Category Archives: Romance

#328 The Heiress

(1949, William Wyler)

“I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters”

The trailer for this movie (above) is very keen on informing us that The Heiress is an absolutely marvellous piece of cinema that’s going to shape the future of cinema, but the fact that I hadn’t heard of it until now makes me question those studio-appointed accolades. But, it could still very easily be a good movie, even if it didn’t set the world on fire in the way the dramatic announcer above seemed to wish it would. Let’s find out.

Olivia de Havilland stars as Catherine Sloper, the plain and naïve daughter of a rich and successful doctor (Ralph Richardson). She is despised by her father, who constantly compares her to her late mother and finds her physically and emotionally dull, and considers her to be an embarrassment to him. Catherine soon finds an emotional connection in a man named Morris (Montgomery Clift) and hopes to marry him, but Dr Sloper suspects him of trying to muscle in on her future inherited fortune.

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#281 Open Your Eyes

(1997, Alejandro Amenabar)
Abre los ojos

“Open your eyes”

In 2002, Cameron Crowe made a movie called Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz. It got mixed reviews, and it did reasonably well, telling a very strange tale of romance with a bit of good old-fashioned mindfuckery thrown in for good measure.

It was also a remake, which not many people know. You see, Cameron Crowe took the entire storyline from a Spanish movie from the nineties called Abre los Ojos, aka Open Your Eyes. He also swiped one of its main cast members (Cruz) and put her in the same role as the original. Today, we’re looking at that movie, and ignoring Vanilla Sky entirely because that’s not on the list. Sorry about that.

Open Your Eyes is a hard film to describe. It’s about a man named Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) who is a rich, good-looking kid living in Madrid. He’s known for womanising and generally being a bit of a smug bastard about how good-looking he is. We switch between him going about his day and enjoying his life to him sitting in prison and talking to a psychiatrist (Chete Lera) while wearing a prosthetic mask.

During the course of the movie, Cesar flirts with a woman named Sofia (Cruz), who happens to be the girlfriend of his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez), while simultaneously trying to avoid a crazy, jealous former fling named Nuria (Najwa Nimri). During the course of the movie, Cesar climbs into a car with Nuria, who then immediately crashes the car, horribly disfiguring him. And then things kinda go a little bit haywire…

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#267 Gone With The Wind

(1939, Victor Fleming)
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”

Gone With The Wind is one of those classic movies that inevitably ends up on Movies You Must See lists, so it was inevitable that I’d end up reviewing it one day. It was the highest-grossing movie of its time, and depicted the American Civil War from the perspective of white Southerners. But how well does it hold up today?

Gone With The Wind centres on Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), a young Southern socialite living in Georgia on the cusp of Civil War. Romantically interested in a man named Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), she tries to seduce him despite him being engaged to his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), while she simultaneously catches the attention of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). As civil war rages, Scarlett manipulates and deceives her way towards winning Ashley’s attentions before eventually marrying Rhett in a tortured marriage. Basically, lots of things happen here.

It’s easy to see why people love Gone With The Wind. It’s an ambitious project which covers a lot of ground story-wise, with excellent costume design and cinematography, and some really great moments that cement its place in cinema history.

Clark Gable is a fantastic example of this. The man has charm coming out of his pores, and is easily the best thing about the whole movie. Rhett Butler is an inherently awful person for the most part, but Gable makes him likeable and I don’t know how he did it. It’s a shame that for much of the first half of the movie he tends to disappear offscreen for long periods, since he’s always missed when he’s not around.

There are also some hugely effective scenes running throughout. The scenes of war are always powerful, feeling difficult to watch and sometimes being downright terrifying. I’m not someone who normally buys into “war is hell” imagery (simply because it’s so overdone it’s become cliché) but these scenes were extremely effective. But the scenes of the war’s effects hit even harder than the war itself, especially a scene where Scarlett’s father has clearly lost his mind following the loss of his wife in the hostilities, which was incredibly moving.

But Gone With The Wind is far from a perfect movie. For a start, it’s over three hours long, and me and films of that length don’t get along too well. What’s more, there are times when it definitely feels that long, especially in the second half of the movie where things like to drag on longer than they need to. There are also plenty of instances where a scene that really should be urgent simply isn’t.

There is also the fact that the movie suffers from some particularly offensive period drama floofiness early on, with Southern Belles and gentlemen wandering around chortling about their life and how the South will never be beaten. It’s a little bit tiresome, at least until Rhett comes in and tells them all how dumb they all are. Fortunately, this doesn’t last, but this combined with the movie’s tendency to drag at times, it threatens to derail the movie before it’s even begun.

However, while the period drama floofiness eventually disappears, Scarlett O’Hara never stops being intensely unlikeable. She’s a manipulative, shallow, selfish, irredeemable bitch. Vivien Leigh does a great job playing her, but man is it difficult having this person as a protagonist. She’s impossible to identify with, and more often than not, you simply want her to fail at everything.

It’s also really hard to tell exactly what the attraction between her and Rhett is. Quite often, he will pursue her and attempt to seduce her, all while openly admitting she’s a terrible human being. I never found the romance particularly convincing. Perhaps this was the point, since they hardly have a perfect marriage in the second half of the movie, but it’s still really bizarre.

And then of course, the most common complaint about Gone With The Wind by modern reviewers is one that I agree with. Set in The South, the movie naturally features a number of black slave characters, all of whom are portrayed as amusingly stupid and absolutely happy to be in slavery. Their portrayal is meant to be laughed at, as if those silly brown people are an amusing sideshow, and these days it’s just uncomfortable.

And yet, despite all of these faults, Gone With The Wind somehow manages to hold together as a solid, watchable package and it’s easy to see why it’s such a classic, albeit a hugely flawed classic.

Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard & Olivia de Havilland
Written by Margaret Mitchell (novel) and Sidney Howard
Produced by David O. Selznick
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography by Ernest Haller
Edited by Hal C. Kern & James E. Newcorn

Favourite Scene: Rhett ultimately realising how tired he is of Scarlett’s crap and tells her that most famous of movie lines (see page quote).
Scene That Bugged Me: While escaping from Georgia in the midst of war and fires, they sure do take their sweet time.

Watch it if: You like sprawling period dramas with excellent acting
Avoid it if: Its absurd length is far too much for you

#258 Brief Encounter

(1946, David Lean)
“I’ve fallen in love…I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.”

Bonus review this week! Yes, because today is Valentine’s Day, I’m doing a special romantic-themed review. Last year I went with an 80s romantic comedy, and this year I decided to go a little further back in time and review old British classic Brief Encounter, a romance about two people who have a…well, brief encounter and fall in love. Awwwww.

Problem is, both Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) are already married, and not to each other, which kind of throws a spanner in the works a little. Cue a turbulent affair and a tornado of feelings and emotions. So, not exactly the happiest romance movie ever then.

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#237 The Red Shoes

(1948, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

“A dancer who relies on the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer”

Ballet is an obsessive art, as has been pointed out many times over the years. One of the more recent works to demonstrate this was the excellent Black Swan, where Natalie Portman steadily lost her mind due to her obsessive dedication to her dreams of being a great dancer. But it’s not a new story. Back in 1948, The Archers produced a movie about ballet and tied it into Hans Christian Andersen’s cautionary tale of vanity, The Red Shoes.

The Red Shoes stars Moira Shearer as Victoria Page, a girl who wants to become a great ballet dancer. After being snapped up by top ballet producer Boris Lermentov (Anton Walbrook) where she is eventually cast as lead dancer in a ballet based on the aforementioned fairy tale. The music is being composed by a talented young composer named Julian Craster (Marius Goring), and he and Page begin a romantic affair. However, due to the demands of Lermentov, Page must choose between Craster and her career as a dancer.

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#221 Sunrise

(1927, F.W. Murnau)
A Song Of Two Humans

Last time we looked at the influential German silent film director F.W. Murnau here on SvTM, it was with his famous vampire movie, Nosferatu. This time, we take a look at something very different: a romance movie, and one that was made in Hollywood instead of Germany. However, while Nosferatu was a very conventional vampire movie, there’s something very unconventional about Sunrise.

This is immediately obvious when the plot starts. In a seaside town, the Woman From The City (Margaret Livingston) arrives and seduces a local Man (George O’Brien), and convinces him to murder his Wife (Janet Gaynor). When he takes his Wife out on a boat ride, he finds that he can’t drown her, and instead returns to shore, where she flees. However, after he pursues her, they end up spending a rather lovely day in the City together, where they rekindle their love for one another.

Yeah, there’s a bit of a mood shift in that plot, you might notice. Starting out as a dark murder thriller, the movie takes a sudden turn into romantic whimsy, and on paper that sounds absolutely awful. In practice, however, it’s actually very good.

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#219 The Purple Rose Of Cairo

(1985, Woody Allen)

“I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything”

I have never seen a Woody Allen film before. I know he’s supposed to be one of the greatest comedy directors of all time, but I’ve never been too interested in seeing any of his films. Part of it seems to revolve around the fact he always seems to cast himself in the lead role, usually alongside some attractive female lead. So, as an introduction to his movies, let’s pick one where he is not the lead role. Let’s take a look at The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

The Purple Rose Of Cairo is about a woman named Cecilia (Mia Farrow), living in New Jersey during the Great Depression. She loves the cinema, and often goes there to escape her abusive husband Monk (Danny Aiello). The latest movie on show is a fictional movie also named The Purple Rose Of Cairo, which she grows to love and sees it repeatedly. Then one day, one of the characters in the movie, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), breaks the fourth wall and talks to her, before emerging from the screen and running away with her. With the movie studio trying to bring him back into the film and her husband on the warpath, Cecilia needs to decide what to do about this strange situation.

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#218 A Star Is Born

(1954, George Cukor)

“It won’t happen”
“No, it might happen pretty easily, but the dream isn’t big enough”

I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear before, but I really don’t like musicals. Oh, I have made that clear before? Well, let me say it again. I don’t like musicals. Something about the constant stop and start nature of the genre, where the action and dialogue will stop for a song-and-dance number, actually tends to distract me rather than enthral me. And so we come to A Star Is Born, which not only is a musical, but is also almost three hours long. Hurray!

A Star Is Born is about singer Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), who has a chance encounter with actor Norman Maine (James Mason) while performing at a function in Hollywood. Maine’s career is in decline, and he turns up to the function drunk, and ends up stumbling onto the stage in the middle of the performance. Esther manages to pull him offstage, and he immediately becomes enamoured with her. Convincing her to leave her band and work in Hollywood as a musical star instead, she begins her climb to stardom as Vicki Lester, while he simultaneously begins his descent into failure.

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#214 The Lady Eve

(1941, Preston Sturges)

“I need him like the axe needs the turkey”

There is no shortage of romantic comedies from the 1940s, usually with a dashing male lead and a sharp-witted leading lady throwing quips at each other. The Lady Eve is another one of these movies, but is it enough of a standout effort to be considered a movie not to miss?

On a boat trip out of South America, con artist Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) sets out to fleece the naïve and rich Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), the heir to a major ale producer’s fortune and a snake-trainer in his spare time. However, following her efforts to jokingly seduce him into playing cards with her card-shark father (Charles Coburn), she ends up falling hard for Pike, prompting a series of misadventures.

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#205 Spellbound

(1945, Alfred Hitchcock)

“Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love, then they make the best patients”

Alfred Hitchcock has an awful lot of movies on this list, as we’ve previously established. Here’s one of his lesser known movies, made a whole decade before some of his more well-known works. Does it hold up to the standards of Psycho and The Birds or is it an old shame for Ol’ Alfred?

In Spellbound, Ingrid Bergman stars as Dr Constance Petersen, a psychiatrist at Green Manors psychiatric hospital. The staff are awaiting the arrival of a new director, Dr Edwardes, to replace Dr Murchison, who is retiring. However, when he arrives (played by Gregory Peck), he turns out to be much younger than expected. He also starts acting strangely, especially when exposed to dark lines on a white backdrop, and eventually faints. It’s then discovered that he’s an imposter and the real Dr Edwardes is missing, and this strange man becomes the key suspect in his disappearance. However, Dr Petersen becomes fascinated by him, and is determined to uncover the mysteries in his mind, even while they’re pursued by the police.

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