“There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time” – Jane Austen.
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Dodsworth 1936 Based on Sidney Howard’s stage adaption of the Sinclair Lewis novel. Directed by William Wyler. Highly recommended. A thoughtful adult love story in a superb production. Somewhere in the Midwest, self-made man Samuel “Sam” Dodsworth (Walter Huston) sells his auto business to retire with no plans other than taking his wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton), to Europe. On the crossing they meet divorcee Edith Cortright (Mary Astor) who appreciates Sam’s curiousity and enthusiasm and an Englishman (David Niven) who makes a pass at the overtly flirting Fran. She runs.
Abroad, Fran imagines herself a sophisticate. She repeatedly extends their trip, living well, acquiring increasingly obvious suitors, imagining a new, exciting life. Sam goes home thinking his wife will follow. Instead she makes plans to leave him. While waiting for the divorce, he knocks around Europe and again runs into Edith. They understand one another, but when Fran finds her plans dashed… Rent on Amazon Prime.
Gone With the Wind 1939 From the novel by Margaret Mitchell. Directed by Victor Fleming. If you haven’t seen this several times…well, I don’t know what. Perhaps it’s been awhile…The American South during and after the Civil War through the lives of plucky spoiled, belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) who unconditionally loves upright Ashley Wilkes (Lesley Howard) even after he marries his cousin, the gentle Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland).
Pursued and repeatedly rescued by profiteer-with-a-conscience Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), Scarlett adapts as the war crashes around them, but never learns. Hugely entertaining.
Filming was delayed for two years because of Selznick’s determination to secure Gable for the role of Rhett Butler, and the “search for Scarlett” led to 1,400 women being interviewed for the part. The original screenplay underwent multiple revisions, original director George Cukor was fired shortly after filming began and was replaced by Fleming, who in turn was briefly replaced by Sam Wood when Fleming took some time off due to exhaustion. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Wuthering Heights 1939 Based on the novel by Emily Bronte. Directed by William Wyler. One of our great romances. Star crossed lovers Catherine Earnshaw (Mere Oberon) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) were raised together. Born to the respectable household, Cathy is drawn to and intrigued by the wild boy her father found on the streets during a business trip and brought home to be raised as his own. Her brother Hindley (Hugh Williams), on the other hand, is immediately jealous and hostile.
Cathy and Heathcliff meet secretly and grow up in love. One night spying on a grand party at the well-heeled Lintons, she falls over a garden wall and is taken in by the household. The wounded young woman spends months at her neighbors’ during which Edgar Linton (David Niven) proposes. Back home, Cathy chatters to the cook about Edgar. She flippantly says it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff. He overhears and immediately leaves. Cathy regrets her words too late. Edgar steps in to court her and, dazzled, she marries.
Heathcliff returns two year later, wealthy and elegant. He buys Wuthering Heights and to spite Cathy, courts Edgar’s sister Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Everyone suffers. Revenge is bitter. Love lives on enchanted.
Best Film, Best Cinematography Academy Awards. Wyler filmed one scene 72 times without giving any actual direction. Finally, Olivier is said to have exclaimed “For God’s sake, I did it sitting down. I did it with a smile. I did it with a smirk. I did it scratching my ear. I did it with my back to the camera. How do you want me to do it?” Wyler’s retort was “I want it better.” Free with Amazon Prime.
Summertime 1955 Based on Arthur Laurents’ play The Time of The Cuckoo. Directed by David Lean who declared this the favorite of his films. If unfamiliar, treat yourself. Completely lovely and poignant. Ohio spinster Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) is fulfilling her lifelong dream to visit Venice. She’s adopted by savvy street urchin Mauro (Gaetano Autiero – wonderful) and tries unsuccessfully to befriend a young American couple at her pensione. Likely almost the same age, the hotel’s owner Signora Fiorini (Isa Miranda) lives with casual pleasure repressed Jane can hardly fathom.
An antique goblet in a shop window brings Jane in contact with Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi) who pursues her with sensitivity but also honesty to which she’s unaccustomed. Despite a dreadful misunderstanding, she lets down her guard experiencing love for perhaps the first and possibly the last time in her life. There are complications.
For the scene in which Jane falls back into the canal, Lean felt replacing Hepburn with a stunt double would be obvious. His “solution” was to pour in a disinfectant that caused the water to foam. That night, the actress’s eyes began to itch and water. She was diagnosed with a rare form of conjunctivitus that plagued her the rest of her life. When The Production Code Administration objected to depiction of consummated adultery, the film was edited to remove a scene. Rent on Amazon Prime. Do.
Gigi 1958 musical. Based on the novella by Colette. Songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Turn of the Century Paris. Leslie Caron as the perfect Gigi, though she’d lost much of her French accent in London and had to rediscover it. (Audrey Hepburn turned down the role.)
Roué, Honoré Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier) and his nephew Gaston (Louis Jourdan) feel differently about their lives of style, privilege and leisure. The older man relishes it, while Gaston is bored by glossy surfaces with nothing beneath. He finds respite with old friend Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold- pitch perfect) and her delightfully unguarded niece, Gigi (Caron). Under the aegis of her former courtesan aunt, Gigi is being trained to attract a wealthy lover (or several). She barely understands why and what the fuss is about.
On a vacation in Trouville, Gaston suddenly begins to see Gigi differently. She is, after all, the only woman who keeps things fresh. (Honoré and Madame Alvarez run into each other. It seems they were once lovers.) He invites Gigi to Maxim’s. She looks and acts wonderfully, but the correctness confuses him…until he realizes her value. Happy ending. An absolute delight. Rent on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Out of Africa 1985 Loosely based on author Isak Dinesen’s autobio-graphical book. Produced and directed by Sydney Pollack. “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills” evocative narration begins. Brokenhearted Karen (Meryl Streep) arrives in 1913 Africa, wealthy and single. Looking for companionship and help with her new farm, she proposes a marriage of convenience to a friend of her brother, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer- wonderful).
While Bror is mostly absent, Karen develops the farm, grows to understand and care for the natives and begins an ostensibly no-strings, intermittently co-habiting relationship with hunter/guide Denys Finch Hatten (Robert Redford) which widely expands her horizons. A fire destroys the farm. Denys dies in a plane crash. Karen returns to Denmark and writes as Isak Dinesen.
Out of Africa was filmed using descendants of several people of the Kikuyu tribe named in the book, including the grandson of chief Kinyanjui who played his grandfather. Much license was taken with history. Denys Finch Hatten was a British aristocrat, not the all American adventurer epitomized by Redford. The film won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Sweeping and romantic. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Dark Eyes 1987 Based on several short stories by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov. With Yelena Safonova, Marthe Keller. Two gentlemen find themselves alone in the dining room of a steamer, Italian Romano (Marcello Mastroianni) and Russian Pavel (Vsevoled Larinov). They drink together and Romano shares a tale of lost love.
Married too well, then a young architect, he gave up his work to be a man of leisure. Wife Elisa (Sylvana Mangano) was calm and serious, Romano bored, playful, often clown-like. When Elisa inherited her father’s banking business and took over, she didn’t want Romano’s help. The family lived beautifully. Every year he’d take the waters at an elegant spa where he met one or another mistress.
On the occasion in question, he meets a young, Russian woman trapped in marriage with a much older domineering man in order to save her family from poverty. She’s demure, reticent, just the kind of challenge Romano enjoys. He brings her into light and pleasure. She knows she’s fallen in love and leaves a confessional letter – in Russian. He’s less aware of his own feelings until returning home and having the billet doux translated.
While Elisa tries to save the family business, Romano leaves for Russia under wonderfully screwball circumstances. (The kind of situation in which Danny Kaye might find himself.) He finds Anna and promises to return, but arriving back in Rome…Though you know the ending, the trip is marvelous. At the start, the film makes Mastroianni look awful, but flashbacks find him middle aged (the actor was in his 60s), handsome and seductive. Free with Amazon Prime.
Chéri 2009 Based on the French novel by Collette. Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer at the height of her beauty and Rupert Friend. Belle Epoque Paris. At the behest of her friend, Charlotte (Kathy Bates), Léa (Pfeiffer) agrees to seduce Charlotte’s spoiled son Fred, nicknamed Chéri (dear or darling) away from a friend his mother feels is a bad influence. Both the women are wealthy, retired courtesans.
The young man is then coerced into marriage with pretty, but boring Edmée (Felicity Jones). Though Léa makes him promise to be good to his new wife, she discovers deep feelings for Fred while he’s away…and vice versa. Upon return, Fred intends to juggle both women. Charlotte reconnoiters. Everyone lies about his/her true feelings.
Jealous of a fabricated liaison, Chéri breaks into Léa’s home and declares himself. They make passionate love…and detailed plans. In the harsh light of morning, Chéri has doubts obvious to his lover. She sends him packing. Narration tells how long his love held him in thrall. Deftly executed. Pfeiffer is excellent. Cinematography makes one want to move in. Rent on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
The Shape of Water 2017 Directed by Guillermo DelToro. 1962 Baltimore. Elisa Esposito (the incomparable Sally Hawkins) leads an orderly, quiet life. Mute and communicating by sign language, she works as cleaner at a secret government laboratory with occasional translation help by fellow cleaner/friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). Elisa’s only other friend is a neighbor – reclusive, struggling illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins).
An amphibian man (Doug Jones) captured in South America is locked in a tank at the facility. Elisa hears commotion and slips in “meeting” the creature for whom she feels great empathy. They secretly bond over hard boiled eggs and music during her lunch breaks. It hurts the young woman to see him badly mistreated. Violent, single-minded project head Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) wants to dissect him/it while head scientist Robert Hofstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Soviet spy, wants to keep the creature alive to study despite direct orders from Russian command.
Elisa panics and asks Giles for help to free the amphibian. Hofstetler overhears and offers to help. When she comes upon the plan in process, Zelda also takes part. The creature ends up in Elisa’s bathtub with care instructions from the scientist. Both the spy’s handlers and Strickland come after him. Elisa and the amphibian have loving sex, probably her first. She knows she has to release him back into the ocean, however. Strickland gets closer and closer until…
The creature himself is inspired. There are several detailed and poignant character portrayals. This won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. The film was primarily inspired by del Toro’s childhood memories of the film Creature From the Black Lagoon, wanting the Gill-man’s romance to succeed. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Bigstock