romanceRomance is in the air, as Warner Brothers releases another large collection commemorating the studios 90th Anniversary. This time around it’s the Best of Warner Brothers 20 Film Collection Romances. Spanning the years 1938 through 2008, this new collection is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of overall quality. There are some genuine classics, essentials to any film collection, there are a few box office smashes that deserve the recognition this collection gives them, and then there are a couple of head-scratchers.

The first two sets (1938-1942 and 1950-1965) are near flawless. They include such landmark films as Gone with the Wind (1939) the epic of all epic films that won Best Picture and features one of the greatest on screen romances of all time; Casablanca (1942), one of the greatest films ever, and Mrs. Miniver (1942) an uplifting war time film that features a splendid star performance by Greer Garson. If you were to get just those three films, you’d have the makings of a swell collection (and some swaying hearts, too). But wait, there’s more!

Three silver screen legends star in the classic, The Philadelphia Story. Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart are directed by George Cukor in one of the most beloved romantic comedies ever. Voted one of the top 100 American Films of All Time, The Philadelphia Story is the model for most contemporary rom coms.

Annie Get Your Gun is a fun musical starring Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley. It features a score by Irving Berlin and co-stars Frank Butler. It’s one of those rare movies that has singing stars and proves that you can get your man and have your gun, too!

What I liked about this romance collection is the inclusion of three dark romantic stories, including A Streetcar Named Desire. Presented in director Elia Kazan’s original version, the film takes Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece and turns it into an acting showcase for Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. Watching the film in the 21st Century, it’s hard to see why the Hollywood censors cut any of the film. But in 1951, the sexual tension between Brando’s Stanley and Leigh’s Blanche was too hot to handle.

Likewise, the supposed homosexuality of Brick in Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is never referred to in the movie version. Having to work around 1950s intolerance, director Richard Brooks still made a searing drama about the deterioration of a marriage and the frayed relationship between a father and son. Elizabeth Taylor spars with Paul Newman in one of his greatest screen performances.

James Dean has one of the most influential roles in cinema history, as Jim in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause. Playing the rebellious new guy at high school, Dean mesmerizes as a lonely, frustrated and pissed off kid trying to cope with growing up. He befriends Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo) and together they experience life and tragedy in the 1950s. Rebel may seem quaint at times, but it still packs an emotional punch that many films lack.

Rounding out the tragic quartet is Splendor in the Grass, Elia Kazan’s (did that guy ever direct a happy motion picture?) tragedy inspired by a true story from screenwriter William Inge’s youth. Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty in his screen debut) are teenagers in love during the 1920s. Their desire conflicts with the standards of the era and it pushes the two lovebirds to ruin. This is a gripping, devastating drama that I’m glad to see a part of this collection.

After working through so many great films in the first two sets (others include Bette Davis and Henry Fonda in Jezebel; Davis again in the melodrama, Now, Voyager, and David Lean’s Russian romance, Doctor. Zhivago), you get to the third set and the content quality begins to taper. I don’t have a problem with A Touch of Class or The Goodbye Girl. Both are serviceable romantic films and have strong performances. A Star is Born? I’m still trying to figure out how that movie became so huge. Such is the power of Barbra Streisand. Likewise, I wonder if The Bodyguard (an atrocious movie) would’ve been so successful if Whitney Houston wasn’t in it.

The third set does include You’ve Got Mail, the Nora Ephron directed, Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan remake of The Little Shop Around the Corner. Although not as strong as their previous collaboration (Sleepless in Seattle), You’ve Got Mail still contains enough charm and lightness for a Sunday afternoon. Two Weeks Notice is a great rom com starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. These two are so comfortable on screen together I wish they’d make a couple more films with each other. They’re naturals in the rom com genre!

The third set limps to a finish with the Bullock/Keanu Reeves weep fest, The Lake House and Nights in Rodanthe. The latter film, a reteaming of Richard Gere and Diane Lane (who were excellent in Unfaithful) is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. I think that’s all you need to know.

As with the previous WB 20 film collections, all of the DVDs are previously released versions of the movies. Therefore, if you already own any of them on DVD, the print quality and the special features are not new. For the average collector, this is a great deal. True, there are some stinkers, but the excellence of the others make it a worthwhile investment.

Here is a complete list of the films included:

1.    Jezebel (1938)

2.    Gone with the Wind (1939)

3.    The Philadelphia Story (1940)

4.    Casablanca (1942)

5.    Mrs. Miniver (1942)

6.    Now, Voyager (1942)

7.    Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

8.    A Streetcar Named Desire: The Original Director’s Version (1951)

9.    Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

10.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  (1958)

11.  Splendor in the Grass (1961)

12.  Doctor Zhivago  (1965)

13.  A Touch of Class  (1973)

14.  A Star Is Born (1976)

15.  The Goodbye Girl (1977)

16.  The Bodyguard (1992)

17.  You’ve Got Mail (1998)

18.  Two Weeks Notice (2002)

19.  The Lake House (2006)

20.  Nights in Rodanthe (2008)

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