A Valentine’s Day tribute to a lady who loves love stories

By M.V. Moorhead

My wife, who recently celebrated, if that's the word, her 13th year of putting up with me, loves to project a tough, serious, practical-minded image. But she's really got the soul of a romantic.

Among the ways this manifests itself is her connoisseurship of romantic movies. She loves love stories.

But she's not a pushover--a love story has to have imagination, wit, complexity and chemistry for it to become one of Debra's perennial favorites.

Her are a few of Debra's Valentine's picks, all of which are available either on DVD or VHS (musicals are excluded here as a separate category):

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)--Ernst Lubitsch's classic stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as anonymous pen pals who fall in love with each other while working alongside each other in the Budapest shop of the title. This was one of the finest hours for both of the leads, and the supporting cast, which includes the great Frank Morgan, is just as good. It was remade, rather anemically, for the computer age as You've Got Mail in 1998.

The Competition (1980)--Pompous egomaniacs need love, too. Romance blooms between two concert pianists, played by Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving, during a piano competition. He's threatened by her excellence, and she's tempted to throw the competition and let him win, much to the disgust of her dissapproving coach, Lee Remick. An intriguing, unfortunately forgotten little soaper.

Room With a View (1986)--This adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel is perhaps the best of the Merchant/Ivory period pieces; at any rate it's the sunniest and most lighthearted. It centers around the choice which the young heroine, Helena Bonham Carter, must make, poor girl, between suitors Daniel Day Lewis (stuffy and pretentious) and Julian Sands (ecstatic). Surrounding this triangle is a smashing ensemble of Brit character players, among them Maggie Smith, Simon Callow, Denholm Elliot and Judi Dench, to name only a few, all at their formidably droll best.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)--The box-office was huge. And deservedly so. Nora Ephron's script, ably directed by Rob Reiner, elegantly outlines the gradual process by which the two longtime friends of the title, expertly played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, turn into lovers. There are some classic bits of dialogue, and a score of romantic standards performed by Harry Connick, Jr., but Debra points out that this really works better as a New Year's Eve movie than as a Valentine's movie.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)--Shakespeare's peerless comedy of bickering lovers is enchantingly executed by adapter/director/star Kenneth Branagh and a cast of Brit and American heavyweights, wandering around paradisal Tuscan settings. Emma Thompson is the acid-tongued Lady Beatrice opposite Branagh's endearing Benedick, Denzel Washington is a first-rate Don Pedro and Michael Keaton is a riot as the officiously out-of-it Constable Dogberry. Keanu Reeves struggles a bit as the villainous Don John, but his role is too small to do any real damage. Branagh and Thompson's struggles with their feelings and clashes with each other are as accessibly funny as if they were written yesterday.

French Kiss (1995)-- This Meg Ryan vehicle has stayed in the shadow of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, but it's better than either of them, especially the latter. Meg chases her fiancé (Timothy Hutton) to Paris, where he's taken up with a sexy Frenchwoman, but along the way she falls in with an obnoxious, shady French guy, played by Kevin Kline, who insists that he will help her win the wayward fellow back. It's easy to guess what happens, but Ryan and Kline give performances of marvelous detail and comic precision, and the French atmosphere is ravishing.

This is my favorite of Debra's favorites.