Cupid, chocolates, giant stuffed teddy bears clutching hearts with screen-printed sweet nothings…it’s Valentine’s Day, y’all! The Retro Set has partnered with Warner Archive Instant to help set the mood for a perfect Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re a sugar-coated romanticist, or a bitter curmudgeon, we’ve selected some films from the Warner Archive Instant catalog for the perfect Valentine’s Day date night/resentful head-in-the-freezer binge fest.
Retro Set contributor Brandie Ashe has selected three films from the Warner Archive Instant catalog to put you in a romantic and/or slightly insane mood.
The Constant Nymph (1943)
This sweetly sentimental romantic drama stars Joan Fontaine as Tessa, a teenage girl with a heart condition who is infatuated with a composer played by middle-aged Charles Boyer. Frankly, it’s easier to believe Fontaine as a youngster than it is to buy her crush on Boyer’s somewhat pallid and way-too-old-for-her character. Still, Nymph is no mere excuse for Lolita-esque shenanigans. The movie (which was unavailable for decades due to problems with the rights) is quite lovely, with Fontaine particularly effective as the love-struck girl. Her Tessa is gangly and free-spirited, with an achingly mature soul—indeed, Fontaine is positively luminous, drawing attention every moment she’s onscreen. Look also for great supporting turns by Peter Lorre and Charles Coburn.
And make sure to have some tissues on hand, because this film’s ending just may open the emotional floodgates.
Bachelor Mother (1939)
Working girl meets baby. Girl is mistaken for baby’s mother. Girl meets rich boy. Girl falls in love … with the baby, and fully embraces her sudden motherhood. And then, through a series of hilarious and outlandish circumstances, the girl, the boy, and the baby find the most improbable of happily-ever-afters. This is romantic comedy at its best. If all you know of Ginger Rogers is her dancing films with longtime partner Fred Astaire, you’re in for a treat, because Rogers proves to be a truly adept comedienne. David Niven, in one of his first leading roles, is equally delightful, but Charles Coburn steals the film as Niven’s cantankerous father. There’s even a small, but important, supporting role for the venerable Donald Duck!
Seriously, if you don’t like this adorable comedy, I firmly believe you have no soul.
If you like your Joan Crawford of the “batshit crazy” variety, this is the film for you. Not to be confused with Crawford’s other film of the same name from 1931, this one stars Crawford as Louise, a personal nurse who becomes embroiled in an unrequited love affair with an engineer, David (played by Van Heflin). When her charge commits suicide, Louise begins to sink into fits of paranoia and madness, which are only exacerbated when David comes back into her life and begins a relationship with Louise’s new stepdaughter. Okay, so maybe this film isn’t exactly “romantic” per se, but as a depiction of obsession, it’s a precursor to every bunny-boiling, crazy-female-stalker trope the 1980s could ever throw at you. Crawford gives the performance of her life here; she’s acting from the top of her head to the tips of her fingers, with every blank expression, every staccato yet purposeful movement of her body. So excellent is her performance that you just may believe that Crawford herself is as insane as they come.
But why she would be obsessed with Van Heflin, of all people, is something I’ll never understand.
Retro Set co-editor Jill Blake has selected a few films to make your Valentines Day more romantic, more musical, more optically challenged, with just a hint of trashy goodness.
The Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)
Like most of the Depression-era musicals, this film’s plot is not particularly memorable. What is significant about this film is the dynamic performance by Eleanor Powell, one of the greatest dancers to tap across the screen. Broadway Melody of 1936 also stars Jack Benny, a young and handsome Robert Taylor, Una Merkel, and Buddy Ebsen. Taylor’s character wants to produce a show, but can’t afford it. Enter the rich, young widow who graciously offers to finance the production (June Knight), but also has her eyes on something else. Besides incredible dancing from Powell, the film includes some fantastic music written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, including songs such as “Broadway Rhythm”, “You Are My Lucky Star”, “All I Do Is Dream of You”, and “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'”. If these songs sound familiar to you, it’s because Freed used them in a little movie called Singin’ in the Rain.
This is a feel-good film that will set the mood for a wonderful Valentine’s Day…if that’s your thing.
The Tender Trap (1955)
Probably one of the greatest things about this film is the opening: Frank Sinatra, sauntering toward the camera with the blue sky behind him. It perfectly sets the tone for a light, romantic film. Sinatra is Charlie Reader, a bachelor in New York City, and maintains a steady flow of girlfriends coming in and out of his apartment. Somehow they don’t know about each other, or maybe they don’t care. Charlie’s best friend Joe (David Wayne) envies his friend’s bachelor life and decides to leave his wife and family. Joe falls in love with the lovely Sylvia (Celeste Holm), who was once involved with Charlie. A young actress named Julie (Debbie Reynolds) starts dating Charlie and the “M” word is mentioned. A lot. The Tender Trap is a cute movie that will make you feel good about love. And hearing Frank sing “(Love Is) the Tender Trap” is worth the price of admission alone.
Director John Waters is not necessarily known for being terribly romantic, but his characters flaunt a pure and uninhibited spirit that, let’s be honest, resides deep down in all of us. And that’s kind of romantic, isn’t it? Polyester is definitely more palatable to a “mainstream” audience as it’s a far-cry from the shocking stuff that’s found in his cult classics Pink Flamigos and Female Trouble. But Polyester definitely flirts with the trashier side of the tracks. If you’re only familiar with Waters’s super popular Hairspray, you’re in for a real…treat.
Divine stars as Francine Fishpaw, wife of Elmer, the owner of an X-rated movie theater. The community is protesting Elmer’s business, but he relishes the bad press (any press is good press, right?). Francine, on the other hand, is struggling to maintain a quiet, suburban middle-class life. She discovers that Elmer is having an affair, demands a divorce, and sinks into an epic alcoholic bender. Meanwhile, her children are total assholes. The only person who is there for Francine in her time of need is her best friend Cuddles (Edith Massey).
Polyester isn’t a traditional romantic film, but it’s about loving yourself and your totally screwed-up family. Oh, and there’s a super handsome Tab Hunter!
The Cyclops (1957)
Looking for something completely anti-romantic? Look no further than The Cyclops. Pilot Bruce Barton (Dunkin Parkin) is missing and a search party led by his girlfriend Susan (Gloria Talbott) heads out to find him. Deep in the jungle they have some rather creepy encounters: giant bugs, lizards, rats. Typically this would tip-off a normal, well-adjusted person to get the hell out of dodge. But true love keeps Susan and her search party going until they encounter a giant cyclops man-beast who kinda looks familiar…
If you want to have a Valentine’s Day full of laughs (and really impress your date), The Cyclops is the perfect pick.
Here are some other recommendations from the Warner Archive Instant catalog for your Valentine’s Day Date night. You really can’t go wrong with any of these!
Romeo and Juliet (1936) starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard
Spite Marriage (1929) starring Buster Keaton and Dorothy Sebastian
Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) starring Paul Newman and Geraldine Page
Romance (1930) starring Greta Garbo and Gavin Gordon
The Days of Wine and Roses (1962) starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick
In Name Only (1939) starring Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and Kay Francis
Don’t have Warner Archive Instant? You should. New films are added every month, many are in HD, and the service is available on PC/Mac, Roku, and iPad, with more streaming options being added in the future. They offer a 2-week trial for new subscribers. After that, it’s only $9.99/month! It’s a must.
We extend a huge thanks to Warner Archive Instant. Be on the lookout for more posts on films from the Warner Archive MOD program and Warner Archive Instant here at The Retro Set.