It’s Valentine’s Day, an annual Hallmark-driven time to express love and affection which is all well and good if you’re into that sort of thing. Personally, I’ll pass on going nuts with a card, flowers, candy and a nice dinner out on Feb. 14 for my wife and simply keep telling her I love her every day. It’s worked for about 10 years and I’ll stick to it until it fails miserably.
But even though I’m not an active participant in Valentine’s Day I’m not going to rail against it. Love is obviously a tremendously worthwhile sentiment. Like I tell my wife all the time, I love love – even when it’s been nauseatingly commercialized into Valentine’s Day. I’m such a fan of love that I even tipped my hat to Valentine’s Day on Facebook in my own odd way by sharing an amusing Jean-Claude Van Damme clip with the world.
But I was a lot more amused by the Facebook tributes to Valentine’s Day when my friend pointed out on his timeline that TCM was currently running “Days of Wine and Roses.” It’s a great movie but it’s a thoroughly heartbreaking look at booze-soaked love gone terribly wrong.
The whole thing got me thinking that there should be a movie marathon for all the lonely hearts out there and the people who embrace love but roll their eyes at the sappy nature of Valentine’s Day.
So, without further ado, here are my top films for the Love Stinks Movie Marathon:
“Days of Wine and Roses”
I already mentioned this movie as the jumping point for this thoroughly unromantic post. Alcoholism and love don’t mix very well for Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in this classic film. Note to all the sweet, young female teetotalers out there: Watch this movie and forever beware the dangers of Brandy Alexanders.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
We go from booze and a marriage gone bad in “Days of Wine and Roses” to … well, more booze and another marriage gone bad in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This time it’s Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor watching their relationship take a turn for the worse in this Mike Nichols-directed movie. Note to self: If the wife and I ever become raging alcoholics it may make for a powerful movie but a horrible relationship.
“Play Misty for Me” and “The Beguiled“
I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan so I’m wedging two of his films into this anti-Valentine’s Day group of movies.
In “Play Misty for Me” Eastwood’s character is a playboy disc jockey who falls into bed with the wrong woman. If Eastwood’s character thought he could just love Jessica Walters’ character and leave her he was terribly wrong.
In “The Beguilded” Eastwood plays an injured Civil War soldier who hides out at a girls boarding school only to be undone by his own lust as he sleeps his way through the joint.
Both movies came out in 1971 which makes it the year of big-screen love gone wrong for the former mayor of Carmel. Eastwood had a far easier time dealing with cutthroat criminals in the “Dirty Harry” films than he did dealing with women in “Play Misty for Me” and “The Beguiled.”
“Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct”
I guess some men just love crazy women. Michael Douglas has the bad judgement to jump in bed with psycho Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” and the equally crazy Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” with death and mayhem breaking out after each set of passionate, ill-advised encounters. Douglas could send Close and Stone an endless amount of Valentine’s Day flowers and it would never bring an end to the bunny boiling and icepick killings.
“Dial M for Murder”
If I was married to Grace Kelly back in her heyday I’d thank my lucky stars. But Ray Milland’s character in “Dial M for Murder?” Not so much. He’s out to kill the poor girl for her money. Hallmark wants to sell us on the idea that Valentine’s Day is all warm and fuzzy but sometimes love is just a crock which is what Kelly’s character learns the hard way in this memorable Alfred Hitchcock production.
Congratulations Mike Nichols, you managed to direct two movies on this list.
One the one hand, you can look at “The Graduate” and say that love reigns supreme because the characters played by Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross end up with each other at the end of the movie. Personally, I see a hot mess. Hoffman spends most of the movie boffing Anne Bancroft and then crashes a wedding to the chagrin of almost everyone in attendance to get Ross back. Sure, they love each other enough to hop into the back of a bus together while Simon and Garfunkle play us into the end credits but I see a young relationship already burdened by a series of bad decisions with a gloomy forecast for longterm success. At a bare minimum, “The Graduate” spits in the eye of a sappy Valentine’s Day notion of love and romance being picture perfect.
“The War of the Roses”
Look who’s back on this list? It’s Michael Douglas! This time he’s starring as a man watching his marriage to Kathleen Turner go down in flames. They seemed so darn sweet together in “Romancing the Stone” it just breaks my heart to see them at each other’s throats in this movie. When love dies it ain’t pretty as this black comedy directed by Danny DeVito goes over the top to illustrate.
“Leaving Las Vegas”
Well, here we go again with booze and love combining to make one big mess for everyone involved. In “Leaving Las Vegas” Nic Cage is a self-destructive alcoholic who’s lost his family and job due to his addiction and Elisabeth Shue is a hooker with a heart of gold who falls in love with the big lug despite his obvious flaws. The only time this cute couple enjoys a moment of intimacy is in a dark, flea-bag hotel as Cage’s character is in the throes of death. Isn’t that romantic? Does Hallmark make a card for that? Nah, probably not. Things turned out so much better for Cage when he was in Sin City in “Honeymoon in Vegas.”
You have to assume that when Diane Lane’s and Richard Gere’s characters in “Unfaithful” exchanged wedding vows they thought they’d live happily ever after and the “better or worse” part of the equation wouldn’t involve adultery, murder and jail. But that’s how it pans out in this rather depressing flick. I’d hate to see what Valentine’s Day looked like for these characters in the years following the conclusion of this movie.
“The Grifters” and “The Ice Harvest”
My wife claims that I have a man-crush on John Cusack but I’m just a longtime fan of the man’s work. For the sake of this post, Cusack makes it into one slot on this list because love runs through so much of his filmography. His early career was marked with rom-com’s such as “Better Off Dead” and “The Sure Thing.” As his career matured he shined in “Say Anything” and peaked in “High Fidelity.” In those movies, love eventually conquers all. But in Cusack’s mid-career films “The Grifters” and “The Ice Harvest” love stinks to high heaven.
In “The Grifters” Cusack’s girlfriend is just trying to manipulate him into working a long con and she eventually sets her sights on killing his mother. Charming. As for his mom, Cusack’s character was a weird relationship with her which is fraught with sexual tension that eventually leads to a tragic end for everyone involved.
In “The Ice Harvest” Cusack plays a sad-sack lawyer incompetently trying to make off with a pile of mob money while attempting to win the affection of a femme fatale. She’s bad news but I guess she wouldn’t be much of a femme fatale if she was all sunshine and rainbows now would she? Cusack’s character is also burdened with a frosty ex-wife who not only cheated on him with their divorce lawyer but she eventually married the guy. Just for kicks, she’s now ruthlessly crushing the divorce lawyer’s soul too.
No matter where Cusack turns in these movies, he’s looking for love in all the wrong places with dismal returns on his emotional investments.
Honorable mentions: “Taxi Driver,” “The Last Seduction,” “Red Rock West,” “Romeo is Bleeding,” “Kill Me Again.”
So there you have it, a celluloid celebration of how love can sometimes be nothing at all like the sappy, commercialized version of amore shoved down our throats every year on Valentine’s Day.
Cue up some of these movies tonight, curl up on the couch with the one you love and enjoy the fact that while the relationship you’re enjoying may not always be the stuff of cheesy Valentine’s Day cards at least it’s never as bad as it is for the characters in these films.