At Long Last Love
|At Long Last Love|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Bogdanovich|
|Produced by||Peter Bogdanovich|
|Written by||Peter Bogdanovich|
|Music by||Cole Porter|
|Edited by||Douglas Robertson|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$2.5 million|
Four socialites unexpectedly clash: heiress Brooke Carter runs into the Italian gambler Johnny Spanish at the race track while playboy Michael O. Pritchard nearly runs into stage star Kitty O'Kelly with his car. Backstage at Kitty's show, it turns out she and Brooke are old friends who attended public school together. The foursome do the town, accompanied by Brooke's companion Elizabeth, who throws herself at Michael's butler and chauffeur Rodney James.
The four friends change partners at a party, where Brooke and Michael step outside behind Kitty and Johnny. In an effort to make the others jealous, Kitty, Johnny, Brooke, Michael, Elizabeth and Rodney begin their romance.
Bogdanovich got the idea to make the film when his then-girlfriend Cybill Shepherd gave him a book of Cole Porter songs. "His lyrics conveyed a frivolous era," said the director. "With a kind of sadness, but very subtle... Cole Porter lyrics are less sentimental than, say, Gershwin and more abrasive... Gershwin was the greater musician. But Cole was a better lyricist and I was more interested in lyrics than music."
He got the idea to make a musical that used only Cole Porter songs. When I heard the lyrics for "I Loved Him", with its reversal of emotion and wry lyric, he decided to use that as the finale and "worked back from there".
Bogdanovich said another inspiration was the movies of Ernst Lubitsch with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier such as One Hour With You, The Love Parade, The Merry Widow and The Smiling Lieutenant. He later said:
All those folks did everything live. There was an orchestra right off the camera... You can feel the spontaneity in the pictures still today... What I was trying to do was to try to recreate that kind of sad, funny, melancholy, silly feeling of those early musicals and do it live and make it feel spontaneous.
Bogdanovich had never previously made a musical. "I find it exciting and inspiring to do things I haven't tried before, in terms of genre and style challenges."
Bogdanovich says the film was originally called Quadrille, and was equally weighted between the four lead characters.
Bogdanovich's first four features had been written with collaborators, but he wrote this one alone. "It was all in my head," he said.
In September 1973 Bogadanovich announced the cast would be Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn, Ryan O'Neal, and the director himself.
Shepherd had recorded an album of Cole Porter songs paid for by Paramount called Cybill Does It... to Cole Porter.
"The whole joke that he's kind of a nice fellow, good looking, not particularly good at dancing. He can't dally with the girl. He's rather ineffectual."
Bogdanovich's last two films had been made for Paramount. In March 1974 Fox agreed to finance the film.
Filming started August 1974. Resisting the urge to shoot another film in black and white, Bogdanovich had it art-directed as "Black and White in Color".
The film is unique in being the first since the early 1930s in which all of the musical numbers were recorded live, without the actors lip-synching to a previously recorded soundtrack (this method was also used by Rex Harrison for his songs in My Fair Lady and by Barbra Streisand for the climactic "My Man" in Funny Girl). At Long Last Love is also unusual in that most musical numbers were performed in one continuous take.
"There's nothing real in the picture," Bogdanovich said.
Bogdanovich later said, "the trouble is, both Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier were accomplished singers. I didn't have accomplished singers or dancers. This was not a great way to go into it... Burt Reynolds held us up quite a bit because he was not natural with it... He was not the best choice, and it held us up a lot and screwed us up a lot.
Bogdanovich later reflected:
Nobody quite understood what I was trying to do, and I'm not sure I understood what I was trying to do at the time. I see now quite clearly what I was doing. I was making a movie about people who couldn't talk to each other. It was about people who couldn't communicate, so they talked in greeting cards. They bought greeting cards in the form of songs, and they sang songs 'cause they didn't know what to say to each other. It wasn't really a musical in the conventional sense, which is why we did everything live. I didn't care so much about the musical part of it. I wanted it to seem like people talking, only they were singing.
Bogdanovich later said "I think I was very arrogant" during the making of the film. "But that arrogance was bought out of a frantic insecurity. I knew it was so possible I was wrong that I became tough about insisting that I was right." Reynolds later recalled singing live was difficult:
We had little receivers in our ears and wires running down our legs to pick up the musical accompaniment, because this was Peter's tribute to Ernst Lubitsch. But nobody knew it. I said to Peter, "Please, let's have subtides saying, This is live, folks.' " It was tough, because it all had to be in one take, the singing and the picture; and then they had to take a word here and a word there in postproduction. We'd pick up strange things on our receivers. Mexican radio stations. Right in the middle of a take I'd hear, "Breaker, breaker." 
Bogdanovich later said the film was rushed into release. He said there were only two previews.
The first one was a total disaster in San Jose and the second one in Denver was OK. It played. But then I made some more changes to it because of pressure from the studio and didn't preview that version. So that version which had never previewed opened and it was the worst version there was. It was fucked. Then I saw that playing and I realized what I needed to do, but by then it was too late. It was overconfidence on the part of the studio, because the studio really liked the movie, that was the funny thing. They liked it, they thought it was terrific but in a musical, well in anything, it all has to do with construction. And in a musical particularly, the balance between the musical numbers and the dialogue has to be delicate and I just was still too inexperienced to realize how critical that was.
Shepherd later claimed the studio forced Bogdanovich to recut the film to focus more on Reynolds.
Jay Cocks in Time led that condemnation, stating; "this Cole Porter coloring book, mounted with great expense and no taste, is one of those grand catastrophes that make audiences either hoot in derisive surprise or look away in embarrassment", adding; "when dancing, the stars look as if they're extinguishing a camp fire."
TV Guide wrote; "one of the worst bombs of the 1970s, this foolish attempt at re-creating the lush musicals of the 1930's offers fabulous art deco sets, memorable Cole Porter songs, and slick production values, yet it goes down like a stricken elephant." Pauline Kael in The New Yorker called it a "stillborn musical comedy-a relentlessly vapid pastiche". Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "Peter Bogdanovich's audacious attempt to make a stylish, nineteen-thirties Hollywood musical comedy with a superb score by Cole Porter but with performers who don't dance much and whose singing abilities might be best hidden in a very large choir." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "the year's most frustrating failure."
John Simon wrote in Esquire that the film, "may be the worst movie musical of this or any decade: Sitting through this movie is like having someone at a fancy Parisian restaurant, who neither speaks nor reads French, read out stentoriously the entire long menu in his best Arkansas accent, and occasionally interrupt himself to chortle at his own cleverness"; and he particularly criticized Cybill Shepherd, stating, "Cybill Shepherd, Mr B's inamorata, plays a poor little snotty rich girl with a notion of sophistication that is underpassed onIy by her acting ability. (I will not even sully my pen by making it describe her singing and dancing.) If it weren't for an asinine superciliousness radiating from her, Miss Shepherd would actually be pitiable, rather like a kid from an orphanage trying to play Noel Coward."
Frank Rich also condemned the film and Shepherd specifically in The New Times, calling the film "the most perverse movie musical ever made...a colossal, overextravagant in-joke...Every time his stars open their mouths or shake their legs, they trample on Cole Porter’s grave...As for Shepherd’s dancing, the best to be said is that it may not be recognizable as such: when this horsey ex-model starts prancing around, she tends to look as if she’s fighting off a chronic case of trots.
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and wrote, "The musical numbers are a mess. Nobody knows how to dance; nobody knows how to sing. Shepherd tries to hit the high notes and ends up sounding like a choir girl with a changing voice; Reynolds maintains good cheer, but too often slides into a Dean Martin accent that has nothing to do with the '30s."
Bruce Williamson attacked the film in a review for Playboy and stated "Duilio Del Prete, an Italian discovery with no voice, sings as if he came to paint the mansion and stayed on to regale the company with wobbly impersonations of Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier."
John Barbour wrote in Los Angeles: "If this Peter Bogdanovich fiasco were any more of a dog, it would shed", and, "Burt Reynolds sings like Dean Martin with adenoids and dances like a drunk killing cockroaches".
The chorus of critical attacks prompted Bogdanovich to have an open letter of apology printed in newspapers throughout the U.S.
Burt Reynolds later said the film was:
Not as bad as it was reviewed. What was reviewed was Cybill and Peter's relationship. You see, Peter Bogdanovich has done something that all critics will never forgive him for doing. That is, stop being a critic, go make a film and have that film be enormously successful. What he did then was to go on talk shows, and be rather arrogant and talk about how bad critics are. That was the final straw. So they were waiting with their knives and whatever. And along came Peter who finally gave them something they could kill him with. Unfortunately there I was, between Cybill's broad shoulders and Peter's ego. And I got killed along with the rest of them.
"I came out of it with better reviews than anyone else," added Reynolds. "But that's like staying afloat longer than anybody else when the Titanic sunk. I still drowned."
Despite the negative reviews, Roger Ebert gave the film a mildly positive review, awarding 2.5 stars out of 4 and writing, "It's impossible not to feel affection for At Long Last Love Peter Bogdanovich's much-maligned evocation of the classical 1930s musical. It's a light, silly, impeccably stylish entertainment...The movie's no masterpiece, but I can't account for the viciousness of some of the critical attacks against it. It's almost as if Bogdanovich is being accused of the sin of pride for daring to make a musical in the classical Hollywood style...Bogdanovich has too much taste, too sure a feel for the right tone, to go seriously wrong. And if he doesn't go spectacularly right, at least he provides small pleasures and great music."
At Long Last Love was listed in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, was cited in The Golden Turkey Awards (Winning the award for "The Worst Musical Extravaganza of All Time".), and listed as a major financial disaster in The Hollywood Wall of Shame, both by Harry and Michael Medved.
Bogdanovich later said once the film was released "I realized how I should have cut it after that and I immediately did cut it, they let me recut and I think I paid for that, and that version was then shown on television and that's the version that all release prints have been ever since. That was quite different from the opening version. Very different, but unfortunately it was too late.
The director has stated many people who first saw it in this version did not react so badly to the film.
At Long Last Love was released on videocassette by Magnetic Video in 1981. In addition, there were different versions (each with different scenes and numbers added and missing) floating around among fans and collectors, from 16mm prints and various TV broadcasts.
The director dismissed the film as a painful memory until around 2011 when he was told it was streaming on Netflix and people were liking it. For the first time in many years he watched it himself, and for the first time in years, he liked what he saw. But it was not his cut.
It was discovered that a longtime studio editor named Jim Blakely had secretly assembled another version of the film (running approximately 121 minutes) which more closely resembled Bogdanovich's shooting script and first preview cut. He quietly substituted it as the default version as early as 1979, and that was the version made available to Netflix. The director has gratefully acknowledged Jim Blakely, who died before anyone learned what he had done.
After finding out how it happened, Bogdanovich called Fox to say he liked that version. He made some refinements, including 90 seconds of restored footage, bringing the final running time to 123 minutes. The studio released it as the "Definitive Director's Version" on Blu-ray disc in June 2013, resulting in more positive reviews than the theatrical version received.
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