Valentine's Day movies that make us fools for love

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally. Picture: Supplied
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally. Picture: Supplied

February 14 is, of course, Saint Valentine's Day, one of the two saints' days widely known and celebrated in Australia, along with Saint Patrick's Day. While the latter is associated with drinking and the former with romance, the two activities could go together, as they do in some, but not all, of the movies associated with SVD (as we'll refer to it henceforth) or suitable for watching thereon.

There was a film titled Valentine's Day (2010) but it's a heartbreaker, and not in a good way. This was one of director Gary Marshall's insipid ensemble films set on particular days - New Year's Eve, Mother's Day. It wastes the talents of an impressive cast that includes Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper. The only reason to watch it would be so you and your significant other become bored and decide to do something more entertaining.

Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts in Valentine's Day. Picture: Supplied

Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts in Valentine's Day. Picture: Supplied

You might, for example, watch one of the better romantic comedies. Pursuing and declaring love can happen all year round, so there's no need to hunt for specifically Valentine's Day-themed movies.

William Shakespeare and Jane Austen were two writers whose works were precursors of the rom-com movie and many of their plays and novels, respectively, have been adapted into films. The 1968 film version of The Taming of the Shrew starred real-life couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and the story was rejigged for teenagers as 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Another real-life couple, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, starred in Much Ado About Nothing (1993).

The most popular of Jane Austen's comedies of marriage is Pride and Prejudice with the verbal sparring of Elizabeth and Darcy ending, inevitably, with them together. It has been adapted for the cinema several times - Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in 1940 and Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in 1995. And Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) borrowed many elements from it, as had Helen Fielding's novel (gotta love that public domain material).

Emma has also had multiple adaptations including one with Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996 as the meddling matchmaker and, adroitly modernised to take place in the world of wealthy LA teenagers, Clueless (1995).

Nostalgic movie buffs have plenty of choice, including romantic comedies with a dramatic streak like Love Affair (1939) starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer and its remake with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, An Affair to Remember (1957). Both were directed by Leo McCarey and the latter an inspiration for the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film Sleepless in Seattle (1993), a fun rom-com with a wonderful soundtrack of old songs.

There are the battle of the sexes comedies like Woman of the Year (1942) with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and Pillow Talk (1959) with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Moving back to more recent times, Love Actually is not just for Christmas, despite its setting. It's a much more successful attempt at a multistory romantic movie than the abovementioned VD.

If your tastes run to the bittersweet, another classic is Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977). It's not that hard to see why nice, if a little spacey, Annie (Diane Keaton) left the neurotic, somewhat patronising New Yorker Alvy Singer (Allen) though to be fair he was funny, as is the movie.

When Harry Met Sally... (1989) is another New York rom-com. It asks whether men and women can just be friends or whether, as Harry (Billy Crystal) asserts, sex always gets in the way. The ups and downs of his relationship with Sally (Meg Ryan, the rom-com queen of the era) are chronicled. It's (in)famous for the scene in which Sally loudly fakes having an orgasm in a deli to prove a point.

If you want to wallow in a romantic weepie, Love Story (1970) - written by Greek and Latin professor Eric Segal - was a big hit, though it might feel dated now.

One of the decidedly unromantic things associated with February 14 is the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. On that date in 1929, seven men including five from George "Bugs" Moran's North Side Gang - the main Irish mobsters - were shot in a Chicago garage. Suspicion fell on leading Italian gangster Al Capone but nobody was ever put on trial for the killings.

The event has been depicted or mentioned in a number of movies including (funnily enough) The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) and The Untouchables (1987). It was also depicted, more fictionalised, in the classic comedy Some Like It Hot (1959), providing a suitably serious motivation for the two male witnesses to dress in drag in order to join an all-woman band and skip town.

Mary Shelton and David Boreanaz in Valentine. Picture: Diyah Pera

Mary Shelton and David Boreanaz in Valentine. Picture: Diyah Pera

Horror can also be associated with Valentine's Day. as it is with other notable dates. We've had, for example, Halloween and April Fool's Day - and Valentine (2001) is in that tradition. It took a surprisingly long time for horror filmmakers to get to February 14 and the film is a thematically apt tale of death - here, kids treat another kid terribly and then years later the perpetrators are sent nasty Valentines, then killed by someone in a cherub mask.

The more luridly titled My Bloody Valentine (1981) - the title a nice play on the Rogers and Hart standard My Funny Valentine - is another story where something bad in the past leads to horror in the present. Twenty years earlier, there was a fatal mine accident after some of the workers left to attend the town's annual February 14 dance. The sole survivor, driven mad by the experience, warns the townsfolk not to hold the dance again. But, of course, eventually they do, and not all live to regret it. There was also a 2009 remake shot in 3D.

There's something to suit all Valentine's Day tastes.

This story Movies that make us fools for love first appeared on The Canberra Times.