The Greatest films of all time: 63. Love Story (1970) (USA)


The most popular and memorable love story on the screen with the most simple and common title of “Love Story” is the film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name by Erich Segal who wrote the script as well. Directed by Arthur Hill, starring Ryan O’Neil and Ali MacGraw, this film one of the highest grossing films of all time, took the three up to fame, so that Ali MacGraw was voted in 1972 the top female box office star in the world. This actress who could not go higher than what she had achieved in “Love Story” with her somewhat unusual and novel role in love approaching conquered the hearts of the viewers across the globe and when her character died in the film, burst their tears and broke their hearts.

Despite the world-wide reception of the film by the public, as if some critics at the time could not handle it out of jealousy critiqued the film negatively and compared it with “Camille with bullshit” (Los Angeles Times), and with playboy love affairs in “Love Affair” and its remake “An Affair to remember” (The New York Times). Perhaps these negative critics of the film related to its script and dialogues, specially delivered by Jennifer Caville (Ali MacGraw) that were frank, funny, critical with some obscenity at the time, such as using the words “Stupid” and “Bullshit” to her lover. In fact the script of the film and such dialogues, other than being out of place for the time and reactionary, made the film and Jennifer more appealing and with her mischievous smile while saying those words. Her unusual or modern for the time approach to a love affair was a novelty and step up in Hollywood films and altogether made the film an iconic landmark of romance and tragedy in cinema.


A Love Story to Remember:

This film was a touchable love story and not like the love affair of Leo McCarey to remember forever. While a love story and the greatest of its kind, the film was a story of rebellion of rich father’s son, Oliver Barrett (Ryan O’Neil) like “Rebel with a cause” who hated his father for his dictatorship control and aloofness, not valuing his son’s independence mind and way of life. The film opens from the end, with its famous soundtrack by Francis Lai, and with Oliver sitting outside in a snowy winter back to the camera and talks about the tragic death of his love, Jennifer Caville: “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?”

Then the film flashes back to the start of the love story of Oliver as a Harvard student and Jennifer a student of music and also working as a librarian. In their first encounter, Oliver asking Jennifer at the library desk for a book that she refuses to lend it, telling him to go to his own library and calls him “preppy”. Then she puts him down as a rich and stupid boy, and describes herself as poor and smart. He asks what makes her smart that she says because I won’t go out for a coffee with you, that he says he has not even asked her out, that she responds that’s why it makes him stupid! This kind of conversation goes on between the two for a while during the formation and consolidation of their relationship. Jennifer with a mischievous smile while obviously attracted to Oliver, keeps mocking and putting him down all the time. But her style of conversation is not a bit throwing the viewers off, or to dislike her, but she is likeable on the screen despite her harsh tongue.

When in the coffee shop, Oliver asking her why she has gone out with him if she thinks that he’s rich and stupid, that surprisingly to him and the audience with her mischievous smile, she responds that because she likes his body. When he invites her to a hockey game, she says what makes him think she would go watching a lousy hockey game that he responds because he is going to play. During the game, he falls while his attention is on her, looking to the row she is sitting. Soon Oliver breaks his feeling to Jenny that he has fallen in love with her. In his next hockey game, Oliver’s father is there to watch and after the game we learn about their distant relationship and that he addresses his father as “sir” and about his rebellious nature. The next day, when he goes to see Jenny in her school , we notice the difference between the two and their relationships with their parents. She calls her father by his first name, Phil and that she loves him, while Oliver calls his father sir and “son of a bitch”, who has always ordered him around and chooses his future career for him and forces him to attend the law school.

Soon to his surprise, Jenny breaks to Oliver that she cares about him, that leads them sleeping together for the first time. After their love making and while both reading in each other arms, she admits that she loves him and in the next scene we see them both playing like little kids on the snow, making angels and carefree rolling in the snow and kiss each other. When she discloses to Oliver that next year she is getting a scholarship in Paris as she has never seen that city, he gets surprised and upset, asking what about their marriage. Taken off guard she accepts his proposal. In the next day, he is driving her to see his parents, but as soon as his car drives through their estate gate, Jenny gets scared in surprise, not knowing how rich his parents were. Another unusual scene is the meeting with the parents is the a rapid cut off after a few seconds, showing the couple driving back home. The film flashes back to the meeting and we learn that they did not leave right away, but stayed for dinner despite Oliver’s unwillingness and only for Jenny’s insistence to stay. During their visit of Oliver’s parents, as it was expected Jenny is under heavy interrogations by his parents, about her background and financial status of her family, getting surprised to learn of her ordinary family root.

Oliver gets accepted to the law school but he refuses his father’s financial support and when he meets with and asks the law school ‘s dean for scholarship, he is refused . When Jenny takes Oliver to meet her father and Oliver keeps addressing him as sir, he’s asked to be called by his first name, Phil. When Phil gets surprised that they want to get married out of church and in the university by a staff in charge, he finally approves and says that’s wonderful. In the wedding ceremony, Jenny starts reciting a poem of love to Oliver, then both in turn read their vows to each other instead of the custom of a priest reading it to them. This different and novel wedding ceremony for the time, also adds to the beauty of the film and their love affair. After the wedding, they move to their rental apartment in a house.

When they are invited to Oliver father’s 60th birthday, Oliver refuses to go even despite of Jenny’s persistence and asking him to forgive his father on a special occasion and not to hold grudge. She runs out and Oliver after a while looking around everywhere to find her but cannot, until before giving up he finds her sitting out in the cold on a steps. Both in tears, Jenny says that she had forgotten to take her house keys with her. He asks to forgive him, but she answers that is not needed and she still loves him. When Oliver graduates as top three in his class and happily breaks the news to his wife, she is quiet and doesn’t seem excited, that he asks why she does not say anything, that she responds until she meets the number one and two!

In the next scene, Oliver is in a doctor’s office who tells him the reason that they cannot conceive is because Jenny is sick and going to die soon. Here the whole love story with all its tenderness and funniness is shattered like a crystal ball at once. Oliver is suggested by the physician to act normal and keep the news secret from her for a while. One day when he wants to take her out to dinner, in surprise and with her mischievous smile she asks what’s her name, as he’s possibly screwing someone else when he wants to take his wife out dinning in the middle of the week.

On the hospital bed and in one of the most heart breaking scenes in th cinematic history, and after passing some tender words between the lovers, Jenny dies in the arms of Oliver. In the final scene when he is leaving the hospital, his father just arrives and when learns that Jenny has just died, he says that he is sorry, but Oliver responds by saying “Love means you never have to say sorry”! Here the film ends with this popular quotation from the film, while Oliver walks outside to sit in the cold in his own grief , back to the opening scene, when he starts telling his love story in a flashback.

In summary “Love Story” like “Roman Holiday” in this site’s greatest films of all time, is an exemplary achievement in overlapping the cinematic art with the popular cinema. In fact what makes this film great from an artistic perspective, it made it popular across the globe by the viewers of all ages and cultures, for its tender love story, mixing with a novel style of dialogues emanated from the script and delivered well on the screen specially by Ali MacGraw as Jennifer. That’s why the sudden death of Jenny at the end affected so many, broke them to tears and created the phenomenon of “Ali MacGraw Disease” in cinema, that in her dying process made her “more beautiful by the minute”(Mad magazine 1971) and “the only symptom is that the patient grows more beautiful until finally dying” (Roger Ebert, 1997).


In closing remarks “Love Story” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:  

  1. Originality: “Love Story” despite not being the first love story or the first romantic/tragedy is original on the screen, it is the most popular and original in a new style that introduced not to cinema but to the culture. The dialogues delivered well from the script, specially by Ali MacGraw, for its frankness, reactionary and funniness along with her mischievous smile, delivered the orderliness of love story in our modern time.
  2. Technicality: The technicality of “Love Story” is in the story itself that was scripted by the same author and delivered and performed well on the screen, particularly by Ali MacGraw. The music score of the film by the famous French composer Francis Lai who became popular in cinema with his score and songs for “A Man and a Woman” is another technicality of the film that made it popular then and for years to come to this very day.
  3. Impact Factor: The influence of “Love Story” has been on many romance, drama/tragedy films with the sequel and remake of “Oliver’s Story” and many indirect and direct adaptations, quotations and parodies.
  4. Survival: “Love Story” has survived well to this very day for its tenderness, earthliness, and being an interface between cinematic art and popular medium, delighting both the hard critics and the public.

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