Before you read this column, I would suggest reading its companion piece, “The Best Romantic Films of All Time,” to get a sense of what guided me in writing this piece. I was interested to note that out of curiosity, after I wrote the first piece and started this one, when I visited YouTube.com to look for the most romantic scenes ever filmed, the videos were mostly scenes of two young lovers about to kiss. Many of the scenes came from movies of the last ten to twenty years, when romance has devolved into exactly how long it will be before two people go to bed with each other. As you might guess if you’ve read the first piece, I believe there’s a hell of a lot more to romance than that. One warning: half of the scenes listed here are found in the best romantic films listed in the first piece.
10. Laurence Olivier’s speech to Cathy from Wuthering Heights. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, it’s Olivier and a great speech, as he holds the dead Cathy’s hand, and Olivier made himself an international star when he delivered it. The only reason that the scene isn’t higher up on the list is that the scene, from a romantic point of view, is rather one-sided; Cathy can’t exactly respond. But the majesty and power of Olivier is worth any price of admission.
9. Robin Williams trying desperately to convince his wife, Annabella Sciorra, to leave Hell at the end of What Dreams May Come. It’s a beautifully written scene, and as I stated in the first piece, its universal message that to love means to literally share another’s suffering is one of the most powerful (indeed, possibly the most powerful) messages on film. The two leads are wonderful, and the use of flashbacks is extraordinarily well done.
8. Again, a choice from one of the films listed as the best: the scene from Truly, Madly, Deeply where Juliet Stevenson is playing the piano and suddenly realizes that her dead lover, Alan Rickman, has returned to her, then rushes into his arms. Not a word from either actor, just an embrace and the cries from Stevenson that are the kind of leaving-it-all-on-the floor acting that is simply mesmerizing. Often, when I watch Stevenson here, it reminds me of the scene from the Broadway version of Dreamgirls where Jennifer Holliday sang “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” one of those extremely rare times where you just know the actor has left everything behind but the truth of what she’s playing and you forget there’s acting going on. An extraordinary moment.
7. This is actually a montage, not technically a scene, but I have to include it because along with everyone I spoke with about it, there was unanimous agreement that this was an amazing thing: an animated film that had you crying in the first ten minutes. I’m speaking, of course, of the first montage in Up, which depicts the various stages of Carl and Ellie’s life as they travel from childhood to her death. If you had told me that an animated film would have me crying that hard, I would have told you that you were smoking something, but I did, and millions of others did, and it may be a long time until another animated film reaches that depth of feeling again.
6. Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, in The Adventures of Robin Hood. This scene, where Robin has climbed up to Marian’s window, is the epitome of the romantic love of the classic adventure film, and there was genuine feeling on both sides. As De Havilland finally admitted, “Yes, we did fall in love and I believe that this is evident in the screen chemistry between us. But his circumstances at the time prevented the relationship going further. I have not talked about it a great deal but the relationship was not consummated. Chemistry was there though. It was there.” You bet it was.
5. Jimmy Stewart telling Donna Reed, that if she wants the moon, he’ll get it for her, in It’s A Wonderful Life. The look on Reed’s face when Stewart asks her what she wants is priceless; she’s just waiting for him to kiss her, and Stewart is so oblivious that the older man sitting on the porch has to openly chastise him and call out, “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death!” It’s funny, charming, sweet, and as American as apple pie. There are a few romantic scenes between the two during the movie, of course, including the final redemption scene where she welcomes him home with tears on her face; I just chose this one because he’s so passionate and she is patiently waiting for him to figure things out. It’s a classic boy-girl moment in one of the greatest films ever made.
4. The last scene in Robin and Marian, where Marian tells Robin exactly how much she loves him. Audrey Hepburn truly breaks your heart here, with Connery, bewildered by what has happened, lying stunned on the bed near to her while the great Nicol Williamson watches in horror as the two people he loves most leave him. I wrote about it in the first piece, and there’s not much more I could write. It hits me as hard now as when I saw it with my wife 38 years ago.
3. The Ferris wheel scene from East of Eden. James Dean and Julie Harris, unaware that they love each other, fumble their way toward truth as the plaintive score by Leonard Rosenman hauntingly underscores their growing realization, even though Harris protests weakly that it’s really Dean’s brother that she loves. But the musical theme, (my favorite ever) gives the show away; it is really Dean she loves in response to his love for her, and both actors are perfect. As Dean kisses her and the theme comes hesitantly into the picture, it’s an ephemeral tender moment that may be unrivaled in its fragility.
2. The final scene from An Affair To Remember. This is an astonishing scene if only for the fact that it is roughly eight minutes long, and the tension builds inexorably until the shattering moment when Cary Grant walks through the doorway, sees the painting, and realizes what happened to Deborah Kerr. What is fascinating to me is that during the entire film, we enjoy the interplay between the two, and although we know exactly what went wrong, Leo McCarey, the director, masterfully keeps us from the delicate point where our emotions surge forth until the very end, when Grant closes his eyes, the music swells, and all the viewers of this film for the last fifty-odd years come apart at the seams. The score, by Hugo Friedhofer, (who, by the way, also underscored scene #1) is one of the greatest cues I’ve ever heard; how he builds the tension musically is worthy of an article by itself. This scene is justifiably immortal.
1. Harold Russell and Cathy O’Donnell in The Best Years of Our Lives. I wrote in the first piece that this was my favorite romantic scene ever, so that’s no surprise. The combination of young love, her nobility, his fear that he will forever be a burden; all of these bound together have an impact that for me is unsurpassed. I won’t belabor the point; watch the movie and the scene and then see how you feel.