Grand Hotel (1932) This all-star vehicle had enough blighted love affairs to fill, ahem, a hotel. On the women’s side were fading ballerina Greta Garbo (doing her famous “I want to be alone”) and stenographer Joan Crawford. The rather more motley male side was represented by baron-turned-jewel-thief John Barrymore, crude businessman Wallace Beery and sweet, dying clerk Lionel Barrymore. One pairing survives, but generally speaking, at the Grand Hotel, guests check in and love checks out.
Gone With the Wind (1939) Clark Gable again is having trouble with a strong-willed woman, this time Vivien Leigh’s spoiled Scarlett O’Hara. The Civil War took an admittedly intrusive back seat to this pair and although Gable’s Rhett Butler ended up saying he didn’t give a damn, you knew he must.
Casablanca (1943) Oh dear, what can you say about a woman who, out of all the gin joints in all the world, walks into the one owned by the lover she dumped — and then, after rekindling that love to bonfire levels, walks out again! Well, after you polish off a bottle or two of the good whiskey, you must admit she’s great. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman love each other and fight the Germans in what some people consider the greatest of all Hollywood romances.
Gigi (1958) They had to back up the truck to tote home the statuettes this one won. And why not? The sprightly score’s songs (by Lerner & Loewe) along with the brilliant Parisian backgrounds make a perfect setting for what, well, let’s face it, was a scandalous story. Leslie Caron’s adolescent girl loves Louis Jourdan’s handsome young roué. But when she’s being readied for courtesan duties, he suddenly gets a case of the romantic itchies — what, she’s going to “go” with as many men as he does women? Not likely, pilgrim.
The Apartment (1960) Doormat company man Jack Lemmon, who lends out his pad for extramarital affairs to get ahead, ends up falling in love with elevator operator Shirley MacLaine, who just happens to be his boss’s latest conquest. What goes up must come down in this characteristic mix of cynicism, humor and sentiment from the one-two punch of Billy Wilder and writing partner I.A.L. Diamond.
West Side Story (1961) It’s Romeo and Juliet set on the mean streets of New York where Tony (Richard Beymer), a reluctant warrior associated with the Jets (read: the Montagues), falls for the younger sister (Natalie Wood) of a member of the rival Sharks (the Capulets). Death and heartbreak ensue, but can peace between warring gangs be far behind?
Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen is Alvy Singer, a standup comedian and nebbishy paranoiac who shuns booze, drugs, the outdoors and commitment until he meets shikse Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), his polar opposite who dresses like a latter-day Marlene Dietrich. This film would kickstart Allen’s string of impossible romances featuring himself and a succession of increasingly younger love interests.
Out of Africa (1985) Chameleon Meryl Streep wrestles with a Danish accent as a baroness who buys and runs a plantation but cannot get a free-spirited big-game hunter (Robert Redford) to settle down for anything more than a quick lay and a picnic or two on the savannah. Of course, the baroness can’t abide such treatment and the hunter can’t be bothered. To quote Roberta Flack, where is the love?
The English Patient (1996) Ralph Fiennes is a stuffy Hungarian count and cartographer who ignores the attentions of his stuffy Brit colleague’s fetching wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) until it’s almost too late. And then it is too late in this three-hankie tearjerker from Anthony Minghella that would have done David Lean proud.
Titanic (1997) It’s the age-old tale of the penniless charmer (Leonardo DiCaprio) who falls for the high-bred socialite (Kate Winslet), whose rich fiance is such a boor, who wouldn’t want to escape to fourth class to kick up their heels with the plebes? But, alas, this duo’s mad love is no match for the iceberg that awaits, and the film’s competiton was no match for this Oscar juggernaut.