Sunday, May 27, 2007
cinema obscura: Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love" (1975)
Criminally maligned - and mostly by people who haven't even bothered to see it - Peter Bogdanovich's sublime homage to the '30s film musical, "At Long Last Love," is ripe for a little rediscovery and some decided re-evaluation.
But this is unlikely to happen, given that its releasing studio, 20th Century-Fox, has kept the film buried and off home entertainment for more than three decades now. Exacerbating matters is the fact that Fox recently saw fit to give Walter Lang's rather embarrassing "Can-Can" (1960) the deLuxe, two-disc DVD treatment.
Driven by a rich Cole Porter score (of familiar standards and melodies more esoteric) and filled with an affable cast of good sports - Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn, Dulio Del Prete, Eileen Brennan, John Hillerman and Mildred Natwick as playboy Reynolds' dowager mother - the film is a classic still waiting to be discovered.
Bogdanovich was arguably at his most creative on this movie, filming it in color but designing it largely in black-and-white, so that the only colors in the film are his actors' skin tones. He also enlisted his cast of game, nonprofessional singers to perform their songs live, every one of them, and despite the hasty assumptions that were made at the time of the film's release, the singing is fine here - more than fine actually, given that Shepherd, Kahn and Del Prete all sport trained voices, while Reynolds affects a soothing Dean Martin-style croon.
To complement the stress-free singing, choreographer Rita Abrams kept her dance routines light and easy-going. The result is that the dancing here has the off-the-cuff, scratch-pad casualness of the in-between numbers in the Astaire-Rogers films. The film doesn't feel choreographed.
"At Long Last Love" is clearly an attempt to impersonate the movies of Fred and Ginger, with Bogdanovich affecting the unobtrusive directorial style that George Stevens and Mark Sandrich brought to the dancing team's films. It is decidedly old-fashioned in its artificiality, but "At Long Last Love" is also post-modernist, mixing in a neo-realist musical style pioneered by both Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen. It's a daring experiment that works - again, despite what you've heard.
Curiously, several versions of the film exist. Under the gun to get "At Long Last Love" out in the summer of 1975, Bogdanovich delivered a print clocking in at 118 minutes. Following the disasterous critical reaction, the film was cut down to 105 minutes. Two versions of it, in fact, played Radio City Music Hall. The film that opened there was not the same movie that closed. (Regarding the critical reaction, I hasten to add that there were/are several reputable critics who actually like "At Long Last Love.")
The syndicated TV version is even shorter, although it reinstates some fleeting, charming musical bits that were originally cut for time. The 16mm version of the film, which runs roughly 130 minutes, presents "At Long Last Love" in its most complete form and includes the two numbers that originally opened the film - a terrific "Down in the Depths" by Kahn and Del Prete's "Tomorrow." (As conceived, each of the four lead characters had an introductory song, although Kahn's and Del Prete's were excised just before the film's release.) Still missing, however, is Mildred Natwick's "Kate the Great" number.
Given that Fox has no interest in the film, it would be great if it handed it over to Criterion, so that Bogdanovich could put together a definitive archival edition.
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Original artwork for Fox's "At Long Last Love")
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