“I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.” — Dirty Dancing
“Choose me. Marry me. Let me make you happy. Oh, that sounds like three favors, doesn’t it?”–Julia Roberts, My Best Friend’s Wedding
“It seems right now that all I’ve ever done in my life is making my way here to you.”–Clint Eastwood, The Bridges of Madison County
What comes to your mind when you think of these incredibly romantic lines? The antidote to anything seemingly mundane and ordinary, the intangible chemistry between the classic couples and the films they breathed life into, the throbbing, pulsating rhythm of your heart as you were quite unconsciously a part of the spring and mirth of this carnival called ‘love? As an ardent admirer of Hollywood’s most memorable romance classics spanning decades, I unmistakably feel my pulses rising with the sheer aura of the onscreen romances portrayed so very lovingly in the silver screen of the yesteryears. From the saga of star-crossed lovers meeting during wartime under the Moorish arches of Rick’s Café American in “Casablanca”, to the exquisite epic story of love, “Gone With The Wind”– based on Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling Civil War epic (which defined the term “Hollywood blockbuster”), I have an insatiable appetite for each of them.
How can I ever forget the sweeping emotions of the magic of a shipboard romance which charms a Frenchman and American woman (Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, respectively) into each other’s arms in “Love Affair”? Or the phenomenal romance between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in “An Affair To Remember”, where a man and a woman meet on a ship crossing an ocean and fall in love, only to part ways, promising to meet dramatically on the top of Empire State Building, New York, which unfortunately, doesn’t happen later? Equally unforgettable is the timeless love saga, “Roman Holiday”, which happens to be the most priceless transient romance between a disguised princess and a handsome American reporter (Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, respectively).
Coming to think of candlelight romances, serenading, wooing the beloved or star-crossed love stories, one would never fail to note the romantic chemistry between the lover and his beloved as the quintessential foundation behind these wonderful, witty and immensely touching tales of true love. Interestingly, the success of these blockbuster Hollywood romances is largely due to the skilful incorporation of the core elements of Hollywood (especially the music), classical romance elements and a degree of sophisticated expression of sentimentality, which constitute of the dialogue, the acting and body language of the leading pairs.
The 50’s and 60’s were the hey days of classic Hollywood romances, when ethos, pathos, happy endings, heart-wrenching goodbyes and romantic love scenes ruled the roost. The two decades have given us movie lovers some of the best, power-packed performances by Hollywood’s heartthrobs including Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Clark Gable. The heroines– Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and Marilyn Monroe were the staple of every young heart. Having said that, I need to add here that in this little space, I would rather not attempt to chronicle the cinematic history comprising the best films of all times from the classic romance genre, and leave that to an encyclopedia on the subject. Also, these days, one would get plenty of those online. So I would limit my writing to the discussion of only some of the milestones of our cinematic past, the era and the cultural milieu behind the production of these masterpieces. This discussion, again, stems from the sheer love I feel towards these movies.Today, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox, MGM and Columbia (Sony) are some of the pioneers in Hollywood film production and distribution. In the yesteryears, Paramount Pictures, the longest-lived American movie studio, used to lead the arena of American motion picture production and distribution. Those were the blissful days when the Hollywood studio system produced classic movies embodying a refined, evocative method of storytelling that left something to the audience’s imagination. This was true right from the early nineteen hundred and thirties’ till the sixties. The audience those days were fed on films which did adhere to certain standards of discretion and used established cinematic devices to imply what they could not say explicitly. Without an iota of blatant sensory stimulations or snappy dialogue, some of the most celebrated reel romances of all times were produced in those days where compelling stories and characters and the extra-ordinary acting prowess of the stars created unforgettable magic onscreen. Some of the classic examples include, but are not limited to “Gone With the Wind”, “West Side Story”, “Casablanca”, “Roman Holiday”, “My Fair Lady” and “An Affair to Remember”.
The 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, combined, was also the era producing the greatest silver screen legends like Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, the irresistibly handsome Cary Grant and the super charismatic Gregory Peck, the celebrated fashionista’s Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Sofia Lauren, Audrey Hepburn, and the ravishing Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe. Interestingly enough, some years back, the AFI had ranked the greatest love stories of the first century of American cinema, and “Casablanca” attained the number one position. “Gone With The Wind” and “West Side Story” came next to it among the greatest reel classics of America.
Truly worthy of their legendary status by virtue of their sprawling, epic film romance, few would venture to dispute the position of these three films as the silver screen’s greatest romances ever. It is worth mentioning in this context, that in each of these films, there are potent screen moments between the protagonists, replete with romantic content. Over the years, these moments have evolved into meaningful, personalized fantasies among the lovers of these reel romances. For example, I would refer to the phenomenal scene between Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in “Roman Holiday”, when Peck puts his hand into the “Mouth of Truth” (La Bocca della Verità), a stone face in Rome that according to legend, will bite your hand off if you tell a lie. In the film, when he pulls his hand out it is missing, causing Hepburn, the disguised princess Ann, to scream hysterically. The chemistry between the two in the scene is so infectious that the audience never fails to identify the film as a superior love story with the distinction of classic romance elements.
On the other hand, those were the times that produced the fascinating Hollywood musicals, like the legendary “Sound of Music” (1965), “Singing in the Rain” (1952). Regarded as two of the great movie musicals of all times, these are films that linger in the hearts of lovers of romance eternally. Who can forget the sweet, ethereal chanting of Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” where she teaches the seven children the notes of “Do re mi” or where she asserts her individuality singing, “I have confidence in me”, or where she playfully mingles with the children in the song “These are a few of my favorite things”?For the records, the cast album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, while the film itself won an Academy Award for Best Picture and is one of the most popular musicals ever produced. “Singing in the Rain”, on the other hand, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, is replete with wit as a satirical comedy, featuring one of the most lavish elements of yesteryears’ musicals. It is the film where there’s the phenomenal dance scene of Gene Kelly with the title track, “singing in the rain”, where she twirls an umbrella, splashes through puddles and gets soaked to the skin. “My Fair lady”, another classic romance happens to be one of my personal favorites with electrifying performances by Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, the young, uncouth Cockney girl and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, an arrogant, irritable professor of phonetics. Together, they put the screen on fire with an unforgettable film adaptation of the stage musical, ‘My Fair Lady’, based in turn on the play ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw.
In the later years, towards the seventies and eighties, there has been a noticeable transition of reel romance from the stylishly sophisticated, artsy and evocative style of the black and white years to the more bittersweet, flesh and blood world of the lovers, rocking with prolonged kissing and lovemaking scenes, unbridled energy and emotion. What can be a better example of the new cosmos in which the lovers find themselves other than that showed in “Love Story” (1970), one of the most romantic movies ever made? A romantic tearjerker from director Arthur Hiller about a passionate couple with a tragic ending, this one happens to be a heartfelt tale of the love of a lifetime. Regarded as the most successful Paramount movie up to that time, the film received seven Academy Award nominations including the Best Picture award.
Another one, from the 90’s, “Forrest Gump” (1994), revives the same pristine emotions of love as the story revolves along some of the most enduring and touching moments of love between Forrest (Tom Hanks) and his lifelong love Jenny. While in the film, we have a sweeping look at thirty tumultuous years of American history seen through the eyes of the charmed simpleton Forrest, we are gifted with some classic scenes those have unparalleled intricacy and depth while still being enormously engaging. Again, in the 90’s, we see the gripping passion and on-screen chemistry between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” (1990), a magnanimous love story about a wealthy businessman falling for a bubbly, charming hooker.
The chemistry between the lovers, portrayed naturally and convincingly in these films, transcends the shackles of a romantic comedy. At the turn of the century, they were remembered as contemporary classic films in the romance genre. Towards the end of the 90’s, the world of romance in Hollywood was again ablaze with the blockbuster of all times, “Titanic” (1997), a fictional love story between Rose (Kate Winslett) and Jack (Leonardo De Caprio), members of different social classes who fall in love aboard the ill-fated 1912 maiden voyage of the ship Titanic. Even though the film is based on the historical sinking of the gigantic Titanic, the crux and the beauty of the entire film lies in the poignant tale of their love which is even more beautified by the soulful music and memorable soundtracks of the film.
On a different note, though with the same poignancy and intensity of passion, I would love to remember the idyllic love story between Noah (Ryan Gosling) and his love Allie (Rachel McAdams) in “the Notebook” (2004). Adapted from the 1996 romantic novel by Nicolas Sparks, it has been one of the most touching of the contemporary onscreen romances of Hollywood.
On this account, I would also like to say here a classic film outside of Hollywood that I had watched some years back has also left a lasting impact on my mind with its evocative, poignant portrayal of love. Watching it, I was immediately reminded of the classic undertones of creative suggestiveness and subtlety characteristic of the celebrated reel romances of Hollywood.
The film in question is none other than the Italian masterpiece “La Vita E Belle” (“Life is Beautiful”) directed by Roberto Benigni which went on to win 3 Oscars in 1998. Though the story was centered on the violent indignities suffered by Jews in the concentration camps of World War II, the subtleties of the film, I felt, transcended the horrors of the concentration camp with some of the most beautifully screened romantic sequences in world cinema.
Remember the scene where Guido follows his bride Dora into a greenhouse and the scenes which follow thereafter? Rather than showing what they do there, the scene slowly dissolves to a shot of the same greenhouse, only this time, a little boy is playing there. The implications are obvious, the device serves to advance the plot a few years without restoring to the cliched “five years later…” inter-title and the love scene is left to the audience’s imagination.
With the amazing screenplay, the film turns out to be an unforgettable fable that documents the indomitable spirit of love, family and imagination in the face of evil. Undoubtedly, this has been the most enduring theory working as the ultimate foundation behind all successful romance classics in the history of Hollywood. Be it in “Casablanca” or in “The Notebook”, both ‘cupid’ and ‘life’ rule! In a word, all quintessential romances are the celebration of life in its varied hues. Struck by cupid’s arrows, both love and life become ever more beautiful and transcendental.
Images sources: Google pics, Wikipedia