Monday, June 6, 2011

Classic Date Night?

Why not?
I say forget paying in excess of $10 and then digging even deeper into your pocket for popcorn and candy and soda. Avoid the packs of boisterous teens, bleeping and chatting on cell phones as they snort and surge in restless herds around the contemporary cinema and the gluttonous shopping malls that tend to abut them. If you want to do dinner and a movie with that special someone, I urge you to go out to eat or prepare something nice at one of your home’s, then settle down on a sofa together for a classic movie. It will be cheaper and more rewarding.
In terms of quality, I can assure you, whichever classic film you watch will operate on a mental plain far beyond today's contemporary romantic comedies. The classic will eschew ribald humor, avoid obvious puns and leave a touch of mystery to sexuality and romantic encounters – through what the film does not say or does not show – that is both charming and refreshing. Couples actually had to court and communicate in classic movies because they could not make eyes across an ill-lit dance club, leave together after too many cocktails, peel their clothes off and “hook up” on screen (see Knocked Up et al).
However, I admit it can be difficult to know where to start if you want to do a Classic Date Night. Some people – amazingly and oddly enough – do not like classic films. Others adore classic films and either love or hate certain actors and actresses. And finding films that please both men and women is difficult no matter what era of movies we are talking about. So to help with all this, I offer up five films that are a perfect for any date-night scenario. These are classic crowd-pleasers that everyone should love, regardless of age and relationship status…

They will always have Paris...
 1. Casablanca
Still my favorite film and one that I believe is impossible to dislike. Humphrey Bogart is perfect as the savvy nightclub owner trying to escape from his past and Ingrid Bergman gives a delicately poised performance as the woman unwittingly at the center of a love triangle. Rooted in an incredible setting – Morocco in the early days of World War Two – and chock full of snappy dialogue and complicated moral conundrums, this is a film of many genres. Espionage, politics, war, adventure, romance and comedy – it is all in the film’s perfect screenplay, which is why every generation continues to rediscover this gem. Guys will enjoy this film because of Bogart – he is cynical, cool and forever one step ahead of everyone else – and the wartime setting that forces people in the film to make important decisions about what they stand for and what they are willing to sacrifice. The ladies will appreciate Bogey, too, but they also will swoon for the film’s romanticism and the notion of a joyful but tragic love affair that is hostage to a particular time and place. See immediately if you have not already done so. If you have, watch it again with a partner. As a shared experience, few movies can match it...

Stuck in the middle...
 2. Sabrina
Sometimes derided as a rather formulaic re-imaging of Cinderella, in which the servant girl falls in love with master of the manor, this film surpasses the limitations of its script thanks to the acumen of the actors involved and the skill with which they play off one another. Juxtaposition is, of course, a critical element of comedy, and it has never worked better on the screen than it does in the love triangle depicted here between Audrey Hepburn, William Holden and Humphrey Bogart. The contrast between Hepburn’s smooth femininity and Bogart’s chapped masculinity works particular well, and as an audience, we completely believe these opposites ultimately attract. Guys will like this film because Bogart and Holden are both great and there is a very real examination of a man’s commitment to his family and the unfortunate tension between pursuing happiness in one’s private life and being successful in business. Ladies will enjoy Hepburn because she is Hepburn. The maturation of a young and immature girl who slavishly pursues the wrong man into a confident woman who chooses to be courted by the right kind of man also hits home. Sumptuously filmed, the movie leaves both sexes with the positive message that love is perhaps the only invigorating force capable of provoking radical positive changes within a person stuck in a rut.

Two gals gabbing, only one isn't a gal...
3. Some Like it Hot
A truly scandalous film for its day, Some Like it Hot is a bizarre comedy of errors that chronicles how a pair of friends and musicians –Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon – must disguise themselves as women in order to avoid being killed by powerful mobsters. Curtis and Lemmon excel as oddly paired friends who are barely able to keep up their disguise once they encounter a certain Marilyn Monroe. The hilarity that ensues when costume changes and forever-shifting stories are called upon to keep the cross-dressing ruse alive verges on wacky, but remains entertaining without drifting into hyperbole. And Curtis doing an intentionally stiff and obvious Cary Grant impression is particularly funny. That everyone in this film is confused about what they want and being misled about who the other characters truly are says something both sweet and ironic about the gamesmanship involved in courting. What – if anything – the film ultimately says about sexuality, I leave for others to decide. Guys will enjoy Monroe. She is sultry and sensationally lurid throughout – and her dresses barely contain her considerable body (has any other actress ever had her sexual presence?). Guys will also enjoy the film’s great humor and the witty repartee between Curtis and Lemmon. Ladies will enjoy Monroe’s unintentional humor and the film’s rollercoaster examination of just how far a man will go to flirt with a pretty woman.

Kelly convinces Stewart to pay attention
4. Rear Window
Most Alfred Hitchcock films make for great date movies, but this effort just beats out North by Northwest to top them all. I chose this because the mystery involving whether a man killed his wife is absolutely enthralling and watching it with someone else and dissecting the scenes is incredibly fun. More to the romantic point, this film – despite all of its loftier themes and tropes – is about a how a pair of opposites – Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly – work as a couple. In trying to unravel the picture’s mystery, the audience is afforded an incredibly intimate portrait of two people on the brink of marriage. That only one of them wants to get hitched and neither of the two realizes they are already verbally jousting like an old married couple is one of the film’s great charms. Guys will enjoy this movie because its plot addresses the notion of voyeurism – in particular, the male penchant for looking – and it forces the audience to consider what is normal and what is moral. The ladies will enjoy how Kelly floats almost ethereally across the screen in her scenes and how the film deals with nearly every aspect of love through the various depictions of the apartment complex’s residents. Both sexes will appreciate how cinematic the movie is, with its wonderful dialogue, its incredible set-pieces and the odd but ultimately tender take on courtship.

Tender mercies
5. It Happened One Night
This might be the hardest sell. For starters, it is difficult to find. For seconds, it has all the appearances of being the kind of old movie contemporary audiences avoid (it looks hokey, old and filmed with dubious quality). However, anyone who passes on this film is truly missing out. I first saw this in college in a film class and I can safely say the entire audience of 20-somethings was delighted. Since then, everyone I have shown the film to has responded with similar glee. It is, quite simply, a wonderful picture, full of warmth and charm. Clark Gable’s cynical newsman melts when he encounters na├»ve heiress Claudette Colbert. The guys will like this picture because Gable is masculine, believable and funny. The girls will enjoy Colbert’s emotional adventure: She runs away from a proscribed and boring existence, has an once-in-a-lifetime trip on the road and falls in love. Everything that Roman Holiday is, it owes to this film. Not to be missed.

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