Last night after a nice but busy and often physical grueling day (yard work in the afternoon--see me with a bow saw and watch out!), I sat in front of the television and watched Love Story as the lentil soup cooked.
I don't know when I saw Love Story for the first time. It came out in 1970, when I was going on nine, though I know I read the book (found it under my mother's bed). I remember being moved in some nascent relationship way, reading it a few times before my mother returned it to the library. And I did see the movie--most likely on a Saturday at the Orinda theater when they let anyone into any rated version of any movie--and remembered the music. You have been in a dark, long cave for a few decades if you don't know the most quotable line of that movie: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Said twice, once to Oliver 4 and once to Oliver 3.
The movie is pretty bad, really, in so many ways. The dialogue is stilted, and there is a snow play scene that goes on too long and involves Ali McGraw eating snow off Ryan O'Neal's face. Ali McGraw was gamine as all get out, a neo-Audrey Hepburn, but she seems to be Botoxed in pre-Botoxed days. She can't act her way out of a bag or a snow cave. Ryan O'Neal is beautiful and not that great yet, either, though he was soon to become great and then to become ungreat again. Ray Milland is the scary patrician father, and Tommy Lee Jones (listed as Tom Lee Jones) is one of Ryan O'Neal's roommates at Harvard.
The movie goes on. Oliver refuses to capitulate to Dad's demands, marries Jenny, lives in a dump during law school, gets the big time job in Manhattan, and then Jenny gets ill. They are all of 24. Jenny is wise cracking, smart mouthed, and full of life until she dies. Oliver wears an ugly wool sports coat that I know my father owned. The past is forgiven, lessons are learned, and Jenny dies. Oliver stumbles back to the ice rink, to think about the past. Curtain.
When we imagine that women haven't made any progress, we can just look to this movie to see that thank god, we have. When Jenny is ill, the doctor tells Oliver about it and not Jenny, recommending that Oliver keep the truth from her and act as normally as possible. Jenny thinks that she can still have a baby and that all will be well. Oliver lies by omission and treats her the way he should have been treating her all along. The world colludes to keep reality from the little woman, and the whole idea is preposterous, except, of course, a husband was seen as the controlling interest in any marriage.
Jenny gives up her dreams of an internship in Paris to marry Oliver. Then she works at a low paying teaching job until he can support them. The good news is that he doesn't leave her after he gets the job--the bad news is that she dies. On her death bed, she tells him that all of her dreams were nothing compared to loving him, and that is fine, but she's supposedly about a half an hour from death, and she's quite alive at that moment. Really alive, caressing and looking intent, but at any minute, ready to knock off. The film script never tells us her disease, though it's something only a hematologist would know about.
The best news about the movie is Jenny's father, played by John Marley, who would have been cast in all seasons of The Sopranos had he lived past 1984. A real character, a face like a canyon, a voice like a gravel pit.
But after all of the above. After all my scrutiny and mental analysis as I watched it, despite the soup bubbling on the stove, I cried. Yes, sad but true. It's still a sad story. Erich Segal got me in the end.
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