Tag Archives: harvard law school

Love Story (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance and then death.

Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) is attending Harvard Law School where he meets Jenny (Ali MacGraw) a student studying classical music. The two don’t hit-it-off at first, but eventually fall in love and marry despite the objections of Oliver’s father (Ray Milland). Just as things seem to be falling into place Jenny gets diagnosed with a fatal illness, which sends Oliver’s world spinning out-of-control.

Erich Segal’s script, which he later turned into a best-selling novel, is simplistic, but the on-location shooting done in and around Harvard is outstanding and helps give the film, along with some well done hockey footage, an added energy. This is one of only a few films to be allowed to shoot there and they were kicked out after only a week due to being too much of a distraction, but it was just enough to give the movie a good authentic college vibe. The snowy landscape plays a big part of it and there’s even a scene where the two play in it, but some shots feature a lot of it in the background only to have a few scenes spliced in where there is none of it on the ground, which makes it a bit visually jarring.

On the romantic side I liked the fact that Jenny is initially prickly towards Oliver and he has to work at getting her to soften up. Men actually do enjoy a challenge and having a woman just throw herself at a guy, or having the relationship start out seamlessly is just not as interesting or realistic. However, having Oliver profess that he ‘loves’ her after only the first date glosses over the courtship aspect too much and essentially ruins the intrigue in the process.

O’Neal is excellent here and he was picked over a lot of other big name stars simply for his ability to react to a situation in effective ways, which he ends up doing quite well. Yet I felt it would’ve worked better had he been the one from the poor-side-of-town as he’s more convincing as a rugged blue collar type instead of a studious student, or their contrasting economic backgrounds not been played-up at all since for me it didn’t really add much.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most notorious flaw though, and one that was parodied in a very funny send-up of the movie on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’, is the whole mystery illness thing (supposedly it’s leukemia, but never explicitly stated) that comes out of nowhere without Jenny ever showing an symptoms and having her die in a sudden car accident would’ve solved this issue and been more believable.

Personally though I was more shocked by the fact that the Dr. tells Oliver about Jenny’s diagnosis before he informs her. If she were a child that would be fine, but she’s an adult and deserves to know about her own health affairs before anyone else and if this had occurred today it would’ve gotten him into a lot of trouble.

The narrative also gets a bit askew as Oliver takes the news much harder than she does. Shot after shot shows him getting all misty-eyed almost like the viewer should feel worse for him, as he is now losing the object of his affections instead of her for losing her life.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film is also famous for the line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, which to me never made any sense as relationships are dependent on the other party asking for forgiveness when they’ve done wrong and simply presuming they can get away with anything and expect unconditional acceptance doesn’t work. Two of my female friends agreed with me on this, which only proves how placid and shallow this film ultimately is.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Paper Chase (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t please Kingsfield.

James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) attends his first year at Harvard Law School and finds himself obsessed with the notoriously stern Professor Charles Kingsfield (John Houseman). His fascination increases after he begins a relationship with Kingsfield’s daughter Susan (Lindsey Wagner). The rest of the story deals with the pressures and demands of being a law student.

This quite possibly is the quintessential movie about college life. Everything is captured in such a real and revealing way that it will very likely send the viewer back to their college days. Despite being nearly forty years old it doesn’t seem dated at all as it touches on many universals that every generation goes through at that age. If anything it is still quite topical. The few dated elements are actually fun to see including the scene in the pre-cellphone days where the students would line up and wait their turn to make a call on the dorm’s one and only pay phone.

The student characters have diverse personalities and seem like young adults one would meet during their college days, or even see on a campus today. It is nice to have a college movie where students are actually studying. In fact these scenes are some of the best moments in the film including Hart’s dealings with difficult people in his study group.

The Hart character is appealing and relatable. I liked how he is multi-faceted and displays elements from both his own era including his counter-culture hairstyle as well as past ones.

Having it filmed on-location and capturing the different seasons of the year makes the viewer feel like they are attending the school year right along with him. I particularly liked the scene shot in the historic Harvard stadium.

The film also makes terrific use of silent moments as there is very little music. Many college movies dwell on the loud and raucous partying, but there is a lot of quiet time as well particularly the first day of class in a large auditorium wondering what the instructor will be like. The opening sequence done underneath the credits showing an empty classroom quietly filling up with students was not only novel, but brilliant.

Houseman deservedly won the Oscar for his portrayal of the crotchety professor. Outside of a small and unaccredited role in Seven Days in May this was technically, at age 71, his film debut. Some may complain that the character is one-dimensional. We are never shown any type of softer side to him and I am sure most films would have thrown some in, but the fact that they don’t do it makes his mystique more interesting. My favorite moment of his is when at the end of the year the students give him a standing ovation while Kinsgfield responds with his trademark scowl before walking out of the room.

The supporting cast of students is terrific and many were making their film debuts. There is Graham Beckel as Hart’s study partner Franklin Ford who looks like a twin of Brad Dourif. There is also Edward Herrmann and James Naughton as Kevin Brooks a man with a photographic memory, but no analytical ability. My favorite though was Craig Richard Nelson as the moody and belligerent Willis Bell.

Blair Brown can also be seen as one of the female students during the classroom scenes. She speaks in a strange accent and I think she was trying too hard to get the Bostonian sound, but I ended up kind of liking it anyways.

The implementation of Kingsfield’s daughter into the story really didn’t work with me. Lindsey Wagner is a competent actress, but the way they meet on a sidewalk seemed too forced and random. It is also beating extreme odds that Hart would by chance get into a relationship with the daughter of a man that is the complete center of his universe and the fact that she turns out to be hip, sexy, and gorgeous even though she is related to a man who is anything but was also a stretch. It would have been interesting had there been a few scenes and dialogue between Kingsfield and Susan, but none is ever shown.

There is a part involving Hart sneaking into the library when it is closed in order to get into a section that houses the notes taken by the professors when they attended the school as students, which I found to be odd. I have never known any college that has done this and talking with others no one else has either. I was still willing to roll with it but found it frustrating that when Hart takes out the notes written by Kingsfield in 1927 that the camera doesn’t focus in on the page to allow the viewer to see it for themselves. Having Hart simply describe what he sees including some doodling that Kingsfield apparently made on the side of the page is not as satisfying.

I had a few problems with the end as well although it was not enough to ruin what is otherwise a great movie. However, there is a scene showing Kingsfield grading his student’s tests by himself even though most tenured professors who teach large classes have graduate assistants do this for them. It may be more cinematically satisfying especially for the general viewer to see Kingsfield doing the grading, but that is not how it actually works.

Also, when Hart receives the grades in the mail he doesn’t bother to open the letter, but instead turns it into a paper airplane and floats it into the ocean. I didn’t understand the motivation of this because during the film Hart spends an enormous amount of time preparing for the test, so I would think anyone who went through that would want to see what they got. If he wants to turn it into a paper airplane afterwards that is fine, but at least see the results. I spoke to a fan of the film who says he interprets this scene to mean that Hart was more interested in learning the subject for his own enjoyment and not concerned with what he got out of it, but if that is the case the film fails to bring that out earlier and instead seems to show the exact opposite.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video