At Long Last Love
At Long Last Love is a 1975 American jukebox musical comedy film written, produced, and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. It stars Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn, and Duilio Del Prete as two couples who each switch partners during a party and attempt to make each other jealous. Featuring 18 songs with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Bogdanovich was inspired to make a musical with the composer's songs after Shepherd gave him a book of his songs. All of the musical sequences were performed live by the cast, since At Long Last Love was meant by Bogdanovich to be a tribute to 1930s musical films like One Hour With You, The Love Parade, The Merry Widow and The Smiling Lieutenant that also filmed the songs in the same manner.
|At Long Last Love|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Bogdanovich|
|Produced by||Peter Bogdanovich|
|Written by||Peter Bogdanovich|
Duilio Del Prete
|Music by||Cole Porter|
|Edited by||Douglas Robertson|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$2.5 million|
20th Century Fox rushed the film's release, only allowing for two test screenings before the final version premiered at Radio City Music Hall. Despite a few decent published opinions from critics like Roger Ebert, At Long Last Love faced mostly horrendous initial reviews that mainly targeted the lead actors' performances of the musical numbers; and very low box office returns, only making less than half of its $5.14 million budget. The critical reception was so negative that Bogdanovich printed newspaper ads apologizing for the film. Apart from a 1981 videocassette release, At Long Last Love didn't have an official home media release for many years, so the only available versions of the film were through bootleg TV, VHS recordings, and 16mm prints. This was until the early 2010s; Bogdanovich's 121-minute 1979 default version of the film was issued to Netflix in 2012, and the "Definitive Director's Version," which was 90 seconds longer, was released on Blu-ray in 2013.
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.
At Long Last Love was Bogdanovich's first musical film, as well as the first motion picture he wrote by himself. He got the idea to a musical film of Cole Porter songs when his then-girlfriend Cybill Shepherd gave him a book of songs by the composer. "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." When he 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". The film was originally called Quadrille, and was equally weighted between the four lead characters.
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. By March 1974, Bogdanovich had decided to not act, and replaced himself with Elliott Gould, who had experience in musical theatre. Gould and O'Neal dropped out. By March 1974 Burt Reynolds had replaced Gould. Bogdanovich says he was "talked into" using Burt Reynolds, who wanted to try a musical. "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." He gave the other male lead to Duilio Del Prete who had just been in Bogdanovich's Daisy Miller and who the director thought was going to be a big star. 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". He wanted the characters to feel like they were having a conversation using "greeting cards in the form of songs" like "they didn't know what to say to each other." 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 influenced Bogdanovich to have all of the song sequences be filmed live, as it would recreate the "kind of sad, funny, melancholy, silly," and "spontaneous" vibe of the films. However, all of the lead actors, especially Reynolds "weren't accomplished singers or dancers," resulting in a lot of delays and mess-ups during the shooting process. In addition, the cast had a tough time performing the sequences due to having to perform them in one take and deal with wonky receiver systems in order to listen to the instrumentals. Bogdanovich later said he "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."
The studio rushed the film into release, with only two previews in San Jose (which Bogadanovich recalled being "a total disaster") and Denver. Bogdanovich made more changes to the film to have it be more focused on Reynolds' character due to pressure from the studio, and the final version was never previewed. Following a premiere at 20th Century-Fox Studios in Los Angeles on March 1, 1975, the film opened March 6 at Radio City Music Hall to scathing reviews and poor box office returns. The chorus of critical attacks prompted Bogdanovich to have an open letter of apology printed in newspapers throughout the U.S. 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.
Jay Cocks in Time led the 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".
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 was listed as a major financial disaster in The Hollywood Hall of Shame, all written by Harry and Michael Medved.
At Long Last Love currently holds a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on fifteen reviews.
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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- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
- At Long Last Love at Box Office Mojo Retrieved December 24, 2012
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p233. Please note figures are rentals not total gross.
- Peter Bogdanovich hews to single theme--variety By Nora E. Taylor Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor 0 Apr 1975: 13.
- Hyphenates Seek Unified Film Approach: European Influence Visible Definition of 'Producer Self-Defense Cited By PAUL GARDNER. New York Times 25 Feb 1974: 1
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- 'The End' is just the beginning McBride, Joseph; Riley, Brooks. Film Comment; New York Vol. 14, Iss. 3, (May/Jun 1978): 16-21.
- The Lives, Loves and Hard Times of Peter Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd: The Heartbreak Kids The Lives, and Loves and Hard Times of the Heartbreak Kids By Sally Quinn. The Washington Post20 Dec 1976: B1.
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- Workaholic Burt Reynolds sets up his next task: Light comedy Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune 28 Nov 1976: e2.
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