While many think of the Yuletide as a time for families, there can be no doubt that there has always been a certain amount of romance linked to the holidays. After all, it is the one time of the year when it is wholly acceptable to kiss in public, even if it is only under the mistletoe. It should be no surprise, then, that there have been holiday movies with a good deal of romance in them. Here are what I consider the five most romantic movies of all time.
1. The Apartment (1960): C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a man with a very special problem. He often cannot go straight home to his apartment after work because he is constantly lending it to his superiors at a large insurance company for their illicit affairs. Baxter's problem is complicated by the fact that he is in love with one of the company's elevator girls, the charming Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Worse yet, Miss Kubelik had an affair with the insurance company's head honcho, the smarmy Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Baxter is then faced with one of the greatest conundrums any cinematic hero has faced--he can only truly win the girl of his dreams by losing his job. It is this central conflict and the electricity between Baxter and Miss Kubelik that makes this one of the most romantic movies of all time. Indeed, I consider it the second most romantic film ever, second only to Casablanca (1942). It is also a wonderful combination of comedy and drama, balancing the two in the way director Billy Wilder could only have done.
2. Christmas in Connecticut (1945): Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is the Martha Stewart of her day. She is famous for her column in a monthly housekeeping magazine, writing about cooking recipes and other bits of domesticity. Indeed, he even lives on a farm with her husband and baby. Unfortunately, none of it is true. Elizabeth cannot cook. She is not a great housekeeper. She does not have a husband and baby. She does not even live on a farm. Unfortunately, her publisher invites a war hero, Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) to spend Christmas on her non-existent farm. Elizabeth must then swiftly find a farm and have her boyfriend pose as her "husband," all the while relying on friend and chef Felix Bassenak (S.Z. Sakall) to make up for her non-existent cooking skills. Unfortunately, keeping up this facade proves harder than Elizabeth expected, especially when she and Jones fall in love at first sight. Christmas in Connecticut is a hilarious screwball comedy set during the holidays, but it is also a very romantic film. Barbara Stanwyck never looked more appealing, and she has a definite chemistry with Dennis Morgan. Few movies are quite as funny or romantic as this film.
3. Holiday Affair (1949): Robert Mitchum is rarely thought of as a romantic lead, and yet he is very effective in this film. In Holiday Affair Janet Leigh plays war widow Connie Ennis, who lives alone with her son Tommy in a small apartment and has been dating lawyer Carl Davis (Wendell Corey). Connie's life is upset after she gets Steve Mason (played by Mitchum) from his job in a department store. Tommy grows to think of Steve as a friend, while Connie must resist her attraction to him. It is the relationships that make Holiday Affair. Indeed, what is wonderful about the film is that there are no bad guys. Carl Davis is a genuinely nice guy, not some cardboard villain as in many romantic films. And the sparks between Mr. Mitchum and Miss Leigh are powerful indeed. What is more, Holiday Affair is genuinely funny. Indeed, it has one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen on film, with Harry Morgan as a befuddled police captain brought face to face with the complex relationships of the lead characters.
4. It's a Wonderful Life (1946): While it is often called a fantasy, it is rare that It's a Wonderful Life is called a romance, and there is no reason it should not be. At the heart of the film is the relationship between George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and his wife Mary (Donna Reed). We see their relationship develop from childhood, when Mary already had a crush on George, to their life as a married couple. Mary is the ideal wife, devoted to George and supportive of him. And George is genuinely in love with her, the sparks between them still there after years of marriage. Indeed, It's a Wonderful Life features one of the single most romantic scenes on film, in which George and Mary must share a phone. Perhaps even more so than Scarlett O'Hara and Rhet Butler, George and Mary Bailey are one of the most romantic couples on screen.
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Like It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street is rarely termed a romance, even though it should be. While the plot centres on the fate of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), the relationship between lawyer Fred Gailey (John Payne) and Macy's executive, divorcee Doris Walker, is an important part of the movie. Indeed, much of what makes the movie so effective is watching their relationship develop. And the relationship between Mr. Gailey and Miss Walker is a realistic one, in which the two do not always see eye to eye and even argue. It is the fact that Doris Walker is an intelligent, independent, strong willed woman that makes the relationship so effective and makes her feelings for Fred Gailey seem all the more realistic. Although Miracle on 34th Street is not strictly speaking a romantic comedy, it is much more romantic than many so-called romantic comedies.