Most romantic film #65: The Way We Were (1973)

The mother of all tearjerker love stories for a generation of baby boomers, THE WAY WE WERE was a star vehicle for Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, directed by Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, Tootsie, Out of Africa, The Firm).

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Streisand had already made Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly, but The Way We Were was a more dramatic role, where she did not sing. She plays Katie Morosky, a politically active Marxist Jew in 1930s & 40s America who meets and falls in love with Hubbell Gardiner, a WASP with no interest in politics.

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Redford had been knocking around for a decade in minor vehicles, but in the 1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid he finally got critics’ attention. The Way We Were was probably his next truly popular movie and framed him not only as the romantic lead but as eye candy. Streisand’s character crushes on Hubbell, who is definitely a pretty, pretty boy; the problem is their outlook on politics, life and America.

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The movie tells the story of their love affair, marriage and break-up set against the background of the 1930s and its class issues. Katie objects to Hubbell’s WASP-y friends who don’t do anything but play tennis and drink cocktails, while Hubbell gets exhausted by Katie’s constant hammering of Marxism for unions and rights for workers. Hubbell is a gifted writer, one of the things that attracts Katie to him, but he opts for Hollywood, which Katie considers is a waste of his talent. The relationship between then is poignantly depicted: two people who love each other but cannot live together.

Singer and Actress Barbra Streisand with Actor Robert Redford

The title song of the piece was, of course, sung by Streisand (songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch) and became a huge popular hit. Think Celine Dion and “My Heart Will Go On.” (Hello, Oscars 2013!)

It’s the last scene that gets me: the little hair flip, the hug, the regret.

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Ultimately, Pollock, Streisand and Redford do a great job, although critics didn’t like it. Audiences loved it. I would suggest watching this in a double bill with Casablanca or Out of Africa, accompanied by a good red wine and caramel chocolate chunk ice cream. And bring the tissues.

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