Most vintage films tend to end with uncovering the murderer, two people we assume are going to get married – or they’re about cowboys. I have zero interest in westerns (except, of course, for the clothes) and usually marriage isn’t all that exciting. (Including my own. I would not use the word ‘exciting’. A jolly symbiosis, yes, but in no way watchable.) But classic movies have supplied us with several good movies spotlighting a married couple. Some are funny, some insightful, and more than one include a chimpanzee. All are cheerfully watchable.
We’re all locked up with our mates, and I hear tell some of us want to split their better halves in half with some sort of hatchet-like tool. So as a classic movie know-it-all, here are some classic movies with which you and your partner can cuddle up and enjoy. (And please do add in the comments those I didn’t include.)
The Thin Man (1934)
Nick and Nora Charles have THE model marriage. Their love, mutual respect, cool and fun-loving ways were a revelation to 1930s audiences. The film of Dashiell Hammet’s book, The Thin Man (btw, the man is the first murder victim, not Nick Charles) was a huge surprise hit. Its success made for multiple follow-ups for over a decade. Nick Charles is a detective by way of skill, not profession. His “real” job is looking after his rich wife’s money, making for a recurring joke between the two. Nick and Nora’s life consists of gadding about with their terrier Asta, looking glamorous, and drinking. (Nick’s consumption of alcohol is awe-inspiring. How he can be upright, much less identify the murderer, is the real mystery in these films.) Their baby’s arrival in Another Thin Man (1939) puts absolutely no dent in their gadding or drinking – thank God. My favorites in the Thin Man series include the original and the following two – including a very young James Stewart in After the Thin Man (1936) – but Nick and Nora’s relationship never disappoints.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Fantastic performances by Elizabeth Taylor (Oscar-winner) and Richard Burton bring this Edward Albee play to life. Funny, moving, upsetting – it’s got it all. If I had to pick two movies about marriage, I’d probably pick The Thin Man and this one.
Love Crazy (1941)
Much of the credit for the model marriage in the Thin Man series goes to its leads, William Powell and Myrna Loy. They are cool charm personified, so it’s no surprise that M-G-M put them together in movies in addition to the Thin Man franchise. (They made fourteen films together.) William and Myrna are married in all of these films, and the qualities that made audiences love this evenly-matched pair as Nick and Nora Charles shine in their other comedies as well. I love Love Crazy because it lets William Powell do what he does best – be William Powell – and ardent love between the two is genuinely romantic. I also love their teaming up together in I Love You Again (1940). Their marriage has a snag due to William having two totally separate identities, only one of which appeals to Myrna, but (spoiler alert!) somehow everything works out in the end.
Blithe Spirit (1945)
Whenever I see a woman who would be a particularly bad match for my husband, I say, “That’s your next wife”. It’s kind of a hobby of mine. So I fully expect to haunt my husband and mock him and his next wife from the afterlife. Is it any wonder that I like this movie? Besides, it’s written by Noel Coward (whom I adore) and features Margaret Rutherford (whom I also adore). And I hope to have that cool green make-up in the afterlife, or at least that wardrobe.
My Favorite Wife (1940)
If I were a man, the only one I’d rather be than William Powell is Cary Grant. Though I have to say, being married to someone as effing handsome and charming as Cary would be just too stressful for me. I couldn’t take it. But I don’t have to take it, Irene Dunne done it for me. In My Favorite Wife Cary thinks Irene is lost in a shipwreck but years later, on the very day of his wedding to the bitchy Gail Patrick, the rescued Irene pops up. Awkward! The look on his face when he sees Irene tells us that it’s a total “Bye, Felicia!” for Gail. (They made her bitchy so we’re not supposed to feel bad for her, but I still do. (So what she got them matching leopard robes? They’re cute!) Cary finds out Irene wasn’t alone on that island; turns out muscular Randolph Scott was with her all those years. Awkward! (Fun fact: Randolph was Cary’s real-life roommate for several years. You do the math.) Grant and Dunne are also married and hilarious in an earlier film, The Awful Truth (1937). They’re supposedly trying to get divorced during most of the movie, but they still make for one cute couple.
Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Right before making his classic All About Eve, Joseph Mankiewicz made another great all-star movie with lots of wonderful characters (one of whom we never see). As the title suggests, we get to see three marriages and the challenges each wife faces. Linda Darnell is pretty damn dame-y in the picture, as is catty letter-writing Addie Ross. And the movie sports two Hall of Dame all-stars, Ann Sothern and Thelma Ritter. If you like All About Eve’s intelligence, insight and witty banter, I highly recommend this one!
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Since Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are both so supernaturally charming AF, it’s only natural they’d be cast together. They play the Blandings’ and their marriage has to survive both home renovation and tension over Melvyn Douglas. (Another guy I’d like to be. He is the coolest – great comedic chops. He should have been a bigger star.) Anyone who’s gone through any sort of home reno can relate to this classic.
Life With Father (1947)
This classic was originally a short story and then a very successful play. (The Broadway production ran for 3,224 performances over 401 weeks to become the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway, a record that still holds.) Clarence Day (William Powell), the father in question, is the prototypical patriarch, and his wife (Irene Dunne) seems to be the only one who knows how to get him to yield. They’re a very loving couple, despite his tyranny and her canny subversion. (The Technicolor production includes a very young Elizabeth Taylor.)
Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
Ok, they’re not technically married, but function as a married couple, and eventually have a child, whom they imaginatively name “Boy”. Despite his Olympic swimmer physique, Tarzan is so the bottom, and Jane is a kind of annoying top, but I’m a sucker for movies where people can talk to animals.
I recently saw this film and was surprised to find it to be a such a moving, mature movie about marriage. Clark Gable is a doctor married to Anne Baxter, and things get complicated when he’s away at war working with nurse Lana Turner. (Me, the very day Lana Turner came along I would just throw in the towel and never look back. Just saying, I would cave easily in the face of a Lana or Ava.)
Monkey Business (1952)
Cary Grant is married to Ginger Rogers. He invents a youth serum that makes you think you’re a teenager again. Hilarity ensues. (Also, a very early Marilyn Monroe movie.)
Designing Woman (1957)
Gregory Peck meets Lauren Bacall and after a day or two they get married. Hilarity ensues. The best part of this movie, as far as I’m concerned, is Lauren Bacall’s apartment. Personally, I don’t find Gregory Peck or Lauren Bacall very good at comedy. Not sure what it is. Maybe some people have it and some people don’t. Same with Paul Newman in his early comedies. I’m not sure what Rock Hudson and Doris Day do that Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall don’t, but it’s really obvious. But hey, if I were Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall, I wouldn’t let it bother me. After all, you’re effin Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall, for chrissake.