Monday, September 21, 2015

Tonight's Movie: I've Always Loved You (1946) at UCLA

Given my participation in this weekend's wonderful Republic Pictures Blogathon, it was a great coincidence that UCLA featured a Republic Pictures double bill last night!

The evening marked the conclusion of UCLA's series celebrating director Frank Borzage. Although an unusually busy summer meant I couldn't attend as many Borzage screenings as I would have liked, I did have a couple special experiences watching two of his films for the very first time: LUCKY STAR (1929) in July and I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU (1946) last night.

I'VE ALWAYS LOVED you was teamed with MOONRISE (1948), starring Dane Clark and Gail Russell, which I first saw at UCLA two years ago; my thoughts on MOONRISE may be found here. Both films were shown in 35mm.

There was a treat in store for the audience before I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU began rolling, when a man who had worked on the film as an extra and as a stand-in for costar William Carter was interviewed from the audience. (Unfortunately I neglected to jot down the stand-in's name; Carter is seen with Catherine McLeod in a still to the right.) The gentleman said that Carter, a war hero who acted briefly, became a good personal friend and he even lived with Carter's family for a time. There's more on Carter in his 1995 Los Angeles Times obituary.

He said Carter was such a nice guy that one day when the stand-in was engrossed in a chess game with actor Felix Bressart and was called to the set, Carter told his stand-in to finish the chess game and went and did his own "stand-in" work while the set was lit! He also recounted that Republic Pictures head Herbert Yates was quite taken with leading lady Catherine McLeod and would frequently bring her a little bouquet of flowers at the end of the workday.

I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU was an unusual and memorable film which I enjoyed very much. It was different from the very first frames, as it didn't use the usual Republic Pictures logo with an eagle, but announced the studio name alongside a more delicate floral logo. The movie was shot in beautiful Technicolor pastels by Tony Gaudio.

The story concerns Maestro Leopold Goronoff (Philip Dorn), a great pianist who takes on a protege, Myra Hassman (McLeod), the daughter of his old friend (Bressart). Goronoff is immature at best and an unbalanced, chauvinistic egomaniac at worst, yet Myra develops an attraction to him. They have a rather unhealthy codependent relationship, with Myra serving as his enabler, breaking off love affairs for the noncommittal Goronoff when the ladies get too serious.

Eventually Myra makes her debut playing at Carnegie Hall, with the Maestro conducting the orchestra. Goronoff's ego is such that when he realizes the extent of Myra's talent, a musical battle ensues, with the orchestra threatening to drown out the piano. After the concert Goronoff orders his adoring pupil out of his life; she had a longer relationship with him than most women, but she finds herself kicked to the proverbial curb just like every other woman he's known. The only woman Goronoff really has time for on a permanent basis is his mother (Maria Ouspenskaya).

Myra returns home to her late father's farm, where despite lingering feelings for Goronoff she marries George (Carter), a farmer who's always loved her. Myra gives up playing piano for years, haunted by her past and fearful that music could drive a wedge between her and George; eventually the more sanguine George convinces her to resume playing and teach their daughter Georgette (Gloria Donovan as a child, and later Vanessa Brown).

When Georgette is scheduled to make her own debut at Carnegie Hall, Goronoff and Myra are unexpectedly reunited in a duet for the first time since Myra's debut, and Myra finally has the insight to recognize clearly where both Goronoff and George stand in her life.

The above summary really doesn't do the plot justice, as so much of the film is conveyed in the musical sequences; indeed, I wonder if any movie has as many minutes of piano music as this one does! (Republic paid Arthur Rubenstein a hefty sum to record the score.) For instance, when Goronoff is courting a gorgeous South American woman (Adele Mara), jealous Myra interrupts his romance by distracting him with her passionate piano playing. The music takes the place of physical romance, with the more tempestuous musical passages also conveying that Myra's fixation on Goronoff isn't healthy. At the same time, their shared love of music provides the two with an almost otherworldly connection, across hundreds of miles.

The movie has a mixed reputation, with strong advocates on the one hand and others not caring for it. I think to an extent one has to be willing to suspend disbelief, particularly when it comes to the film's delicately handled but present otherwordly aspects; the viewer must also be willing to watch the film closely, even analytically, as so much is conveyed without dialogue. It also helps if one likes classical music!

I was completely absorbed for the movie's 117 minutes. I was entranced by the movie's look and the sumptuous music, and I particularly thought McLeod was pitch perfect (sorry) as Myra. I suspect she spent a great deal of time learning to mimic playing piano passably, as the movie does a good job actually showing her playing, rather than relying constantly on closeups of hands or just showing her head.

Like so many actresses, I first knew McLeod from watching reruns of MAVERICK as a teenager; she was in an unusually tragic episode, "Rage for Vengeance." Just before making I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU she worked at MGM, playing one of THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) and having a nice part in COURAGE OF LASSIE (1946). Much of McLeod's career was spent acting for TV, but I have also reviewed her films SO YOUNG SO BAD (1950) and A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER (1953); and this weekend Blake Lucas wrote a wonderful review of her in THE FABULOUS TEXAN (1947) for the Republic Pictures Blogathon.

I found Dorn dull in earlier MGM films such as ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941) and CALLING DR. GILLESPIE (1942), but he's just right here; the coldness I perceived in earlier films works for this character, and he runs with it and is fearless about playing someone who is a selfish and unpleasant man. He gets away with it because he's a musical genius, but how many times did I wish a character would say, "You know, you really can't behave that way!" It is Myra, in a sense, who says that musically in her debut, refusing to let him drown out her talent.

Carter is well cast as the good-natured farm boy who loves Myra enough not to fear her music or her connection to Goronoff, and to encourage her to pick up the pieces of her musical career even if it means he'll be left holding the short end of the stick.

The boy who auditions for Goronoff in the first scene looked vaguely familiar; I later realized I'd been watching the teenaged Andre Previn! The supporting cast also includes Elizabeth Patterson, Fritz Feld, Cora Witherspoon, and Stephanie Bachelor.

The screenplay was by Borden Chase, a name more frequently connected with Westerns; it was based on his own magazine story, "Concerto."

The farm, incidentally, was a set built on the Rowland V. Lee Ranch in Canoga Park. A number of other films were shot at the ranch.

For more on this film, R. Emmett Sweeney wrote an excellent appreciation of it last summer for TCM's Movie Morlocks site. The piece also includes background on the making of the film.

I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

That's a thoughtful piece. Too bad it's one day late for Republic Blogathon but I believe a lot of those folks read you anyway.

It was interesting what you said about there being a divide of opinion on this movie. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, but way back when I first saw it--(in its unrestored days and not in color) I didn't respond to it well at all. I didn't know Borzage then and in those days I guess I already responded to a lot of classical cinema but I think something like this was just ahead of me.

Years later, seeing the restored version UCLA had done and knowing Borzage much better, I was very moved it and now will say it's a very beautiful work, one to be treasured. Personally, I love that it was so serious about the music.

Thanks for linking my review of THE FABULOUS TEXAN. As regards Catherine McLeod, I was glad it was her in that film, and it's important to remember re Republic that it isn't all Vera Ralston as regards a female presence there. They had some fetching actresses--Gail Russell a few times, Adele Mara often, Marie Windsor in the roles that were right for her among them.
I don't want to knock Ralston too much. She wouldn't have been the first choice of any of Republic's directors, but I know that Joe Kane (JUBILEE TRAIL and so many others) knew he'd be directing her a lot and so did his best, worked with her, and I feel that he directed her pretty well. Still, it's good to appreciate these other actresses that were there too.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much, Blake! I hope some of the other folks interested in Republic Pictures will check out my review, and more importantly the movie itself. A very different film for the studio!

Was very interested to read the differeng ways you responded to the film over time. I think what you describe is quite understandable.

It's interesting you mention Adele Mara; her supporting role in this film was small but she was exquisitely beautiful in Technicolor closeups!

Those interested in Republic's leading ladies may want to check out THE HEROINE OR THE HORSE, a book on the studio's actresses which includes a special tribute to Adele Mara.

Best wishes,

7:13 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

That is the review I've Always Loved You has needed and deserved. I not only like the cast, the picture and Borzage, but am a long time admirer of Republic.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the kind words, Barrylane. Good to know someone else liked this movie too!

Best wishes,

8:57 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

A nice and very sympathetic review of a film I knew nothing about. I like both Borzage's work and classical music so it sounds really interesting, Laura.

Catherine McLeod also starred in the western I submitted to the Republic Blogathon, "THE OUTCAST". 8 years after the film reviewed here, so she was obviously liked over at Republic.

I recently watched two Republic westerns, 'WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED' & 'THE VANISHING AMERICAN' that had very strong starring roles for Audrey Totter, in the latter film especially where she is more than a match for any man!

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review,Laura, of what sounds like a really intriguing film .

12:01 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, thanks so much for reminding me that Catherine McLeod was also in THE OUTCAST. Here is the link for those who might like to learn more about the actress's career.

Love Audrey Totter, Jerry -- thought WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED a lot of fun and look forward to catching up with THE VANISHING AMERICAN.

Hope you and Vienna will both share your thoughts on I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU if you get a chance to see it!

Best wishes,

8:00 AM  

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