[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]
By no stretch of the critical imagination can At Long Last Love be deemed other than a bad film but, even allowing for an outspoken desire to “get” Bogdanovich, the negative reaction has been extreme—as if the director had set The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Cole Porter, whereas all he’s done has been to turn loose a few of his vehemently unmusical movie-actor friends and let them stumble through a multimillion-dollar home movie. I know that people are starving, and yet I can’t subscribe to the rites of excommunication.
The fact is that I enjoyed watching Burt Reynolds forthrightly making an ass of himself—and it was himself he was kidding, not Fred Astaire or any other legitimate practitioner of Thirties romantic comedy with tunes and capers thrown in—and I thought Madeline Kahn was going somewhere until she virtually dropped right out of the picture via some scene-cutting, and Duilio del Prete was a lot more pleasant to have around than any of the original fifth-wheel Latin lovers who used to decorate Astaire-Rogers flicks, and John Hillerman and Eileen Brennan were a good deal better than that, especially Brennan, heaving her non-musical but decidedly well-disciplined hip around in such a way that she not only got laughs for her lack of dancing ability—a joke that wears thin about the time the first reel is over—but also made genuine comic points, serving the story and her character and basic narrative niceties like that. But even if these five costars had less aptitude for the musical-comedy form, they’d still come up shining in the ivory glow reflecting from the gigantic central goose egg of Cybill Shepherd. Plopped—one can scarcely say poised—at the center of the picture, and of every frame that Bogdanovich can possibly manage, she contributes not one jot of wit, charm, or other than plastic beauty to the enterprise; there’s no telling how much of this is her fault and how much Bogdanovich’s, so it’s just as well for both parties that she has determined to appear in somebody else’s movies for a while (next up: Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver).
The performers are the show. The only musical compensation, aside from desperate mind’s-ear refilterings of songs one knows and regards fondly, is confined to the non-vocal medleys that accompany the film’s opening and closing images of four silver-plated dancing figurines—a sort of cross between Van Nest Polglase RKO Thirties moderne and A Lesson in Love, and the most evocative index of the notion that a certain amount of partners-changing is expected to take place musically and romantically during the next hour-and-a-half or so. Only the relatively beeline pursuit of reluctant gentleman’s gentleman Hillerman by maid–cum–Eve Arden soulmate Brennan has any narrative potency. The most interesting thing about the on-and-off, let’s-pretend, now-it’s-for-real liaisons of Reynolds-Shepherd, Reynolds-Kahn, Shepherd–Del Prete, Kahn–Del Prete is that Bogdanovich has unsuccessfully tried to update the G-rated purity of some of the clinches by permitting them to end on a descend-to-the-floor and fadeout, implying the passing of a point that the playful spooners of the original films never even dreamed of approaching. (Such concessions to contemporary consciousness rarely work out. Dick Richards’ new version of Farewell My Lovely offers one hasty, rain-bleared glimpse of his stars rassling on the front seat of an automobile to assure us that Philip Marlowe and the lady in the case actually did Do It, but the perfunctoriness and visual coyness of the scene sort uncomfortably with the artily explicit nude action in the film’s whorehouse sequences.)
George Cukor’s designer Gene Allen has dressed some imaginative black-and-white-in-color sets that cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs does nicely by, as he also does by Bogdanovich’s preferred integral mise-en-scène setups. But even the most admirably integral takes can satisfy only so long when there’s rarely anything but galumphing gaucherie to showcase. Bogdanovich is surely still enough of a filmmaker and film critic to have learned more than one lesson in love from this basically harmless bit of self-indulgence. I look forward to the next movie.
AT LONG LAST LOVE
Screenplay and direction: Peter Bogdanovich. Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs. Production design: Gene Allen. Music and lyrics: Cole Porter; arrangements by Artie Butler and Lionel Newman. Production: Bogdanovich.
The Players: Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn, Duilio Del Prete, Eileen Brennan, John Hillerman, Mildred Natwick.
Copyright © 1975 Richard T. Jameson