Love Story (1970)

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Love Story 1970

Where do I begin?  There are seven basic plots and Love Story is one of them. Boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl. It began as a screenplay sold to Paramount Pictures and the writer, literature professor Erich Segal, was persuaded to novelise it. The novel became a bestseller before the film’s release. The stars were already very elderly to be playing undergrads – Ryan O’Neal was 29, Ali McGraw 31.  Some smart and arch dialogue, the decision to use classical music (“What could be better than Bach – or Mozart – or you?”), an audacious opening, well chosen fashion, characters who do things (play keyboards, hockey) all contribute to a film that feels unerringly modern. O’Neal had been a Hollywood kid who nonetheless paid his dues in TV including a long stint on Peyton Place, McGraw had made an impact the previous year as Jewish American Princess Brenda Patimkin in the Roth adaptation,  Goodbye, Columbus (Peerce) and both performers were affecting and ridiculously beautiful (and remain so to this day.) What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?  A classic.

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David Lean

David Lean Summertime

“You must cut.  Anything that’s finished is finished.”  Ever the editor, David Lean, born 25 March 1908, was the boy from suburbia who escaped from humdrum Little England which he nonetheless hymned in Brief Encounter (1945) with a little help from Noel Coward, and made it big on the international stage. By his own admission he was a “dedicated maniac” relentless in his preparation for some of the greatest films ever made. Influenced by the formidable silent Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Ingram, 1921) he is renowned for his films of visionary men, most notably the misguided Colonel in Bridge On the River Kwai (1957) and the indomitable, enigmatic Lawrence of Arabia (1962).  However the character with whom he most identified was Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) in Summertime (1955), the camera-wielding American spinster who falls in love in Venice in a spectacular swoon of Technicolor tourism. She was unlike any of his previous heroines and her liberation proved his own, as his subsequent life in exotic locales attests.

The Judge (2014)

The Judge image

It is probably more than coincidence that the antagonist in The Judge (Dobkin, 2014) is Robert Duvall, Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird (Mulligan, 1962).  Here he plays the title character, a smalltown and self-righteous official called Joseph Palmer who winds up in bigtime trouble the night his beloved wife is buried and has to be (highly reluctantly) defended by son Hank, Robert Downey Jr., the film’s producer, a criminal lawyer in Chicago whose wife is divorcing him.  He says of his position, “Everybody wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in the bathtub.” It is a long tale, well told, with hints of incest, lost love, and plenty of prolix speeches from Hank, a Downey specialty overindulged somewhat here. Massachusetts stands in very prettily for Hoosier country, Indiana, while the family’s secrets are steadily unfolded, one by one. This patriarchal drama brings together two of the screen’s powerhouse performers, with the extravagantly gifted Downey turning in a mighty performance opposite not just the other legendary Robert D, but Billy Bob Thornton, with whom Duvall has also shared some impressive time in Sling Blade (1996) and The Apostle (1997). This is a long, cool drink of a movie with a closing sequence that suggests it might be a third franchise for Downey. The jury is out.