Gestures of Love

Romancing Performance in Classical Hollywood Cinema

By Steven Rybin

Subjects: Film Studies, Mass Media, Popular Culture, American Culture
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Paperback : 9781438465524, 282 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438465517, 282 pages, June 2017

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Prelude: Little Bursting Bubbles
Introduction: The Actor's Heartbeat

Part I: Screwball Love
1. Love's Final Irony: John Barrymore and Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century
2. Wicked Jaws, Lanky Brunettes: Myrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man and Libeled Lady
3. "You Look So Silly": Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, Bringing Up Baby, and
The Philadelphia Story
Part II: Noir Amour
4. Love's Possession: Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Laura
5. Wooing Bogie, Courting Bacall: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo
Part III: Love and Melodrama

6. Lipstick on a Teacup: Performance in Vincente Minnelli's The Cobweb and Tea and Sympathy
7. Hudson, Bacall, Stack, Malone: Love and Gesture in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind Coda: Modern Love
Works Cited

Examines movie romance in light of our emotional bond to the actors and characters on screen.


Gestures of Love considers the viewer's enchantment with charismatic actors in film as the starting point for closely analyzing the performance of love in movies. Written with a thoughtful adoration for the actors who move us, Steven Rybin examines several of cinema's most beloved on-screen movie couples, including Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and William Powell, Carole Lombard and John Barrymore, Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, and Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone. Using the classical genres of screwball comedy, film noir, and the family melodrama as touchstones, Rybin places the depiction of romance in films into dialogue with the viewer's own emotional bond to the actors on the screen. In doing so, he offers rich new analyses of such classic films as Bringing Up Baby, The Thin Man, Twentieth Century, Laura, To Have and Have Not, Tea and Sympathy, Written on the Wind, and more.

Steven Rybin is Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He is the author of Michael Mann: Crime Auteur and Terrence Malick and the Thought of Film; the editor of The Cinema of Hal Hartley: Flirting with Formalism; and the coeditor, with Will Scheibel, of Lonely Places, Dangerous Ground: Nicholas Ray in American Cinema, also published by SUNY Press.


"…Gestures of Love builds a cogent and engaging narrative that offers a refreshingly modern and meticulously analyzed reading of some of the most beloved classics of American cinema, while shedding new light on the way audience's love of performance and performers becomes part of a film's very lifeblood." — Film International

"Steven Rybin's Gestures of Love presents a compelling series of close readings focused on cinematic performances from the classical Hollywood era—a series of readings that not only function independently but also build and reflect on one another as the text moves forward. Engagingly written and unapologetically driven by the author's own pleasures, the text will appeal to readers interested in cinephilia, actors in performance, and classical Hollywood more generally." — David T. Johnson, author of Richard Linklater

"Gestures of Love is the first book to explore issues of stardom and performance through the lens of cinephilia studies. Steven Rybin astutely demonstrates how a star couple's performance of love may be refracted through a viewer's love of performance. Lucid and invigorating, this book reconsiders celebrated duos, from Hepburn and Grant to Bogart and Bacall to Hudson and Malone, as well as the evolution of love in classical Hollywood." — Rashna Wadia Richards, author of Cinematic Flashes: Cinephilia and Classical Hollywood