Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered 1970 romantic comedy "How Do I Love Thee?" The film's primary distinction is the interesting teaming of Jackie Gleason and Maureen O'Hara. By this point in his career, Gleason was a force of nature in the American entertainment business. When his variety show went off the air, CBS couldn't induce him to do another series so the network actually paid him not to work for any other network. When you get paid a fortune not to work, you know you're doing something right. Gleason had settled in Miami Beach in the early 1960s as one of the demands he made of CBS in return for doing his variety show. The location offered what Gleason liked most: sun, golf, plenty of drinking establishments and no shortage of beautiful young women. Gleason's impact on elevating Miami Beach's popularity was notable. It was widely believed that the city's rebirth as a hip destination as opposed to a retirement destination was due in part to Gleason referring to Miami Beach as "The sun and fun capital of the world!". Gleason, like his contemporary Dean Martin, had long ago tired of working very hard. If you wanted him, the mountain had to come to Mohammed, so to speak. Thus, it's no coincidence that "How Do I Love Thee?" was filmed in Miami Beach, thereby ensuring Gleason prime opportunities for maximizing his play time and minimizing his work before the cameras. (Gleason had a photographic memory and famously refused to rehearse very much, often to the consternation of his co-stars).
The film focuses on the character of Tom Waltz (Rick Lenz), a twenty-something professor who is rising up the ladder at his university. He's a got a nice house and a beautiful wife, Marion (Rosemary Forsyth) but when we first meet him, he's filled with anxiety. Seems that while visiting the "miracle" site of Lourdes in France, his father Walt (Jackie Gleason) has suffered a major health crisis. Tom's mother Elsie (Maureen O'Hara) implores Tom to race over to France and visit his father, who seems to be dying. Tom wants to go but Marion reminds him of the lifetime of contentious situations he has endured with his father and tells him that this is just another method of Walt trying to gain attention. Indeed, as we see through a series of flashbacks, Walt is a real handful. He owns his own moving company but still has to break his back loading and lifting furniture all day long. He has a pretty fractious relationship with Elsie, largely due to her strong religious convictions that conflict with his atheism. As young boy, Tom witnesses a lot of fighting in the household. When he accompanies his dad on jobs, he discovers that his father is not the devoted family man he thought he was- especially when he witnesses Walt trying to seduce a ditzy social activist and amateur photographer (Shelly Winters in typical over-the-top Shelly Winters mode) who is one of his clients. Walt is similar in nature to Willy Lohman of "Death of a Salesman" in that both men are past their prime but working harder than ever to provide for their family. Walt is a good man, but he's subject to self-imposed crises generally related to his short temper, drinking habits and flirtatious nature. Ultimately, Tom opts to take the trip to Lourdes, even though Marion threatening to divorce him over his decision. The majority of the tale is told in flashbacks that present some moderately amusing situations and some poignant dramatic scenes as well. There's also a good dose of sexual humor, typical for comedies of the era that were capitalizing on new-found screen freedoms.The direction by old pro Michael Gordon ("Pillow Talk") is fine but the screenplay, based on a novel by Peter De Vries, punts in the final scenes, tossing in an improbable extended joke about cars going amiss on their way to a funeral and a feel-good ending that wraps everything up quickly in a style more befitting a sitcom episode of the era. Still, the performances are fun with Lenz and Forsyth quite good as the young couple and Gleason and O'Hara registering some genuine chemistry on screen.
The Blu-ray transfer is generally fine but around the 80-minute mark some speckling and artifacts appear during the final reel, although it isn't distracting enough to bother the average viewer. The bonus extras don't include the trailer for the feature film but do present trailers for other KL comedy releases including "Avanti!", "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!" and " The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother".