If you ever thought, "I wish they would resurrect Love, American Style," only with Joe Namath, well, you are to be commended for a brilliant idea...except it was already done! Yes, in 1980, NBC aired this TV movie with Namath's wedding photographer linking 3 separate lighthearted stories about marriage and love.
It's funny to see a movie 35 years ago take on the institution of marriage and discuss it as if it were an endangered practice. TV movies are always a bit behind the times ("ripped from the headlines" deals notwithstanding), so it seems like the attitudes about marriage here are reacting to "free love" and women's lib" ideas from the 1970s. Characters act blasé about the idea of being married, as if it were a quaint idea...until, of course, they reaffirm their belief in matrimony, which happens in each story and pushes us back to wayyyy before the 1970s. Ultimately this has a cheeky façade but is as conservative and instutition-affirming as anything from the early days of the medium.
But enough of that talk. Why would you want to see this movie except for Broadway Joe? He is surprisingly laid back in the movie, dialing down the Joe Willie persona to play a "regular guy," but he is the only character to address the camera--he has to guide us through these stories, after all--and his TV charisma is still evident, though it's nowhere near his sports charisma. Come to think of it, he has more star power on that 1970s talk show he hosts with Dick Schaap. Still, if you watch this movie looking for Actor Joe Namath, you get plenty of him.
The best part of the film isn't the Hall of Fame quarterback, though. It's the breezy theme song that opens the movie as the camera tracks a large wedding statue as a truck takes it through the sunny streets of SoCal. Bravo to Deborah Ludwig Davis (singer) and Fred Karlin and Sheldon Harnick (songwriters) for crafting a piece of music that makes me want to get up and stroll barefoot through the park. Only there has to be a breeze running through my hair, and if I see a bird, it better be chirping at me!
As for the stories, there's Judd Hirsch reconnecting with the ex he already divorced twice (Melinda Dillon), then a young bride who fears losing her identity and immediately decides to hide the fact she is married because...eh, it seems like a good idea, I guess. She thinks things will be dullsville now that they are not just living together.
Perhaps the most fascinating of the three segments, if not the best, features Jack Albertson as elderly comic Manny Wax (!) who is dragged to court by his son when he wants to marry a much younger woman. Albertson/Wax is no Groucho Marx, even Old Groucho, and the whole story is bizarre but irresistible for Albertson's game performance in delivering one "quip" after another, even in court.
Namath has been there for all these stories, so of course he shares them with us, but here's the kicker: his own marriage, seen as a model to everyone, is on the rocks. He and Susan Sullivan are apparently growing apart. Can they pull it together? Hey, could YOU say no to Broadway Joe, even a watered-down version?
So much about this--the tone, that theme song, the lettering in the credits--suggests a light comedy with elements of drama, so it's no surprise that this was a failed TV pilot. This isn't at all the kind of thing Warner Archive Instant promotes when it touts its service. It usually talks up "the greats of Hollywood's golden age" and all that. The fact is, WAI is not Turner Classic Movies on demand. It has some movies from the classic era, but it also has an awful lot of obscure TV movies from the 1970s and 1980s. If you are into that sort of thing--and I enjoyed Marriage Is Alive and Well--you will get more value out of WAI than you might expect. But customers should know it's not all classics from the dream factory.
Here's an official preview clip that gives you a great look at Joe and a little of Judd, but sadly you will have to get the service to hear that theme song: