A Little Romance
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"I just don't know how to pinch myself and wake up from this dream; it feels like I'm still dreaming it," Diane Lane said in remarks to the audience after a recent screening of A Little Romance (1979), in which she costarred as a girl with the great Laurence Olivier. In this beguiling comedy-romance, under the direction of George Roy Hill, she had made her movie debut as a 14-year-old actress opposite the venerable actor, then 71 and entering the final phase of his film career. Olivier, Lane recalled, had been "lovely to work with" and "a constant professional" with whom she felt "incredibly blessed" to have shared scenes. He had been equally impressed with his young costar, predicting at the time that she would be "the next Grace Kelly."
In the film Lane plays Lauren King, a highly intelligent 13-year-old American living in Paris with her flighty, promiscuous mother (Sally Kellerman) and down-to-earth businessman stepfather (Arthur Hill). Mom's current amour is egotistical hack director George de Marco (David Dukes), and on the set of his latest film, Lauren meets another super-smart adolescent, scruffy young Frenchman Daniel Michon (Thelonius Bernard, also in his debut). Lauren reads Martin Heidegger in her spare time, and Daniel--when not functioning as a petty thief and small-time gambler--indulges in his love of cinema.
The youngsters quickly fall in love, but Lauren's mother forbids her to see the "filthy French boy" after he punches her obnoxious director boyfriend. The two encounter kindly old Julius (Olivier), a roguish pickpocket who tells them of a legend that "lovers who kiss beneath the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, at sunset as the bells of the Campanile toll, will love each other forever." Aware that she will soon be returning to America, Lauren enlists Julius's help in engineering a train trip to Italy with Daniel, and their disappearance almost sparks an international incident.
Among the films Daniel watches are Hill's two biggest hits, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973). A Little Romance didn't approach that measure of success, and many of its early reviews were lackluster.
In The New York Times, Vincent Canby described the film as "so ponderous it almost seems mean-spirited...so relentlessly sweet-tempered that it winds up--like Pollyanna--alienating everyone not similarly affected." Roger Ebert's review in the Chicago Sun Times mentioned "dialog and situations so relentlessly cute we want to squirm." Some Olivier historians lumped the movie in with other films of the period in which he seemed to be acting in mediocre projects primarily for the paycheck.
Others, however, were more appreciative of the movie's charms. Frank Rich wrote in Time that it "offers an indecent amount of emotional and comic satisfaction." Georges Delerue's lilting score won an Academy Award (his only Oscar® out of five nominations), and the screenplay by Allan Burns (adapted from the 1977 Claude Klotz novel E=MC2 mon amour) also was nominated. Olivier's broadly accented performance, reminiscent of Maurice Chevalier's boulevardier characters, was nominated for a Golden Globe. Both Lane and Bernard won Young Artist Awards.
Over the years the movie has gained an enthusiastic following, and recent reviews have been more in line with Rich's. In DVD Movie Guide, John J. Puccio wrote, "It's a lovely tale of pure and innocent love and the lengths people involved in such a love will go to in their desire to ensure it. The movie can hardly fail to please even the most jaded audiences." Jeffrey M. Anderson wrote for Combustible Celluloid, "Olivier is at his charming best here ... deep into character, but also warm-hearted and generous."
The film was shot largely in sequence and on location, with picturesque views of Paris and Venice. When access to the Louvre was denied, the film crew built a replica set that included plaster reproductions. A scene-stealing Broderick Crawford appears briefly, playing himself as the star of the film-within-a-film.
Olivier was recovering from thrombosis and pneumonia during filming, and Hill had a specially designed bicycle with a motor made for the actor's ease in his cycling scenes. But Olivier spurned it and, when Hill was not around, rode a regular bike instead.
Lane's beauty and poise in her role landed her on the cover of Time in 1979 as a rising young star. She, of course, had a full and rewarding movie career ahead of her, but Bernard never made another film and instead returned to his studies and became a dentist in Nantes in his native France.
Two years after release of the film, India's Bollywood shot a remake in Tamil called Panneer Pushpangal (1981). In 2001 Klotz published a sequel to his novel, Pythagore, je t'adore (Pythagoras, I love you). To date it has not been filmed.
Director/Producer: George Roy Hill
Producer: Robert L. Crawford, Yves Rousset-Rouard
Screenwriter: Allan Burns
Cinematographer: Pierre-Wiliam Glenn
Composer: Georges Delerue
Editor: William H. Reynolds
Production Designer: Henry Bumstead
Costume Designer: Rosine Delamare
Executive Producer: Daniel Patrick Kelley
Cast: Laurence Olivier (Julius), Arthur Hill (Richard King), Sally Kellerman (Kay King), Diane Lane (Lauren), Thelonious Bernard (Daniel), Broderick Crawford (Brod).
by Roger Fristoe