Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Romantic Comedies)
Romantic Comedies are one of the long time staples of Hollywood. Of course, since it is Hollywood, many times the premises of the RomComs are so off the wall that to be enjoyed, you have to have a willing suspension of reality. The RomCom often has to set up such a ludicrous beginning premise in order to let things fall the desired way but that’s the Hollywood and movie way. As always, this is my list of movies I can enjoy watching and re-watching for whatever reasons.
During the Great Depression, Godfrey “Smith” (William Powell) is living alongside other men down on their luck at the city dump. One night, spoiled socialite Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) offers him five dollars to be her “forgotten man” for a scavenger hunt. Annoyed, he advances on her, causing her to retreat and fall on a pile of ashes. She leaves in a fury, much to the glee of her younger sister, Irene (Carole Lombard). After talking with her, Godfrey finds her to be kind, if a bit scatter-brained. He offers to go with Irene to help her beat Cornelia.
In the ballroom of the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel, Irene’s long-suffering businessman father, Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), waits resignedly as his ditsy wife, Angelica (Alice Brady), and her mooching “protégé” Carlo (Mischa Auer) play the frivolous game. Godfrey arrives and is “authenticated” by the scavenger hunt judge as a “forgotten man”. He then addresses the idle rich, expressing his contempt for their antics. Irene is apologetic and offers him a job as the family butler, which he gratefully accepts.
As I say, the premises for these are often a bit over the top. Of course, many folks may not be aware that Powell and Lombard had divorced three years prior to making this movie.
How many people think of John Wayne as a RomCom star? Yet, there are two Wayne films that I consider Romantic Comedies – The Quiet Man (with Maureen O’Hara) and Donovan’s Reef (with Lee Marvin, Dorothy Lamour, Jack Warden, Cesar Romero, and Elizabeth Allen).
Sometimes when a pairing works in a RomCom, the studios will try a second (or even third or fourth time) to pair up a cast. That’s what happened with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan with Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal scored with What’s Up Doc? but weren’t quite able to re-capture the magic in a subsequent pairing (The Main Event). Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner hit the RomCom gold with Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile.
Rock Hudson had a few RomComs in the late ’50s/early ’60s. Pillow Talk (with Doris Day) and Man’s Favorite Sport (with Paula Prentiss) are probably my favorites of his. Paula Prentiss is also in What’s New Pussycat (with Peter O’Toole), though she is not O’Toole’s “main” love interest (Romy Schneider is). The Mating Game (Tony Randall and Debbie Reynolds) is another one of those head scratchers that works.
Shirley MacLaine has a couple of fun RomComs with Irma la Douce (with Jack Lemmon) and What a Way to Go! (Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly). Jack Lemmon was also in The Great Race (though the love interests were Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood).
Michael J. Fox got his turn at RomComs in Secret of My Success and Doc Hollywood. Richard Dreyfuss got his turn in The Goodbye Girl. And of course, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman (another pairing that didn’t seem to hold up so well when they tried again in Runaway Bride). George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day could have easily come out of Hollywood of the ’30s, ’40s, or ’50s and been a double bill feature with Clark Gable and Doris Day’s Teacher’s Pet.
In the current century, there are a few RomComs that have surprised me. Because I Said So is probably on this list due to my vestigial sexism manifesting itself. For some reason, 27 Dresses is entertaining in a lightweight kind of way. Just Like Heaven has the fantasy part of the RomCom down.
Other posts in this series are Essential Movies, Westerns, Historical Settings (pre-1500), Historical Settings (post 1500), Sword and Sorcery, Science Fiction, War Movies, Crime and Punishment, Music, Song and Dance – and Elvis, Sports, Spies, PI’s, and Comic Heroes, Cartoons Plus.
And because I can: