SALT LAKE CITY — There’s something about the classiness of a black-and-white movie that just screams romance and these films listed below, released between 1936 and 1942, do just that. From the zany comedy to the cowboy love story, from the wildfire romance to the love that lasts throughout a natural disaster, watching these greats is a perfect way to celebrate love.
It’s the beginning of the 20th century in San Francisco and Blackie Norton (Clark Gable), the owner of a popular saloon, is an avowed atheist who also happens to be best friends with a Roman Catholic priest, played by Spencer Tracy. Despite their differences — and Father Mullen’s repeated attempts to reform Blackie — the two remain an unlikely duo.
When Blackie meets down-and-out singer Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), he hires her as a performer for his saloon, where she quickly becomes a crowd favorite. But it doesn't take long for his feelings for her change from employer to hopeful lover. However, Blackie’s uncouth personality is continually at odds with Mary's other suitor, the wealthy and sophisticated Jack Burley (Jack Holt). It becomes obvious that only one man can make Mary happy, but before that can happen, the terrible 1906 San Francisco earthquake hits, changing the characters' lives.
The 1936 movie captured six Academy Award nominations, going on to win one for sound recording, and is known for its intense earthquake special effects. Although Jeanette MacDonald would garner acclaim for her performance of the title song, it is her ending performance of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” that is truly moving.
Content advisory: "San Francisco" contains an intense earthquake scene that might frighten children under 8 years old.
'Merrily We Live'
Although wealthy, the Kilbourne family is continually bleeding money, thanks to their flighty and well-intentioned mother, Emily, played by "The Wizard of Oz's" Billie Burke. One morning, after discovering the butler has run off with the family valuables, Emily promises her children she’ll stop bringing tramps into their home. But that oath is quickly forgotten when she spies the disheveled Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) at the front door.
A successful writer, Wade has experienced a mishap with his car and only hopes to use the telephone to call for help. Powerless to explain his intentions to Emily, he finds himself employed as the family’s new chauffeur. Unable to understand the crazy and irrational Kilbourne family, he decides to go along for the ride and embrace their kooky ways. In a series of escapades, he’s trained as a footman, falls in love with the family's daughter and becomes friends with an influential U.S. senator.
Content advisory: "Merrily We Live" is appropriate for all ages.
How to watch: TCM, Feb. 12, 8:30 p.m. MST
'The Cowboy and the Lady'
“The Cowboy and the Lady" starts with a very bored and very rich Mary Smith (Merle Oberon). Cloistered in the family's Palm Beach home so her father (Henry Kolker) can concentrate on his political aspirations, Mary goes out one night with her maids and their rodeo cowboy dates. Her date, Stretch Willoughby (Gary Cooper), doesn’t seem as willing to flirt with her as she had hoped for. With the goal of having him kiss her before the night is over, she fabricates a hard-luck story about herself, and by the end of the night, Mary has her kiss and heads back to her pampered life.
But the next morning, she realizes how serious Stretch's intentions for her are. As feelings are hurt, then mended, the couple is swept up in a whirlwind romance that takes Mary by surprise. While she’s trying to figure out how to tell Stretch she’s the opposite of the downtrodden, hard-working girl he thinks she is, she gets caught up in her father’s campaign to win the presidential bid. Her two worlds come crashing together and it’s through the help of her rascally yet loveable uncle (Harry Davenport) that things are ironed out.
Released in 1938, “The Cowboy and the Lady” is an absolutely charming film with plenty of romance and comedy all rolled up together.
Content advisory: " The Cowboy and the Lady" is appropriate for the whole family.
How to watch: TCM, Feb. 13, 2:15 a.m. MST
'The Philadelphia Story'
Tracy Lord — played in a role perfectly tailored for Katharine Hepburn — has had it with her husband’s (Cary Grant) continual bouts of drinking, while he’s upset with Tracy’s perfectionistic desires, deciding to leave her for a more realistic lifestyle with fewer expectations.
Although they divorce, two years later, on the eve of Tracy’s second wedding, her now-ex-husband shows up at her house on a work assignment to sneak a reporter and photographer into her lavish wedding for a popular gossip magazine.
Plans go awry as Tracy’s fiancé (John Howard), ex-husband and a magazine reporter (James Stewart) all vie for her affections. As she delves into self-reflection, Tracy realizes she wants a life different from what she’s been leading and she needs to be true to herself and her feelings. But first, there are numerous comedic situations that involve a swimming pool, broken golf clubs and a drunken scene. Those frolics, combined with this film’s witty dialogue, are only part of what have given this delightfully fun movie its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Content advisory: “The Philadelphia Story” is appropriate for the whole family.
He never thought he’d see her again, but when Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks into Rick Blaine's (Humphrey Bogart) Moroccan bar, he’s swept up in the nostalgia of their time together in Paris. But his reminiscing and romantic hopes are cut short when he realizes that Ilsa’s husband, the man she once thought was dead, is very much alive.
Rick and Ilsa are no longer in Paris; rather, they find themselves in the ever-changing town of Casablanca, a hoped-for haven by those fleeing the Nazi regime. Rick has inadvertently become the holder of important letters guaranteeing the safety of several refugees. As various people approach him, desperately trying to buy their way to freedom, he’s also pressed upon by the Nazis, themselves bent on ensuring no one escapes the Reich. With Ilsa and her husband thrown into the mix, Rick finds himself in situations where his gun is kept ever-smoking.Comment on this story
Although Ilsa loves her husband, seeing Rick again opens her heart up to the love she thought was lost long ago. Now she must make the greatest decision in her life: stay with her husband, who is on a mission to help defeat Hitler, or be reunited with the man she never stopped loving.
“Casablanca," winner of three Oscars, topper of many "best-of" lists and highly quotable, is one of cinema's great romantic war dramas.
Content advisory: Due to the nature of war intrigue and the subject matter, "Casablanca" is probably best suited for those aged 11 and older.