Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cross-generational romances: Film Version

 Sir Anthony and Lady Edith are not the only cross-generational couple to grace tv or cinema screens!

source: google
  I've been writing a novel lately and it features two couples who cross generations in their choice of spouses. This seems to be shocking today. We think of it in negative terms as a "middle aged crisis" and a "trophy wife." That element HAS always been there, but there is another side to it: that of two people who simply find the right person is the "wrong" age according to someone else. My Grandmother's cousin left college in about 1921 to marry one of her father's friends. He was about 33 years older, but it was a love match and they were quite happy. Hollywood has long celebrated such romances--after all leading men usually are allowed to keep their "star quality" much longer than leading women, though that has changed just a little in
recent years.


 It doesn't take an analyst to figure out where the appeal of older men--younger women romances began in MY life! I first read Gone With the Wind when I was 13 and in my Civil War fanatic phase. Coincidentally, this was the year of it's last trip thru the theaters. I sat in the balcony of an old theater and watched it three times in one week, seeing it exactly as it was meant to be seen. Why in God's name Scarlett became attracted to that dim-bulb Ashley when she had a REAL MAN breathing down her throat still baffles me!  This is the gold standard by which I judge all cross-generational romances. The guy is hot, commanding, charming, and impossible to make commit--well, almost. He's challenging and funny and to smart for his own good! Plus, even in the book, he had chest hair. God forbid they ever remake this (it should be illegal) but if they put some chest-waxing pretty boy in Rhett Butler's glossy riding boots, I'll do more than just scream!


Like many girls, I learned to love a man in uniform from swooning over Georg Von Trapp in his wedding attire! This is one cross-generation romance that ROCKS. And, if you've ever seen the photos of the REAL Maria and Georg you're grateful for casting that strayed far, far from the original. 

  CARY GRANT is likely the king of all cross-generational romance movies! Pick up anyone of his films and you'll find him being his dazzling self to some bright-eyed young piece like Doris Day (well, she LOOKED years younger!) or, in this case, Leslie Caron. Grant is exactly the man for the role, too. Sauve, a touch of gray at the temples, commanding, but charming about it. Who wouldn't want him, right?  Leslie Caron, in Father Goose, is at first disgusted by Grant's character Walter--a plane spotter during World War II stationed on a Pacific Island. But, over the course of the movie......Naturally Cary gets the girl--well, the Girl and a boat load of school girls, too--instant family.

While just about anything with Cary Grant works, other starts were not always so lucky, Take Gary Cooper for instance. While he was believable as Grace Kelly's husband in "High Noon...."

...he did not come off as well in "Love in the Afternoon," though it remains an all-time favorite of mine. Just too Grandfatherly and not enough heat. I imagine he cringed when he saw the final cuts. Rather like darling Robert Bathurst's interview when he said his grown daughters thought the Lady Edith-Sir Anthony romance in Downton Abbey was a bit "pervy."  I really don't think it was at al "pervy"--Downton is no Lolita thank you! But, Cooper fizzles on screen as delightful Audrey Hepburn's older love interest. He looks like a man who'd play chess with her father.

Humphrey Bogart, a happily married older man with a much younger wife (Lauren Bacall) pulls it off in "Sabrina" in part because his character, Linus Larrabee, pokes fun at his own age "Joe College with a touch of arthritis." Again, Hepburn is a devistatingly young, lithe woman, but Bogart has a certain attractiveness in the film that cannot be denied.

This movie was remade in the 90s, and while I prefer the original, Ford is exactly the type star who can carry it off.

 James Garner and Sally Field "click" almost immediately as a couple in "Murphy's Romance." While she has to take a tumble in the hay with her ex to finally figure out who the real man in her life is, he's just there waiting for her to figure it out. "I'm in love for the LAST time," would win over just about anyone, but from Garner's lips it's absolute magic and Field finally "gets it" while a whole town's worth of canned-fruit weilding older widows gnashes their teeth.

In historical films this type romance often plays a little better.

 It's hard to get a greater age-range than this splendid silver screen couple! Rex Harrison plays the ghost of  sea captain who romances the young widow who moves into his "abandoned" house. This is sweet, charming and so wonderful. I typically hate time-travel or ghost stories, but this one is different. Don't confuse it with the 60s tv show--this is the REAL thing.

If I tell you that Sean Connery plays a sword-slashing tribesman in the desert and takes a terribly young Candace Bergen for the ride of her life, you'll believe me it wasn't for the sex, right? Just watch this one. Fabulous. And Brian Keith is the best-ever Teddy Roosevelt.

The only Shakespeare play I can truly say I enjoyed READING (not watching--I can watch!!) was "Antony and Cleopatra." The larger- than-life EPIC version of Cleopatra gives her not ONE, but TWO older men dying to be her mate. The great Casear himself as well as dear Antony. And heck! With Rex Harrison as Ceasar and a little- bit- youngish Richard Burton as Antony, who'd not want to watch? She's a scheming little piece, but their middle aged egos are bruised and they're feeling less than manly these days, so she's the ancient world's version of viagra to their Bob Dole. And, she actually does the chasing! Just Wow on this one, ok?

Television has shown us this sort of romance too, and not just on Downton Abbey. 

One memorable British sit com that was on PBS a lot in the 90s was "May to December"--a fun show that I enjoyed, but in which the romance just wasn't present. Why? Anton Rodgers was just WRONG. He had nothing that would attract a young woman named Zoe. I kept yelling at the screen that she should take his sweet, doofy son instead.


"May to December" made the rounds of PBS on Saturday evenings for years.  It's fun British sit com, but it just didn't work as a romance. Why? The star, Anton Rodgers was fat, balding and not terribly funny. Zoe was young and vibrant and you knew it was being on the rebound that got her where she was. The show was funny--mostly due to the two secretaries in Alec's law office, but it was not a romance. And a marriage? Ugh! No. Just no. I didn't blame her for leaving him--baby or no baby.

Richard Bellamy and young wife, Virginia on Upstairs Downstairs

A British costume drama that got the cross-generational romance EXACTLY right was Upstairs, Downstairs in the 1970s. Richard Bellamy, after years of being bossed around by his arrogant, aristocratic first wife, Lady Marjorie, finds himself free to remarry due to...what else? Lady Marjorie and brother Hugo going down on the Titanic! In addition to being free to chase younger women, he aquires a dishy ward (Lesley Anne Down). First he has a protege-mentor relationship that is tragically forced to be platonic since, in a moment of utter insanity, lovely Hazel Forrest marries his snotty, aristocratic (but oh my god handsome) son James (Simon Williams--my first tv crush!). Unlike his son, Richard Bellamy adores Hazel and treats her the way any woman would want to be treated. Finally, in a season Lady Marjorie fans love to hate, he meets a youngish widow whose son is being court-martialed by the Royal Navy. Naturally it's hate at first sight. But, from hate comes true love. They are perfect together--60-ish Richard and about 40ish Virgina are the "One True Partnership" as they say today on Tumblr.

There are "sexy" movies of this genre too. I'm not a fan of graphic sex so I've not reviewed them. But two that make nearly every list of older man--younger women movies are, of course, "The Last Tango in Paris" with a definitely middle aged Marlon Brando and the 90s Jeremy Irons movie "Damage," which has some of the most idiotic sex scenes ever filmed if you go in for watching that sort of thing. The movie has it's dreamy, non-sexy scenes (Jeremy Irons in the tub for example) and plenty of beautiful home scenes, so watching it and fast-forwarding is worth it. I didn't get the "obsession" though--the young woman has  a neck like a rugby player for starters.......but once you meet the doofy son you DO see why she wants Jeremy Irons. Apparently speed dating services weren't available in London then............

Want to read more? Check out the first in my series on older man-younger woman political couples:
Clarissa Churchill Eden 

Or a royal cross-generational romance

1 comment:

Susan said...

Really enjoyed this, even though I haven't seen many of the films. I hear ya on being a bit disillusioned by the "real" vontrapps -- oy vey, the movie is much more romantic :) I love the cross-generational idea and agree that one should take true love at whatever age it's found!