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Love Story

Love Story(1944)

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If someone told you that a movie was about a beautiful young concert pianist with an incurable heart ailment who heads to a Cornwall resort to live out her final months, and once there meets and falls in love with a handsome young man who is slowly going blind but won't tell anyone, you would probably roll your eyes. If you then learned that the film includes a scene of the concert pianist performing her new composition outdoors on a windswept, rocky seashore, you might not be able to stop rolling your eyes.

Love Story (1944), released in the United States in late 1946 as A Lady Surrenders, is indeed melodramatic, and it's best taken today as a true product of WWII-era England. For wartime British audiences, a melodramatic romance dealing with death, heroism and sacrifice, lushly photographed amidst the shores of Cornwall, must have served as a shot in the arm. The film is also so skillfully made that what seems like contrived melodrama in the abstract comes off more as just a sweeping romantic aura on screen. It also makes up for some serious lacks in realism.

Margaret Lockwood, as pianist Lissa Campbell, discovers her illness when she tries to enlist. Determined to live the rest of her life as fully as possible, she goes to Cornwall, where Stewart Granger awaits. He will soon go blind from a war injury, but the only person he has told is Patricia Roc, his longtime platonic friend who secretly yearns for a whole lot more. Meanwhile, Lockwood works on a new piano composition and Roc organizes a stage production of The Tempest in an outdoor amphitheater (the real-life, still-operating Minack Theatre in Porthcurno, Cornwall, which opened in 1932 with a real production of The Tempest). And everyone befriends a charming, older man living at the resort played by Tom Walls, who takes an interest in these young people and offers sage, warm advice. Eventually a love triangle develops, and the secrets all start spilling out.

Margaret Lockwood is best known to American audiences for her turn in The Lady Vanishes (1938), but she was a major star in England and is top-billed in this film, above Granger. Variety described her, "in bathing suit, low-cut gown and being given a stethoscope examination by a doctor," as "J. Arthur Rank's answer to The Outlaw." That is definitely stretching things, but she does get some luminous close-ups and delivers a solid performance. Nonetheless, the show is stolen by the supporting actors, Walls and Roc.

Tom Walls, in fact, doesn't so much steal his scenes as own them outright, playing a salty old Yorkshireman who tells Lockwood, "I'm afraid my lovemaking days are over, but I still like to see it going on." A well-known comic actor of British stage and screen whose career started in 1905, Walls in the 1930s directed nearly two dozen films, mostly farcical comedies. Love Story was made toward the end of his life and offered the first of a string of modest, touching roles.

Patricia Roc is lovely here despite a bizarre turn in the plot that suddenly tries to make her into a conniving villain. She's in some ways the more desirable of the two romantic choices, and the bottom line is that our eyes go to her more than to Lockwood whenever the two share the screen.

Roc, whose birth name was Felicia Herold, had recently scored a major breakthrough role in Millions Like Us (1943), a critical and commercial hit about the British homefront, and in 1944 she was entering the biggest phase of her career -- even if it was most often as the nice, wholesome girl who doesn't get the guy. In fact, she played such a supporting role to Lockwood more than once, most prominently in Wicked Lady, the top-grossing film of 1946 in Britain. After that, Roc went to America to make her sole Hollywood studio film, Canyon Passage (1946), an outstanding frontier drama starring Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward, directed by Jacques Tourneur. (While in Hollywood, she also had a brief affair with Ronald Reagan.)

When Roc died in 2003, The Daily Telegraph's obituary called her "the home-grown glamour girl of the British screen, whose sex appeal was nevertheless curiously unerotic; unlike her contemporaries, Margaret Lockwood and Jean Kent, it was impossible to imagine her in a wicked role. 'I was the bouncy, sexy girl next door that mothers would like their sons to marry,' she reckoned, 'and the sons wouldn't have minded, either.'"

As for Stewart Granger, anyone used to him only from his glossy, forgettable 1950s movies is in for a pleasant surprise here, as he succeeds in making us believe he would be worthy of all this fuss and attention from the two women. In his memoir Sparks Fly Upward, Granger wrote that on the train to the Cornwall shooting location he shared a compartment with the film's director, Leslie Arliss, who Granger did not know had also co-written the script. Arliss asked Granger what he thought of it. "I told him it was the biggest load of crap I'd ever read," recalled Granger. "Apparently later he told the story around town. 'Here's this young actor I directed in The Man in Grey and made into a star and he tells me my script is crap. Ungrateful bastard.' But it was crap... I was wrong of course. It was a smash hit and there wasn't a dry eye in the house."

The music written and performed by Lockwood's character is used for the film's score. It was written by Hubert Bath and became known as the "Cornish Symphony," just as the film Dangerous Moonlight (1941), with Anton Walbrook as a pianist, had given audiences the "Warsaw Concerto."

In the end, it is the scenes of people coming together in a community that leave the most impact -- whether it's crowds filling up the theater for The Tempest, pining for a very British wartime distraction; or townsfolk gathering above a collapsed mineshaft, praying silently for survivors; or troops hanging on every note of Lockwood's music. (At one point she decides to go on a worldwide piano tour of war zones.) In a concert scene at Royal Albert Hall, one can't help but notice the military uniforms filling the audience. These scenes were designed to inspire British moviegoers and remind them that they were all in this together; seen 70 years on, they act as a touching time capsule of how difficult life must have been. As the film fades out, we're told "There's just today and the hope of tomorrow."

Film scholar William K. Everson put it well when he wrote that Love Story "enabled the housewives, themselves much put upon, to wallow in the greater and more artificial self-sacrifice shown on the screen and to find in it a kind of contemporary escapism."

VCI Entertainment's DVD is an interlaced transfer that could have been a bit sharper but is otherwise perfectly watchable and comes in attractive packaging.

For more information about Love Story, visit VCI Entertainment. To order Love Story, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold