May 2, 2014
The Story of Three Loves (1953)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Gottfried Reinhardt, Vincente Minnelli
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Pier Angeli, James Mason

What it's about. A color MGM production and a modest box office failure that nonetheless claimed an Oscar nomination for its art direction. Three separate romantic stories are loosely tied together with brief scenes on a cruise ship.

The mistitled Jealous Lover is the first story. Lovely ballet dancer Moira Shearer lives with her mother Agnes Moorehead. She learns that dancing could kill her. But she loves dance. She attends a big city ballet, and after everyone has left, dances onstage in an empty theater.

But she is seen by ballet impresario James Mason, who, because it is a movie, is deeply moved and convinces her to visit his studio and spontaneously choreograph for him. Mason is delighted, but, since women are unpredictable, she runs away home to her mother. Poor Mason is devastated.

The second story, Mademoiselle is a curiosity. Ricky Nelson, a few years prior to his great success as a pop crooner, plays a preteenaged brat who would rather play than endure the French lessons of gentle hottie brunette governess Leslie Caron. He meets an ever-smiling old witch, Ethel Barrymore, who briefly transforms him to young adulthood in the form of Farley Granger

Unsurprisingly, Granger now sees Caron differently, and begins a single-night romance with her, spurning a pass from Zsa-Zsa Gabor. Caron is glum to lose her pretty new boy-toy but gets another just as the segment ends.

The longest story features manly-man Kirk Douglas, a former trapeze artist scandalized by the death of his partner in a fall. One night, Douglas saves the ravishing and mysteriously deadpan Pier Angeli from drowning.

Since she is suicidal anyway, and an athlete as well, he figures she would make a great partner for his big trapeze comeback. But as the moment approaches when her life is at risk, he begins to feel guilty about his past and possible future.

How others will see it. Although stocked with interesting actors, The Story of Three Loves was a box office disappointment. Some six decades later, it has a low 591 votes at The user ratings are middling to respectable and display a widening gender gap with advancing age. Women over 45 grade it 7.3, while men of the same age demographic give it only a 6.4.

Presumably, men are bored with Shearer's long dance scenes, tire quickly of Ricky Nelson, and are unconvinced by Granger's romance of Caron, which moves along briskly in cinematic fashion.

Women are more forgiving of such lapses, and both genders are caught up in suspense of the trapeze act, where we suspect that Pier Angeli will meet the same fate as Douglas' former partner.

How I felt about it. The first two stories seemed somewhat bogus to me. Shearer alone in the empty theater (with the lights still on) yet watched in amazement by the most important ballet man in Gotham City. He must take her that night to his apartment, which just happens to be satisfactorily cavernous for a ballet performance. We are unsurprised when Shearer snuffs it, though it happens at the wrong time, when she is merely ascending a flight of stairs after spilling all to Mommy.

The second story is yet more preposterous, down to the last-moment pending conquest of Caron by some nameless young Don Yawn. If Granger had instead told Caron that he was really Ricky Nelson and would chart dozens of pop hits in a few years time, and she could have him if she would only wait awhile. Now that would really confuse our chipmunk-cheeked heroine.

The third story is an improvement. Douglas is good at brooding, and his sleepwalker would-be girlfriend is, if nothing else, a feast for the eyes. At the film's end, Douglas should tell the fat circus promoter to stuff it, and it seems odd that Angeli is willing to do whatever her Svengali Douglas wants, especially when he would have a different form of acrobatics in mind.