Updated: Feb 14
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw became instant stars after “Love Story,” the biggest box office movie of 1971. O’Neal played preppy Harvard law student Oliver Barrett IV and MacGraw played his girlfriend and wife Jennifer Cavalieri-Barrett, a classical music scholar.
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“LOVE STORY” – PARAMOUNT PRESENTS”
Blu-ray and Digital copy; 1970; PG for sensuality and profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Leonard Maltin’s “Filmmaker Focus” featurette
THIS VALENTINE’S weekend is a perfect time to revisit the classic tearjerker “Love Story.” Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz introduces this latest addition to the Paramount Presents Series. He calls the Oscar-nominated film, “The definitive heartbreaking screen romance of its era.”
In the winter of 1971, “Love Story” surprisingly picked up six Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director. It won for Best Music, Original Score, for Francis Lai, which included its haunting theme song. It became a radio favorite with Henry Mancini’s instrumental and singer Andy Williams’ rendition “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story” topping at No. 9 on the Hot 100 Billboard. Plus, the movie became the No. 1 box office film of the year and dominated the Golden Globes winning Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Actress Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Original Score.
Ryan O’Neal stars as Oliver Barrett IV, a preppy Harvard law student and hockey player from a well-to-do Boston family. The family name is even seen on a building at the Cambridge, Mass. University. The role was auditioned by six of Hollywood’s hottest young actors including Jon Voight, Beau Bridges, Michael York, Ken Howard, and Michael Douglas. At the time, O’Neal was known for his starring role on the TV soap opera “Peyton Place.”
(1) Arthur Hiller filmed “Love Story” in Boston and New York City with a $2 million budget. (2-4) Oliver and Jenny go out for coffee and she returns to her Radcliffe dorm.
Ali MacGraw, fresh off her role in Paramount’s “Goodbye Columbus,” plays Jennifer Cavalieri, a classical music student at Radcliffe. She has a working-class background, raised by a single father (John Marley) from outside Providence. The two students meet at Radcliffe’s library, where Jenny is a clerk, and quickly fall in love.
Harvard scholar Erich Segal originally wrote “Love Story” as a screenplay, but Paramount thought it would make a better novel in order to prime moviegoers. The book became a runaway best-seller only months before the movie premiered. When the cameras started rolling, Segal quickly transferred his script into a novel. The clever marketing strategy was developed by studio executive Robert Evans, who was engaged to MacGraw at the time. They later married. He had taken control of Paramount during the late 1960s when it was struggling, and restored the studio into one of Hollywood’s most respected with “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Odd Couple,” “True Grit,” “Love Story,” the two “Godfather” films, “Serpico” and “Chinatown.”
Film historian and critic Leonard Maltin provides another “Filmmaker Focus” commentary for Paramount Presents. He says “Love Story” had a simple goal: “To entertain and give audiences a good cry.” Maltin felt viewers were looking for an alternative escape from the Vietnam War and President Nixon. O’Neal and MacGraw became instant stars, with O’Neal showed himself as a “vulnerable man.”
For months the film’s catchphrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” was “recited just about everywhere you went,” Maltin says. “For Segal, the words must have felt like lightning strikes when you least expect it.”
(1) During a penalty timeout Jenny talks to Oliver during his hockey match. (2) After the match, Oliver returns to his apartment as his roommates play poker. A young Tommy Lee Jones, a former Harvard student plays the student wearing the white sweatshirt. (3) After another hockey match, Oliver talks with his father played by Oscar-winning actor Ray Milland. (4&5) Oliver and Jenny are falling in love.
Director Arthur Hiller helmed the production. He got his start in Canadian TV, eventually moving to Hollywood, where he directed everything from episodes of “Gunsmoke” to “Perry Mason.” “He was a very versatile director,” Maltin says. “If the material was great, he knew how to make the most of it.” Hiller also won respect from his peers and was elected President of the Directors Guild for a number of terms, as well as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Hiller and the “Love Story” production is one of the few Hollywood companies ever allowed to film on the Harvard campus.
He also convinced veteran Welsh actor Ray Milland (“The Lost Weekend” and “Dial M for Murder”) to push past his old Hollywood persona by eliminating his hairpiece to play the part of Arthur’s father, Oliver III. He also selected newcomer Tommy Lee Jones – a recent Harvard grad and roommate of future Vice President Al Gore – for a small bit as one of Arthur’s friends.
In the 14-minute carryover featurette, “A Classic Remembered,” Hiller recalls how he got to direct “Love Story.” He had just finished Paramount’s “The Out of Towners” (1970) with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. Evans first offered Hiller “The Godfather.” “Fortunately for them, I turned down, because Francis Ford Coppola brought so much more to it than I would have, because of his writing abilities and all,” he says. That left Hiller wide open for “Love Story,” “which I could do better,” he said. Paramount nearly pulled the plug on the production because of financing, but Hiller promised Evans he could do it for under $2 million.
(1) Oliver takes Jenny to meet his parents at their plush multi-acre estate in Boston. (2) Next, they drive to Rhode Island so Oliver can meet her father Phil (John Marley). (3) Wedding day for the young couple. (4) Oliver and Jenny receive a birthday invitation for his father’s 60th birthday.
O’Neal and MacGraw rehearsed for 10 days, with Hiller working on the script and developing the couple’s relationship, and becoming friends, since Oliver and Jenny would face a crisis that would test their enduring love. Hiller also provides a running commentary originally recorded for the 2000 DVD edition.
The American Film Institute selected “Love Story” No. 9 in the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions the Greatest Love Stories of All Time. “Casablanca” was No. 1 while “Love Story” became positioned between holiday favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights.”
On February 12, 2021, at Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw received the first virtual double-star ceremony in history, celebrating their roles in “Love Story.” O’Neal's star was placed between MacGraw’s and his real-life love, Farrah Fawcett.
Actor Ryan O’Neal, 79, visits his newly installed star on the Walk of Fame on Friday, February 12. (Courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment)
Hiller and cinematographer Richard C. Kratina filmed “Love Story” with an open matte 35mm format, which theaters changed to 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The camera negative was scanned in 4K and mastered in 4K, cleaning up marks and scratches, while preserving the original aspect ratio. Overall sharpness is excellent, with plenty of natural film grain on its first 1080p presentation. We have to wonder how much better a 4K Ultra HD disc or digital would’ve shown. Colors are natural from start to finish, and the contrast levels are solid. Still, 4K/HDR toning would’ve provided more visual drama.
One of the imagery highlights comes during the ice hockey match, in which Oliver plays for the Harvard team. Kratina and his crew mounted a camera onto the bottom of two hockey sticks filming the scene inches off the ice.
The original mono soundtrack has been restored and cleaned up removing clicks and pops with a new Dolby Digital two-channel track. The dialogue never gets lost, and Francis Lai’s score holds up quite well.
The Paramount Presents series continues to release top-notch restored catalog titles. “Love Story” is No. 15. All we can say is keep them coming.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Oliver graduates from Harvard law school with honors and gets a job at a New York City firm. (2&3) Oliver receives the bad news that Jenny has Stage IV leukemia.