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Romantic movies are not often the most visually inventive. Driven essentially by character, plot and dialogue, the photography tends to handsomely support rather than command the narrative. Still, the greatest love stories can generate images that live forever in our memories. Valentine's Day seems like a good occasion to revisit a few favorites.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert fell in love in front of a movie camera, and every frame of them together seems to radiate their intensity. The image above, from Flesh and the Devil, captures the rapture.


Casablanca never drifts far from your memory. The love affair of Rick and Elsa reaches its peak on the foggy tarmac, Humphrey Bogart wistfully whispering to Ingrid Bergman about "always having Paris...."

Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing. The story of Johnny and Baby is like a Ronettes tune come to life, but Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey do make a cute couple, especially as he teaches her to Rhumba in rhehearsal.


For a mediocre actor, Patrick Swayze could certainly create a compelling image of love. In Ghost, he and Demi Moore take a pottery wheel to places that it has been before.

Gone with the Wind

Worn and faded like a treasured photograph, the image of Rhett and Scarlet finally moving from feuding to embracing in Gone with the Wind is a cliche that holds its power. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh created cinema's most potent image of love.


Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have both matured into fine actors, but in Titanic its their youthful exuberance that matters. Their interpretation of a hood ornament has become the current generation's iconic image of love.

Out of Africa

Can a continent be an aphrodisiac? Out of Africa teams Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in the prime of their careers. The movie is unerringly romantic, if you can ignore the rampant colonialism.

City Lights

City Lights. The little tramp realizing that the blind flower girl he adores can finally see him is one of my favorite moments in cinema. Charlie Chaplin's acting is sublime. Virginia Cherrill is the flower girl.

An Affair to Remember

Sometimes the tallest building in the world is just the tallest building in the world. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr go for the tearducts in An Affair to Remember.

Say Anything

Not really a great movie, John Cusack nonetheless created one of our most enduring romantic images in Say Anything with just a boombox and a Peter Gabriel tune.

Jerry Maguire
"You had me at hello." Its the dialogue that makes the image resonate in Jerry Maguire when Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger surrender to love.

Lady and the Tramp

The title characters share a strand of spaghetti and their hearts in Lady and the Tramp.


Love. Obsession. Death. What's the difference? Alfred Hitchcock tortures everyone's notion of romantic love in the dark, insightful Vertigo. James Stewart plays the fool trapped by his own obsessions. Kim Novak is the dream, and the woman he can't see for the dream.

Originally posted to Seriously Seeking Cinema on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 02:01 PM PST.

Also republished by Electronic America: Progressives Film, music & Arts Group.

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