Never heard of 'At Long Last Love'? Don't be embarrassed. Unless you're over the age of 40 and a huge movie buff, you wouldn't be expected to. This Peter Bogdanovich musical, released in 1975, opened to horrible reviews and quickly died in the theaters. What's worse is that the studio, 20th Century Fox, seemed so embarrassed by the failure that they essentially buried the film… giving it an occasional TV run, but no VHS, no laserdisc, not even a DVD (and still not one!). This Blu-ray release marks the movie's first appearance on a home video format.
So what happened to change Fox's mind about the film? A few things, actually. First, although the film bombed theatrically, Bogdanovich had been getting a lot of good comments about the film from those who caught up with it when the movie recently popped up as part of Netflix's streaming service (it's currently not there – probably so it doesn't affect the sales of this release). When Bogdanovich screened it on Netflix, he realized it was neither the theatrical version nor the version that had occasionally run on TV, but a brand-new version that re-inserted a lot of his original footage. Doing some research on the project, he found out the new edit had been done by James Blakely, a longtime employee of Fox's editorial department who had a longstanding love of Bogdanovich's film. It turns out that one version or another of Blakely's cut had been airing since the earliest TV versions of 'At Long Last Love.' Of course, editing a movie without the director's consent is a big no-no, so Blakely had remained mum about the changes he made. Since the studio could be in breach of contract, Bogdanovich contacted them, let them know he wasn't upset, but rather loved the new version of the film. The version was screened at a lifetime achievement ceremony honoring Bogdanovich, and those in attendance reportedly enjoyed the new version.
However, there's an additional reason Fox was open to finally releasing the film on Blu-ray, and that has to do with last year's success of Les Miserables. Few musicals over the years have had their performers sing live to the camera (the vast majority contain studio-performed dubbing). Les Miserables was one such film and got rave reviews because of it. 'At Long Last Love' was one of less than a handful of others who have done it in recent memory. So, having both a new cut of the film and the live singing angle as selling points, Fox has finally issued the first-ever home video release of the musical.
Sort of a tribute to the big musicals of the 1930s ('Top Hat' immediately comes to mind when watching the film), 'At Long Last Love' stars Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd as a millionaire and an heiress, respectively, who begin the movie believing they're in love with others, but eventually discover they are right for each other. Reynolds, who plays Michael Oliver Pritchard III (or 'M.O.P. III'), first falls for a Broadway singer (Madeline Khan), while Shepherd's Brooke Carter finds herself with an Italian gambler (Duilio Del Prete). The two couples start spending time together, and begin to realize that they are more suited to the other partner. Additionally, there's also a potential romance brewing between Prichard's butler/chauffeur (John Hillerman) and Brooke's maid (Eileen Brennan).
All the songs in 'At Long Last Love' were written by Cole Porter, and were already in release at the time of the movie's opening. Shepherd, who was dating Bogdanovich at the time, gave him a book of Cole Porter lyrics as a present (Shepherd herself had already released her own album where she sang Cole Porter) and the director thought it would be fun to craft a story around some of his songs. However, unless you’re a die-hard Porter fan, most of the songs here will seem new, with the notable exception of the well-known 'I Get A Kick Out Of You.'
So what's the verdict on 'At Long Last Love'? Does it deserve its notorious reputation? In short, it doesn't, but that doesn't mean it's a good movie. It falls somewhere in the middle, not remarkable enough to recommend yet not horrible enough to dismiss. It's true that most of the actors aren't particularly good singers (it goes without saying that Reynolds is out of his depth here), but there's also a charm in their performances that is hard to ignore. Reynolds gives off a leading-man vibe that makes you wonder where his career might have gone if this picture was a hit instead of a flop, and Cybill Shepard is the true gem of the movie, giving a performance that's hard not to fall in love with, even if she doesn't always impress with her vocal skills. Then there's the movie's cinematography and overall black and white color scheme which is fascinating to review from simply a technical and design standpoint.
With all its good points, the movie is ultimately just too flawed. As noted, the signing is subpar and while the songs have what can best be described as a ping-pong quality to them (they're modern, referential, and bounce back and forth between one actor and another), they're not the kind of big musical numbers that will have you humming along or remembering them after the movie has ended. Because of its history, 'At Long Last Love' is worth taking a look at, but more as a curiosity than anything else.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'At Long Last Love' comes to Blu-ray (and only Blu-ray…there currently is no DVD version in release) in an eco-friendly keepcase, which includes an 8-page color booklet on the movie with an essay by Julie Kirgo. The single-layer 25GB disc is not front-loaded with any trailers, and the menu consists of a promotional still featuring Reynolds and Shepherd, with menu selections along the left side of the screen.
As noted in the review of the film above, this is not the theatrical version of the movie, but rather a new extended version that both includes scenes added to later TV/Netflix versions of the film as well as a few other moments Peter Bogdanovich had put back in the movie. While there's no indication which moments these are, they're easy to deduce from watching the movie, as some scenes are visibly much grainer and much less detailed than others. The bulk of the movie, though, is in pretty good shape, although the film has a pretty soft look to it overall. Skin tones are for the most part warm and consistent throughout (with the exception of those few grainier scenes noted above).
For a movie that hasn't gotten much love over the years this is a decent, if unspectacular, transfer. However, the re-inserted material drags the video quality (and, thus, our video score) down as it's so noticeably inconsistent with the rest of the movie.
The English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is better than I would have expected, and probably accurately reflects what the movie sounded like when it played in the theaters (and perhaps a little better). Many older films, especially ones with mono tracks, come off with a "muddy" sound, even when they've been remastered for Blu-ray – but there's no indication of that here. Also, no problems with popping, hissing, or other defects in the audio.
Subtitles are available in English SDH only.
Since 'At Long Last Love' is a Blu-ray-only release, all the extras are (obviously) exclusive, and have been detailed in our 'HD Bonus Content' section below.
Because of its interesting history and the fact that the movie is so little-known, even among the most knowledgeable of movie buffs, 'At Long Last Love' is worth at least one viewing. However, the re-watch value here is low, and is only increased by the fact that Fox has offered very little in terms of bonus features on this release (I'm shocked we don't get a Bogdanovich commentary). Therefore, this one is recommended for rental.