More than 50 years later, love still means never having to say you’re sorry.
At least that would be the view of Oliver Barrett IV, one of the most famous romantics in screen history … thanks to “Love Story,” the enormously popular 1970 drama now streaming on Paramount+. As portrayed by Ryan O’Neal, wealthy college-hockey player Oliver was embraced by audiences around the world for his relationship with “smart and poor” music student Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw, in the role that cemented her stardom, though she didn’t make all that many movies after this).
The very clever move made by then-Paramount Pictures chief Robert Evans was, after optioning Erich Segal’s original screenplay, to have the writer turn it into a novel first. The gambit paid off, since the book became a huge bestseller, making many theater patrons eager to see the film — which they did in droves, since at the time, the Arthur Hiller-directed “Love Story” quickly landed among the top-grossing attractions ever released.
The tale it tells is quite simple. While working on a class assignment, Harvard’s Oliver meets Radcliffe’s Jenny when he needs a book from her school’s library. She immediately starts giving him attitude, which both infuriates and intrigues him, and he quickly puts her to the test of being able to take it herself when he turns it around on her. Which she can’t.
Thus a love story is born, and it doesn’t take long for Oliver to make an impulsive marriage proposal to Jenny. Then it’s a matter of selling their engagement to their respective parents: Jenny’s baker father (a wonderful John Marley) is more open to the idea, while Oliver’s stern business-titan father (a properly rigid Ray Milland) warns his son, “I’ll not give you the time of day” if the vows are taken. (Oliver’s angry response? “Father, you don’t know the time of day.”)
The marriage happens, but “Love Story” then takes a turn that has been parodied endlessly over the ensuing years, though it meant an intensely heightened need for tissues by those who experienced it at the movies. The scene that both opens and closes the film is iconic, and enough to put any fan in touch with the related emotions immediately.
Segal wrote the sequel “Oliver’s Story,” and a big Paramount paycheck lured O’Neal back for the 1978 screen version, but “Love Story” is the sort of lightning bolt that’s hard to catch twice. And fortunately, it’s still around to warm the hearts of new generations.