Judge Jason Panella is looking forward to the musical version of Smokey and the Bandit.
It's the top!
At long last the definitive director's cut.
Facts of the Case
Stage star Kitty (Madeline Kahn, Young Frankenstein), playboy Michael (Burt Reynolds, Deliverance), heiress Brooke (Cybill Shepard, Taxi Driver), and Italian gambler Johnny Spanish (Duilio Del Prete, Alfredo, Alfredo) ponder love, swap partners, and sing Cole Porter tunes.
An homage to the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire screwball musicals of the 1930s, At Long Last Love was audacious project—casting non-singers in singing roles, recording vocals live on set, using ambitious "black and white in color" art design and lots of long cuts, basing the entire narrative on Cole Porter songs. The film-going public wouldn't have any of it; At Long Last Love was a colossal critical and commercial flop when it was released in 1975, so much so that writer and director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) took out half-page ads in national newspapers to apologize (cryptically, of course) for the box-office disaster. The film quickly vanished from the large screen and, absent from any home video release, took on the legendary status as a cinematic clunker supreme.
But then something odd happened. Bogdanovich kept running into fans who said they loved At Long Last Love; this confused the director, since he'd essentially wiped the film from his memory over the past 40 years. Various cuts of the film popped up on TV over the decades, and a devoted Cole Porter fan at Fox made a supercut of the film that Bogdanovich saw and loved. So, after nearly four decades, we get the cut that Bogdanovich wishes would have made it to the big screen.
So, is At Long Last Love: The Definitive Director's Cut some classic that's spent decades hiding in the shell of a poorly cut movie? Not quite, but it's not exactly the turkey it's been labeled as over the years.
The biggest hurdles are the flimsy plot and the spotty singing, though neither is fatal. Yes, many classic Hollywood musicals have threadbare narratives that work in context, but At Long Last Love takes this aspect to its extreme. Bogdanovich uses 18 Cole Porter songs as the film's foundation; sometimes it works, but often it feels like the songs are there just because. It doesn't help that some of the songs are Porter's lesser known tunes, for good reason. The four leads also approach the material to varying degrees of success. Kahn was a trained singer and comes off the best, and Shepard and Del Prete can carry a tune well enough to not embarrass themselves. But Burt Reynolds struggles with the live singing, and it's pretty painful to watch in some spots.
Flaws aside, the one thing that really holds the whole movie together is this: it's a lot of fun. It's especially enjoyable if you like double entendre-soaked, rapid-fire banter (I'm amazed that any cut of this movie ever received a G rating). The main characters spit out so many jokes and slide into so many pratfalls that if one joke falls flat (many do), a good one is right around the corner. The scenes involving Michael's driver Rodney (John Hillerman, Magnum P.I.) and Brooke's maid Elizabeth (Eileen Brennan, Private Benjamin) are particularly notable—the two keep up a constant barrage of witty wordplay. It's a smartly written movie, even if there isn't much of a plot.
20th Century Fox's release of At Long Last Love is pretty threadbare, but it at least gets the film out there. The picture is pretty good overall, especially considering all of the additional footage added in. There's omnipresent grain, though the image is consistently sharp (aside from some of the spotty looking stuff Bogdanovich added in). The DTS-HD Master Audio mono track sounds good while not necessarily standing out. The real disappointment is how little there is in the way of extras. There's a fairly excellent stereo isolated score track and a pretty good essay covering the history and reputation of the film by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo. Plus, the original hyperbolic theatrical trailer. That's all you get, though.
At Long Last Love falls short of the great Rogers and Astaire musicals it's paying tribute to, but Bogdanovich's director's cut proves that the movie is worthy enough to stand on its own legs.
Not a classic, but definitely not guilty.
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