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teaser Loving (1970)

Brooks Wilson (George Segal), a freelance commercial artist who lives in the suburbs of Westport, Connecticut with his wife, Selma (Eva Marie Saint), and their two daughters, is in the midst of a major dilemma. His marriage is crumbling, his financial situation is precarious and his drinking and womanizing have increased as a result of these mounting pressures. Faced with landing a major account with the trucking firm magnate Lepridon (Sterling Hayden), Wilson realizes that a favorable outcome will create further problems. He's promised his wife if he wins the account, they'll buy the dream house she's been counting on for years. He's also promised his mistress Grace (Janis Young) that he'll divorce his wife if the Lepridon deal goes through. At a party given by Grace's wealthy relatives, Wilson's life completely unravels as he becomes progressively drunker and reckless, eventually sneaking off with Nelly (Nancie Phillips), a married neighbor, to have sex in the children's playhouse. Unbeknownst to the drunken lovers until too late, the entire incident is played out on closed-circuit television to the astonishment and amusement of the partygoers.

Directed by Irvin Kershner, Loving (1970), based on a novel by J.M. Ryan, falls into the specialized film subgenre of midlife-crisis-in-the-suburbs. Acclaimed writers John Cheever and John Updike were masters in this field - Cheever was often called "the Chekhov of the suburbs" - and they both saw film adaptations of their best known work that shared the same themes as Loving. Cheever's short story The Swimmer became a 1968 movie starring Burt Lancaster and Updike's bestselling novel Rabbit, Run, the first in a quintet, was filmed in 1970 with James Caan as the title character, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. Brooks Wilson, the protagonist of Loving, has a lot in common with Cheever and Updike's disillusioned white collar professionals with his pointless infidelities, family responsibilities, frustrated career plans and the joyless routine of suburban life with daily commuting into the city and the weekend cocktail parties. While Brooks may not be a completely sympathetic or even likable hero, he is always recognizably human with good and bad qualities that create inner turmoil. Nothing he does seems intended to hurt the ones he loves on purpose but his unhappiness often drives him to self-destructive acts he can't seem to control.

George Segal, who is probably best known for his romantic comedies (The Owl and the Pussycat [1970], Blume in Love [1973], Fun with Dick and Jane [1977], A Touch of Class [1973]), gives one of his finest dramatic performances in Loving. His Brooks Wilson is even more complex and multilayered than his ambitious young professor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® nomination. Segal's ability to display genuine pathos, hostility, bewilderment, self-loathing and a self-deprecating sense of humor make him the ideal actor to play Brooks and he creates a compelling loser who is always fascinating to watch if not someone you'd actually want to know.

Loving is also a reminder of a time when Irvin Kershner created smaller, more intimate character-driven films such as The Luck of Ginger Coffey [1964], A Fine Madness [1966] and The Flim-Flam Man [1967] and was not yet a director known for his such huge, sprawling box office hits as Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back [1980], the James Bond adventure Never Say Never Again [1983] and RoboCop 2 [1990].

Although a critical success at the time of its release, Loving was not popular with moviegoers and vanished quickly after its initial release. It was also ignored during the 1970 Oscar® race where less worthy competitors as Love Story, Airport and Lovers and Other Strangers garnered multiple nominations. One of the film's biggest champions was Pauline Kael of The New Yorker who wrote, "Loving is an unusual movie - compassionate but unsentimental...Kershner is fortunate in having as his middle-class anti-hero George Segal, an actor with a core of humor and a loose, informal sense of irony, and one who radiates human decency and likable human can't quite call Loving a tragicomedy, any more than one could quite call L'Avventura [1060] a tragedy. Segal's hero never rises high enough for a classic fall, but he's aware of his stumbling...Eva Marie Saint gives a stunning performance in what might have been a clichd role...Miss Saint lets us see that the wife doesn't have many illusions about her husband or herself. She knows what will happen to her if he leaves; there's not much she can do except try to hang on, and it's a humiliating position...Loving is Kershner's best-sustained film. From start to finish, it's a demonstration of his sensibility and his superb craftsmanship. It's a relief to see such a harmonious, beautifully rhythmed piece of moviemaking, and a special pleasure to see an American movie that's so quietly detailed."

Other critics who concurred with Kael included Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and Roger Greenspun of The New York Times. Ebert called it "an amusing and intelligent comedy of manners, and George Segal is fun to watch...Loving is an ongoing process, as opposed to love which as everybody knows is an eternal and unshakable commodity much valued by poets. But Shelley never changed a diaper, and Keats never commuted from Westchester, and loving in the world of 1970 America is perhaps a process of survival, not affirmation." And Greenspun noted, that "Irvin Kershner...seems to specialize in directing movies about men who have to rush to keep up with themselves. In his best film so far, Loving....he has not only a hero in a hurry, but also an actor who while he runs can react with precision, depth, and endless good sense....The film ultimately reveals less about suburban morals, its advertised subject, than about the morality of making do, its real subject."

Seen today, Loving provides an intriguing link back to such observations of suburban culture as No Down Payment [1957] and Strangers When We Meet [1960] while looking ahead to such later portraits of middle class angst as The Ice Storm [1997], based on Rick Moody's novel which might have easily been influenced by Loving, especially the out-of-bounds cocktail party and bleak, wintry setting of the latter film's climax. Kershner's film is also interesting for its supporting cast which includes veteran character actor Keenan Wynn as Segal's employer, Sterling Hayden, sporting a Captain Ahab beard and projecting a sense of power and entitlement as the self-made tycoon Lepridon, Roy Scheider as Segal's anxious business associate, David Doyle, best known as private detective Bosley in the Charlie's Angels TV series, and Sherry Lansing as a potential sexual conquest for Brooks. Lansing would quit acting in 1971 and move into film production, establishing herself as a vice president at Columbia and then accepting a position as President of 20th-Century-Fox. She later formed a production company with Stanley R. Jaffe - Jaffee-Lansing - which produced such hit films as Fatal Attraction [1987] and The Accused [1988]. She is currently married to director William Friedkin.

Loving is also notable for the cinematography by Gordon Willis. It was only his second feature and he would go on to garner two Oscar® nominations for his work (Zelig [1983], The Godfather, Part III [1990]) as well as collaborate with Woody Allen on eight of his features, starting with Annie Hall in 1977.

Producer: Don Devlin
Director: Irvin Kershner
Screenplay: Don Devlin; J.M. Ryan (novel)
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Music: Bernardo Segall
Film Editing: Robert Lawrence
Cast: George Segal (Brooks Wilson), Eva Marie Saint (Selma Wilson), Sterling Hayden (Lepridon), Keenan Wynn (Edward), Nancie Phillips (Nelly), Janis Young (Grace), David Doyle (Will), Paul Sparer (Marve), Andrew Duncan (Willy), Sherry Lansing (Susan), Roland Winters (Plommie) Edgar Stehli (Mr. Kramm), Calvin Holt (Danny), Mina Kolb (Diane).
C-89m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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