Always is a first in more ways than one. All of the films I've watched so far for SpielBlog I've already seen. Most of them at the cinema. And most several times. And all of them - even 1941 - have had something worth watching. But I'd never seen Always and now I have I wished I hadn't.
A remake of Victor Fleming's 1943 wartime comedy A Guy Named Joe, Always stars Richard Dreyfuss as Pete, an aviator who fights fires with the help of his pal Al (John Goodman) and pilot and dispatcher Dorinda (Holly Hunter). His risky heroics lead to his untimely death, but with the aid of an angelic Audrey Hepburn - in her last film role - he stalks Dorinda from beyond the grave, matchmaking her with Ted (former Malboro Man Brad Johnson), a younger fitter version of Pete.
So what's wrong with it?
First of all the casting. Richard Dreyfuss had been perfect as Spielberg's alter ego in Jaws and Close Encounters, but the boy wonder has aged badly, his face is stiff and his mannerisms - sudden comic shouting - feel just like that. There is zero chemistry between him and Holly Hunter. Their teasing kookiness is of the-punch-them-both-in-the-throat-they're-so-annoying category. The hearty comedy falls flat. And the scenes in the fire fighters camp which are explicitly designed to build a world around these two asexual lovebirds is filmed like a bad eighties commercial for the worst bar in the world.
The supernatural love story will have a massive success only a year later in Ghost, which will also feature a revival of an old standard song. But here as there's no spark - no equivalent of the phallic potter's wheel scene - then Dreyfuss' loitering is genuinely perturbing. And the story is so thoughtlessly sexist. Dorinda needs to be completed by Pete or another version of Pete in Ted. She is a Tom Boy tough gal, until Pete buys her 'girl clothes'. And Pete's repetition of the phrase 'that's my girl' is creepily proprietorial.
Luckily this charmless and boring film just isn't good enough to be dangerous in this way.
And it's so weird that Spielberg was coming off his most successful comedy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A fine comedy actor like John Goodman is thoroughly wasted on a repeated gag about him having oil on his face.
Even the action scenes with the fire fighting airplanes feels inept for Spielberg. There are poor back projections and the actual fire scenes are unconvincing. All the heroism is so predictable. There's practically no tension in the film.
At this point in his career, Spielberg can do more or less anything he wants and Always was a long-cherished dream project. His affair with Holly Hunter during the filming might have also clouded his vision - it certainly didn't transfer any passion to the screen. In fact, this might be the problem. The film is smothered by a nostalgia. Like Pete, old movies haunt Spielberg's vision and meddle with his edge. He should be killing these darlings and moving on from them.
Unfortunately, the next film is also one I haven't ever seen all the way through: Hook.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.