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Resembling a TV-movie in story, script, direction, cinematography and music, this late-career entry of Turner's is pretty hapless. Though top-billed, her role is relatively insignificant and she has little to say or do in the film except to face blame for a long ago deed. Single teacher Birney meets architect Hylands (very improbably) as he is fishing in a fountain for his date's car keys. When the date runs off, he and Birney strike up a relationship and, over the course of some "gum commercial"-esque scenes, proceed to live together, get pregnant and plan to wed. Hylands takes Birney to Canada where his parents (Lansing and Holm) live for the wedding. Her parents (Alda and Turner) are on an extended cruise and can't (or won't) be there. At the wedding, Hylands' brother Friedrich snaps endless Polaroids (!) of the backs of the couple's heads, but for a later boat trip, he is shown with a 35mm camera! He takes a picture of Birney with her new father-in-law. Later, when the newlyweds finally meet HER parents, Turner sees the photograph and is aghast. It turns out that she had had a one night stand thirty years ago with Lansing and that Birney is actually his daughter, thus making the happy couple half-siblings who have committed incest and are about to produce a child! The rest of the film involves the decision to have the baby or not and to proceed with the relationship or not. Unfortunately, what could be scintillating, even, for some, titillating drama never gets anywhere because most of the revelations are done offscreen, thus robbing the audience of some good reactions. Also, the true meat of the subject is only skirted around. The feelings and issues of the situation are never fleshed out properly. Birney just always needs time to think. But what about?? Toothy Birney and wiry Hylands manage a few decent moments as a couple and have a degree of chemistry, though neither one has the charisma to carry a feature film. Lansing does pretty well in an understated performance (certainly better off here than he would be in two years on the debacle "Empire of the Ants"!) Holm tries to inject some warmth and class into it, but is wasted. She is improbably matched with Lansing and, at times, looks like his mother. Alda, with some terrible get-ups and a serious comb-over, is also not given much to do with his part. Strickland, appearing briefly at the beginning and later at a party, adds a touch of humor and wit. The film could have used her later on. Someone forgot to tell Turner that it was 1976 and not 1958. She gets about 11 seconds where she can relax and from then on, her character is in a constant state of fret and sorrow. For her, every scene is about what billowing or beaded or tailored concoction she can wear. She even drags out her signature fur coat and head scarf look which was fine in its day, but seems overly melodramatic here. She was 56 years old playing a 51 year-old and looking like a 71 year-old. The cinematographer did her no favors in this movie (nor to Holm or even Birney.) Though top-billed, her appearances are pretty brief and, like everyone else except the couple, she is wasted! The two sets of parents never get any decent confrontation scenes or scenes of discussion or understanding. It's hard to believe that this is the same director who delivered the deliriously campy "Back Street" and "Midnight Lace". The film is so dull and halfhearted. Also, depending on how important the subject of bloodline is to the viewer, it can seem pretty icky. Ultimately, it's so drab and uninvolving that it ceases to matter.
Though an interesting premise, Bittersweet Love is kind of a mess. Lana
Turner was a very beautiful woman, and certainly in her younger years
had an undeniable charm and lightness, as in "Slightly Dangerous." By
1976, that girl is gone. Lana's name is used strictly as a gimmick to
get people to watch - she doesn't do much except overact and wear that
babushka she often wore with a fur coat. I can't remember if she wore
sunglasses, but she usually did in that getup.
The story is intriguing if the stuff that soaps are made of. Without realizing it, a half-brother and sister fall in love, get married, and the woman (Meredith Baxter-Birney) becomes pregnant. It turns out that Birney was the product of a fling that Turner had with Scott Hylands' father. Once this is revealed, some tough choices need to be made. Incest is very repulsive to females, so sayeth one of the pundits in the story; Hylands, however, wants to have the baby and continue the relationship.
Celeste Holm and Robert Lansing are also in the cast, playing husband and wife. Bad mismatch. And, alas, not the only thing bad about "Bittersweet Love."
Lana Turner, Robert Lansing, Celeste Holm, Robert Alda, Meredith Baxter Birney, and Scott Hylands star in this film about a young couple who meet, fall in love, get married, and, after the news of a baby, they find out they are related. How, you ask? They are brother and sister, because his father had an affair years ago with her mother and she, the daughter, just happens to meet her brother years later. I might would have liked the film more, had it not been for two things: one, Scott Hylands (who?) didn't do much for me and two, the film just lies there. Despite Robert Lansing's thoughtful performance and Lana's gutsy presence in this humdrum film, this film offers really nothing to the plot and this no-win situation. It takes the usual, predictable concerns they'd have in conversations and bore you with more and more and more talking. What starts out as just an unbelievable film becomes a morgue with despondent and lost people by the end and you feel really, really good after wards. Yeah right. You're wondering, where's the dead horse they were beating? I can only imagine that someone came up with this idea from "The Parent Trap," and putting a twist on it. But, aside from curiosity of the veteran actors' performances seen here, this film should have been put in a time capsule of the 1970s and left there.
Over the opening credits, an attractive young couple appears glum. The
woman is pregnant. After the credits, we flashback to the meeting of
teacher Meredith Baxter (as Patricia "Pete" Peterson) and architect
Scott Hylands (as Michael Lewis). The two seem as close as "made for
each other" as two can get. Because they are away on a cruise, Ms.
Baxter's parents Lana Turner (as Claire) and Robert Alda (as Ben) are
unable to attend the impending wedding. Happily, Mr. Hylands' parents
Robert Lansing (as Howard) and Celeste Holm (as Marian) are present.
But something is not right...
While showing off her wardrobe, Ms. Turner begins having dramatic moments. Soon, a family secret is revealed. Now, we know why Baxter and Hylands were looking glum in the opening. In the production style of a TV movie, "Bittersweet Love" brings up an interesting topic and takes it nowhere. Most obviously, Baxter and Hylands should have accepted an apparent lucky incident and take precautions to avoid future problems. That Baxter's character can't accept this is perfectly understandable, but not sufficiently explained; the problem is slighted and the outcome unsatisfactory.
**** Bittersweet Love (10/76) David Miller ~ Meredith Baxter, Scott Hylands, Lana Turner, Robert Lansing
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Patricia (Meredith Baxter) meets Michael (Scott Hylands). They date,
fall in love, have sex, get married. So far so bad right? However it
seems Michael is Patricia's half-brother! Patricia's mother (the
criminally underused Lana Turner) had an affair with Michael's
father...and Patricia was the result. However they're married and she's
pregnant. What to do?
To be honest I thought this was a made for TV movie when it came on. It has bad washed-out photography, syrupy music, no sex, no nudity, no swearing--NOTHING! I was surprised that it was a theatrical movie with an R rating no less (I guess incest was too touchy back then for a PG). It looks cheap and they have a bunch of once popular Hollywood actors (Turner, Celeste Holm, Robert Alda and Robert Lansing) in VERY small roles. They barely figure in this--it's all about Patricia and Michael. Hylands and Baxter are good actors and do as well as they can in their roles--but they can't carry the whole film. Also the ending is pretty terrible SPOILER!!! Nothing is resolved! Michael leaves so she can figure it out herself! End of movie. That's just not playing fair with the audience. Still, I didn't hate it and kept watching. I give it a 6.
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