Sunday, August 14, 2016

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand Bring Back Memories in 'The Way We Were'

Redford & Streisand were the dream team romantic duo of '73.
Ever re-watch a movie from your youth to see if it still lives up to your memory? I watched The Way We Were for the first time since the Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford epic romance came to our small town Upper Michigan theatre in late 1973. I went with my sister, who thought Redford was a dreamboat. I thought he was just okay, but he was enjoying a run of popular pictures that we went to see: Jeremiah Johnson, The Sting, The Great Gatsby, and The Great Waldo Pepper. The Way We Were still holds up—so well, that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t gotten the bright idea to remake the romantic saga. If you live long enough, every favorite movie or TV show of your youth will be recycled! Still, it was a surprise to find that Robert Redford turned 80 on August 18, 2016.

The tagline of  "The Way We Were" summed up the studio's point of view!
The Way We Were was one of the first “nostalgic” films of the ‘70s, covering the Streisand-Redford couple from mid-‘30s college life to mid-‘50s Hollywood and New York. Streisand shines as activist Katie, who grates on people’s nerves as much as Redford’s cool school hero Hubbell charms them. These two opposites definitely attract. When they talk about great chemistry in movies, The Way We Were should be used as a textbook example. Funny girl Streisand freely admitted to having a crush on Redford, who handled it with typical class—which worked for the movie’s dynamic. The rapport between Streisand and Redford gives this film its enduring strength.

Redford's bellbottoms made it in the scene!
And so did Streisand's nails and Redford's '70s hair!
Streisand signed first and Redford was everyone’s first choice for Hubbell. Redford turned the role down repeatedly, as he felt Hubbell was a weak character. As much as I respect Redford, he has a history declining great parts that were outside the leading man box: Nick in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Benjamin in The Graduate, and Guy in Rosemary’s Baby. Even with Sydney Pollack, his favorite director and friend, on board, Redford held out. Pollack had to wear Redford down before he finally agreed. Redford said over the years that Hubbell felt one-dimensional, with no flaws to play off of. The reality was, that as filming progressed, Redford’s character became more sympathetic, which infuriated screenwriter Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original story. Still, this is one of Redford’s best performances, as the college jock turned writer. In a cut scene, Hubbell tells Katie about being sent to classroom to classroom as a child, with a note from a teacher, and he soon becomes the teachers’ pet. When he looked at the notes, it read, “Did you ever see such a smile?”

This has also been Robert Redford’s dilemma. Redford was one of the first stars to shy away from his good looks, yet falling back on them as needed. In The Way We Were, Redford is at his blond best and flashes that toothy smile, whether in uniform, sweaters, or swimwear. Yet, Redford, never an over-actor, is subtle in showing his discomfort with Streisand’s character constantly prodding him to do the right thing.

The Red Scare and Blacklist-era scenes were trimmed in favor of romance.
Streisand is perfect in the role of Katie Morosky, probably because Laurents wrote it with her in mind. Though Katie’s heart is in the right place, Streisand isn’t afraid to be unlikeable when Katie gets on her soapbox and browbeats those around her. A college Communist, Katie’s past comes back to haunt her when Hubbell goes to Hollywood as a screenwriter. The Red Scare soon sweeps Hollywood, and their friends and colleagues are facing the infamous blacklist. In one of the film’s best scenes, Katie and Hubbell have it out after facing an angry crowd in Washington. Hubbell is pragmatic, predicting that the controversy will ultimately prove pointless, with everything going back to the status quo. Katie accuses him of ducking the issue, saying, “People are their principles!” Hubbell responds by sending glasses flying from a table. This is a telling scene, with Redford and Streisand respectively standing in for Pollack, who wanted to cut it, and Laurents, who fought to keep it in.

Director Sydney Pollack with stars Streisand and Redford, in a '70s moment.
The Way We Were is a fine romance and to a point, a compelling drama. The filming was problematic because the romance and drama soon competed for storytelling and screen time. According to Laurents, Pollack favored Redford and the romance, whereas Laurents and Streisand favored the film’s political drama. Pollack was under pressure from Columbia Pictures to deliver a hit movie, given such a stellar star pairing. Pollack says that there were two previews for The Way We Were, one with cuts to political content, and one without. He claimed that the version with the focus on romance and cutting the politics was the preview audiences preferred.

Streisand as Katie, after a '40s glam makeover.
Robert Redford, rockin' the man in uniform look!
Still, the flaw that keeps The Way We Were from film classic status is its choppy continuity. A sweet scene that was cut is when Katie drives by a college activist rally after leaving a blacklisted friend’s house. She literally sees her past self and realizes that she doesn’t fit in with the conformist Hollywood crowd. But the worst cuts are with Katie and Hubbell, who overcome huge differences to stay together, yet appear to break up over sex with an ex on Hubbell’s part, which comes out of nowhere. One was a great scene where Katie clears the air by saying Hubbell’s career can’t afford a politically subversive wife. And since Katie won’t name names, she makes the final break between them. Pollack concedes that not only Laurents, but also Redford and Streisand were unhappy with the cuts, feeling it softened the picture. Not to mention the film’s flow, since The Way We Were suddenly goes from the couple’s domestic woes in Malibu to the closing scene years later, where Katie runs into Hubbell on the streets of New York City.

Watching Sydney Pollack interviewed as to why he made such cuts lessened my admiration for him as a director. Like Mike Nichols and Sidney Lumet, Pollack started in acting and became a director who was great with actors and chose smart material. But Pollack didn’t have the guts to tell the studio to trust the film’s integrity. In a way, Pollack rationalizations mirror Hubbell’s. Nichols fought similar battles on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. And Lumet was a director of such strength and social conscience that no studio would even think of telling him to delete controversial material. Maybe that’s why despite classy crowd-pleasers like Tootsie and Out of Africa, there isn’t a culture-changing Network or The Graduate on Pollack’s resume.

Bittersweet farewell: Streisand came up with the recurring bit of her brushing away Redford's blonde bangs.
Still, how about that ending? Katie is back to where she started, taking it to the streets with her activism, and Hubbell, now with a blond, silent wife. The movie ends with Hubbell and Katie having a private moment, acknowledging their paths will not pass again, except perhaps by chance. Streisand and Redford play this scene beautifully, and then the famous theme song swells up. I remember a lot of tissues coming out back in 1973!

Funny how some of Hollywood’s greatest love stories have such sad endings: Scarlett and Rhett’s marriage not worth a damn in Gone with the Wind, Montgomery Clift gets the electric chair instead of Liz Taylor in A Place in the Sun, and Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster’s beach romance is all washed up by the end of From Here to Eternity.

Redford was 37 when he played a college boy
 in the opening of "The Way We Were." So the meter
was already running on the sequel possibility.
For years after, there was much talk of a sequel to The Way We Were. Eventually, too much time had passed for a feasible film follow-up to Katie and Hubbell’s love story. The talk had been so on-going that when Barbra presented Redford with a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2002, he said to her onstage, “I guess this is the sequel, huh, Babs?”

About a decade later, Oprah Winfrey reunited Streisand and Redford for an interview. Redford put it best when asked about the continued interest in a sequel to The Way We Were: “I just felt certain things should be left alone, and this was one of them.”

Bonus: Deleted scenes from The Way We Were:

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