot-out with Robinson.
THE KING AND I. Splendid film version of Rodgers-Hammerstein musical about relationship between 19th-century Siamese king and British governess. Yul Brynner is magnificent as king torn by ingrained centuries-old despotic tradition conflicting with development of his admirable, idealistic traits; encouraged by governess (Deborah Kerr) whom he gradually comes to love. Many fine songs by R&H.
KING KONG. Classic version of beauty and the beast, and the best monster movie ever made. Thrilling story of a giant ape captured on a primeval Indian Ocean island, then brought to New York for display; followed by his escape and eventual death (in legendary scene) atop the Empire State building. Special effects have never been surpassed, splendid Max Steiner score, and Fay Wray delivers the most memorable screams in movie history.
LOVE LETTERS. Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay for this beautiful story of a British soldier (Joseph Cotten) who writes the love letters for his acquaintance at the front, eventually falls in love himself with a woman he's never seen. He finally meets her (Jennifer Jones) and manages to win her for himself. Tender, poignant performance by Jones.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Superior western, based on Japanese samurai movie of the same name. Seven gunfighters, of widely diverse backgrounds and motivations, are hired by small Mexican village to protect it from a gang of marauding outlaws. Eli Wallach is superbly villainous as the outlaw chief, and gun-fighter leader Yul Brynner is a figure of impressive authority and control.
A MAN AND A WOMAN. French widow (Anouk Aimee) and widower (Jean-Louis Trintignant) meet by chance and gradually fall in love in beautiful, sensitively told story. Flashbacks of their lives with previous spouses set stage for rapturous denouement. Warm, believable performances by Trintignant and the magnificent Aimee.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Jimmy Stewart is idealistic but naive as newly elected US senator who goes to D.C. and encounters corruption in high places. Victim of a frame-up, he grows up quickly under tutelage of ace reporter Jean Arthur. On the verge of being expelled from the Senate, he fights back in a classic filibuster sequence, a memorable tribute to human integrity and courage.
THE MUMMY. Splendidly spooky, atmospheric tale of Egyptian mummy (Boris Karloff) who is brought to life after being discovered by archaeologists, then pursues present-day reincarnation of his ancient love. Superb genre performance by Karloff.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. Classic Marx Brothers comedy with Groucho as bumbling opera impresario trying to seduce dowager Margaret Dumont and install Chico's and Harpo's protege (Alan Jones) as leading man in new opera. Memorable comedy sequences, including the legendary stateroom scene.
NINOTCHKA. Greta Garbo is marvelous in her first American comedy ("Garbo laughs"), as an austere Communist envoy who is sent to Paris to oversee negotiations for vital foodstuffs, is romanced and finally thawed by playboy Melvin Douglas. Delightful, light-hearted direction by Ernst Lubitsch.
NOTORIOUS. US intelligence agent Cary Grant meets and falls in love with Ingrid Bergman, then must convince her that it is necessary she marry leading South American Nazi (Claude Rains) to obtain vitally needed information. Taut, suspenseful direction by Alfred Hitchcock; gripping, memorable ending.
NOW, VOYAGER. Superior soaper containing Bette Davis's best role as a fearfully shy and repressed woman under the influence of a domineering mother. With the help of psychiatrist Claude Rains, she undergoes miraculous transformation into woman of self-esteem and assurance, sustained by romantic idyll with Paul Henreid. Beautiful, memorable score by Max Steiner, and the celebrated cigarette ritual is still the best excuse ever devised for taking up smoking.
ONE, TWO, THREE. Hilarious, lightning-fast screwball comedy with James Cagney as Coca Cola executive in Berlin who tries to transform young Bolshevik hippie (Horst Buchholz) into American- style capitalist, to preserve the virtue of company president's daughter.
QUEEN CHRISTINA. Greta Garbo is magnificent in her finest role, portraying Swedish Queen as a cultured, intelligent, self-assured renaissance woman far ahead of her time. Tender, haunting love scene with John Gilbert; loving, sumptuous production by MGM. Celebrated fade-out shot with Garbo's luminous face filling the screen.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Witty, literate comedy about society girl Katherine Hepburn's upcoming wedding and its effect on her and her family. Cary Grant as her previous husband provides cynical commentary, as does James Stewart in his Oscar-winning role as radical reporter covering the wedding. Romantic, storybook ending.
THE RETURN OF MONTE CRISTO. Fine, swashbuckling melodrama about a descendant (Louis Hayward) of the original Count being bilked out of Monte Cristo fortune and sent to die on Devil's Island on a trumped-up charge. Superbly ingenious and resourceful, he manages to escape, return to France, and bring his enemies to justice. Hayward is extremely good at this type of role, investing it with authority and flair.
ROUGHLY SPEAKING. Warm, charming comedy-drama of three decades in the life of a rather ne'er-do-well husband (Jack Carson) and his cheerful, indomitable wife (Rosalind Russell). Memorable for Russell's superb portrayal of a woman whose resourcefulness, imagination, and good humor are equal to any obstacle or setback.
THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. Vapid, foolish London fop (Leslie Howard) leads double life as the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, a brilliantly resourceful and daring hero who is rescuing innocent victims of the French Revolution. Gripping war of nerves between Howard and French agent (Raymond Massey) who suspects the Pimpernel's true identity. Merle Oberon as Howard's wife secretly admires the unknown Pimpernel while despising her (seemingly) worthless husband. Howard is superb in both roles.
THE SEA HAWK. Errol Flynn is at his best in this swashbuckling romance of high-seas adventure. Flynn is privateer captain for Queen Elizabeth, battling the Spaniards on the seas, on land, and in the English Court, while romancing Spanish-reared Brenda Marshal. Famous Erich Korngold score.
THE SEVENTH VEIL. Beautiful story of a young woman (Ann Todd) trained from childhood as a concert pianist by her stern, taskmaster guardian (James Mason). At height of her career, she defaults on her dedication and drifts into several affairs; finally, under her therapist's prodding, she regains her self-esteem and realizes whom she really loves. Extended musical sequences; superb performance by Mason.
SHANE. The myth and folklore of the western boiled down to basic elements, told with simplicity and force. Alan Ladd, as a gunfighter trying to live down his past, hires on with a Wyoming farmer (Van Heflin), stands by him during range war. Powerful climax as Ladd meets hired gun Jack Palance in final showdown. Touching relationship between Ladd and young farmboy (Brandon de Wilde) who idolizes him.
SINK THE BISMARCK! Exciting semi documentary about British navy's hunt for German battleship Bismarck during early days of WW II. Several excellent battle scenes; but main focus is on Admiralty war room in London, as Kenneth More, directing the pursuit, has to marshal all the resources of the British navy to finally pull victory from defeat.
SON OF THE SHEIK. Exciting silent-film romantic melodrama with Rudolph Valentino as sheik's son who falls in love with dancing girl Vilma Banky. When she is abducted by slave traders, he pursues and rescues her and breaks up the gang. In a dual role, Valentino also plays his father, the original sheik. Very creditable acting by Valentino.
SPELLBOUND. First-rate suspense thriller with Ingrid Bergman as psychiatrist treating amnesiac patient Gregory Peck, who is afraid he may have committed a murder. Bergman treats him, cures him, falls in love with him, and discovers the truth about the murder. Dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali, highlighted by eerie electronic music. Memorable surprise ending; directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
THE SPIRIT OF SAINT LOUIS. Superb film about Charles Lindbergh's New York-Paris flight. Magnificent performance by James Stewart as Lindbergh. Flashbacks show his early years as barnstorming pilot and preparations for the flight. Heart-catching excitement of the take-off and the ecstatic exhilaration of the Paris landing are brilliantly depicted.
A STAR IS BORN. Powerful, poignant story of celebrated actor (James Mason) who discovers and develops an unknown singer-actress (Judy Garland), falls in love with and marries her, then goes to pieces when his career deteriorates while she becomes major star. Stunning performance by a slim, beautiful Garland; unforgettable renditions of "That's Entertainment," "Born in a Trunk," and "The Man That Got Away."
SWING TIME. One of the very best Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films. Gambler (Astaire) woos dance instructor (Rogers), somewhat hampered by engagement to girl back home. Wonderful songs, ballroom dances; memorable, classic "Bojangles" production number by Astaire.
THEM. Exciting, first-rate thriller about the discovery of a colony of gigantic ants in New Mexico desert; frantic nationwide hunt is launched when it is found that two egg-laden queen ants have managed to escape. Somewhat unusual, but highly effective emphasis on detective-story aspects; memorable, spooky scenes.
THINGS TO COME. H.G. Wells story of a future world war and its aftermath of a shattered, preindustrial society; eventual emergence of a scientific, technological elite who bring peace and order, followed by generations of increased knowledge and progress. Memorable for its lyrical tribute to the questing state of mind that forever seeks new ideas and new horizons.
TOKYO OLYMPIAD. Excellent documentary of the 1964 summer Olympic games in Tokyo. Directed by Kon Ichikawa and modeled on Leni Riefenstahl's classic Olympia, it is a stirring paean to human physical beauty, grace, and strength. Especially memorable (as in Olympia) is the coverage of the marathon race.
TOP HAT. Astaire-Rogers masterpiece. No one has ever equaled Fred Astaire's combination of debonair, jaunty insouciance and razor-edged precision. Ginger Rogers, though not a dominant dancer, was an excellent foil to Astaire, generally as an independent woman of character. In this film, dancer Fred pursues heiress Ginger, overcomes misunderstandings to win her. Superb production number ("Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails").
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. Eerie, memorable science fiction about small English village that is inexplicably isolated from outside world for one day; exactly nine months later, a child is born to every woman in the village. Fine performance by George Sanders as writer who studies the mysterious children, in possession of incredible powers of mental compulsion, and who learns of their seemingly unstoppable plan to take over the world.
WATCH ON THE RHINE. Taut, suspenseful story of German resistance leader and his wife (Paul Lukas, Bette Davis) who come to Washington in early days of WW II but find they are still menaced by Nazi agents. Oscar-winning performance of quiet strength and integrity by Lukas; warm, loving relationship between Lukas and Davis is movingly portrayed.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR. This delightful comedy features the first appearance of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as a team. He's a sportswriter, she's a political columnist on the same paper. Despite initial mutual antagonism, they fall in love and get married. As usual, their characterizations embody strength, independence, and a deep, unmistakable mutual affection.
Bruce Lagasse, an inveterate old-movie watcher, is an engineer with Hughes Aircraft. He is the reigning movie-trivia-quiz champion of the California Libertarian Party.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "They Don't Make 'em Like They Use To".