Born Yesterday, 1950.
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Listen, I love Reality Bites as much as the next girl -- I went to high school in the nineties, I screamed the Lisa Loeb song at the top of my lungs. But my true love isn't the rom-coms of the nineties, it's the Lubitsch, Wilder, Cukor, and Preminger films that pre-date them. There's nothing sexier then the Pre-Code movies of the 1930's, but the screwball and romantic comedies made in the days of the Hollywood Production Code are also pretty marvelous. My favorite of these is Born Yesterday, made in 1950, starring William Holden, the delightfully daffy Judy Holliday, and Broderick Crawford. Based on a Garson Kanin play, Harry Brock (Crawford), a junk dealer, hires journalist Paul Verrall (Holden) to tutor his sweet but dim-witted mistress, a former chorus girl named Billie Dawn (Holliday). Of course, you know what happens -- Billie Dawn discovers her latent love of democracy, newspapers, and of course, the nerdy, bespectacled, and principled Verrall (it's shot in Washington D.C., and is quite a love letter to my current hometown). Although the play was clearly written for a mature audience, writer Kanin and director George Cukor were forced to amend the screenplay to appease censors. Still, they were able to get my some of my favorite lines past the censors... such as this one, delivered by a besotted Billie to Paul, "Are you one of these talkers, or would you be innarested in a little action...?" It's sexy, delightful, and beautifully idealistic (it features a congressman that feels bad for taking a bribe -- and he doesn't even get caught!).
All that is to say what A.O. Scott says in his wonderful ode to the old rom-coms (and pan of the new ones) -- things were sexier before, well, sex. You can read the piece here, and leave your favorite romantic comedies here -- old or new (I think The 40-Year-Old Virgin is brilliant, for instance).