In 1970, it was hard to imagine that a comedy with a cast that included Jackie Gleason (Skidoo), Maureen O’Hara (McLintock!) , Shelley Winters (Harper) and Rosemary Forsyth would be a complete box office bomb, yet it happened. A decidedly unusual romantic comedy based on the novel Let Me Count the Ways by Peter De Vries, it ultimately doesn’t work on any level. From a flashback structure that confuses, to attempts at humor that fail to land, the impressive roster of talent never really gets a chance to shine.
In the present day, Stanley Waltz (Gleason) is on vacation in France with his wife Else (O’Hara) when he finds himself hospitalized. Over his strong objections, Else sends for their adult son, Tom (Rick Lenz). Tom flies off to France, despite the misgivings of his wife (Forsyth), who believes his father is the reason for her husband’s faults. Through a series of flashbacks while on the plane, Tom’s rocky childhood is revealed, including a fundamental disagreement between his parents over religion, that has foretold much of his life. Stanley is a devout atheist, while Else is an equally devout born-again Christian. When Tom was a child, both parents were locked in a battle to shape beliefs; so much so, it’s hard to believe these two adults could have ever fell in love.
Stanley meets Lena (Winters) An eccentric artist and the two are quickly attracted to each other. Stanley is interested in an affair, while Lena wants a relationship; a soul mate she can connect with. In a series of scenes designed to generate laughs but fall flat, these two rather large individuals attempt to make love, but can’t get it together. The relationship is never consummated, but it has a lasting effect on Stanley. As he flies to visit his ailing father, Tom’s flashbacks reveal the conflicts that drove them apart and ultimately put Stanley in the hospital.
The concept of parents with different religious views trying to raise a son with amity could be interesting and fun, How Do I Love Thee? completely misses the mark. Naturally, with Jackie Gleason aboard, the film wants to be funny, rather than an examination of religion. Unfortunately, not even Gleason could do much with such an uneven, flat script. Maureen O’Hara’s character and her beliefs are treated with respect, but we’re never given any insight into why a woman with such conviction would fall for a man like Stanley. A bad childhood? Abandonment issues? Nothing. Shelley Winters’ is mostly wasted as a caricature (a bad one, at that), of a woman’s library fanatic, circa 1970. Her character isn’t fleshed out enough to care a lot about.
In the end, How Do I Love Thee? is a missed opportunity. Director Michael Gordon (Pillow Talk, grandfather of actor-filmmaker Joseph Gordon-Levitt) working with a talented cast, but middling script, delivered an unforgettable film that was a failure at the box office.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio which closely approximates the original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Unfortunately, this 1080p transfer is far from stellar. The color palette looks rather pale and bland throughout and flesh tones are inconsistent. Specks of dirt and dust pop up throughout the film, though the presentation is always viewable.
The lossless DTS-HD MA mono 2.0 soundtrack is center heavy. The audio is quite a bit better than the video, though it does have issues. Dialogue is fairly clean and clear, though there is a slight hiss that creeps in, on-and-off.
No subtitles are included.
No extras are available.
Movie title: How Do I Love Thee? (1970)
Director(s): Michael Gordon
Actor(s): Jackie Gleason , Maureen O'Hara , Shelley Winters, Rosemary Forsyth , Rick Lenz
Genre: Comedy, Drama