Saturday, February 6, 2016

Film Review: At Long Last Love

"At Long Last Love"  *** (out of ****)

It has finally arrived in "At Long Last Love" (1975)!

The lead characters in Peter Bogdanovich's musical "At Long Last Love" stagger into their lavish apartments one by one after spending an entire night out drinking and partying. The characters are millionaire playboy; Michael Olivier Pritchard III (Burt Reynolds), spoiled rich girl; Brooke Carter (Cybill Shepherd), chorus girl Kitty O' Kelly (Madeline Khan) and the poor but happy lucky gambler and Italian lover Johnny (Duilio Del Prete).

For them life is something to enjoy. They are able to return to their homes at 6am and not worry about going to a 9am - 5pm job. They have enough money to lead a carefree lifestyle.

That is how it was in the Hollywood musicals of the 1930s that those of us grew up watching. We saw rich people travel to Europe for weekend getaways, never worry about money despite the fact there was a depression going on or have any responsibilities to speak of. The characters spent their time singing songs and looking for love.

This is what director Peter Bogdanovich is paying homage to - that wonderful era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals or Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell pairings. Mr. Bogdanovich even has his characters sing the songs of Cole Porter, just as Fred and Ginger did in various movies and Broadway plays.

When "At Long Last Love" was originally released in theaters the sheep (movie critics) crushed the movie. Perhaps "modern" critics were too "hip" to appreciate Mr. Bogdanovich's old-fashion sensibilities and the nostalgia found in "At Long Last Love". Then a funny thing happened. A studio editor at 20th Century Fox, who distributed the movie, named Jim Blakely, had re-edited the movie without Mr. Bogdanovich's consent. This re-edited version was played on television and received positive audience reaction. In fact according to Mr. Bogdanovich people would walk up to him on the street and tell him how much they enjoyed watching the movie, which Mr. Bogdanovich couldn't understand due to the movie's initial reception. Later it was revealed to Mr. Bogdanovich what Mr. Blakely did. The changes were approved by Mr. Bogdanovich and it is this version which plays on occasion on the Fox Movie Channel, where I first saw the movie, and the version which I am reviewing. It has also been released on blu-ray.

There is not much of a plot in "At Long Last Love" unfortunately. Michael, while being driven home by his chauffeur, Rodney James (John Hillerman), nearly runs over the pretty chorus girl Kitty. There is an instant attraction on both of their parts although one has to wonder if Kitty isn't also attracted to Michael's money. Next there is Brooke, who lives with her maid, Elizabeth ( Ellen Brenan). Brooke doesn't have a job and lives off her mother who provides her with an allowance. Currently the mother is in another country and for the past three months has not sent Brooke any money. Normally Brooke wouldn't mind but the hotel she is living at would like their money. While at the race track, in a last ditch effort to win some money, Brooke and Elizabeth meet Johnny, who seems to have a lot and picks the winning horse in the race. This, more than anything, is what both ladies find attractive about Johnny.

For the next hour of "At Long Last Love" not much happens. The characters sing a lot of songs including " Friendship", "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor", "But In The Morning No", "From Alpha to Omega", "Tomorrow" and "Find Me A Primitive Man". But not much else happens. Nothing is really developed between the would-be lovers, no further character development is provided and there is no conflict established. We are watching a bunch of people sing songs and nothing is really advancing a plot.

One can make the point none of that was important to Mr. Bogdanovich when he made this movie. And it may very well be true. One can argue the pleasure to be had in watching "At Long Last Love" is in the music, the nostalgia for classic Hollywood cinema,the costume and production designs and the cinematography. But will that be enough for the majority of audiences, especially younger audiences that may not be familiar with the musicals of the 1930s or any Hollywood movies of the era?

It is only after the first hour of the movie something happens and the lovers are separated and now it becomes a story of true love trying to find its way. Without revealing too much, none of this really makes any sense. The characters never seemed to be in love in the first place. It is hard to believe they would fight and scheme to be together and after watching so many movies from the era, as has Mr. Bogdanovich, you wonder if he didn't make a mistake and had the wrong characters get together by the end of the movie.

The performances in the movie are interesting at best. Everyone in the movie is attempting to act in a carefree, naturalistic manner, smiling and goofing around as they sing and dance. Not everyone comes out looking good. Burt Reynolds, who one can assume is meant to channel Clark Gable, fairs the worst. Mr. Reynolds was not a singer and depending on who you speak to, was not much of an actor either. Mr. Reynolds though has a lot of charisma on-screen and you have to remember in the 1970s and 80s was a major Hollywood star. Instead of singing he mostly speaks the lyrics.

The ladies in the movie; Ms. Shepherd and Ms. Khan come out looking better. Ms. Khan was a singer and Ms. Shepherd sang as well. Prior to the release of "At Long Last Love" Ms. Shepherd released an album singing Cole Porter songs, which may have served as an inspiration for this movie since Ms Shepherd and Mr. Bogdanovich were romantically involved.

Duilio Del Prete has good screen presence and at first I thought was meant to serve as the kind of character Erik Rhodes played in a pair of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals; the foreigner (Italian) who fashions himself a lover but no one else does. Thinking it over though his character may have been more inspired by Maurice Chevalier, who played a cliche French lover with a weakness for beautiful women. Mr. Chevalier also acted in several Ernst Lubitsch musicals and Mr. Bogdanovich is a great admirer of Mr. Lubitsch.

Given that "At Long Last Love" was meant to be a homage to the Hollywood musicals of the 1930s one wishes Mr. Bodganovich and his cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs would have shot the movie in black and white. The two men had previously collaborated on "Paper Moon" (1973) which was shot in black and white and would follow-up on this movie with "Nickelodeon" (1976), which was filmed in both color and black and white. Though "At Long Last Love" looks great the black and white cinematography would have been the icing on the cake fully setting the mood and nostalgia the movie was going for. But, Mr. Bogdanovich ruled against this since he had already made movies in black and white and didn't wish to continue.

Only a filmmaker such as Peter Bogdanovich could have given us a movie like "At Long Last Love". Here was a director who had a great admiration for Hollywood cinema of the 1930s and 40s. His prior movies were all in one way or another homages to classic cinema. His "What's Up, Doc?"  (1972) was heavily inspired by "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), "The Last Picture Show" (1971) was inspired by John Ford, "Nickelodeon" was about the early days of cinema and inspired by the great artist who tried to turn movies into an art form. Even today Mr. Bogdanovich tells stories with an old-fashion sensibility. His most recent release was "She's Funny That Way" (2015).

Unfortunately, for all his good intentions "At Long Last Love" cemented the end for Mr. Bogdanovich. Released before this movie was "Daisy Miller" (1974) also starring Cybill Shepherd. It was a box-office failure and with "At Long Last Love" it was a one-two punch. Two failures in a row. Nearly everything Mr. Bogdanovich released after this movie was met with poor critical and commercial success.

"At Long Last Love" is not a great movie but it is one to be appreciated. You have to admire what Mr. Bogdanovich was attempting to do. The movie does have a good musical score, mixing well-known Cole Porter standards along side lesser known tunes, very good cinematography and good production and costume designs.

How would a movie like "At Long Last Love" be greeted today? The movie was a bit ahead of its time. In the late 90s Woody Allen released his own movie musical, "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996), which was flooded with classic songs but took place in modern day Manhattan and Paris. Of course there was also "Moulin Rouge!" (2001), "Chicago" (2002) and "Nine" (2009) which tried to revitalize the genre. Only Mr. Bogdanovich went back to the genre's roots however.

"At Long Last Love" is worth seeing if you appreciate classic Hollywood cinema as you will be better able to acknowledge what Mr. Bogdanovich was aiming for. The movie is not so much a celebration of love as it is the musical genre.