Oldies but goodies: Films that feature older romance

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

My mother has a boyfriend -- an electrical engineer named Ray. I had always hoped that when Mom found love again it would be with someone who owned a movie theater or an awesome collection of vinyl records, but the truth is, Ray seems to be a good guy.

It's been an interesting process for me, as an observer, seeing my mother flit her lashes and giggle demurely. It turns out that puppy love doesn't have a sell-by date. This epiphany sent me scurrying into the Reel Releases archives to find a selection of fine films that document love between partners who have left 25 way back on life's highway. Here's what I came up with:

THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951): Although best remembered for its rollicking action sequences, the heart and soul of African Queen is the unlikely friendship and eventual romance between Humphrey Bogart's hard-drinking boat captain and Katharine Hepburn's prim missionary. Without those sparks, Queen would have been just another ride down the rapids.

ON GOLDEN POND (1981): Two romances for the price of one. The first is between long-married couple Norman and Ethel Thayer, played with great compassion by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn (again). The other, perhaps more interesting, relationship is between the Thayer's daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) and her new beau, Bill Ray, played by the under-appreciated Dabney Coleman. It's a burgeoning romance that receives far too little screen time.

MURPHY'S ROMANCE (1985): When single mother Emma Moriarty (Sally Field) moves to a small town, the last thing she plans on doing is falling in love with the town's home-spun pharmacist, played by James Garner. So, of course, she does. What holds this simple story up is a winning performance by Mr. Garner, playing the sort of role he knows best. Wise and worldly without being pretentious, his Murphy Jones is the calm at the center of his small town.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983): Although there are times when Terms veers dangerously close to melodrama, the romance between Texas rose Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and naughty retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) is a thing of beauty. Funny, fresh and always touching, this opposites-attract relationship gives the film a much-needed emotional core.

GRUMPY OLD MEN (1993): For 50 years, neighbors John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau) have been slinging verbal barbs at each other from across their common hedge. The arrival of an exciting college professor, in the form of Ann-Margret, does little in the way of peacemaking. The truth is, Grumpy is a bit underwritten and visually pretty run-of-the-mill. What makes it great is the enduring comic chemistry of Lemmon and Matthau, one of cinema's great pairings.

Steven Uhles is a reporter for the Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, Ga.

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