Robert Cary's "Anything but Love" is that rarity, an hommage to the sweeping Technicolor Hollywood love story of the '40s and '50s that works. It succeeds because it dares to take its people and their dreams seriously, with a gently humorous affection, instead of merely sending them up, and because it clearly is taking place in the Manhattan of here and now and not in some vague time warp.
It probably also helps the film's sense of reality that its talented star, Isabel Rose, who wrote the script with Cary, is a striking-looking woman rather than a drop-dead beauty like her idols Rita Hayworth and Audrey Hepburn, in addition to being a highly gifted singer of the cabaret classics. It also is a plus that the film has not been shot in the ravishing Technicolor of the past but in grittier hues more appropriate to its modest budget and aspirations.
At 32, Rose's Billie Golden lives in a Corona, Queens, apartment with her widowed mother, Laney (Alix Korey), and earns her living as a waitress at a smart Manhattan club, where another one of her idols, Eartha Kitt, is the current attraction. In her vintage glamour wardrobe and hairdos, which she wears nearly all the time, Billie herself holds forth at the Skylark Lounge, where her cabaret songbook is more tolerated than appreciated and where she has to compete with the sound of planes taking off. The Skylark's proprietor, Sal (Victor Argo), a family friend and neighbor, concludes that she might be more effective — and less costly — accompanying herself at the piano.
As Billie lines up a piano teacher (Andrew McCarthy) who can brush up her keyboard technique, she coincidentally crosses paths with her high school heartthrob (Cameron Bancroft). McCarthy's Elliot is surly but dedicated to his art; Bancroft's Greg is charming and upwardly mobile. While it requires no crystal ball to divine which guy is for Billie, Cary and Rose make the getting there credible and not without pain; in a deft nod to tradition, Billie's dilemma is expressed in a clever dream sequence that could have been lifted straight out of "Lady in the Dark."
"Anything but Love" is altogether a charmer. The icing on the cake is the eternally elegant Kitt, who not only performs but has the film's pivotal scene, in which her gift of wisdom to Billie is so subtle that it's as if Kitt wrote the dialogue herself.
'Anything but Love'
MPAA rating: PG-13, for some language and innuendo
Times guidelines: Some risqué dialogue, but acceptable for older teens
Isabel Rose ... Billie Golden
Andrew McCarthy ... Elliot Shepard
Cameron Bancroft ... Greg Ellenbogen
Alix Korey ... Laney Golden
Eartha Kitt ... Herself
A Samuel Goldwyn Films presentation. Director Robert Cary. Producers Aimee Schoof, Isen Robbins. Screenplay Robert Cary and Isabel Rose. Cinematographer Horacio Marquínez. Editor Robert M. Reitano. Music Andrew Hollander, Steven Lutvak. Costumes Sarah Beers. Production designer Cecil Gentry. Art director Maze Georges. Set decorator Charlotte Newman. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.
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