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USA 1975
Directed by
Peter Bogdanovich
118 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

At Long Last Love

There are few people who don’t enjoy a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie. Routine stories they may have but with their wonderful studio-bound world of pure fantasy, splendid staging, marvellous songs and the genius of the supremely-gifted screen couple they epitomize the craft of the 1930s musical.  

To try and recreate the style is not in itself a bad idea but if Peter Bogdanovich's attempt has the fantasy world and wall-to-wall Cole Porter songs, the staging is awful and his cast largely bereft of any talent for song and dance.  Under such circumstances the routine story is merely a millstone to an already drowning production.

The film's plot charts the usual musical  comedy trajectory for a bored playboy (Burt Reynolds), his snooty valet (John Hillerman) and a professional gambler (Duilio Del Prete) who are twinned with Broadway diva (Madeline Kahn) a wealthy debutante (Cybill Shepherd) and her maid (Eileen Brennan). Sounds like fun from the director of  the hit films Paper Moon (1973) and What’s Up Doc  (1972).  With Porter’s immaculate songs to enliven proceedings what could go wrong?  Well, as it turns out, pretty much everything.

Most insistently the singing is inadequate, the dancing as bad, if not worse. One can understand (if not excuse) Bogdanovich’s casting of his lover and muse Cybill Shepherd as the lead femme. But Reynolds, and even worse Reynolds sporting a dodgy rug?  Neither have the panache or grace to pull off the material.  Only Del Prete and Kahn have passable voices but they are sabotaged by Bogdanovich’s presentation of the songs. His default approach is to have the singers “act” their way into the songs (helpfully Porter often made use of a semi-spoken introductory verse) and then have them sung as duets by one or more of the couples. Once or twice might have been OK but used again and again it wears (the songs were actually performed live which on one level is commendable but the effect is just another aspect that drags the overall quality down).  The choreography is equally mateurish while the costume design by Bobbie Mannix, which at least for the women makes use of lots of form-revealing satin is unflattering particularly for the big-boned Shepherd. Equally the lavish Art Deco settings and huge roadsters are eye-gougingly shiny. This sort of lavish excess worked in the 1930s but blown up with 1970s technical prowess and then punctuated by sub-optimal performances it is simply stifling.

Bogdanovich had been riding the crest of a career wave since his debut with 1971’s The Last Picture Show but this film not only bombed financially it made the director something of a laughing stock critically, a fall from which he has never recovered.

FYI: For a much more  successful re-setting of Porter's songs see Irwin Winkler's 2004 film, De-lovely.




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