When I was growing up, my parents often told me that I was an “old soul.” Part of the reason, I suppose, was my avid interest in classic movies—particularly any film made in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. To this day, I’d much rather watch Fred and Ginger dance across the silver screen or Clark Gable attempt to thumb a ride than, say, Hugh Grant’s face crinkling up in that signature grin of his.
In my new novel, If Ever I Fall, the heroine, Willa, finds herself with the time and leisure to do whatever she wants. One of those things is watching movies. This got me thinking: if I had that same luxury, what movies would I watch?
As I started to put a list of some of my favorite movies together I realized that 1) they all have a romantic storyline, and 2) they each have influenced my writing in some way. Whether it’s the many different ways a man looks at a woman, or how they speak to each other, or that slow buildup of sweet or sensual tension to the ultimate denouement. To transform those visual images into words is a constant—but very enjoyable!—challenge.
Here are just a few of my top favorites:
First on my list is Summertime (1955), a David Lean classic that was filmed on location in Venice, Italy. It depicts the story of lonely, middle-aged, American, spinster secretary Jane Hudson—played to perfection by Katherine Hepburn—enjoying her first trip abroad. The evening of her arrival in Venice, she ventures alone to the Piazza San Marco where she orders a drink at a sidewalk café. As she films the scenery and people, she becomes aware that someone is watching her. She turns to discover a handsome Italian man sitting nearby.
Ah, the scene that makes me all fluttery inside every time is when this Italian man (the gorgeous Rossano Brazzi) first notices Jane. As his half-hooded eyes travel from her long legs to her slender waist and farther upwards, he slowly rubs his index finger from his jaw to his temple, and his mouth quirks in a lazy, sensuous smile of male appreciation. Delicious! George Clooney has nothing on this handsome devil.
Another movie I adore is The Clock, one of the few Judy Garland films that is not a musical. Set during World War II, it depicts the story of Joe (Robert Walker) and Alice (Judy Garland) who meet-cute at Pennsylvania Station in New York City while Joe is on a two-day leave. She agrees to show him the sights and they spend the day together. It is the classic “love at first sight” story told with sweetness and humor.
Frantic to get married before Joe is shipped overseas, they have a quick civil ceremony at city hall. The ceremony is a rushed, impersonal affair, taking less than two minutes—which leads to one of my favorite scenes when later that evening Joe and Alice wander into a church. There, in the quiet church, they recite their wedding vows to each other with the reverence that wasn’t allowed in the civil ceremony. This is a lovely little film, made all the more bittersweet knowing Judy Garland’s real-life story.
Every one of my Favorite Movie lists, regardless of the category, has this next classic in the top five: It Happened One Night (1934).
I enjoyed Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind, but this is the movie where I fell in love with him. I find him more lovable and charming in comedic roles. He’s my model for a handsome, devilish, funny, soft-hearted leading man. This rom-com, which won Best Picture at the 1935 Academy Awards, tells the story of a spoiled American heiress, Ellie, (the amazing Claudette Colbert) who runs away from her family. During her escape, she is helped by a man, Peter, who’s actually a recently-fired reporter looking for a story that will help him get his job back. Ellie and Peter dislike each other from the get-go. Or, do they?
Next is a film that I first watched on television when I was about ten years old. I fell in love with it instantly but was never able to find it at video stores or online, until I happened to catch it on TCM years later. I love TCM. See what I mean about being an old soul?
Margie (1946) begins with Margie (the beautiful Jeanne Crain) and her daughter reminiscing about Margie’s girlhood in the roaring twenties. In flashback, Margie—a smart but less popular girl at Central High—meets the handsome new French teacher. Margie, along with every other girl at the school, develops a crush on him.
Circumstances keep throwing these two together. While the older me kept yelling at Margie to fix the elastic on her damn bloomers, the teenage girl inside of me still adores the awkward but sweet situations that arose from the “bloomer fails”. A very sweet, innocent love story in the teacher-student genre—without rulers or spankings!
Finally, here’s another classic where just a simple look or touch has my heart thumping like crazy. In I Know Where I’m Going (1945) Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) plays a bright, ambitious woman who has been working hard to make her way up the social ladder. She is on her way from London to the Scottish Hebrides islands to marry a wealthy industrialist twice her age. Stormy weather interferes with her plans, and she is stranded in a fishing village with Torquil MacNeil, A Royal Navy officer and Scottish laird.
Joan is stubborn. Torquil is also stubborn but very patient as he opens Joan’s eyes to the mistake she’s about to make. Filmed on location, the colorful Scottish characters make this picture shine.
So, those are just a few of the romance movies that continue to inspire me. What romantic movies would be on your list if you had a rainy weekend all to yourself?