Romance (sigh) at the movies

Well, didn’t I have a jolly old time with today’s Valentine’s Day column.

I decided to ask my family and friends which were their favorite romantic movies (romantic being the operative word). The fun part was that since I am neither a Gallup nor a Zogby, my polling methods did not have to march in lockstep with excellence. I just made up the rules as I went along.

These included: (1) If had not heard of the movie, it automatically got bumped. (2) If I liked their favorites and I liked them, people were allowed to have more than one choice. (3) Any movie I hated was instantly exiled. (4) If it amused me to do so, I listed the same film in more than one category. (5) Few of my categories make sense.

TOP PICKS: Casablanca and The Thorn Birds.

Interestingly, in neither film does the guy get the gal. Both are love stories, but stories of thwarted love. At the end of Casablanca, cynical, war-weary Rick sends Elsa off with her courageous husband, Victor Laszlo, who is nowhere near as sexy as Rick. By giving her up, Rick not only gets back the love that he and Elsa had lost, “We’ll always have Paris,” but he regains his sense of honor and resumes his fight against the Nazis.

The Thorn Birds, too, has an unhappy ending. It tells of the forbidden love between Ralph, a priest, and Meggie, the beautiful girl whom he nurtures and watches grow to womanhood. Meggie, capable of only one exquisite and limitless love in her lifetime, gives it all to Ralph, who, despite his passion for her, always ... always chooses his church and his ambition over her. Poor Meggie. Poor Ralph.

Next on the list of films with the most votes is The Princess Bride. Each person who picked it did so instantly. No ponderous thinking. No hesitation. Bang. That was that. Although I saw The Princess Bride many years ago, I didn’t remember anything about, so, to satisfy my curiosity, I looked up a plot summary, which is paraphrased here: “Fire Swamps Full of Quicksand and Rodents of Unusual Size. Lagoons Inhabited by Shrieking Eels, and the Most Beautiful Woman in the World Named ... Buttercup?”

Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

Merrily we roll along to our next group of films, Gone with the Wind, The African Queen, and When Harry Met Sally, all of which received the same number of votes.

Of these three, Gone With the Wind ends unhappily for Scarlett O’Hara, but gives Rhett Butler the chance to utter one of the greatest exit lines in history, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The African Queen sets us smiling after our unlikely hero and heroine ride the rapids, bicker, pull slugs off each, grow tender, and ultimately fall in love. When Harry Met Sally leaves all who have seen it with the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in Katz’s Delicatessen indelibly etched into our brains.

Now, on to movies chosen by more than one person or by single individuals with such big hearts that I gave them more than one vote. These are grouped in an arbitrary and capricious manner and some are listed in more than one category, because she who holds the pen has the power:

AUDREY HEPBURN: Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Love in the Afternoon; Roman Holiday.

1950’S MOVIES: An Affair to Remember; Three Coins in a Fountain.

NEW YORK CITY LOCATIONS: Moonstruck; The Way We Were; An Affair to Remember; Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

WAR STORIES: Forrest Gump; The Best Years of Our Life; Pimpernel Smith; Casablanca; Dr. Zhivago.

AUSTRALIAN SETTINGS: A Town Called Alice; The Thorn Birds.

GREEK MYTHS: Pygmalion (Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller version); My Fair Lady (Audrey Hepburn musical).

FAIRYTALES: Cinderella (Disney version); Ever After (Drew Barrymore version); The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

19TH CENTURY NOVELS: Jane Eyre; Madam Bovary; Pride & Prejudice; Wuthering Heights; Anna Karenina.

MOVIES I NEVER HEARD ABOUT BUT SHOULD HAVE: Legends of the Fall; Cinema Paradiso; Far and Away.

Finally, we come to movies adored by only one valiant soul whom we celebrate for his or her individuality. I doubt if some of these could really be categorized as love stories, but … who am I to say? They include: Cyrano de Bergerac; Magnificent Obsession; Titanic; Anne of Green Gables; My Big Fat Greek Wedding; The Notebook; Message in a Bottle; The Browning Version; Of Human Bondage; Blade Runner; Dances with Wolves, and The Last of the Mohicans (dare I point out that the last three were picked by men?)

Speaking of men, we end with my favorite movie category: GUY PICKS. Two are about dogs. First is the Disney heartbreaker, Old Yeller. Second is Turner & Hooch – described by he who picked it (are you listening, Mike McGuire?) as “your classic ‘man hates dog, dog slobbers on man, man falls in love with dog’ story.”

My last GUY PICK—are your ready for this? —is Frankenstein. Again, I cannot resist quoting from a friend’s submission. Jerry describes Dr. Frankenstein’s monster as “the consummate lonely person, searching for anybody to love him.” And love is what February 14th is about, isn’t it? Love between men and women. Between princes and princesses. Between parent and child. Between men and dogs. Between men and monsters. Between you and me.

Are all of these movies really romantic? Probably not. But all of the people who picked them are. Of that, I am certain.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit:

Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben.

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