[Originally posted to Blogcritics.org]
Before At Long Last Love, director Peter Bogdanovich was the man who could do no wrong. AfterAt Long Last Love, he became the man who could do no right. Well, that’s not completely accurate; Bogdanovich, who directed the classics The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon in quick succession, suffered a flop with Daisy Miller in 1974. But it was At Long Last Love, his ambitious attempt to make a musical with stars singing Cole Porter songs live on camera instead of lip-syncing, that torpedoed his career.
Critics (who had been looking for a reason to take Bogdanovich and his leading lady/girlfriend Cybill Shepherd down a peg) savaged the film so badly, you’d think he had directed the Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video. The director himself apologized for it after its release, complaining that 20th Century Fox had recut the film against his wishes, but his career – and his personal life – went into a tailspin: two bankruptcies, the end of his relationship with Shepherd, the murder of his subsequent girlfriend Dorothy Stratten (and later marriage to, and divorce from, her sister), and except for 1985′s Mask, a strong of box-office and critical failures.
The new millennium has been kinder to Bogdanovich, however; he won raves for his performance on The Sopranos, and his cachet as a film historian had risen to the point that he provided a commentary track for the Citizen Kane Blu-Ray release. Even some of his “flops,” like Noises Off!and They All Laughed, have gained cult followings and critical reappraisal.
So it was inevitable that a “Director’s Definitive Edition” of At Long Last Love, long unavailable in any home video format, would make its way to Blu-Ray. And you know what? It’s not bad. In fact, it’s quite entertaining.
At Long Last Love features a Depression-era love quadrangle between broke heiress Shepherd, playboy Burt Reynolds, Broadway diva Madeline Kahn, and Italian gambler Johnny Spanish (of course) played by Duilio Del Prete in a rare English-language role. Kahn breaks up with Del Prete and hooks up with Reynolds, Shepherd meets Del Prete but then winds up with Reynolds, Kahn and Del Prete get back together while trying to get back Reynolds and Shepherd, et cetera. There’s also Shepherd’s acerbic wingwoman (Eileen Brennan) and her pursuit of Reynolds’ long-suffering chauffeur (the hilarious John Hillerman, who would go on to play Higgins on Magnum, P.I.).
It’s not much of a plot, but it’s all you need for a series of musical numbers, featuring the characters singing the incomparable songs of Cole Porter. The sorely missed Madeline Kahn is wonderful, of course, but even Shepherd – who really bore the brunt of critics’ anger when At Long Last Love was released – acquits herself pretty well. Reynolds can barely carry a tune, alas, but he has enough natural charm to get past his limitations as a singer.
Because the actors were singing live, the musical numbers are shot in lengthy, unbroken takes that must have taken many, many tries to get right. At one point, Shepherd and Reynolds sing while swimming, and early in the film there’s a particularly striking shot where Reynolds performs while standing on the running board of his moving limousine. (I said to myself, “that’s obviously in front of a blue screen” until the camera panned back and showed the car really moving.)
At Long Last Love isn’t close to a perfect film – it’s a bit too long, and while the actors deserve points for singing live, as a result some of the musical numbers aren’t as elaborate as they could have been. (Shepherd and even Reynolds were better singers than dancers, it turned out.) But it’s a gorgeous looking film, thanks to some stunning sets and costumes and the great Laszlo Kovacs’ cinematography, and it certainly doesn’t deserve the scorn heaped upon it in the mid-seventies. As of this writing At Long Last Love has only a 4.8/10 rating on IMDb.com, but as more people discover Bogdanovich’s brave musical experiment, that should get better with time.
The lushly orchestrated musical numbers sound wonderful in DTS 2.0 sound, but the picture – especially the darker colors – looks somewhat grainy. Unfortunately, except for the original theatrical trailer, there are no special features on this disc. Too bad there’s no retrospective documentary or commentary from Bogdanovich, because even though the movie is better than its reputation, the story of how its making and its very public rejection would be more interesting still.