Monday, September 20, 2010

1975 - AT LONG LAST LOVE, trying to be fair to this film

Peter Bogdanovich in the 1970's attempted to revive a 1930's type of musical with At Long Last Love. This film was the second of three films along with Daisy Miller and Nickelodeon that really finished off his career.  Critics compared it to an inferior Astaire and Rogers musical, but watching this film after 35 years, it's clear he was actually imitating an early Ernest Lubitsch musical, probably one of the musicals Lubitsch did in 1930 or 1931.

Some critics today now call this film an under appreciated masterpiece.

Back in the early 1930's when musicals were being filmed,  sound recording was still being developed and understood.  It was not unusual to have the actors actually sing to a prerecorded sound track while performing.  Bogdanovich adopted this approach by having his actors perform to a prerecorded soundtrack connected to wireless radios with tiny earphones so they hear the music while they sang and danced.  While this was an interesting idea in conception, practically it robbed him of the ability to use modern sound equipment to enhance the singing of the actors.  Essentially he lost his ability to manipulate the sound in post production.

A bigger issue was his cast, with the exception of Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman and Eileen Brennan who seemed to understand where this film was going, Burt Reynolds and Cybil Shepard did serious harm to it.  Since Bogdanovich was having them perform their songs live, the film had to live or die on their performances, it died.

In the old Lubitsch musicals, Lubitsch had the advantage of using stage performers like Maurice Chavelier or Jack Buchanan, who could sing and dance.  Shepherd and Reynolds could do neither.   Reynolds has a smirk on his face, acting like the whole thing is a big joke.  Cybil Shepherd was a top model in the 1970's who turned to acting and while you can debate the relative merits of her acting ability, you can't argue that she's a very limited performer.  In At Long Last Love, she knows how to go for the closeup but for a fashion model,  she doesn't look very good in the 1930's costumes.

Bogdanovich  has to take most of the blame for this film, since he wrote, produced and directed it.  The story in these kinds of films is supposed to be non existent, but there really isn't a clever situation or witty line to keep the audience interested in.  The idea to have over a dozen Cole Porter songs was probably not so hot.  A dozen songs in a musical is a lot of songs, especially when sung by as cast that can't sing.

Gratuitous picture of Cybil
Bogdanovich never found the tone for the film.  He directs the cast to say their lines  in the overlapping dialog style that Howard Hawks used in his films.  Combining a Howard Hawks style with a Lubitsch style was a bad idea since these two directors were very different in their approach to film.   Bogdanovich who was a great admirer of Hawks should have realized that Hawks only directed one musical,  Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, and found out he had no feeling for this  genre.  In that film Hawks let his choreographer stage and film all of the musical numbers.  

After 35 years did At Long Last Love get better?  Well Madeline Kahn's better than I remembered and maybe a couple of the numbers aren't really bad but for the most part, no. 

At Long Last Love is available on You Tube in 13 parts. Not recommended

118 "amateur hour" minutes.

1 comment:

Theo said...

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