When you’re soap gets preempted
1 Grand Hotel (1932, MGM/UA, unrated)
The ultimate cross-section-of-society-crossing-paths film. The main draw: its grand ensemble, including a lonely ballerina (Greta Garbo), a bankrupt baron-turned-jewel thief (John Barrymore), and a social-climbing stenographer (Joan Crawford).
2 From Here to Eternity (1953, Columbia Tri-Star, unrated)
Not all melodramas are ”women’s pictures.” A sergeant (Burt Lancaster) falls for his CO’s wife (Deborah Kerr). A sensitive soldier (Montgomery Clift) seeks solace with a dance-hall hostess (Donna Reed). And the free spirit (Frank Sinatra) gets killed before the war even starts.
3 The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, Turner, unrated)
Some critics call this family saga Orson Welles’ greatest work. The Ambersons are American royalty, but as a family they are falling apart as they go broke. Blame it on selfish George Amberson Minafer, who prevents a wealthy outsider from marrying his widowed mother.
4 Peyton Place (1957, FoxVideo, unrated)
Restless teenagers, domineering mothers, lecherous stepfathers — they’re all here in the ultimate small-town melodrama (starring Lana Turner and Arthur Kennedy). Rent this with its sequel, Return to Peyton Place, for a solid afternoon of suds.
5 Roots (1977, Warner, unrated)
With this groundbreaking TV miniseries, you can indulge in a soap and still be politically correct. You can even get your daily dose of O.J. as a tribesman who triggers the enslavement of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton). And that’s just the prologue to a 9 1/2-hour journey based on Alex Haley’s family chronicle.
6 Magnificent Obsession (1954, MCA/Universal, unrated)
In this tearjerker from supersudsmeister Douglas Sirk, Jane Wyman stars as a rich, blind widow, while Rock Hudson is the playboy who indirectly caused her blindness and widowhood. Trying to atone, he becomes a doctor, falls for Wyman, and ultimately saves her life with a radical brain operation.
7 The Betsy (1978, FoxVideo, R)
The Cadillac of potboilers, thanks to Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Katharine Ross, and Sir Laurence Olivier. The plot involves the old man’s dream of building a revolutionary car, but the film’s real thrust is its family power struggle, fueled by sex, sex, sex.
8 The Group (1966, FoxVideo, unrated)
Charting the love lives of eight college alums, this Sidney Lumet film starts out as a soap with breeding. But as the doomed affairs and marriages build up, so do the suds. Check out the stunning trio of Joan Hackett, Shirley Knight, and Jessica Walter.
9 Since You Went Away (1944, FoxVideo, unrated)
While her man is at war, an American wife (Claudette Colbert) must hold together her household: two teenage daughters (Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple) and two gentlemen lodgers (Joseph Cotten, Monty Woolley). No matter that the subplots are slow to take shape — the fascinating emergence of these truly three-dimensional characters is the real story.
10 Soapdish”] (1991, Paramount, PG-13)
As the cast and crew of The Sun Also Sets (including Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robert Downey Jr.) struggle to boost their sagging ratings, the backstage backstabbing gets almost as fever pitched as the make-believe stuff. After you see this romp, you’ll never take soaps seriously again.
By Jason Cochran, Steve Daly, Glenn Kenny, Lois Alter Mark, Chris Nashawaty, Tim Purtell, Michael Sauter, and J.R. Taylor