In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, February has come to be recognized as the month of love. Whether you plan to spend Cupid’s Day with your beloved, your family, or just your dreams, you can celebrate this sentimental holiday by watching a romantic movie. Some of the most charming romantic films ever made come from Hollywood’s Golden Age (1934 to 1954).
Beyond iconic romances such as “Casablanca,” whose name is still recognizable 80 years after its release, countless forgotten masterpieces have equally thrilling love stories, such as “The Story of Three Loves” from 1953. If you appreciate dramatic plots, traditional arts, and beautiful cinematography, this film is worth watching.
European travel, graceful ballet, classical music, and love stories: “The Story of Three Loves” offers all of these in three dramas that span two hours in this artistic anthology film. Featuring an impressive array of Old Hollywood talent, “Loves” comprises three separate segments, each with a different cast and production team.
The three stories are connected by the fact that they all begin on a ship bound for the United States. One of each story’s principal characters hears something that reminds him of a poignant passage in his life, and the segment is a flashback from his memory.
In alphabetical order, the stars include Pier Angeli, Ethel Barrymore, Leslie Caron, Kirk Douglas, Farley Granger, James Mason, and Moira Shearer, plus noteworthy supporting actors Agnes Moorehead, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Richard Anderson, and 10-year-old Ricky Nelson.
Gottfried Reinhardt directed two of the segments, with Vincente Minnelli directing the third. Writers John Collier, Jan Lustig, and George Froeschel collaborated on the screenplays, each contributing to two segments. Each of these segments is set in a different European country.
“Jealous Lover” stars James Mason as Charles Coutray, a famous British ballet choreographer. At an audition for his new ballet, he’s entranced by the originality of a young ballerina, Paula Woodward (Shearer). However, the audition ends abruptly when she collapses. Afterward, a doctor tells her that she has a heart condition that makes it fatal for her to pursue a ballet career. She and her aunt (Moorehead), a former ballerina herself, are determined to find new interests in life.
However, Paula is unable to forget dancing, so she goes to the opening of Coutray’s ballet. After everyone else has left the theater, she dances on the empty stage, imagining herself in the lead role. Watching from the shadows, Coutray is amazed by how she improves upon the prima ballerina’s performance. He invites her to come to his studio that very night and help him figure out what’s wrong with his ballet. Although Paula initially refuses because of her health, she eventually agrees to go with him. As she inspires him to new levels of greatness that evening, they both see the chance to begin a new life of art and love together.
“Mademoiselle” stars Leslie Caron as a young French governess known only as Mademoiselle. Her pupil is a difficult American boy named Tommy (Nelson), who would rather spend his stay in Rome exploring than listening to her recite French poetry.
On his final evening in Rome, Tommy visits an eccentric old woman named Hazel Pennicott (Barrymore), who’s rumored to be a witch. He tests her powers by asking her to make him a grown man for a few hours that night. At the stroke of 8 p.m., her spell takes effect, turning him into a handsome young man (Granger). Although he now looks mature, his boyish inclinations lead him outdoors, a toy under his arm. However, he runs into Mademoiselle while walking in the moonlight. He’s struck by her beauty and finds himself feeling very differently about the sensitive young Frenchwoman and the poetry that she loves. They fall in love, yet Tommy knows that the spell will only last until midnight.
“Equilibrium” focuses on Kirk Douglas, who plays former aerialist Pierre Narval in post-war France. The segment begins with his rescuing Nina Burkhardt (Angeli) from the Seine River. He alone knows that her accident was a suicide attempt, so he visits and befriends her while she recovers in the hospital. Nina’s husband was killed in a concentration camp, and she blames herself for unknowingly revealing his escape plan.
Pierre is similarly haunted by the death of his highwire partner during a dangerous stunt, which everyone says he caused through his recklessness. Since then, no partner has stuck with him. Disregarding the pleas of his manager (Steven Geray), Pierre persuades Nina to become his new partner as he attempts to make a comeback as an aerialist.
The profession is incredibly dangerous, but Pierre believes that Nina can do it successfully and find new meaning in her life. While training together tirelessly, both of these tortured people unwittingly start wanting to live for each other, even as they risk their lives on the high wire.
Ballet, Poetry, and the Trapeze
There’s more than just a story to each drama in the movie. Every segment includes an artistic addition. For instance, “Jealous Lover” features magnificent dancing from one of the most recognizable film ballerinas, Moira Shearer of “The Red Shoes” fame. All of the dancing in this film was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, the acclaimed choreographer from the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, where Shearer was a principal ballerina alongside Margot Fonteyn.
The dance that Paula improvises for Coutray is one of the finest examples of mid-century ballet put to screen. The music is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s dramatic “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” played exquisitely by pianist Jakob Gimpel. Shearer wears a beautiful white costume, that’s flattering and feminine, yet exquisitely fluid. The backdrop for her lovely dancing is Coutray’s colorful studio, complete with pillars, plants, and artistically dressed statues of dancers.
Although Caron was a professional ballerina with Roland Petit’s troupe “Ballet des Champs-Elysées” before her film debut in 1951, she doesn’t dance in “Mademoiselle.” Instead of ballet or some other performing art form, this segment provides culture in the form of French poetry. As a native French speaker, Caron beautifully recites French poetry to her student. Young Tommy’s struggles with conjugating irregular French verbs are actually educational to those interested in learning the language. After watching this movie, you’ll definitely want to use the word “suspendus.” (You’ll understand what I mean once you’ve seen the film.)
“Equilibrium” features a different sort of entertainment, but one that requires just as much physical control as ballet. The story centers around Pierre and Nina’s training as an aerialist team, so there’s extensive footage of high-wire work. The most impressive thing is that Douglas and Angeli did most of the trapeze work themselves. Although stunt doubles were utilized in the far shots of aerial flips, you can clearly see the stars’ faces as they do most of the technical work, showing that they shot those scenes themselves.
The stunts require an amazing amount of strength, skill, and timing, so it’s impressive to see actors doing the acrobatics themselves in this era before face replacement technology. These moves are more than interesting asides: They’re a vital part of the story, serving to propel the third segment to its dramatic conclusion.
A Triple Valentine
Most romantic movies only offer one love story, with perhaps an occasional love triangle thrown in for color. “The Story of Three Loves” delivers just what its title promises: three romantic plots in one two-hour film. Just as each segment is different, each couple is different. In “Jealous Lover,” we have passionate artists whose love inspires each other, even as her looming illness threatens their happiness.
In “Mademoiselle,” a powerful spell unites an unlikely couple, separated by years, proving how rarely people truly know the depths of those around them. In “Equilibrium,” a pair of tortured misfits become aerialist partners, while unknowingly helping each other restore balance to their broken lives.
“The Story of Three Loves” isn’t the easiest film to find, but you can purchase it on DVD or stream it on Odnoklassniki (ok.ru), a popular Russian social media site comparable to YouTube. Almost any classic film can be found in its video category, although you may have to sort through the numerous uploads to find a copy without foreign subtitles or overdubbed dialogue. (Unlike many streaming websites, ok.ru won’t fill your computer with viruses, so you can utilize it without concern.)
No matter how you decide to watch it, “The Story of Three Loves” is a unique, emotionally stirring delight. Classic film fans and modern movie buffs alike will enjoy this artistic addition to any Valentine’s celebration.
Tiffany Brannan is a 20-year-old opera singer, Hollywood history/vintage beauty copywriter, film reviewer, fashion historian, travel writer, and ballet writer. In 2016, she and her sister founded the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to reforming the arts by reinstating the Motion Picture Production Code.