By Karen Herzog
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
This Valentine's Day, why not invite Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint over for dinner and a movie?
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck may be available, too, along with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.
Create a magical meal to savor with your valentine, inspired by your favorite silver screen couple. Light a few candles, pour some bubbly and snuggle in front of the tube with a classic video romance.
No need to go out when you can enjoy the scenery inside. Sample a cone of melting gelato in the streets of ancient Rome, or that much-talked-about climactic turkey sandwich in a New York City diner. (No faking allowed.)
Some men may balk at proverbial "chick flicks," but there are plenty of action-packed romances with cross-gender appeal, including Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest," and young Audrey Hepburn's starring debut, "Roman Holiday."
We culled several beloved romance films available on video - both classics and contemporary - and created menus from pivotal (but not always visible) food scenes to get you started.
Have you ever noticed how few Golden Age romance flicks of the 1930s, `40s and `50s actually show food? We're salivating to see the brook trout that Cary Grant orders on the train; he's too busy seductively lighting Eva Marie Saint's cigarette to savor what's on his plate.
Maybe we're being too analytical, but we do wonder why food gets so little screen time in those earlier romance films. Perhaps food wouldn't have appeared as sumptuous in black and white. Perhaps couples were just too busy pouring cocktails to experience the joy of bouillabaisse.
The socially elite in earlier flicks did parlay elaborate food scenes, but that's because oysters Rockefeller is indeed glamorous - not the everyday meat and potatoes of domestic life, said Gerry Molyneaux, chair of the communications department at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Molyneaux has written biographies of Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck and John Sayles, and he also teaches classes about Alfred Hitchcock, Vietnam War films and the Cinema of Adolescence.
Charlie Chaplin movies feature plenty of eating, Molyneaux said.
In the film "The Immigrant," Chaplin savors dinner with a woman he finds attractive. But he doesn't have any money to pay the bill, which sets off a chain of comedic events. What they're eating doesn't really matter - food is merely a comic device, Molyneaux said.
"I wonder if they even had restaurant reviewers in the `30s, `40s and `50s?" he added. "Today we have food critics, the Food Network and gourmet food magazines. The whole culture has changed and movies reflect that. Food is much more in the foreground today."
Like Chaplin movies, older Alfred Hitchcock flicks with food scenes were more about atmosphere than eating, Molyneaux said.
So that leaves plenty of room for imagination, which brings us back to dinner and a romantic movie in the living room on Valentine's Day.
Molyneaux recommends the sweet Italian flick "Moonstruck," (1987) starring Cher and Nicolas Cage.
He also suggests the neurotic romance "Annie Hall" (1977), starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. But not for the reason you may think.
"When Woody Allen says, `Let's have lunch,' look out," said Molyneaux. "In his lexicon, lunch is a bad scene."
Note that the classics tend to be tame in the intimacy arena. That's good for couples with children who may not yet be in bed. The kids can safely watch Gregory Peck as a `50s-era American newspaperman in a G-rated lip-lock with Audrey Hepburn, the runaway princess.
The worst that can happen is a half-pint running commentary like the exchange that occurred recently at my house between 7-year-old Kelsey and 5-year-old Emily, watching "Roman Holiday:"
Kelsey to a grossed-out Emily: "It's just kissing! You'll have to do that when you're married."
Emily, quickly changing the subject: "Look! He's taking her to the palace to drop her off."
You could just toss aside - or postpone until later - the adult romance and whip up a batch of spaghetti for the family to enjoy with the animated Disney romance, "Lady and the Tramp." That meatball scene in the alley behind the Italian restaurant is soooo sweet, even if they are a couple of dogs.
© 2003, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.