It’s Valentine’s Day weekend. For some, that means honoring friendships by going out with a group of girlfriends, for young ones it’s likely exchanging cards and heart-shaped candy. For the romantic celebrators, perhaps dinner, flowers and those pretty Hallmark cards are in store. (Forgive the shameless plug- we’re a Hallmark family.)
As for me, I became engaged on Valentine’s in New York City in front of a beautiful Gustav Klimt painting at the MOMA. So this day holds a special place in my heart. What better way to celebrate a day devoted to love than to watch a steamy kissing scene from a romantic comedy classic film? As part of the “You Must Remember This… A Kiss Is Just A Kiss Blogathon” hosted by Second Sight Cinema, let’s discuss George Stevens’ THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943).
This romantic comedy is a charming movie centered on what happens to three strangers forced to room together due to the housing shortage in Washington DC during World War II. Jean Arthur is Connie Milligan, an exacting young woman who has her entire future figured out. Or so she thinks. She begrudgingly takes in two new tenants- Charles Coburn as Benjamin Dingle and Joel McCrea as Joe Carter, who do everything in their power to slowly dismantle Connie’s preconceived notions of her flavorless, beige future.
Connie has been engaged to Charles J. Pendergast (Richard Gaines) for several years. He’s older than her by many years. She refers to their future marriage like a business plan, with all the focus on HIS plans for success. She even refers to him constantly as ‘Mr. Pendergast.’ Despite her loyal and defensive stance in discussing her fiancé, it’s immediately obvious to her roomies there isn’t an ounce of passion in her relationship with Mr. Pendergast. But we all see there’s a lot of feisty passion and romance potential untapped in Connie Milligan. Mr. Dingle does his best to show Connie that although stubborn and determined otherwise, she deserves so much more. So he constantly and annoyingly pokes, prods and chips away at the veneer of her ‘in denial’ mask. Meanwhile, chemistry is brewing between Connie and Joe as Mr. Dingle plays cupid as part of his master plan.
Sparks begin to fly. The fiery heat is most evident in the ‘stoop kissing scene.’ Many film fans have a favorite scene they claim as the most romantic or most sexy of the many kissing moments in classic celluloid. But for me, this particular scene in THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) reigns at the very top. The sexual tension is steamy and palatable.
Let’s take a look at this scene (click on link below) and watch Joel McCrea’s hands carefully the entire time. His hands are always attentive, always touching her. At first they are simply talking and walking down the street. But listen to what she’s saying. Initially she keeps asking casually about what gals he may have back home. What she’s actually doing is eliminating any potential competition. She continues chatting while gently and seamlessly blocking his advancements. When he puts his hand on her shoulder, she shifts and twists, leaving the fur stole in his hands. Without skipping a beat, he carries her fur and attempts again. It’s very much like a dance. The chemistry continues to build.
They stop and face each other. We are peering at them through V-shaped tree branches. It feels intimate to the point we’re invading their privacy, like a secret lovers’ stolen moment. He leans in. They both speak softly, sweetly. He’s close enough to go in for a kiss. She slowly turns away. Meanwhile, she continues to ask detailed questions as to why he hasn’t married anyone back home.
The dance and the topic of marriage continues, now sitting on the brownstone porch stoop. He holds her hand. She notices her engagement ring and professes she predicts she’ll be happy being married to Mr. Pendergast. McCrea as Joe purrs agreement to every compliment she gives Mr. Pendergast as he literally kisses her ring hand. The contradictions are both hilarious and also leaves us (and Arthur as Connie) breathless as the sexual tension mounts.
The camera zooms in for a close up. She rattles on about Mr. Pendergast’s resume and Joe goes in to kiss her neck, exposed from her lace strapless dress. She’s rattled. She’s breathy as she muddles her words and her eyes start to roll up, just before she pauses to close her eyes and open-mouthed exhale. (Need any smelling salts yet??)
The conversation proceeds on the most dull topics like her cousin’s stamp collection and Pendergast. Meanwhile, Joe’s working both of his hands. One wrapped around her, the other gently cradling her face and neck. She’s leaning in, both her hands on his chest and arm. Nearly four minutes into this hand dance, he finally kisses her on the lips. She struggles to pretend they’re just talking by finishing her sentence. But she’s only human. She can no longer hold back the tidal wave of sexual chemistry. She turns to him, grabs his face and passionately kisses him.
She’s out of breath as she announces she must go. Stands up, bids him goodnight and formally addresses him as “Mr. Carter” and walks in the building. In turn, Joe wishes her the same, in the same formal address. He puts on his fedora, starts to walk away when Connie opens the door ajar and peeps out. Joe looks up: “I almost forgot where I live.”
The Stoop Kissing Scene (video clip)
I won’t go into fine details on the rest of the film as this is a scene review, not a film review. But I assure you, there are plenty of charming and funny scenes to go around in this sweet film. Charles Coburn deservedly won an Oscar for Actor in a Supporting Role for his delightfully meddling and mischievous cupid character. There were also five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing Screenplay, Best Writing Original Story, and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jean Arthur).
Enjoy reading all the other entries in this kissable blogathon. I wish you all a fun, feisty, sassy, sexy, romantic or whatever-you-wish-it-to-be Valentine’s celebration this weekend with these parting words… DAMN THE TORPEDOS, FULL SPEED AHEAD!! (Don’t worry, you’ll see what I mean after watching this film.)