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Top 5 Black & White Romantic Comedy Movies

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
Published September 9th 2014
Vintage rom coms to set your heart a flutter
During the early golden age of Hollywood, movies may have been produced in black and white but they were no less lacking in character, drama and sentimentality.

It Happened One Night must-see films
Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert on the DVD cover for It Happened One Night.

Modern day films now treat viewers to 3D, HD and a double dose of the latest vibrant colour enhancer but the charm of more technically basic films still resonates.

Some of the finest works in the industry set a bar for films to come and have been unsuccessfully copied by future generations of directors hoping (and failing) to recreate the same spirit, charm and romance of the original.

One of the genres to be spearheaded during the 1930s and 1940s, in particular, was the romantic comedy. Starring the likes of Hollywood giants like Cary Grant and Clark Gable, these are classic films you will want to curl up on the sofa for.

So sit back, get some chocolate and a blanket and indulge in my top 5 favourite black and white romantic comedies (in no particular order).

1. It Happened One Night
Starring: Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert
Director: Frank Capra

This 1934 romance was the first film in history to clinch all five major Oscars for best picture, actor, actress, director and screenplay and it is easy to see why - there's a heady mix of sharp wit, romance and overflowing chemistry between the two leads, who were at the top of their game.

Happened One Night,Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable
Scenes on the DVD cover from It Happened One Night

Clark Gable is gruff newspaperman Peter Warne, who during a bus journey across America spots a way to reinvent his ailing career when he accidentally comes across runaway heiress Ellie Andrews, played by beautiful Claudette Colbert.

She is in hiding while trying to reach the man her millionaire father doesn't approve of, but is pretty useless without any cash. Rubbing each other up the wrong way from the moment they meet, the antagonistic pair sizzle with their put-downs and endeavours to out-do each other through a series of adventures.

There's the usual road trip shenanigans with the bus breaking down, some dubious fellow passengers and a hitchhiking scene that shows sassiness always wins out in the battle of the sexes.

The fun comes from us viewers knowing that he knows who she really is, while she is ignorant to his real reasons for sticking to her. Yet their journey brings them closer together and the inevitability that they will be better off together, rather than Ellie chasing the wrong man, or Peter selling her down the river for a pay-check on an exclusive story. It's a storyline that is still as relevant now as ever.

This was an early work by director Frank Capra, who went on to add It's a Wonderful Life to his portfolio, and there are tell-tale signs of his signature style - an ability to bring to life sentimental and strong characters you can't help but end up willing on.

It's got much more depth than a fluffy rom com with the added bonus of hugely attractive leads, a witty script and charismatic, unforgettable scenes. It's a must-see.

2. The Awful Truth
Starring: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne
Director: Leo McCarey

This screwball comedy is something that was nurtured in 1930s tinseltown and it's that silliness that makes this lovely story sizzle.

It also has the perfect ingredients of lovable charmer Cary Grant, comedy actress Irene Dunne and the cutest dog you will ever see.

 The Awful Truth
The Awful Truth is a sparkling romantic comedy starring Cary Grant

Our couple start off as married, although not in a very good way, and split up dramatically at a party over their lies and infidelities.

Jumping forward when the two have found new loves and are about to get divorced, their interaction and fight over ownership of their beloved dog leads them to "the awful truth" that they can't live without each other.

Both of them go to extreme lengths to embarrass the other out of jealousy and end up in ridiculous situations - but then they are equally as outrageous as each other, and it lifts your heart to see them finally realise that.

Filmed in 1937, this was well before Cary Grant had starred in Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday but he parades his talents for comic timing and screwball antics that would be so masterfully seen again in films like Arsenic and Old Lace.

3. Bachelor Mother
Starring: Ginger Rogers and David Niven
Director: Garson Kanin

Yes, this really is a Ginger Rogers movie without Fred Astaire. Made in 1939, Rogers was branching out into more serious films and romantic comedies, which I think suited her more.

bachelor mother
Romance between Ginger Rogers and David Niven in Bachelor Mother

This endearing love story sees Ginger Rogers as a shopgirl, being made redundant, when she is mistaken for the single mother of a baby being left on the doorstep of an orphanage. Despite her denials, the orphanage find out where she works and contact the department store, asking them to give her back the job so she can keep the child.

She goes along with the pretence in order to keep her job but becomes the focus of the department store owner's son (David Niven) as his pet project to keep mum and baby together.

There are lots of misunderstandings and a fantastic makeover scene when Ginger Rogers gets treated to any cocktail gown she wants from the store before a special New Year's Eve night out with a top hat and tailed dashing Niven.

It's stylish and genuinely charming with an adorable baby too.

This film was remade in the 1950s as a musical called Bundle of Joy starring Carrie Fisher's parents Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. It was an enjoyable enough revisit to the story but doesn't quite have the style and sharp wit of the original.

4. The Shop Around the Corner
Starring: James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan
Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Who can resist a young James Stewart when he is being charming and polite with that fumbling eagerness to please?

Well, in this movie, we see Jimmy at his most antagonistic too as he takes an instant dislike to his new female shop colleague and professional competitor in The Shop Around the Corner.

Shop Around the Corner vintage film poster
Vintage film poster of The Shop Around the Corner starring James Stewart

You may recognise the storyline as this film has been remade twice since this version in 1940. There was a musical remake nine years later with Judy Garland called In The Good Old Summertime, and more recently the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedy You've Got Mail - neither of which, in my opinion, come close to the original.

Based in a snowy, chocolate box looking street in Hungary, the original play was written by Nikolaus Laszlo and called Parfumerie. Despite this, none of the cast attempt to use anything but their American accents, but that can be easily overlooked, even when the background includes buying strudel in a continental cafe.

Unbeknown to our two leads they are pen pals, who are yearning for each other despite working in the same small shop and bickering most of the day.

It is not until they make plans to meet up in a cafe that James Stewart's character realises who his pen pal really is and then sets about changing her opinion of him in real life.

It's got the feel-good factor for even the hardest of hearts.

5. Spring in Park Lane
Starring: Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding
Director: Herbert Wilcox

Mistaken identity is a key theme in many a rom com and this post-war British black and white classic does it like no other.

Spring in Park Lane book, Michael Wilding, Anna Neagle, romantic comedies
Michael Wilding and Anna Neagle on the cover of the book version of Spring in Park Lane

Packed with cut glass English accents, this 1948 film features the darlings of the day, Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding. They paired up for many a film, a sort of Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson of their day.

It's light, breezy, romantic and not too taxing or dark for the audience who had just come through World War Two and wanted something to lift their spirits.

Michael Wilding is the new footman hired at a grand mansion in London's delightful Park Lane but with way too much confidence and cheekiness to really be anything of the sort.

Anna Neagle is the attractive private secretary who he woos despite being from below stairs in the servants quarters.

You just know he's going to end up being some lord of the manor in hiding and there will be a lovely happy ending with a dramatic kiss. Job done.

(By the way, for the eagle-eyed, the film posters for these movies were taken in colour, but the films are actually in black and white).
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Why? Great vintage black and white movies with heart
Where: Found on ebay, Amazon and at car boot sales
Your Comment
excellent. very romantic and energetic. a nice post Thank you very much.
by Sewa Mobil Surabaya (score: 1|26) 2030 days ago
It's light, breezy, romantic and not too taxing or dark for the audience who had just come through World War Two and wanted something to lift their spirits.
by alokn (score: 0|2) 1763 days ago
You just know he's going to end up being some lord of the manor in hiding and there will be a lovely happy ending with a dramatic kiss. Job done.
by gucci replica (score: 0|2) 1666 days ago
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