This whole Brett Kavanaugh affair had me thinking of the culture of prep schools and ivy league colleges. Somehow, in the past week, the term “preppy” became a word of derision. This brought me to considering one of the biggest films of my youth.
In 1970, all anyone was talking about was Love Story, a five-handkerchief weeper, a film that was mechanically contrived to make audiences cry at the end. Is that so terrible? I don’t think so. No one faults a thriller for being terrifying, or a spectacle for being spectacular; what is so wrong with tears during a story about young lovers separated by death?
It may have been easy to poke fun at Love Story in 1970, I know I did. The film stars Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal as star-crossed lovers from different social strata. I challenge you not to cry during the film’s tragic final scenes.
I caught it recently and seeing it for the first time in 48 years, I enjoyed the endearingly dated dialogue. I also found that it remains seductive and stylish. Love Story may have had audiences sobbing in darkened theaters, yet, it received seven Academy Award nominations, including for MacGraw and O’Neal. MacGraw, then unknown, became an icon of her generation.
The screenplay had been rejected by nearly every studio. It was finally picked up by Robert Evans, head of Paramount, whom MacGraw would later marry. MacGraw:
“This was a little movie, not a big risk. If it didn’t work and I was no good in it, it would be no big deal for the studio.”
Talented Arthur Hiller was signed to direct. Evans had to persuade him to take on Love Story. He prevailed, as Evans always did in those days, and Hiller agreed to squeeze the project in between The Out-of-Towners (1970) and The Hospital (1971). Ironically, it earned him an Oscar nomination, a great deal of money and it became his best-known work.
Most reviewers dismissed it as contrived. Film critic Judith Crist called Love Story: “Camille with bullshit.”
Yet, it has endured. The film is Number Nine on the American Film Institute‘s 100 Top Love stories. It also spawned many imitations, parodies, and homages in countless films, and re-energizing melodrama as a genre.
Love Story is among the highest-grossing films of all time. It made $150,000 million in 1970s dollars. It grossed an additional $30 million in international film markets. Adjusted for inflation, the film remains one of the top 20 domestic grosses of all time.
Hiller passed away in 2016, but Evans, MacGraw and O’Neal, are still around, and so is Tommy Lee Jones who made his film debut in Love Story. Jones attended Harvard before his acting career. His roommate was Al Gore.
The Crimson Key Society, a Harvard student organization, sponsors showings of Love Story during orientation week to each incoming class of Harvard freshmen since the 1970s. During the showings, society members and the freshman mock, boo, and jeer the movie to help build school spirit.