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Director Steven Spielberg made his first cinematic foray into adult romance with Always (1989). Richard Dreyfuss (in his third collaboration with Spielberg after Jaws  and Close Encounters of the Third Kind ) stars as Pete Sandich, a daredevil aerial firefighter pilot who loses his life after taking one risk too many. With the assistance of spiritual guide Hap (the luminous Audrey Hepburn in her final screen appearance), Pete becomes a guardian angel to novice pilot Ted Baker (Brad Johnson). At the same time, Pete must also help the girl he left behind, Dorinda (Holly Hunter), move past her grief.
If the plot sounds familiar, that's because Always is a remake of the 1943 Victor Fleming classic A Guy Named Joe starring Spencer Tracy as a heroic World War II fighter pilot and Irene Dunne as his girl, Dorinda. Spielberg, however, didn't like to call Always a remake. "I think the film owes a great inspiration to...A Guy Named Joe," said Spielberg in a 1989 interview. "But it's not really a remake. It was the basis for a new story."
In fact, A Guy Named Joe had been one of Spielberg's favorite movies since he was a child. He often publicly remarked that Joe was one of only two films that had actually moved him to tears (the other was Bambi ). As a boy, Spielberg related to Pete's presence as an invisible force while he watched powerlessly as his parents' marriage fell apart.
Spielberg had kicked around the idea of a remake for years. The first draft of the Always script was written in 1980. "I had a lot of false starts," said Spielberg, "but I think it all came down to the fact that I wasn't ready to make it...If I had made it in 1980, I think it would have been more of a comedy. I'd have hidden all of the deep feelings." Spielberg was going through a divorce from his first wife, actress Amy Irving, when he finally decided to bring Always to the screen. The powerful themes of loss, separation and grief within the story mirrored his own emotions at the time, and harkened back to the pain of watching his parents split up so many years before. Always became his most mature work up to that point in his career.
Spielberg initially debated about making Always a period piece and keeping the World War II backdrop. He had always been drawn to the World War II era in history, evidenced by its presence in many of Spielberg's previous films such as 1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Empire of the Sun (1987). "I like the period because it was naive and it was somewhat innocent," he explained in 1989, "and it represented the growing pains of the 20th century. And it's a very fertile time for movie stories."
In the end, Spielberg chose to update Always to contemporary times in the American west, though the film retains a definite old-fashioned quality reminiscent of films from the 1940s. In a nod to its predecessor Joe, the pilots in Always fly modified vintage World War II bombers, and 1940s slang is dusted throughout the dialogue. "I wanted the story to be somewhat timeless," said Spielberg. "A lot of the old World War II bomber pilots have kept their old airplanes, or at least restored, bought and used parts and turned them into firefighting equipment. I thought that would give a timeless feeling."
When it came time for casting, Spielberg was adamant about using believable actors in the parts. "I didn't want to make this movie with glamour queens or the icons of stardom of the 1990s. I wanted real people that we could relate to," he said. Names like Paul Newman and Robert Redford were considered for Pete, but the role ultimately went to Spielberg friend, Richard Dreyfuss. Years before, while shooting Jaws together, Spielberg and Dreyfuss discovered their mutual affection for A Guy Named Joe. They would discuss it at length during breaks on the set and talked about the possibility of doing a remake in the future. Dreyfuss tried to make Spielberg promise him the part of Pete if he ever did the remake, but the director wasn't sold on the idea of his friend as a romantic leading man at the time. A decade later, however, Spielberg changed his tune after seeing Dreyfuss' exceptional range as an actor over the years.
Holly Hunter won the part of Pete's love interest Dorinda, though Debra Winger's name had once been attached. The vivacious and talented Hunter was hot off the major success of her starring role in Broadcast News (1987) and was able to bring a unique warmth and humor to Dorinda that Spielberg found appropriate.
Spielberg scored a coup by luring screen legend Audrey Hepburn out of her acting retirement to play Hap. Hepburn in her later years had abandoned acting to devote herself full time to UNICEF as a special ambassador. When he approached Hepburn about the role after Sean Connery turned it down due to scheduling conflicts, Spielberg never dreamed she would actually say yes. To his delight, however, Hepburn loved the script and agreed to appear. Her presence, he felt, brought tremendous compassion to Hap. She enjoyed her experience working in front of the camera again. "I loved it, and I wouldn't mind if (Spielberg) asked me again, like next summer," said Hepburn. "I had really one of the best times of my life." Always would be Hepburn's final film appearance before her death in 1993.
Always was shot using locations in Montana, Washington state as well as soundstages at Universal and Lorimar. Production designer Jim Bissell found the Libby, Montana setting used for the firefighting air base. Its remote location and stunning backdrop of mountain scenery made it perfect for the film. More than 150 local extras were recruited from the Libby area to portray the base workers.
The dramatic forest fires captured on film for Always were a combination of real footage and special effects. Spielberg had started sending out crews more than two years earlier with the permission of the Forest Service in order to capture aerial footage of actual fires burning in the Yellowstone National Park area. In 1988 alone a total of 248 fires sprang up in the greater Yellowstone area after a particularly dry summer.
For additional forest fire footage, Spielberg re-created fires by re-burning areas of Yellowstone that had already been destroyed. In order to control the new fires safely, the special effects team, under the supervision of coordinator Mike Wood, rigged the pre-burned trees to ignite on cue.
Cinematographer Mikael Salomon's beautiful photography throughout Always provides one of the film's greatest strengths. His crisp images capture the dramatic visuals of the raging forest fires and the exciting flying sequences, expertly choreographed by veteran aerial coordinator and pilot James Gavin.
Longtime Spielberg composer John Williams created the musical score for Always. For Pete and Dorinda's special song, Spielberg had wanted to use the obvious choice of Irving Berlin's romantic tune "Always." However, when approached about getting the rights, Berlin refused. The 94-year-old composer said he was saving the song for himself to use in the future. Instead, Spielberg used the equally appropriate Jerome Kern ballad "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".
The cast of Always is rounded out by versatile character actor John Goodman as Pete's best friend Al, and former rodeo champion Brad Johnson in his first starring role as Pete's firefighting mentee Ted Baker.
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg, Richard Vane
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Chandler Sprague, David Boehm, Dalton Trumbo, Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, Jerry Belson
Cinematography: Mikael Salomon
Film Editing: Michael Kahn
Art Direction: Christopher Burian-Mohr
Music: John Williams
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Pete Sandich), Holly Hunter (Dorinda Durston), Brad Johnson (Ted Baker), John Goodman (Al Yackey), Audrey Hepburn (Hap), Roberts Blossom (Dave).
C-106m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume