Sunday, April 12, 2020

The O'Neal Connection

WARNING: SPOILERS for LOVE STORY and WHAT'S UP, DOC? 



Late last year, as part of my ongoing quest to see every Motion Picture Academy Best Picture nominee, I screened Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970), starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw as the two young lovers in question.

Love Story, sad to say, is not a great film; it's certainly one of the weakest Best Picture nominees. The story itself is trite and the dialogue overwrought; the cinematography and direction is workmanlike. These days, the movie is probably most remembered for its infamous tagline, "Love means never having to say you're sorry," delivered to O'Neal by MacGraw's tragically doomed character during the tearful final act.

Enough said about Love Story. Last week, I watched the far better What's Up, Doc?, Peter Bogdanovich's 1973 take on 1930s romantic slapstick. That movie is great fun, and stars O'Neal as a nerdy scientist pursued by an amorous Barbara Streisand. There's a mixup involving secret documents, diamonds, rocks, and lingerie, each stored in one of four identical suitcases. Hijinks ensue, including a really terrific chase sequence in the third act.

Most satisfying for me, though, was getting to enjoy what must have been a beautiful treat for in-the-know moviegoers of the early 1970s: At the film's conclusion, when O'Neal and Streisand's characters finally hook up and all the romantic tension is happily resolved, O'Neal's character apologizes to his new girlfriend.

"Don't worry about it," Streisand replies. "Don't you know that love means never having to say you're sorry?"

O'Neal, with perfect delivery, sneers and says "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard." The end.

It's a silly little in-joke, yes, but it must have earned some great laughs back in the day. It certainly got one from me, nearly fifty years later.


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