If you’re anything like me, you crave the comforts of classic film and television when things aren’t going your way. If you’re exactly like me, this turns Valentine’s Day into a conundrum. What can you watch that doesn’t plunge the knife of your perpetual singleness into your heart?Everything has a romance in it! Cary Grant is like this horrible traitor whose mission as an artist was to remind you of how alone you’ll die. And Humphrey Bogart is worse, because he pretends like he isn’t going to be in a love story and then he almost always is.
The most mentioned Anti-Valentines Movie is, of course, Rosemary’s Baby. But here’s a list to give you a few more options, in case you’re boycotting Polanski or you don’t feel like Satanists in February.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Sparse. Intense. Full of people shouting about social issues. 12 Angry Men is a true classic, and clocking in at a lean 96 minutes, it doesn’t have time for anything that isn’t high-stakes courtroom drama. It begins at the end of a murder trial, when the jury is deliberating their verdict. We get to know only those twelve jurors – a cast that’s led by Henry Fonda and includes Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Robert Webber – and their psyches, as they change their verdicts, bicker with each other, complain about the heat, and shine slivers of stark light on the prejudices of 1950’s America. For extra fun, try to picture the most dramatic lines on candy hearts.
I devote an entire weekend of my summer to a Jaws-related holiday/ritual, so I don’t watch it on Valentine’s. But there’s no reason why a not-insane person couldn’t. There’s exactly one romantic couple in the film, and that’s Sheriff Brody and his wife. And they’re too busy freaking out about shark attacks and parenting styles to smooch up the screen. Other than that, it’s an exploration of small town political corruption, and three crazy sons of guns hunting a great white shark in New England. It’s a timeless story, and if there’s anything less romantic than buckets of chum, I can’t think of it right now.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Warm, nostalgic, and full of sinister twists and a dark sense of humour that wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Hannibal, the original adaptation of Roald Dhal’s classic is perfect for a certain kind of Valentine’s. The kind where you want all the fun of the girlie colours and chocolates, but still want to feel a kernel of hyper-cynical bitterness. There’s a loveliness to the world of the factory, and also a bunch of spoiled children being punished in a colourfully sadistic manner. Although, after seeing what happens to Augustus Gloop, you might want a few less chocolates…
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
It’s easy to forget that nowhere in the three and a half hours of Lawrence of Arabia is there a rom-com subplot or waiting fiancé. Beautiful cinematography, compelling performances, a truly dazzling score, but no hearts and flowers. It can take up your entire evening, and it’s perfect for getting your mind off of anything other than the history of guerrilla tactics in the Middle East. There’s also Omar Sharif looking all kinds of gorgeous, so if you’re into the gentleman, it’s got bonuses. Oh! And it’s a beloved cinematic masterpiece! Great for Valentine’s Day!
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
I shouldn’t have said those mean things about Humphrey Bogart before, since this is a great film with no love in it. Just secret gold, and bandits, and betrayal, and the very depths of human greed. I recommend it for a post-break-up V-Day, since it confirms your worst suspicions about human nature. Three Americans in 1925 Mexico set out to find their fortune, which they do. Humphrey Bogart is the highly suspicious leader of the group, and he manages these terrific swings between wild paranoia and cold practicality that show off the nuances of his tough guy personas. Nothing in this movie goes well.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Is there anything less romantic that a psychotic Robert Mitchum hunting two children across Depression Era West Virginia? Buckets of chum. Check the Jaws entry. But in the race for second place, Night of the Hunter’s premise alone makes it a good choice for anti-Valentine’s viewing. Shelly Winters might hit a little too close to home for those of us who’ve made some poor decisions on the rebound, as she easily falls into the predatory Michum’s arms, but it’s *ahem* a temporary situation. The rest of the movie is eerie and moving, and a good fit for a sophisticated Halloween or a rebellious February 14.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Lots of classic prison movies are void of romantic entanglements, but lots of classic prison movies are terrible. Then there’s Cool Hand Luke, which is the greatest prison movie of all time. (Just accept it, Shawshank fans.) There’s some lustful ogling of a buxom, car-washing blonde, and other than that, nothing to make you think about things other than how gross it would be to eat forty hard boiled eggs, and all the different ways you can escape a chain gang. Plus, Paul Newman at the height of his beauty! You could do a double feature with this andLawrence of Arabia, get rid of the whole day, and see some sights!
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
War movies on Valentine’s Day. If it appeals to you, and you don’t want to mush it up in the slightest, The Dirty Dozen is a pretty good choice. Lee Marvin leads a group of criminals on a suicide mission during World War II, and those criminals include Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas, George Kennedy and other compelling actors that I’m not going to list. It’s great.
Zardoz (1974) – This is my sister’s favourite choice for a single’s V-Day. It didn’t make the proper list because there’s a prominent romantic plotline, but if it actually inspires any kind of yearning in you, you might want to talk to somebody about counselling.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) – It’s irresponsible of everyone to recommend this film for every major American holiday. It’s totally romance-free, so it does qualify here, but to everyone who watches it on Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July and Halloween and Lincoln’s Birthday, maybe take a break?
To Kill a Mockingbird (1963) – Do you want to feel wistful and achingly nostalgic instead of lonely? Then go ahead. But if your plan is to not make a Faustian bargain of emotions, steer clear until summer.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) – Same idea as Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a triangle of betrayal distract everybody from anything but monetary gain. Not on the proper list because it seemed repetitive, but other than that, a fine choice.