Barry Norman’s 101 greatest films: romance

From Casablanca to When Harry Met Sally, ten fine romances that get Barry Norman all emotional

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet 1996 12 115min Colour


Baz Luhrmann’s modern-day take on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers is not to everyone’s taste, what with the followers of the Montagues and Capulets toting guns in suburban Verona Beach. (One liberty Luhrmann thankfully didn’t take was with the Bard’s dialogue.) What, though — like it or lump it, and I like it — makes this important is the casting of then teenage heart-throb Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo. Because of that, countless young people were introduced to Shakespeare — and loved it, which must be a good thing. Both DiCaprio and Claire Danes, as Juliet, are excellent. 

Did You Know? Natalie Portman shot some test scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio, but he was six years older and towered over her. She later joked that she was dropped because the producers thought “it looked like Leonardo was molesting me when we kissed”.

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Casablanca 1942 U 98min BW 

Both Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman wanted out of this movie because they thought it unbelievable and, until almost the last minute, nobody knew how it was going to end. Which just goes to show how much actors know. This is the perfect romantic adventure — sexual chemistry between the stars, cracking dialogue, well-rounded performances, a mutual love so great that it transcends self-interest, and Dooley Wilson singing As Time Goes By. What more could you want? 

Did you know? A cardboard cutout was used for the plane, with midgets for the crew so it would look full-sized. 
Oscars Best Picture, Michael Curtiz Directing, Philip G & Julius J Epstein, Howard Koch Screenplay   Read the full review

Gone with the Wind 1939 PG 224min Colour    You couldn’t possibly make this now, not showing all those happy slaves in the Deep South. But, as it is, it works sublimely — an intimate story set against an epic background. The American Civil War is raging but all that really concerns us is the greatest unresolved love affair in cinema — that between Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), who is perhaps the most intriguing heroine in movies. Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the novel, originally wanted to call her Pansy O’Hara. Wouldn’t have worked, would it? 
Did you know? Screenwriter Sidney Howard was awarded the first posthumous Oscar after he was run over by a tractor on his Massachusetts farm.    Say it again! “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” Rhett Butler   OscarsOutstanding Production, Victor Fleming Directing, Vivien Leigh Actress, Hattie McDaniel Supporting Actress, Sidney Howard Screenplay  

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A Matter of Life and Death 1946 U 99min BW/Colour

Here, love conquers everything — even death. David Niven is the RAF pilot who bales out, sans parachute, and miraculously survives. He should be dead but there’s been a mix-up by a heavenly messenger and Niven refuses to go because he has fallen in love with American radio controller Kim Hunter. So he must leave Technicolor Earth for monochrome heaven where a tribunal has been set up to decide his fate, everything depending on Hunter’s tear of love on a rose petal. Gripping stuff, beautifully made and played. 

Did you know?The film’s premiere was held in 1946 in the presence of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, becoming the first ever Royal Film Performance. 

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Brief Encounter1945 PG 82min BW    The accents (cut glass), to some extent the acting (stiff upper lip) and the story (decency and honour overriding passion) seem quite archaic now and yet this classic collaboration by director David Lean and writer Noël Coward still rings all the right bells. The secret liaison between doctor Trevor Howard and housewife Celia Johnson, which begins on a railway station, ends — as you know it must — in heartbreak, but somehow we can watch it time and time again. 

Say it again! “I can’t look at you now because I know something. I know that this is the beginning of the end. not the end of my loving you, but the end of our being together.” Dr Alec Harvey

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It Happened One Night1934 U 100min BW 

This is said to have been one of Joseph Stalin’s favourite movies. Well, even monsters have good taste sometimes. Frank Capra’s story of what happens when a runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) meets unem-ployed journalist Clark Gable on a Greyhound bus is a joy — sophisticated, witty and deeply romantic, as the couple squabble and fall in love. It was the first film to win the five major Oscars and it also destroyed the American underwear industry when it was revealed that Gable wasn’t wearing a vest. 

Did you know? Cartoonist Bob Clampett owed a huge debt to Frank Capra’s multi-Oscar-winning film, as the scene in which Clark Gable munched on a carrot inspired him to create Bugs Bunny.    Say it again!“I want to see what love looks like when it’s triumphant. I haven’t had a good laugh in a week.” Peter Warne

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When Harry Met Sally…1989 15 91min Colour 

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are longtime friends who fear sex might ruin their relation¬ship. As if. They meet several times over the years, often when one or other has a temporary partner, before they resolve the matter and realise they love each other. Both the leads are warm and likeable, Rob Reiner’s direction is spot on and Nora Ephron’s screenplay is fresh and witty. Plus there’s the unforgettable scene when Ryan fakes an orgasm in a diner and the woman at the next table says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” 

Did you know? The woman in the deli who utters the now famous catchphrase was Rob Reiner’s mother, Estelle. 

Say it again! “You know, I have a theory that hieroglyphics are just an ancient comic strip about a character named Sphinxy.” Harry Burns

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I Know Where I’m Going!1945 U 87min BW 

There’s something rather magical about this Powell/Pressburger production in the way the elements in the western isles of Scotland conspire to bring about the ideal ending. Pragmatic young Wendy Hiller is en route to marry a much older man, who also happens to be very rich. But first fog, then a storm conspire to keep her away from the island where her fiancé waits… and throw her into the arms of young naval officer Roger Livesey. It’s a film that lingers happily in the mind.

Did you know? James Mason turned down a starring role when he was told he would have to “live rough” in Scotland. So the part went to Roger Livesey, whose scenes were shot in a London studio as he was in a West End play at the time. 

Say it again!“They’re not poor, they just don’t have money.” Torquil MacNeil

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Gregory’s Girl1980 12 87min Colour 

Bill Forsyth’s film is about teenage love, not sex — love. What’s more, it evokes the bittersweet growing pains of adolescence with a rare tenderness and sympathy. Though replaced by a girl (Dee Hepburn) in the school football team, Gregory (John Gordon-Sinclair) doesn’t resent her — instead he falls in love with her. Is she then to become Gregory’s girl? That’s what the story sets out to discover. This is a delightful film, made on a shoestring (£200,000) and brilliantly accomplished. 

Did you know? To perfect her footballing skills, Dee Hepburn trained with Partick Thistle football club. 

Say it again!“Go do something your own age, like demolish a phonebox!” Gregory

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The Graduate 1967 15 101min Colour 

Dustin Hoffman shot to fame as Ben, the college graduate seduced by his parents’ friend and dissatisfied well-to-do housewife Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft). He, reluctant at first, becomes enthusiastic until he meets her daughter (Katharine Ross) and now it becomes a sort of double romance. Mother and daughter — a familiar male sexual fantasy. It’s touching and also very funny. Bancroft is at her best. As the song says, Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson. 

Did you know? The scene where Benjamin grabs Mrs Robinson’s breast was unscripted. Rather than stop the scene, Hoffman began banging his head on the wall to stem his laughter. It all stayed in. 

OscarsMike Nichols Directing

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Barry Norman’s 101 Greatest Films of All Time! part 1 was first published in Radio Times magazine (21-27 January 2012)


Barry Norman’s 101 Greatest Films of All Time! part 2 is available in next week’s Radio Times magazine