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This rare title has been a major Savant "wanna see" item for at least twenty years, and now Scorpion Releasing is making it available in Region One. It's usually listed as a science fiction film because of what is actually a minor element of its premise. Sci-fi completists will probably be less impressed than fans of delirious romantic fantasy, the kind of fan that responds to romantic efforts no matter how absurd. In one scene, Joan Collins awakes and beholds a room full of flowers brought by her husband: even though she hates him, her mood swivels 180 °. Collins fans like her later campy bitch parts in things like Dynasty. Frankly, she's stronger here than in many of her '50s starring vehicles-- she's excellent as the love object in a completely straight romantic fantasy.
Quest for Love was released in 1971, a weak year for English filmmaking. The director and screenwriter are known for work on the Percy comedies and the long running "Doctor" series of films with Dirk Bogarde, and the movie has the feel of a soap opera only slightly elevated to the status of delirious fantasy. The source is a story by author John Wyndham, best known for his science fiction classics The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids and The Midwich Cuckoos. His story Random Quest has been slightly changed to minimize its sci-fi trappings in favor of romance-novel heart-tugs.
Renowned physicist Colin Traffford (Tom Bell of The L-Shaped Room) is demonstrating a new whatsis in his "Random Particle Accelerator" when something goes wrong and he's projected into a parallel plane of reality. He's still called Colin Trafford, but instead of a scientist he's a famous playwright with a new play opening. He also has a bitterly unhappy wife named Ottille (Joan Collins) and a mistress, his leading lady Geraldine Lambert (Juliet Harmer). This alternate reality has big differences with our own. WW2 and Vietnam never happened, and President Kennedy went on to become a major leader of the United Nations. Colin's friend Tom Lewis (Denholm Elliott) exists in both worlds, but in this new existence he didn't lose his arm in Vietnam, and is now a close friend of Ottille, waiting for her to finally give up on her abusive husband. The "new" Colin, however, has fallen madly in love with Ottille, almost at first sight.
When Colin gets his mind sorted out, he contacts Sir Henry Larnstein (Laurence Naismith), who long ago mathematically theorized the existence of parallel universes. Through Larnstein, Colin convinces Ottille that he's not really her husband and that he deserves a fresh start. She accepts him and they begin an idyllic romance -- she even notices that this "new" Colin doesn't bear the same scars on his body that the abusive old one did. But the jealous Tom lets Colin in on a secret that threatens this perfect relationship he's found in this strange parallel world.
Quest for Love may be just the thing for devotees of supermarket romantic fiction -- for most of its time it remains an intimate personal drama, somewhat absurd but less silly than a lot of bodice-ripping tales. Tom Bell and Joan Collins make an attractive couple, and her personal brand of glamour blends well with this glossy slice of mad love. Colin Trafford's pretty lucky in that his alter ego in the next dimension is a glamorous playwright, when he could very well have been a sewer repairman or accountant. That's show biz.
Frankly, with its sci-fi element pushed onto the back burner, Quest for Love seems a re-run of James Hilton's old (and similarly titled) romantic fantasy Random Harvest, with Ronald Colman. The gimmick in that story is a rather strained form of amnesia, which comes and goes with bumps on the head, like throwing a switch. But the Hilton story touches on a number of universal romantic notions. The "random particle" experiment in Quest for Love is a rushed springboard to bring the great entrance of Joan Collins' Ottille on as soon as possible. The mechanism is rather sketchy. It seems very arbitrary for Colin Trafford to be returned to his "normal" world at a particular (and dramatically convenient) moment. We also wonder what happened to the S.O.B. "other" Trafford. He seems to have disappeared completely. Even if he was a jerk, the poor b______ never had a chance.
The movie presents a lot of interesting information about this new alternate reality, most of which has no bearing on the story. Because WW2 never happened parts of London were never bombed, so an industrial neighborhood never became new housing and the "other" Colin couldn't live there. But author Wyndham seems to be saying that the War made men bolder and stimulated research in science and medicine. In the new parallel world, nobody has climbed Mount Everest. Science has lagged behind, as the research institute is an older building instead of the steel and glass modern structure where Colin built his wacko random particle doohickey. And more crucially for Colin and Ottille, in the new parallel world medical science is much less developed, presumably because there were no thousands of war casualties needing new surgeries and advanced antibiotics, etc. We wonder if the original Wyndham Random Quest proposes the controversial notion that man's inhuman atrocities actually benefit human advancement.
We have to figure that out for ourselves in Quest for Love, which is more concerned about whether Ottile will believe that Colin is suddenly a new and improved version of himself. It's more than a little awkward when we've already guessed what's going on, but a brilliant physicist hasn't; we can imagine Lisa Simpson suddenly appearing to explain to Colin that he's caught in a garden-variety warp zone in the space-time continuum. We also have Laurence Naismith's dotty professor explaining parallel universes. He doesn't give Ottile a copy of Luis Borges' El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, but draws a chalk picture on a blackboard, as does Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.
A typical scene in Quest for Love has Ottile and Colin in a tight two-shot about to kiss, with a blast of composer Eric Rogers' overstated main theme. Sometimes the syrup is so thick, the show resembles a Monty Python parody; at other moments it is genuinely touching. Boomeranged back into his original plane of reality, Colin is desperate for Ottille, who is lost somewhere across an un-crossable boundary. But he knows that she must also exist somewhere in his original world, if she hasn't already died from her serious heart defect. Colin begins a mad race against time to find this "perfect stranger", before it's too late.
All told Quest for Love bears an unusual and exploitable concept but is also more than a little forced. Richard Matheson's Somewhere in Time reaches for the same level of romantic poignancy but makes things a lot more simple -- all Christopher Reeve must do is think of his perfect love, and he's transported across the hundred years that separate them. Quest for Love's funky sci-fi setup only start us looking for rational explanations for what are really very contrived plot turns. Quest for Love offers a rather self-serving escapist fantasy: if your life isn't working out to your satisfaction, maybe you can just random-particle yourself to an alternate reality on a different plane, where a glamorous movie star will be waiting to fall into your arms. The story is slanted even a bit more in the direction of a male fantasy. Although Colin is fundamentally different in the two parallel planes, it is presumed that the new Ottille will be the same welcoming love object, a romantic commodity. The potential for satire here is boundless -- Colin could move heaven and earth to locate the "other Ottille", only to discover that she's a cigar-smoking lesbian.
Yes, it's best to take Quest for Love on its own terms, where it works up a decent little romantic frenzy over the odd courtship of Colin and Ottile. If both pairs of lovers could somehow get together, the movie could reproduce the daffy framing situation of Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story -- you know, the crazy wedding scene with two identical grooms and two identical brides.
Scorpion Releasing's DVD of Quest for Love is an acceptable transfer of what appears to be an intact 35mm print of this minor release from 1971. I'm not certain that it received even a token theatrical release in the United States. Colors are okay until scenes become dark, at which time the image can become a little posterized. But Ms. Collins is always a knockout. The director doesn't add much distinction to the blocking of scenes, but Joan is given several dazzling entrances in attractive gowns.
The release has no extras. The poster for the original UK Rank circuit release (posted here) is such a disaster that Scorpion was wise not to use it. All they had to do was emphasize heavy-breathing love scenes with Joan Collins, and they'd have done better!
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Quest for Love rates:
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