Ever since I first saw Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the classic screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby I have loved romantic comedies. In fact, it is my favorite film genre. There is something about mixing humor with romance that I find entertaining and oh so relate-able.
Romantic comedies tend to be on a circular trend pattern. There are periods of time when they are very popular and other times where there is a dearth of available offerings. Sadly, we seem to be in one of those low points where there just aren’t that many good romantic comedies currently being made. Where is Nora Ephron, patron saint director of romcoms and Meg Ryan when you need them?
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One of the heydays for romantic comedies was in the late nineteen fifties and sixties. It was a time of cultural transition in America as well as a transitional time in American film. The old guard studio system was almost extinct, the darker more serious films of the 1940’s and 1950’s had run their course. Nobody quite knew what type of films to make and which types would be successful in a changing world. This led to some experimental films as well as a return to genres that had been successful in the past.
So, in came the lighter, funnier fare of the romantic comedy of the sixties. Stars such as Jack Lemmon, Debbie Reynolds, James Garner, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Rock Hudson, Sandra Dee, Tony Randall and Audrey Hepburn had great success during this time starring in these romcoms. Of course, the undisputed queen of the romantic comedy is Doris Day who arguably made more of these films than any other actor/actress of this time period.
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One of the consistent markers of the romantic comedy is the battle between the sexes. There was no better time to explore this, then during the sixties, as women’s roles continued to evolve and grow. I have compiled a list of films from the late 50’s and the 60’s which are some of the best romantic comedy films of their time.
LIST OF SIXTIES ROMANTIC COMEDIES
(In no particular order)
#1: THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962)
Stars: Cary Grant & Doris Day
Day plays an innocent virgin (when did she not?) who draws the attention of Grant’s wealthy businessman when she tries to stand up for herself. They begin a romance, but he is only interested in the short-term and she is holding out for marriage. Will his wealth and generosity sweep away her integrity or will he succumb to her accident-prone innocence?
#2: HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)
Stars: Peter O’Toole & Audrey Hepburn
Hepburn is the daughter of an expert art forger who mistakes an art investigator for an experienced burglar and convinces him to help her steal one of her father’s pieces from a museum display before anyone realizes it is a fake. Will these two amateurs pull off a sophisticated theft? Will she discover that the man who is helping her is the same man hired by the museum to inspect her father’s statue?
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#3: SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963)
Stars: Jane Fonda, Rod Taylor, and Cliff Robertson
Fonda’s character visits her playboy pilot brother in New York and tells him she believes her virginity is standing in the way of true love. While staying at her brother’s apartment she meets a stranger and is determined to seduce him. Problems ensue when her brother finds out and her ex-fiance shows up. Will this innocent manage a seduction of the stranger she is quickly falling for? Will her brother see the error of his ways when he witnesses his sister’s attempts to lose her innocence?
#4: BOYS NIGHT OUT (1962)
Stars: Kim Novak, James Garner, and perennial third wheel Tony Randall
Four men, three married and one single, agree to the shared arrangement of an apartment with a beautiful blonde in order to spice up their humdrum lives. But she doesn’t tell them that she is using them as a case study for a sociology class. Will she be able to retain her innocence in this shared arrangement? Will they learn that she is simply using them for her study paper?
#5: CHARADE (1963)
Stars: Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn
Hepburn is a widow who learns that her husband had stolen a fortune with four other men years ago and then double-crossed them and hid the money. Now, those men are after her thinking she has knows where the money is. Grant shows up as an ambiguous character who could be her hero or one of the villains. Will she learn where the money is hidden before one of them kills her? Can she trust Grant’s character who is constantly changing his name? Can I please have the Givenchy wardrobe she wears in this film?
#6: THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966)
Stars: Doris Day and Rod Taylor
Taylor plays the head of a scientific research laboratory who gets off on the wrong foot with Day’s perky widow who is also his employee. He decides to pursue her against the advice of his government collaborators who suspect she may be a Russian spy planted in the company to steal his latest invention. Will a brilliant scientist and his quirky opposite be able to trust each other and find common ground? Will I ever not laugh when watching this movie and its final chase scene?
#7: MCLINTOCK! (1963)
Stars: famous frequent co-stars and friends John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara
Wayne and O’Hara play the estranged McClintocks who worked together to settle the west and found a town, but who due to a misunderstanding are at odds with each other. When their daughter returns from college, Mrs. McClintock also returns home for her daughter and for a divorce. Will they be able to work out their differences? Will I ever settle my internal conflict between laughter and offense when McClintock spanks his recalcitrant wife in front of the whole town?
#8: IT HAPPENED TO JANE (1959)
Stars: Doris Day & Jack Lemmon
Day plays a widowed lobster “farmer” whose business is negatively impacted when a railroad delay ruins her lobster shipment to a nearby business. When they refuse to apologize or compensate her loss, she enlists the help of the longtime family friend, secret admirer and attorney Lemmon, to take the railroad to court in this David and Goliath tale. Will this “David” be able to defeat the deep-pockets of the railroad “Goliath”? And, will Lemmon’s lawyer ever work up the courage to tell his favorite lobster farmer how he feels? Will I ever not be moved by the rousing political speech Lemmon gives about American democracy?
#9: BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967)
Stars: Robert Redford & Jane Fonda
Redford and Fonda play newlyweds. He is conservative and responsible. She is adventurous and in pursuit of fun. Will they be able to overcome their differences to learn to live together? Has there ever been a more beautiful onscreen couple than Redford and Fonda?
#10: SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL (1964)
Stars: Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall & Henry Fonda
Curtis plays a tabloid reporter who pretends to be someone else in order to get an interview with Wood’s famous sex psychologist. Bacall and Fonda are Curtis’ next door neighbors with marriage and sex problems of their own. Will Curtis false identity be discovered? Is Wood’s single psychologist really qualified to counsel on such a topic?
#11: THE MATING GAME (1959)
Stars: Tony Randall & Debbie Reynolds
Randall is an uptight IRS agent sent to audit Reynold’s family who doesn’t believe in paying taxes. But when he meets their innocent and charming daughter, will he be able to separate business from pleasure?
#12: LOVER COME BACK (1961)
Stars: Rock Hudson & Doris Day
Hudson and Day play advertising salespeople who work for competing companies. He uses underhanded methods to secure contracts including accidentally airing a commercial for a product which doesn’t exist. Now he must create the product while she will do her best to steal the non-existent account. Who will win this advertising war? Can competitors become lovers?
#13: FITZWILLY (1967)
Stars: Dick Van Dyke & Barbara Feldon
Van Dyke plays the title character, a butler to an elderly heiress who doesn’t realize she is broke. Fitzwilly and the rest of her staff secretly carry out robberies in order to keep her in the manner to which she is accustomed. Feldon lands in this wacky household as a secretary to the heiress but begins to fall for the butler at the same time as she notices suspicious behavior. Will she expose the thieving yet good-hearted butler?
#14: MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT (1964)
Stars: Rock Hudson & Paula Prentice
Hudson is a fishing expert, who works in a sporting goods store and has written a best seller on the subject. The only problem is he has never actually been fishing. When his ignorant boss enters him in a fishing contest he must hire an expert to help him learn quickly. He ends up with Prentice, a female fisherman who has the daunting task of teaching this neophyte. Will he be able to learn the basics in time for the tournament? Will she run out of patience before he can learn enough to make him credible?
#15: THE HONEYMOON MACHINE (1961)
Stars: Steve McQueen
In a rare comedy role, McQueen is a navy lieutenant who, along with some friends, decides to use a classified naval computing machine to break the bank at a Venice casino. His plan is complicated by the fact that his commanding officer is staying at the same casino and McQueen unknowingly falls in love with his daughter. Will he be able to succeed in breaking the bank with the Commander suspicious about the computer and protective of his daughter?
#16: PILLOW TALK (1959)
Stars: Rock Hudson & Doris Day in their second of three pairings
Hudson and Day star in this film about two people who share a phone party line. He is a playboy who is always hogging the line with his romantic endeavors. When her complaints to the phone line go unheeded, she confronts him herself. But when he catches an eyeful of his complaining neighbor will she become his next conquest?
#17: PENELOPE (1966)
Stars: Natalie Wood
Wood plays the title character, a bored and lonely housewife who decides to rob her husband’s bank. As she continues her life of crime she is perplexed by her own motivations. And even though she confesses her crimes to her shrink and a police detective, their attraction to her override their better judgment. Will she ever understand what is driving her to steal things she doesn’t need? What will her husband do when he learns his own wife has robbed his bank?
#18: DOCTOR, YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING (1967)
Stars: Sandra Dee & George Hamilton
Dee is the lead singer in a band with a pushy stage mom for a manager. After a night spent with the rigid, uptight Hamilton leaves her pregnant, she decides to pursue her real dream of being a wife and mother. However, he doesn’t even know she is pregnant and she has three other men interested in being her baby daddy. Which man will she choose? Will Hamilton ever relax enough to let her into his life?
#19: CAT BALLOU (1965)
Stars: Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda is the title character, an innocent woman seeking to avenge her father’s death and save his ranch. She hires a drunken gunslinger to help her achieve her aims and ends up collecting a few other ne’er do wells along with him. But can an innocent truly follow through on killing her father’s killer? Will any of the suspicious characters protecting her wind up winning her heart?
#20: SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969)
Stars: James Garner & Joan Hackett
Just passing through an Old West town, Garner’s character is headed to the gold fields. In need of money, he is convinced to become sheriff in this town terrorized by outlaws. He is a man who tends to take the easy way out and has no intention of sticking around long term. But the mayor’s daughter may have a thing or two to say about that. Will Garner be able to tame this wild West town? Will the mayor’s daughter be able to tame this wandering man?
Have you seen any of these films? What are some of your favorite romantic comedies from the late fifties and sixties?Pin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.