Before there was “Love Story” with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal from 1970, there was…wait for it…”Love Story” from 1944. Well, OK, there have been almost three dozen movies titled “Love Story” from 1933 to the present; I wonder if they all share the same characteristics of the ’44 and ’70 titles, sudsy and melodramatic? At least this British product from Gainsborough Pictures has the advantage of also being known as “The Lady Surrenders,” although I’m not sure that’s any help. A soap opera is a soap opera by any other name.
Let me put it this way: Just as audiences split in their reaction to the 1970 movie, viewers will probably either love or hate the 1944 film. There isn’t much of an in-between here. For myself, I liked this one only a little better than I liked the 1970 tearjerker, meaning not much.
And the comparisons between the two films don’t end with the titles. Both movies feature a pair of main characters with a seemingly impossible attraction for one another, a seemingly incurable malady, and a seemingly relentless theme song. The big differences? There are twice as many maladies in the ’44 film, and the music, interminable as it is, is still better. No matter; it doesn’t help.
The story, adapted from a short story by J.W. Drawbill and directed by Leslie Arliss (“The Man in Grey”) begins by introducing us to the first main character, Lissa Campbell (Margaret Lockwood), a twenty-four-year-old concert pianist who, when she decides to join the war effort, discovers she’s got a bad heart and only a few months to live. With so little time left, she decides to live life to fullest and goes off on holiday to the coast of Cornwall.
There she meets a young man, Kit Firth (Stewart Granger), a former RAF pilot going blind because of an explosion. Of course, they fall in love, but neither of them can bear to tell the other of their affliction. If they did, we wouldn’t have a picture.
Now, here’s the thing: It became something of a fad in British dramas of the Forties to include a quasi-classical tune. “Dangerous Moonlight” had introduced the “Warsaw Concerto” a few years earlier. “The Uninvited” gave us “Stella by Starlight” around the same time this one came out. “While I Live” gave us “The Dream of Olwen” a couple of years later. Accordingly, the coast of Cornwall inspires Lissa to compose the “Cornish Rhapsody” (actually written by Hubert Bath), which plays incessantly throughout the movie. That’s fine, since it’s the best thing about the picture.
Anyway, two other characters and a slew of complications spice up the rest of the story. We meet Judy Martin (Patricia Roc), an actress visiting the coast to put on an outdoor performance of “The Tempest”; she’s a childhood friend of Kit who renews her friendship. And we meet Tom Tanner (Tom Walls), an older gentleman, a mining engineer, staying at the same hotel as Lissa. The characters interact on several levels, leading to borrowed money, tunnel disasters, jealousies, and whatnot on top of Lissa and Kit’s afflictions.
So the two main characters are in love but afraid to commit to one another, knowing their situations and all. Still, where there is love involved, what can you do? They agree to see each other for a few months and then part forever.
Here’s another aside: There’s a liberal sprinkling of “damn’s” and “hell’s” and even a “goddamn” in the movie, something Hollywood films at the time, with their self-imposed censorship laws, were shy about doing. By 1970, the more-famous “Love Story” would expand upon the profanity with a vengeance.
And yet another: With the amount of smoking the actors do in the old film, it’s a wonder any of them lived to finish the picture.
In any case, 1944’s “Love Story” comes across as very sincere, very noble, but ever so corny. The movie gets more melodramatic and more improbable as it goes along. Although an operation on Kit’s eyes could, probably would, for instance, save his sight, the doctors tell him that such an operation would in all likelihood kill him. Dang, this thing never lets up.
The movie culminates in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall of…what else?…the “Cornish Rhapsody.” If you can’t place the music or you’ve never heard it before, I’ve included among the media at the top of the review a recording of it by pianist Leonard Pennario.
The picture is a standard 1.37:1 ratio of the day, digitally restored by Blair and Associates. It looks fine for an old black-and-white movie nearly seven decades old. The screen is reasonably clear, free of almost all age deterioration: lines, ticks, specks, fades, and scratches. Object definition and B&W contrasts look good, too, and there is a light grain inherent to the print.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural rendering of the soundtrack probably does all it can do with the material at hand. It’s efficient; smooth, natural, and a touch warm. It sounds good, if limited in frequency response and dynamic range. There is a little background noise, perceptible at higher volume levels; at normal listening levels, though, it’s hardly noticeable.
As we might expect accompanying a British movie of this vintage, there isn’t much here in the way of extras. We do, however, get a main menu; twelve scene selections; English as the only spoken language; and English subtitles.
The first half of “Love Story” is rather good, actually; it’s the second half that gets it in trouble. Sodden drama piles upon even soppier melodrama until there’s nothing left but a soggy mess of suds. If there are any problems you could possibly foresee in the lives of its characters, you can be sure they will come to pass in the movie’s second hour. Fans of daytime soaps will no doubt love the film; I found it less so.