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DVD SAVANT

Loving


Loving
Columbia TriStar
1970 / color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 89 min. / Street Date July 29, 2003 / 24.95
Starring George Segal, Eva Marie Saint, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Nancie Phillips, Janis Young, David Doyle, Sherry Lansing, Edgar Stehli, Mina Kolb, Roy Scheider, Sab Shimono
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Production Designer Walter Scott Herndon
Film Editor Robert Lawrence 
Original Music Bernardo Segall
Written by Don Devlin from a novel by J.M. Ryan
Produced by Raymond Wagner
Directed by Irvin Kershner

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Director Irvin Kershner was already a favorite of the critics by the time Loving came around. He was making small, character-oriented 70s style dramas all the way through the 60s, with memorably atypical roles for stars like Robert Shaw (The Luck of Ginger Coffey) and Sean Connery (A Fine Madness). This little essay on modern alienation drops us in the middle of an everyday crisis and lets us sort it out on our own.

Synopsis:

Busy commercial artist Brooks Wilson (George Segal) is in big trouble with his life in general. His wife Selma (Eva Marie Saint) is cheerleading his chasing jobs he's not really excited about, including a high-paying truck commission with Lepridon (Sterling Hayden). His agent Edward (Keenan Wynn) sends him to meetings and lunches, where Brooks refuses to 'play the game' and coddle the clients. He also gets drunk, and vents his hostility on other people. Selma knows there's something wrong but offers the wrong kind of support, while Brooks tries to hang on to a girlfriend named Grace (Janis Young) who has stopped believing in his promises. Worse, his judgment is getting so bad, Brook is actually listening to the amorous overtures from a neighbor's wife, Nelly (Nancie Phillips).

Unlike the typical alienation story about a loser who won't try, Loving is about an artist poised for commercial success, who can't help but sabotage his own career. It's a general malaise about commercial work that many artists feel. Demanding clients like the domineering Lepridon think illustrators are too fey to depict his trucks, and Brooks has to pretend to have driven a truck once to get the man's attention. At a swanky club for illustrators, Brooks practically cuts his own throat, career-wise, by contradicting and mocking the influential club president. His agent works hard to get him commissions, but Brooks' all-important eagerness to please is fading. He isn't sure what his goals are, and he can't hide his impatience with it all.

Worse than that, Brooks' dissatisfaction is eroding his family life. He wastes time chasing a mistress who has lost faith in him, all the while chronically neglecting his wife Selma. Their home life is breaking down, as can be seen in their lack of respect for each other around their bratty daughters. Their communication has eroded to the point where Selma is anticipating the bounty from a contract that Brooks really doesn't want. When he gets it, he hides the fact from her.

Writer-producer Don Devlin  1 has a good approach to the alienation in modern living. Brooks Wilson isn't reacting to the lack of values around in his world, but to the sheer aggravation involved in the struggle - the associates who demand a rigid code of behavior, his wife's needs, even the troublesome neighbor played by Edgar Stehli (4D Man) in his last role. He doesn't know what to say when he uses his key to enter his girlfriend's apartment, and finds a new boyfriend already installed (Sab Shimono,in his first role). Brooks tries to tell his wife that their teenage babysitter is hitting on him, but she ignores him. Little does she know that her husband is firting with a neighbor's willing wife. Sparks of attraction are visible between Brooks and the intimidating Susan (Sherry Lansing), someone else's date at a luncheon.

Loving keeps us interested because the relationships remain complex. Brooks and Selma Wilson love one another, but neither responds strongly enough to signals that point to deeper problems. There's a very impressive scene where they look at a house for sale. It has an artist's studio, and the Wilsons witness a painful exchange between the previous owners, now divorcing. He stays aloof, while she's red-faced and bitter. Selma and Brooks empathize with them, but don't realize that's their future, too.

Things come to a head at a trendy suburban party. Selma socializes in a new dress, while Brooks gets drunk and picks a fight. Not only is his ex-girlfriend Grace there, but also Susan and Nelly, and we know there's going to be trouble. There's a strange hint of trendy depravity in the host, who shows off his voyeuristic television camera system (to keep track of the kids!) and then is seen slipping quietly into a room where an attractive female guest has passed out on the bed. Lacking anything like self-restraint, Brooks corners Grace. When she slips away, he's cornered by Nelly, and disaster is in the making.

This is certainly one of George Segal's better performances. The direction is relaxed and open, with the characters all behaving so naturally, Kershner indeed does deserve the critical praise he received. Scenes advance the characters without judging them; we wince as we watch Brooks's downward spiral toward humiliation - the man is basically so normal, we can't help but identify with him.

Eva Marie Saint is idealized in so many pictures that it's a surprise seeing her play a charming person who is decidedly not perfect. It's not her fault that she doesn't have what it takes to help her husband, but the bad chemistry is there and can't be ignored. She's doing her best to make the marriage work, but there's a crucial communication problem.

Loving has early camera work from Gordon Willis, soon to be heralded for The Godfather. The editing is by Robert Lawrence, who shows that he's suited to intimate drama as well as his better-known spectacles. Standing out in bit parts are David Doyle (Charlie's Angels) and Roy Scheider.


Columbia TriStar's DVD of Loving is beautifully remastered in 16:9, with only some flecks here and there on the clean image. The transfer is sharp enough to show the film grain, without distorting it. The sound is a clear mono. The back-cover text gets the whole show wrong by painting Brooks Wilson as a man who 'has it all' and 'risks throwing it away.' It's a lot more complicated than that, which is why Loving is a memorable movie.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Loving rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 18, 2003


Footnote:

1. Don Devlin began as an actor in 50s horror like Blood of Dracula, but later produced some very interesting pictures: Petulia, The Fortune, My Bodyguard, The Witches of Eastwick.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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