Nearly every movie with good guys and bad guys has some kind of romance in it. It’s just good marketing to give everyone something to like.
But to talk a woman into watching, say, Anchorman as a romantic comedy is like women telling men The Notebook is a war movie.
Some movies, complete with action, suspense, war, and violence. really are about a man’s pursuit or protection of the love of his life. It’s a win-win guys; if you need to use the romance line to sell it, you won’t be exposed when it’s over.
As varied as these movies are, there is no sense ranking them, so they are in alphabetical order.
The African Queen
One of Bogart’s greatest roles is against type as a broken-down steamboat captain who is henpecked by spinster missionary Katharine Hepburn into turning his boat into a giant torpedo to sink a German gunboat in WWI Africa. They bicker their way down the river until they fall in love—and discover a greater purpose in life.
The only list of Romantic Anything this film doesn’t belong on is romantic comedy—though even then, Bogart, Greenstreet and Rains have better wisecracks than some of those, too.
Cary Grant at his most dashing and Audrey Hepburn at her most alluring, with a great cast of antagonists that includes Walter Matthau and James Coburn gallivanting across gorgeous European locales. If you didn’t look at the credits, you’d probably think this was a Hitchcock movie.
Everybody is after something Hepburn’s late husband secreted after the war. So is Grant, but he’s also after the girl.
At its heart, this is about a guy’s quest to win back his wife and reunite his family for Christmas. Sure, he rescues a skyscraper full of people from Euro-trash master thief Hans Gruber and crew. But do you really think he would have stuck around instead of letting SWAT handle it if his wife wasn’t one of the hostages?
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
Manly Marine Robert Mitchum is marooned on a desert island with the world’s hottest nun, Deborah Kerr—and a bunch of Japanese soldiers. Will she trade in her current vows for some new ones? A terrific romantic and sexy war movie, which I probably should have included in my Worst Movie Titles list.
This vastly underrated Western from possibly Louis L’Amour’s best book was unseen for decades because of copyright problems and the need to convert it from 3-D.
The great Geraldine Page made her screen debut opposite John Wayne in this very sweet romance about two intensely lonely people who meet in the middle of an Apache uprising. Few films about the frontier have captured the isolation the way this one did.
Wayne happens upon a woman and child who have been abandoned by her cowardly husband, and pretends to be her husband to the local Apaches, not knowing that her real husband is a man he has killed.
But the plot isn’t the thing. This is an actor’s film, and refutation to anyone who thinks the Duke couldn’t.
The Last of the Mohicans
While I think Mark Twain was right about the wretchedness of James Fenimore Cooper’s writing in general, in The Last of the Mohicans, Michael Mann took the heart of the story that had captured readers for generations and made an intensely romantic historical adventure that provides thrills in great measure.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Other than Rio Bravo, all of my favorite John Wayne movies feature his dark side. In this one, Wayne plays a loner, who for the love of Vera Miles, makes James Stewart into the town hero. John Ford’s masterpiece is also a rumination on politics and journalism, and the price of civilization. But its romantic core gives it a tragic heart.
American spymaster Cary Grant recruits party girl Ingrid Bergman to ingratiate herself with Claude Rains, a Nazi refugee in post-war Rio, in order to foil a plot involving nuclear material. Grant’s judgmentalism turns from contempt to admiration, and finally to love as they work together. But the mission depends on Grant being successful in keeping her in the arms of another man.
Hitchcock turns up the sexual heat and suspense in equal measure in this classic—which yes, was the inspiration for Mission Impossible 2.
If you’re going to be immobilized in a cast and wheelchair observing a homicidal maniac removing his wife in pieces across the alley, you might as well have Grace Kelly throwing herself at you in the sexiest housecoats the Hollywood ’50s can design. Aside from that maniac thing, it’s almost a desert island fantasy for James Stewart.
Arguably Hitchcock’s best film, suspenseful, romantic, and sexy. All movies are voyeurism to a degree; this one sets the standard for exploring it.
Unlike the more celebrated (and inferior) Braveheart, this story of a Scottish rebel is fueled less by revenge, injustice, and nationalism than by a man driven to protect his family—and most of all, his wife.
Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange generate incredible chemistry as Mr. and Mrs. Roy, and are as perfect a picture of an ideal married couple as movies are likely to produce– lusty for each other, and wise and caring parents, besides. And Rob’s lecture to his sons on how and when to stand up for themselves and their responsibilities as men is only equaled by Chris Kyle’s father’s “sheepdog” lesson in American Sniper.
Thief is basically a more personal precursor to Michael Mann’s epic magnum opus, Heat, without the good guy half. This is billed as a thriller about a professional thief (James Caan) who is doing one last big job, so he can get free of the Mob. But his real motivation is that he wants one last score, so he can run off with a waitress (Laura Lee Hope) and lead a normal picket fence life. This movie is intense and poignant with great performances.
The movie that made Hollywood take Harrison Ford seriously as an actor, and made us think for a minute that an ideally cast Kelly McGillis might actually be one. This story of a cop hiding out from killers among the Amish explores the limits of pacifism and passion and is intensely romantic.
Witness was so extremely well done that just about everybody overlooked that it is basically a twist on John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman, in which a Quaker girl nurses a notorious gunfighter back to health until his past catches up. Both movies are worth your while.