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This film was Peter Bogdanovich's homage to musical comedies of the 1930s. A millionaire named Michael Oliver Pritchard III and a singer named Kitty O'Kelly meet and fall in love. Meanwhile, an indigent woman named Brooke Carter and an Italian gambler named Johnny Spanish meet and fall in love. All four people meet each other and become friends (actually, Kitty and Brooke had been friends since high-school), and soon, Brooke's crude, fun-loving maid Elizabeth falls in love with Michael's valet Rodney James. Later on, Michael and Brooke fall in love, and Kitty and Johnny decide to follow them around. In order to make Brooke and Michael jealous, they try to look like they are falling in love as well. Eventually, Michael and Johnny get into a fight but then immediately make up. Soon, Brooke and Kitty make up. The two couples pair off successfully and they live happily ever after. Written by
The Camera begins on a silver music box on which rest base-reliefs of the 4 principals, they dance to a song and then the camera pans around Kitty Kelly's sumptuous black-and white art deco penthouse. See more »
In this attempt to make a new old movie, Madeline Kahn, playing a supposedly famous stage star named Kitty O'Kelly, performs the song "Give Me a Primitive Man" in a supposed Broadway musical (supposedly written by Cole Porter). The number is dreadful. The concept is stupid, the staging clumsy and Kahn may or may not be putting us on, in much the same way she parodied Marlene Dietrich in BLAZING SADDLES. The only interesting thing about it is trying to figure out if the musical number is supposed to be bad. I mean, is it supposed to be good but was just badly done, or was it supposed to be purposely bad to show that Kitty isn't very talented, or was it supposed to be intentionally funny-bad, and just isn't funny? Just what the heck was director/writer Peter Bogdanovich trying to do?
That is the question that haunts AT LONG LAST LOVE. All the songs -- torn violently from the Cole Porter songbook -- are badly performed. Indeed, all the numbers are so consistently awful, it would seem that it was Bogdanovich's intent. But why? Obviously, some of the songs are purposely butchered -- sung by characters who are supposed to be drunk or hung over or desperately trying to be nonchalant. So, it is bad enough that Bogdanovich goes out of his way to render some of Porter's witty lyrics gratingly unmelodic and sometimes totally unintelligible, but in other unfortunate numbers, the songs seem to be victims of incompetent staging and performances that are either simply indifferent or just flat out lousy. It is hard to say which is more offensive: that Bogdanovich would choose to mangle Porter's music or that he couldn't be bothered to do the songs justice.
This is all the more perplexing since this is supposed to be a valentine to Cole Porter, a celebration of the wit and charm of his songs, all wrapped up in a pretty package designed to look like the Lubitsch comedies and the Astaire and Rogers musicals of the 1930s. Well, the packaging is nicely done; the art deco set design looks great. But the tone of the movie is schizophrenic: The plot is featherweight: a silly tale of the idle rich dilly-dallying around in a game of change-partners-and-romance. Yet, though the film was conceived to honor Porter, his material is approached with something slightly above contempt. It seems that everyone thinks they are just too good to be involved with the project, or worse, with Porter's music. The result is sophisticated bemusement performed with juvenile arrogance; sweetness soured by disdain.
This type of story is not meant to be taken seriously by the audience, but the players ought to at least respect the material enough to fake some interest. Instead, we get something akin to amateur night at the high school talent show. This sort of comedy doesn't require great acting, but it does demand a certain attitude, a sincere appreciation for style and a knack for comedic timing. John Hillerman, Mildred Natwick and Duilio del Prete get into the spirit of things, though the comedy styles of Kahn and Eileen Brennan are a bit too broad for this kind of material. (They fare much better in nostalgic parodies like THE CHEAP DETECTIVE and CLUE.) But they all fall under the shadow of the nominal stars, Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd. One doesn't expect Reynolds to be Fred Astaire or Cary Grant, or even Edward Everett Horton, but at least he could have tried to stifle his tendency to mug for the camera like a teenage boy trying to show his friends how cool he is. By the same token, Shepherd is in her are-we-done-yet? prom queen mode, seemingly bored with the whole affair. Neither can sing well, and unlike the supporting players, they don't even try.
But, as bad as Reynolds and Shepherd are, all the blame has to go to Bogdanovich; he is the one who miscast them in the first place and then made no apparent attempt to make them behave. Bogdanovich apparently loves Cole Porter, yet he lets Reynolds and Shepherd treat the songs like they are reciting dirty limericks: they snicker and snort and contribute smarmy asides. Possibly Bogdanovich was aiming for the film to have an easygoing attitude, a sense of contemporary improvisation. But the resulting scenes look like everybody is walking through the material on the first day of rehearsal. Instead of casual, the tone is callous; indifferent rather than infectious. Light and airy does not come easy; in the movies actors have to work hard to make it look like they aren't working at all. Timing is everything, in comedy and in music. A film scholar like Bogdanovich should have realized this.
The film's title song asks the musical question "Is it a fancy not worth thinking of? Or is it At Long Last Love?" Under Bogdanovich's direction, it turns out to be both.
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