BR: Way We Were, The (1973)

February 27, 2014 | By

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WayWeWere_BRFilm: Very Good / BR Transfer: Excellent / BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time / Region: All / Released:  November 12, 2013

Genre: Drama / Romance

Synopsis: A privileged writer and a Communist activist form an unlikely couple, weathering a torrent of challenges from the thirties to the fifties.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary #1: director Sydney Pollack (2004) / Audio Commentary #2: producer Nick Redman and film historian Julie Kirgo (2013) / Isolated stereo music track / 2004 Making-of documentary “Looking Back” (61 mins.) / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




When a highly reluctant Robert Redford finally buckled under Sydney Pollack’s pleading and agreed to co-star with Barbara Streisand in The Way We Were, the actor probably assumed the film wouldn’t do little more than maybe nudge his marquee status, given his role consisted of a pretty boy to whom writing comes easy, and life’s conflicts are never truly dire.

Arthur Laurents concocted a custom-fitted role for Streisand knowing full well of her skills as an actress and singer – she appeared in his plays I Can Get It for You Wholesale in 1962 – but even director Pollack found the script’s structure unusual, starting in the 1940s, flashing back to the 1930s, returning to the 1940s, and then jumping ahead in two mighty time chunks before there’s a coda to the tempestuous relationship between privileged writer Hubbell (Redford) and political activist & Communist Katie (Streisand).

Laurents based Katie on a woman he knew in college, and the story slowly makes its way to the era of HUAC, where talent from all disciplines were pushed to name Communist sympathizers or go straight to jail. The film does slow down and settle for a while in the late forties to trace Hubbell’s complacency which ultimately helps fracture his relationship with Katie, but what makes the film such an enduring romance is the incredible chemistry of its pretty cast – Redford never looked more dashing – and a script peppered with some smart, snappy dialogue.

Many writers (including former blacklistee Dalton Trumbo) were brought in to punch up the script, but the dismissed Laurents was eventually brought back to rework the resulting pastiche into a proper script, and amazingly, the thing works. Pollack’s instincts also ensured the story was propelled by recurring conflicts – the HUAC material is innately heavy, but it adds needed momentum in the film’s final third – and perhaps because of Redford’s subsequent success as The Great Gatsby, he’s easy to accept as a charismatic figure to whom upscale living and romance come easy.

Marvin Hamlisch’s score is surprisingly restrained in repetitiveness and schmaltz – there are strong dramatic sections, and his main theme variations ease in and out of scenes with a certain finesse. Director Pollack also insisted the theme song begin without lyrics and just ease its way into the film during the Main Titles sequence, but never beating the audience with a vocal track designed to sell a single.

The Way We Were is a classic Hollywood romance-drama, but with characters affected by the chaos from political upheaval; one also suspects Pollack and Laurents felt the HUAC setting could work in attracting younger filmgoers amid anti-Vietnam War protests, and the public’s loathing for shifty government figures and oppression of civil rights.

Regardless of the film’s inherent mush factor (about an 8/10), it’s fascinating to watch two massive stars create sparks, making their characters more compelling than perhaps director and writer ever felt possible.

In their audio commentary, producer / documentarian Nick Redman and film historian Julie Kirgo address the flipped gender factor – Hubble (Redford) could be seen as the alluring female while Katie (Streisand) is the persistent guy who refuses to back away from snatching his one true love – but the issue ultimately stays vague in the finished film, and that uncertainty ensures the movie has an oddness which separates it from both contemporary romances, and the classic fifties melodramas the filmmakers were revisiting in their own oddball way.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray ports over the extras from Sony’s 2004 special edition, back when the latter label was still actively producing SE’s for the DVD market.

The hour-long documentary is exhaustive and filled with bon anecdotes, making up for the lack of more personal anecdotes in Pollack’s droning commentary track in which the director often states the screen obvious. Pollack is better served as an interview subject in the doc (as is more strategic use of his terribly monotonous voice), but absent from all the love is Redford who perhaps still regards the film as a lesser work; career-wise, it provided a boost, and certainly expanded the scope of his female fans, but it’s not his most rewarding film by far. Way We Were is very much a Streisand vehicle, but built with an exceptional supporting cast, plus some easy-to-recognize newcomers, including James Woods as Katie’s college friend, Susan Blakely, Sally Kirkland, and former model Lois Chiles, who would appear with Redford in Gatsby.

Also on hand are character actors Bradford Dillman (The Swarm), Vivica Lindfors (Stargate), Constance Forslund (Village of the Damned), Patrick O’Neal (Chamber of Horrors), and the ever reliable Murray Hamilton in a tiny role before appearing in Jaws (1975) as the supremely negligent mayor of Amityville.

Kirgo and Redman’s commentary (recorded in 2013) is more personal in observation and appreciation, and provides candor and historical perspectives not touched upon in the doc and Pollack’s ruminations. There’s also an insolated stereo track of Hamlisch’s score which seems to feature more music than the classic half-hour soundtrack album.

Streisand and Redford fans will likely scratch their heads and wondering why Sony felt the current DVD market for this classic didn’t warrant a broad release, but TT have significantly augmented what would’ve been a straight reissue in HD from Sony. It’s a great transfer with a really beautiful sound mix.

Pollack would reunite with Redford on Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Electric Horseman (1979), Out of Africa, and Havana (1990). Redford’s following films would be a great mix of box office hits and character pieces, including The Sting (1973), The Great Gatsby (1974), The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), Three Days of the Condor (1975), and All the President’s Men (1976).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan


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