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The Moviegoer: Bad Love, An Anti-Valentine's Day Movie List
If you scour the Internet this week, I'm sure you'll find plenty of lists of "great romantic movies" to watch on Valentine's Day with your significant other. I could very easily do the same thing, but I decided to do something different. How about a list of movies where love goes south, or where one (or more) of the participants ends up in a bad way? For lack of a better term, I will call them “Bad Love” films. Here are a few examples that you and your partner can watch while snuggling on the couch (and don't forget the chocolate!)
- Leave Her To Heaven (1945, director: John M. Stahl). A gorgeously shot Technicolor film noir in which Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) falls for and marries Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) because he resembles her recently deceased father to whom she was unhealthily attached. Her insane jealousy causes her to eliminate anyone standing in between them. Glenn Close was similarly obsessed in Fatal Attraction, but Leave Her To Heaven is by far the better film.
- Blue Valentine (2010, director: Derek Cianfrance). The dissolution of a marriage is shown through various time shifts and flashbacks. Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet, Cindy becomes pregnant (not Dean’s baby), Dean doesn’t care because he just wants a family, they move to rural Pennsylvania where things then begin to unravel. And then Cindy’s ex-boyfriend Bobby appears—which doesn’t help the situation. A sad, sad, sad movie.
- The Blue Angel (1930, director: Josef von Sternberg). In which Marlene Dietrich (as Lola-Lola) gets the better of Emil Jannings (Professor Rath) both in the storyline and in front of the camera. In short, Professor Rath goes to “The Blue Angel” a notorious cabaret frequented by his students, for the sole purpose of telling Lola-Lola to leave his students alone. Needless to say, Rath becomes infatuated with Lola himself and resigns his teaching position to marry her. Several years later, Lola has become tired of her husband and he is forced to debase himself crowing like a chicken on stage. The plot doesn’t quite fit my criteria as Lola doesn’t really love Rath, but the relationship is so deliciously acerbic and squirm-inducing that I couldn’t resist adding it.
- Amour Fou (2014, director: Jessica Hausner). Based on a true story, this Austrian period drama examines the relationship that develops between Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnöink) and poet Hienrich von Kleist (Christian Friedel). Kleist is searching for that perfect someone—not someone to live the rest of his life with—but that one special person who is willing to die with him. Henriette initially rebuffs his advances, but after she is diagnosed with a fatal tumor, she reconsiders her initial decision. The film is gorgeously shot in a series of tableaus that were inspired by the paintings of Vermeer.
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946, director: Tay Garnett). Based on James M. Cain’s terrifically hard-boiled novel of the same name, the film opens with drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) stopping at a highway diner and being hired by owners Nick and Cora Smith (Cecil Kellaway and Lana Turner). Frank and Cora soon begin having an affair and plot to kill Nick so that they start their wonderful new life together. Of course things don’t quite work out the way they planned and their criminal act (and the secret they both share) begins to eat away at their love and they eventually turn on one another.
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, director: Mike Nichols). George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) invite young couple Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) over for some drinks. Over the course of the evening, George and Martha introduce games that are emotionally hurtful to one or more of the various participants. Based on the Edward Albee play, this film is a particularly difficult film to watch as any love that existed in George and Martha’s relationship has disappeared long again only to be replaced by a bitter feeling of disappointment and unrealized dreams. The cast is stellar.
- Modern Romance (1981, director: Albert Brooks). This film came out four years before Brooks’ masterpiece Lost In America, but it is easily the second best movie Albert Brooks ever made. Film editor Robert Cole (Brooks) has an on-again/off-again relationship with Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold). When they are together, it’s not working so they break up. But then Robert can’t stop thinking about Mary, so he tries to get back together and really make it work. So they reconnect, and then the whole cycle starts all over again. A wonderfully droll take on modern relationships with the added treat of having George Kennedy playing himself acting in a z-grade science fiction movie.
- Anna Karenina (1967, director: Aleksandr Zarkhi). There have been many filmed versions of Tolstoy’s doomed love tragedy, but if you haven’t seen this classic Soviet version, it’s worth watching, if only for Tatiana Samoilova's performance in the title role. (You may remember her from the better known 1957 film The Cranes Are Flying. Picasso was apparently a big fan of hers, and was purported to have said “It is easy to drown in the eyes of this Russian goddess.”)