The Lady Vanishes
In addition to everything else he did, Hitchcock made great romantic movies. This 1938 thriller is one of my favorites. Starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. The obstacle: They hate each other. As she puts it, classically and memorably, "You are the most contemptible man I've ever met." With Dame May Whitty as Miss Froy, the lady who vanishes.
It Happened One Night
As important to the history of romantic comedy as Pride & Prejudice is to life itself. And a fabulous relic of the days when we thought that journalists were romantic heroes (see also Roman Holiday). Starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, it was made in those long-ago days when women looked like women and men looked like men. The classic scenes: hitchhiking, and the night in the motel with the pajamas and the blanket. Screenplay by Robert Riskin, who happens to have been Fay Wray's first husband. Also, there's a great suitor, an aviator named King Westley, played by Jameson Thomas, in a performance almost as brilliant as Ralph Bellamy's in His Girl Friday.
His Girl Friday
Probably the greatest remake ever: They took The Front Page, straightened out the structure so that Walter Burns exists at the very beginning, and turned Hildy Johnson into a woman. The result is a remake better than the original. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell talk so fast that the speed of their dialogue is a joke in itself. And Ralph Bellamy is heavenly as always. If there's a better movie about journalism, I don't know what it is. Well, maybe The Sweet Smell of Success. But that's not romantic.
The Palm Beach Story
Just talking about rejected suitors (see It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday) compels me to mention this Preston Sturges classic. Claudette Colbert decides to divorce Joel McCrea and to find a millionaire to support McCrea's architectural endeavors. Rudy Vallee is the millionaire, and he's sublime. Mary Astor is his sister, and she falls in love with McCrea. I tell everyone I know who wants to be a screenwriter to watch the scene at the beginning of the movie, where Colbert is stuck in the bathroom with the Wienie King. It's a lesson in specificity.
The Thin Man
One of the only movies about marriage. Of course it's also about drinking. The screenplay is by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, married screenwriters who also wrote It's a Wonderful Life and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. They took the Dashiell Hammett novel and made a movie that made everyone believe you could live happily ever after–especially if there's a plot. Starring Myrna Loy and William Powell.
Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon and a gin game. This movie is (I think) the first to use what's now become a staple of romantic-comedy endings, the "R" scene. "R" stands for running, of course. It was one of the rare comedies to win the Best Picture Oscar—MacLaine and Lemmon should have won, too. Billy Wilder directed, from his script with I.A.L. Diamond. The ending is heavenly.
"Do you know what’s wrong with you?" Audrey Hepburn says to Cary Grant in this Stanley Donen-Peter Stone classic. "What?" says Grant. "Absolutely nothing," she says. With Walter Matthau, before he became a leading man. Once again, there’s a plot, which always helps: This is a mystery and a love story.
It's harder and harder to think of obstacles that stand in the way of love, but Splash comes up with an awfully good one: She's a fish. Daryl Hannah plays the mermaid who names herself after an avenue and eats the whole lobster. Among the movie's long-lasting effects: the popularity of the name Madison. Tom Hanks is the guy. John Candy plays Hanks' brother, and the scenes between the two of them are terrific. There's a famous R scene, and it ends up in the water. Directed by Ron Howard, with a story by Bruce Jay Friedman.
Hannah and Her Sisters
One of Woody Allen's several masterpieces, a brilliant tapestry of interwoven stories. It's not strictly a romantic movie, but the scene at the end in Tower Records between Dianne Wiest and Allen is one of the greatest falling-in-love scenes ever filmed. And if you have sisters, the movie feels absolutely autobiographical, even if it's never crossed your mind to sleep with your sister's husband.
How many times can you see it? Never enough.
Sense & Sensibility
A lot of Jane Austen movies founder on the fact that the plot almost always includes a letter that changes everything. It's hard to do letters in movies. But in this one, everything works. At the end, Emma Thompson bursts into tears, and you will too. Unless you have a heart of stone. In which case, why are you reading this?