Friday, May 22, 2015

A Little Romance

TCM is today marking the anniversary of Laurence Olivier's birth in 1907 with a bunch of his films. They're concluding at 6:00 PM with the charming A Little Romance.

Laurence Olivier doesn't show up for a while, and even though he gets top billing, he's not really the star of the film. That goes to the two juvenile leads. First is Diane Lane, playing a 13-year-old girl named Lauren King. She's living in Paris with her mother Kay (Sally Kellerman) and stepfather Richard (Arthur Hill), who is working for some multinational doing big business stuff. While Stepdad is away, the mice, or in this case Mom, will play. There's an American film production doing filming on location at some Paris area palace, and Mom is carrying on an affair with the director, George (David Dukes). Not that Lauren cares; she'd rather read abstruse philosophy since she's so much more sophisticated than all of her classmates.

Somebody who does care, at least a bit, is French schoolboy Daniel (Thelonious Bernard). He's a movie buff, especially of the old Hollywood films, and he would love nothing more than to get behind the scenes of a production and see how everything is done. In this case, that's especially so because the film has a small role for veteran Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford (playing himself in a cameo). Daniel isn't supposed to be there of course, and as he's trying to get away from everybody, he runs into Lauren, who has been shunted into a corner that's out of the way since she doesn't want to be there.

You can probably guess that the two adolescents are eventually going to fall in love, and sure enough, that's what happens. This, even though they kind of have to keep their relationship a bit of a secret from the adults. The only people who do know about it are each of the two teens' best friends, who are consistently asked for assistance in getting the two to meet without getting caught out by the adults. The only adult they can trust is a stranger they meet at the park one day. Julius (Laurence Olivier) is an old man who has a fascinating life story, having lived in Robert Browning's old house in Venice, having done all sorts of interesting things with the diplomatic corps, and telling the kids about a legend that if they can kiss under Venice's Bridge of Sighs at sunset, they'll have eternal love.

Eventually, the parents find out about Lauren and Daniel's relationship, and they're none too happy about it. Stepdad decides that the best thing to do is to go back to the States, putting an ocean between the two young lovers and presuming that time will dull their love. Lauren and Daniel decide that the only thing they can do is to run off and head toward Venice, so they can have that kiss. So together with Julius, they head off for Italy. There's just one catch: the backstory that Julius told the two kids is an utter lie. In fact, he's a petty pickpocket, so when the kids go missing he's going to be suspected of kidnapping and all sorts of other horrible things.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that A Little Romance is charming, and it is in oh so many ways. The two young leads are both excellent, coming off as much more natural than the wanna-be worldliness of, say, Julie Harris' character in Member of the Wedding. Olivier is excellent as Julius, showing what a good actor and broad range he had. Even though he's a criminal, you want him to get away with what he's doing. There's a lot of location shooting, and that is to the movie's benefit, because really, you can't go wrong with Paris and the Italian Alps. The little things in the movie are also good. Crawford only gets a couple of scenes, but they work. The first one has him showing he's really in it for the money and fringe benefits, while the second has Daniel peppering him about movies he has no memory of. (Probably because they're movies he never made; Daniel asks him about a couple of costars I think Crawford never had.) And then there are the two best friends, who provide some comic relief. Her French is lousy, his English equally bad; but you know they too could fall in love if the main story had been about them. There's also a lot for fans of old movies to like.

All in all, A Little Romance is a little film that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, which is a shame, since it's so enjoyable. It's another of those movies that received a DVD release years ago, but has fallen out of print, since there are only a limited number of copies available at Amazon and it's not available from the TCM Shop. So catch it now while you have the chance.

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