Theatre performer Kitty O'Kelly (Madeline Kahn) returns home from a night out as now it is the morning and day is about to break. She is very drunk, so inebriated in fact that she can barely muster up much ammunition against her date's barbed comments, and when he announces he's leaving her to it, she stands there dumbfounded. One song later, and she has collapsed on her bed, but meanwhile, the man who could make life so much better for her is being driven back to his mansion: he is Michael Oliver Pritchard III (Burt Reynolds) and he is as drunk as she is. Just as well they bump into each other...
Peter Bogdanovich apparently made a big mistake when he decided, in his drive to bring back the spirit of classic Hollywood to modern Hollywood, to make a musical in the style of those beloved favourites from the thirties, you know the type of thing with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing and singing their way through some comic misunderstandings surrounded by the best light character actors the industry had to offer. When this was released, all the goodwill he had generated went flying out of the window and At Long Last Love was judged the worst musical ever made, not only by the critics (a trade Bogdanovich used to be in) but by audiences too.
However, in recent times there has been a move towards rehabilitating this film as some who have seen it pipe up and say it was not half as bad as its reputation. In fact, it's actually a bit of fun and a very charming tribute to the Golden Age, they will tell you. Certainly the cast were ready and willing, the art deco design was evocative of the era it celebrated, and the Cole Porter songs, some of which were complete with original, saucy lyrics, were never more than a couple of minutes away. However, I'm here to tell you that the revisionists are sadly wrong, as the main effect of At Long Last Love is of watching people so grimly determined to have fun that they are like someone trying to cheer you up after a funeral.
There's a time and a place for levity, and watching Bogdanovich direct his way into a career downward spiral that he never recovered from was not one of them. Perhaps if he had attempted a measure of poignancy it would not have been quite so bad, or at least it would have given us a respite from the relentlessly jokey, let's do the show right here tone of the film, but when the four main characters do fall in love, then break up and fall in love with one of the other protagonists, they have done so much drinking you could be forgiven for thinking the script had been inspired by an original Charles Bukowski short story. Indeed, by the time it's over you hope they all found themselves being treated at the thirties equivalent of the Betty Ford Clinic.
The main bone of contention back when this first came out was that its director, and producer, and writer, had opted to record the songs live on the set, instead of having the actors do what is normal and mime to a backing track, thereby ensuring that the songs were polished to their best advantage in the studio. This means that apparently nobody noticed that while Madeline Kahn could certainly carry a tune, she was all wrong for the Porter melodies, sounding far too strident, and Burt Reynolds was no singer, getting by with star charisma when his crooning, while not tone deaf, hardly does the songs justice. For the other two, then-unknown and now-unknown Duilio Del Prete is pleasant enough but comes across as if he wanted to show the others up, while the much-maligned Cybill Shepherd (girlfriend of Bogdanovich at the time - you can imagine how well that went down) has force to her voice but little control. Even if you can make it to the end of this without cringing too much, there isn't a proper conclusion, although one was supplied for it elsewhere: that this film was awful.