Lists of romantic movies abound, but they are not films that come to my mind when I think "hmmm, really romantic movie."
I have no way of knowing how these appeal to both sexes. I can't remember any romantic film that my husband liked. His favorite movie was "Thunder Road". I know that my father especially liked "Miracle in the Rain" and "Brief Encounter".
The other thing about this list is that the movies are all b/w except for "A Matter of Life and Death" and "Sweethearts" and they were all made in the 30's - 50's. To me a "newer" movie was made after 1960. I simply prefer the older films and if there is a great english language romance made after 1960, I probably haven't seen it or did not like it.
The fact that most of these movies represent romance which is mostly tragic and yearning will not be lost on an attentive reader. Mulitple hankies are required when viewing these movies. The links of the film titles will lead you to articles at tcm.com.
In no specific order:
Miracle in the Rain (1956)
Ruth (Jane Wyman) lives alone with her mother, who is a mental case since her husband abandoned the family many years before. Art (Van Johnson), is a very nice soldier who meets her one day in the rain and strikes up a friendship. His manly good cheer is a ray of sunshine to lonely woman devoted to work and taking care of a heartbroken, neurotic manhater. Tragedy strikes and Ruth's despair and loneliness almost kill her. Both Johnson and Wyman were really a bit old for the parts, but they carry it off so nicely and the story is so lovely, you don't really mind. The 1943 novel and screenplay were written by Ben Hecht who apparently could master any genre.
Brief Encounter (1946)
Directed by David Lean, set in gritty, rationed post WWII England, two middle class married people meet by chance at a train station and fall madly in love. Do they give in to their passion or do the right thing by their families? With Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto to set the mood. Another Lean movie which I like just as much as Brief Encounter is The Passionate Friends, also starring Trevor Howard, with Anne Todd and Claude Rains who is really brilliant.
Now, Voyager (1943)
Obviously no plot description is necessary for this classic of a spinster who becomes a swan. Gladys Cooper is one of the great movie mothers from hell. (I saw Cooper in another movie where she was a kind and gentle lady and did not recognize her for some time.) The movie is very faithful to the novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty who also wrote Stella Dallas. ("Now, Voyager" is the third novel of five describing the saga of the Vale family: "White Fawn", "Lisa Vale", Now, Voyager", "Home Port" and "Fabia")
History is Made at Night (1937)
With Jean Peters and Charles Boyer. A woman escaping from her husband is inadvertently saved by Charles Boyer. Colin Clive provides the formidable obstacle to their love in the form of psychotic jealousy. There was no one like Colin Clive who really enjoyed playing extreme characters. Too bad he died so young. In theory, I should prefer "Love Affair" with Boyer and Irene Dunne. (Remade as "An Affair to Remember") Much as I love Boyer and Dunne, I'm not so fond of "Love Affair" and I do not like "An Affair to Remember".
A Matter of Life and Death (1946) A Powell & Pressburger picture.
An RAF fighter pilot who cheats death argues for his life before a celestial court. The earthly scenes are in color, heaven is a black and white bureacracy. It ends with the heavenly justice quoting Sir Walter Scott:
In peace, Love tunes the shepherd's reed;
In war, he mounts the warrior's steed;
In halls, in gay attire is seen;
In hamlets, dances on the green.
Love rules the court, the camp, the grove,
And men below, and saints above;
For love is heaven, and heaven is love.
One Way Passage (1932) Kay Francis, fashionably dressed and terminally ill, arrives in Hong Kong, a stop on her world cruise. There she meets William Powell, debonair murderer, who is in Hong Kong to escape from the gallows awaiting him in San Francisco. They are immediately taken with each other. William Powell is arrested and returned to the USA. It appears no expense was spared to capture him, because he travels First Class with a sympathetic cop, and the couple is able to pursue their romance across the Pacific.
Remade in 1940 as 'Til We Meet Again with George Brent and Merle Oberon. There is nothing quite like the original, but I enjoy the remake almost as much.
The Constant Nymph (1943)
I've only seen youtube clips of this movie. It's considered one of the great romantic movies of the 40's. Tessa, (Joan Fontaine) is a 14 year old girl loves Lewis (Charles Boyer), an older composer and old friend of her family. He marries her cousin, a woman of his own age. As time passes he comes to realize the depth of feeling Tessa has for him and he returns her love. But can they ever get together? Naturally, this is handled with good taste and great feeling. Joan Fontaine received an Oscar nomination for her performance, which is one of her favorite roles. She does a great job portraying a teenager. Charles Boyer was rather old for the part, the composer is really only in his 20's. It's only available via bootleg. It was on youtube for a while, now removed. The novel by Margaret Kennedy is quite good, I loved it when I was a eighteen. it was somewhat scandalous in it's day because it dealt with the physical and emotional passions of girls. Not that love of the very young is so unusual in older books; in The Constant Nymph, sexuality is also a theme. Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote the magnificent score. Hopefully, a nice print is safely stored in the TCM vaults and will be broadcast some day when the legal entanglements are unknotted.
Feb 2011 UPDATE! There is a possibility that The Constant Nymph will be released to DVD this year. Lou Lumenick has details. A big hat tip to Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Maytime (1937)One of the best Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies. This was one of the most popular movies worldwide in 1937. How times have changed! Jeannette loves Eddy but promised to marry her impresario (John Barrymore) to whom she owes all her success. Great romance and great tragedy ensue amidst magnificent music. John Barrymore was on his downward spiral, but he is very good in the role, one feels quite sorry for poor Nicolai left in the cold. The production is loaded with great character actors. MacDonald is also very good as an elderly lady.
Here is the most touching finale - advance to 5:30
Maytime also features an opera written for the movie based on Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, one of my all time favourites. Everytime a local symphony plays it, I am there.
Which reminds me of a very cheerful, sweet and romantic film to finish the list...
Sweethearts (1938) Jeannette and Nelson in their first technicolor pairing, play a married Broadway stars split up by their scheming business partners. A stellar supporting cast, many many songs by Victor Herbert, including the title duet a fantastic witty script by Dorothy Parker, gorgeous set design, gorgeous fashion and a great supporting cast. I always watch this when I want to cheer up.