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    Conflict Smoothed by Chemistry

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Moviemaking is often battlefield conflict, constant struggle, endless tinkering and self-inflicted wounds – even in the case of a now-iconic romance, burnished by time, that opened nationwide 43 years ago today: The Way We Were (1973). Director Sydney Pollack and screenwriter Arthur Laurents (adapting his own novel) set out to make a story of a Jewish leftist woman of strong political commitment, going through the feverish intellectual tumult of the 1930s up through the reactionary backlash of the insidious Hollywood Blacklist of the later 1940s, seen through the prism of a grand love story in which passionate idealism wrestles with careerist compromise. Leading lady Barbra Streisand as Katie Morosky and leading man Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardner each had a particular vision of their respective characters – her firebrand activist and his privileged WASP golden boy – should develop within their complicated relationship, and that led to a succession of script revisions by A-level writing talents that threatened to overwhelm this project that producer Ray Stark initially instigated as an acting showcase for his Funny Girl protégé, even as Pollack sought to support his own equal, instinctual faith in his Jeremiah Johnson colleague Redford. Pollack recalled: “I called Arthur right at the start and said, ‘You know what you’re proposing here. This is dynamite. This will be the first-ever blacklist movie, the first one to show how it was.’” What moviegoers saw – and took to their hearts and pocketbooks – beginning on October 19, 1973 primarily proved to be definitive in one blazing aspect: edgy, smoldering on-screen romantic chemistry, and that would ensure its durability and appeal. Streisand told Redford biographer Michael Feeney Callan about her co-star: “Every day was an exciting adventure. He’s a man of depth who has what it takes to be a great movie star: mystery behind the eyes. You wonder, What is he really thinking?” Redford in turn said of his partner: “When we started on The Way We Were, she wanted me to be Hubbell. That was how she conceived me. And then, as the shoot went on, she saw I was not that man, in any way. So she reoriented herself, and the professional took over. But afterward I wondered, Did she return to that banal concept of me? Was I – am I – a Hubbell figure in her mind? I never fully sorted that out, and some of that tension made our chemistry on-screen.” People who have struggled with their reservations and attraction to the film over the decades can point to the soapier aspects of the drama, the varying impact of the well-cast but sometimes unsurely drawn supporting characters, and the sense of holding back its political punches, even as the Marvin Hamlisch/Alan and Marilyn Bergman Oscar®-winning title song lights the corners of their minds. But Wonders in the Dark blogger Pat Perry eloquently discusses the lingering questions of the movie that might have been vs. the movie that is, to which millions have surrendered, here: Twilight Time’s glowing hi-def Blu-ray of The Way We Were does so as well, featuring two Audio Commentaries, one with Pollack and the other with resident TT historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, plus a Looking Back documentary that includes Deleted Scenes. A limited number of copies is still available here: