Hosted by Candice Bergen, it was, as always, a night of old favorites and some disgraceful omissions.
"Casablanca" and 1939's "Gone With the Wind."
Audiences, it seems, never tire of hearing Humphrey Bogart say to Ingrid Bergman, "Here's looking at you, kid" or watching Gable turn away from Vivien Leigh after snapping, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." And the AFI's panel of film artists, critics, historians and executives agreed.
Also not surprising were the AFI's next three picks, the 1961 Robert Wise film of the landmark Broadway street musical "West Side Story," Audrey Hepburn's 1953 debut "Roman Holiday" and the 1957 Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr tragi-comic romance, "An Affair to Remember." Nor was it unexpected that dapper Cary Grant would be the most-named leading man (with six pictures selected), nor a pair of Hepburns the most named leading ladies: Katharine with six and Audrey with five. The most frequently cited directors were "woman's movie" specialist George Cukor and William Wyler.
There were egregious blank spots.
The panel tended to omit films with minorities and tougher explorations of romance by directors such as John Cassavetes. Any list of the great American romantic movies that neglects Max Ophuls' 1948 "Letter from an Unknown Woman" -- starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan as the ultimate star-crossed couple and written by "Casablanca's" Howard Koch -- is deficient.
If you can argue that "Letter" is little-known, what is the excuse for the absence of Alfred Hitchcock's supreme Gothic suspense romance "Rebecca," D.W. Griffith's sublime "Broken Blossoms" (1919) with Lilian Gish, Nick Ray's James Dean-Natalie Wood classic "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) or those great screwball comedies "Trouble in Paradise" (1932) and "His Girl Friday" (1940)? Does anyone seriously prefer "Love Story" (AFI's No. 9) or "The American President" (No. 75) to those five?
Also unnamed was the director usually regarded as (with Cukor) Hollywood's prime romantic, the famously sensitive Frank Borzage ("Seventh Heaven," "A Man's Castle"). The panel, while naming two Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn films ("Woman of the Year" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") omitted their best film, 1949's "Adam's Rib," and their second best, 1952's "Pat and Mike" -- both, incidentally, directed by Cukor.
Among more recent films, the AFI passed over Steven Soderbergh's 1989 "sex, lies and videotape," Spike Lee's provocative 1991 "Jungle Fever" and the film I would have named the best American movie love story of the last 10 years, "Richard Linklater's 1995 "Before Sunrise," with Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and a night in Vienna.
Still, no romance list that celebrates "Sunrise" (1927), "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940), "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "Splendor in the Grass" (1961) and "Two for the Road" (1967) can be too harshly handled. The full 100 is below.
AFI's TOP 100 ROMANCES
1 Casablanca 1942
2 Gone with the Wind 1939
3 West Side Story 1961
4 Roman Holiday 1953
5 An Affair to Remember 1957
6 The Way We Were 1973
7 Doctor Zhivago 1965