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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

IF EVER I SEE YOU AGAIN -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared six years ago at  In light of recent events, we're reposting here today.)

Joe Brooks has written some of the most successful and well-known commercial jingles of all time, including "You've got a lot to live, and Pepsi's got a lot to give" and many more that have probably been forever lodged in your memory over the years. At one point back in the 70s, he decided to try his hand as a songwriter-slash-Hollywood film auteur as well, resulting in the wildly successful YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE (both the song and the movie were huge hits).

Joe wrote, scored, produced, and directed the film, and actually won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. With this remarkable debut under his belt, Joe set his sights even higher -- for his next trick, he would not only perform all the duties he had on his first film, but would star in it as well. And that, bad movie fans, is how IF EVER I SEE YOU AGAIN (1978) came to be.

This movie has to be seen to be believed. It fails miserably on every level. Fortunately, since Joe Brooks handled the production, direction, writing, music, and lead acting role himself, there are fewer people to blame for it.

As a romantic lead, he has about as much appeal as a potted plant. His leading lady, Shelley Hack, acts as though she were posing for the picture on front of a box of All Bran. The supporting players include, for some reason, authors Jimmy Breslin and George Plimpton, about whose acting the best thing that can be said is that they are good authors. It's pretty bad when the most professional acting performance in a movie is delivered by a little girl (Danielle Brisebois).

Joe plays a jingle writer named "Bob Morrison" who dreams of being a serious musician, even though all of his "serious" songs still sound like extended commercial jingles, and the classical piece he composes to show off his true talent later in the film would be better suited for a group of musical saw players than an actual orchestra. Watching his dramatic gestures as he conducts this ear-splitting opus in the recording studio, as the dazzled Shelley Hack grins at him like a stuffed loon, is one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes ever filmed.

If this movie is indeed as autobiographical as we suspect it is, then this scene must be the realization of one of Joe Brooks' fondest fantasies -- having the girl of his dreams gaze at him with naked, worshipful awe as he lurches about among the musicians, grandly flailing his arms as if to literally mold the wafting notes into an aural work of art. Unfortunately, this piece of music is so badly arranged that it could make even the London Symphony Orchestra sound like a high school band at a pep rally.

And then, of course, there's the romance. When "Bob Morrison" makes the trip from New York to L.A. to pursue his musical ambitions, he also decides to look up his old college girlfriend (Shelley Hack's "Jennifer Corly") for whom he still carries a torch. When they are reunited, their scenes together generate all the excitement of sitting in a dentist's waiting room with nothing to read but a year-old copy of "Field And Stream." Shelley Hack, who proved later on to be a pretty good actress in certain roles, seems here to be hovering in and out of a coma. But it would be difficult even for a great actress to pretend that she was falling back in love with Joe Brooks' incredibly bland character, especially with the brain-numbing dialogue she must recite.

Music-wise, Joe was obviously hoping for another big chart-topper like "You Light Up My Life", but its inexplicable success was not to be matched by the cringe-inducing dirge that is this film's theme song. I don't know who performed it, but he doesn't sing it as much as he suffers through it. He seems to be battling his way through a particularly intense bout of constipation as he strains to expel the stomach-churning lyrics, though I doubt if even Debby Boone could've made this song any more tolerable.

The same singer also gets to croak the other big tune in the movie, "California", which is Joe's musical tribute to the state of the same name, but after hearing it you might get the impression that California is the most horrible place on Earth. A more upbeat version performed by a group of singers accompanies a scene of Joe traveling by plane, and sure enough, it looks and sounds just like an airline commercial. We see the plane banking off over the sunlit clouds as the song informs us: "Caaa-lifornia! Wherever you may roam! caaaa-lling you hoooome!" You almost expect to see the TWA logo pop onto the screen.

When I saw this movie on HBO several years ago, I just had to have it. I still watch my old tape every so often just to gape in wide-eyed amazement at how truly awful a movie can be. As a bad-movie lover, I hold this perversely-entertaining cinematic messterpiece in high esteem -- it's the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE of romantic movies. Still, you gotta hand it to Joe Brooks -- he decided he wanted to make movies in the worst way, and he sure enough went out and done it.

Buy it at


jennifercorly said...

had to write...i couldn't disagree more. everyone i know loves this movie. the music is just as beautiful as "you light up my life" and i was shocked it didn't do well in the theaters. anyone who is a romantic and who loves beautiful romantic ballads will love is practically my own tale from when i was a teen and it sure resonated with me.

Unknown said...

I so agree with Jennifer!

Barry Miller said...

Knowing the ugly and grotesque fate of Mr. Brooks as a rapist and suicide, one might take a much less flippant and much more analytical look at this strange and almost otherworldly cinematic folly, far beyond the mere surface aspects of regarding the film as an object of laughable kitsch, or facile revulsion at it's romantic clichés.All the evidence of what was soon to be a real-life shattered psyche is there for all to see, for those sensitive enough to perceive it: it is a dream of romantic innocence as unreal as the very commercials that in real life gave Joe Brooks his wealth, his fame, and his Oscar, and which in this film he expresses utter contempt for, because he knows that in order to be taken seriously as someone worthy of artistic respect, he must disavow such child-like and naïve beliefs, and fuse his longings for self-esteem in the soulful, unattached,non-wealthy, and bohemian sexuality of a lost love who has cruelly rejected him, and as "unattainable object" is nothing more than a purely symbolic wish-fulfillment fantasy for the public recognition of Brook's deeper, truer self. Jennifer Corley is, in essence, the symbolic embodiment of his high-art "non-commercial" classical piano sonata played alone and unrecognized in the isolation of Carnegie Hall; the mocking and derisive failure of the film, in real life, was the profoundly unhappy ending that's not portrayed at the very end of "If Ever I See You Again" with Jennifer finally accepting him as her eternally committed lover....and the frighteningly real math of that equation may very well cause one to watch this film and be moved to tears for reasons other than what was originally intended.

Porfle Popnecker said...

Yeah, subsequent shocking events that occurred after this review was written definitely cast a new light on the film and its maker. Nice analysis.

Unknown said...

This thing available on DVD?

Porfle Popnecker said...

I checked on Amazon and they only have it on VHS.

Unknown said...

I cannnot tell you if he was innocent or guilty! I have no idea! But i will say that i love "If i ever see you again". And honestly i think his performance and the entire cast was down to earth and really good! And one thing i must say imo is that there is no denying that the song he wrote "light up my life" is a true masterpiece and talent forever! Like i said, i didn't know joe's heart or his guilt or innocence, but i do know he was very talented! The movie, song and acadamy award is real proof!