Jenny died as she lived: smirking. Where do I begin? Love Story!
Where do I begin? “Death Story,” as it came to be called, was the film that introduced Hollywood’s concept of a “set-’em up-to-watch-’em-die” picture to my then-15-year-old brain. The script originally called for the movie to open with the doctor bluntly informing Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) that his young bride Jenny (Ali MacGraw) was a goner. Worried that this wouldn’t allow the audience any time to get to know her character, director Arthur Hiller instead started the story at the beginning and trudged ahead chronologically. But in that case, why begin with narrator Oliver seated alone and teasing the audience with, “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?” Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of relocating the bad news delivery to two-thirds of the way into the picture? The film also marked the first time I can recall having to issue a firm “Shush!” to a fellow theatre patron. Nancy Reagan despised the film, due to its plethora of profanities. Seated behind me were a pair of chatty, white-gloved Reaganites. Every few minutes found them gasping, “Oh! Did you hear what she said?” After about the fifth interruption, I turned and said, “Bullshit, lady. She said bullshit.” Their mutual “Harumph!” was followed by a quick retreat to the back of the house. Believe it or don’t, this dog was nominated for seven golden doorstops. As interpreted by Oscar-nominee MacGraw, Jenny died as she lived: smirking. One of the original reviewers observed that the closer Jenny inched towards death, the more beautiful she became. Oscar-nominee Hiller’s contribution to the advancement of cinema was attaching a camera to a hockey stick. And his slow, 20-to-1 zoom-in on the exterior of a Harvard house as the badly-dubbed couple are heard joking around about sex is better suited to radio. A copy of the double-LP soundtrack, complete with dialogue from the film, found its way into my hands, and left me asking, What kind of a monster would think of adding a laugh track to these somber proceedings? Sure wish I still had the cassette tape. See it at your own risk when it screens citywide. — Scott Marks