'Love means never having to say you're sorry'...and apparently never having to worry about narrative continuity either. Director Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970) is the three hanky weepy by which all other soapy, soppy and sloppy boy meets girl romances have subsequently been judged. The book 'Love Story' is actually based on the film – not the other way around – both written by Erich Segal. It's 'can a Wasp and an uppity Radcliffe bitch find true happiness?' scenario apparently worked well, enough for Sydney Pollack to ape it three years later with The Way We Were (1973) for Columbia Pictures.
In hindsight the premise behind Love Story seems so rife with success that it’s easy to forget at the time it went into production there were more than a few sweaty palms inside the front offices at Paramount. The studio that had once hosted such luminaries as Cecile DeMille and Billy Wilder had fallen on very hard times and was in very real danger of closing its doors forever. The studio’s top brass made a radical decision, appointing former – failed – actor Robert Evans to manage its dwindling profit margin. Indeed, there was regular talk around the back lot that the fate of Paramount rested squarely on Evan’s shoulders. Happily, these were broad enough to endure the burden, and under Evan’s reign Paramount once more climbed to the top of the mountain with such blockbusters as Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and The Godfather.
Love Story is a standard melodrama at best, and yet there remains something heartrending and unique about the experience of seeing it for the first time. The clothes have dated. The hairstyles too. But the sentiment behind the trappings is as fresh and alive as it was back in 1970 and just as capable of tugging at our heart strings. Is it grand storytelling? I’m not even sure it’s competent storytelling – with whole portions of time glossed over or simply omitted for obvious budgetary restrictions. Yet, what’s there clings together with a genuine sense of youthful idealism prematurely crushed. Perhaps there’s nothing more dramatic than seeing young love thwarted by destiny and fate – and nothing more enduring than, as they used to say “having loved and lost than never having loved at all”. Under this aegis, Love Story is undeniably a heavy-hitter. Audiences ever since have been unable to hold back their tears. Bring Kleenex!
Erich Segals’ screenplay tells the story of Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) - a preppie who hates his father, Oliver III (Ray Milland) but falls madly in love with opinionated Radcliffe uber liberal super bitch, Jennifer Cavalleri (Ali McGraw). Not much parental strife on this outing. Jen's dad, Phil (John Marley) has some initial objections and Oliver senior attempts to belittle Jenny's importance in his son’s life by chronically referring to her as 'she', but otherwise it's smooth sailing for the happy couple. Well, almost...okay, not quite.
Oliver III disowns his son after the two are married. Oliver IV struggles to pay his way through Harvard Law School and Jenny gets a job working as a private school teacher. Young love prevails and so does hard work. Oliver graduates and takes a position at a respectable law firm in New York. The two decide to start a family. Only conception is not as easy as it should be. After several false starts Jenny and Oliver undergo tests to, in Ollie's own words, 'find out who's faulty.' Regrettably, the news is far more devastating than that! Dr. Addison (Walker Modica) informs Oliver that Jenny is very sick and will die shortly of one of those glamorous undisclosed Hollywood illnesses that are never revealed to the audience.
Oliver appeals to his father for $5,000 to pay for Jenny's treatments. Oliver III assumes that the money is for an abortion but writes his son the check anyway. Too late he learns what his money is really being used for and rushes to the hospital to comfort his son only to be told by him that Jenny has died and with her, presumably, so has the last opportunity Oliver III might have had to reconcile with his estranged son.
Love Story may not be high art but it definitely tugs at the heart strings. Initially, Hiller wanted either Beau Bridges or Michael York to play Oliver IV. Both turned down the part. Ryan O'Neal was cast only after several other actors were first considered. Today it's quite impossible imagining any of the other choices being half as good. Ali McGraw's 'go to hell' attitude wears a little thin during the last act of the film but otherwise provides a real spark in the dialogue. Segal's script is sharp and witty. The verbal sparring between Jenny and Oliver IV sustains the film even if the narrative is tragically episodic to a fault. Dick Kratina's cinematography is fairly straight forward, although his staging of the hockey match involved mounting the camera on a pair of hockey sticks and getting a camera man who could shoot and skate at the same time.
The film is also noteworthy for the debut of actor Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Simpson, one of Ollie's frat buddies briefly glimpsed during a card game. Francis Lai's theme gets overplayed throughout the movie but is memorable nonetheless. Bottom line: Love Story will have you delving into the Kleenex by the final reel.
Paramount's Blu-ray rectifies the major sins committed on their standard DVD from some years before. Truly, Love Story has never looked better on home video. The true 1080p image retains its dated 1970s look, while color fidelity and contrast levels take a quantum leap forward. Better still, all that pesky edge enhancement and aliasing that plagued the DVD is gone on Blu-ray. Film grain looks like grain, rather than digital grit. The image is smooth, yet very film like. The audio has also received a badly needed upgrade to DTS 5.1. Although it exhibits all the shortcomings of vintage audio, the effect has been lovingly and painstakingly preserved to eliminate minor hiss and pop. Extras include an audio commentary from Hiller as well as a truncated 'making of' featurette that boils down to Hiller taking about the film with inserts from the film itself - all of it in full frame! Bottom line: Paramount has once again done an outstanding job on mastering a catalogue title in hi def. Highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)