War hero Luke Miller’s fifteen year old daughter kills her mother’s boy toy and finds herself and her high society family drawn into a web of blackmail, dark secrets and most embarrassingly of all, the juvenile court system.
Truly, there can be no greater anguish for a father than what his poor precious daughter (whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years due to his boozing ways) is going through. Oh, not the anguish of everything just mentioned. Blackmailers can be bought off, secrets can be self-righteously uncovered at dramatic moments, and the juvenile court of the old days wouldn’t let some murderous teen be tried as an adult. No, the real, soul crushing anguish Luke experiences is when he is told that his daughter’s medical exam revealed she wasn’t a virgin anymore!
Please God let it be due to all that horseback riding she’s been doing while living with mom in San Francisco! But all of Luke’s hopes and dreams for having a non-slut daughter are crushed once he gets his hands on a letter she wrote to her mom’s boyfriend, Lazich. Oh, sweet, sweet hymen! We hardly knew you!
While Luke mourns the devastating loss of the skin the blocks the opening of his daughter’s vagina, it is important to note that these sorts of things don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s all sorts of hand-wringing backstory to be unspooled, complete with overbearing rich mother-in-law, tramp wife, aforementioned alcoholism, and most deliciously of all, Star Trek‘s DeForest Kelley as an amoral art critic prone to dirty talk and trying to get into Luke’s wife’s very busy panties.
Where Love Has Gone flashes back 20 years or so to World War II, where all the stars look exactly the same as they did 20 years in the future. Luke is a regular Captain America, having won the Congressional Medal of Honor, while Valerie Hayden (Susan Haywood) is a rich girl who is a gifted sculptor. They meet at one of her shows and her mother, Gerald, immediately sets about trying to match the two up.
Valerie isn’t interested in Luke until she hears him telling off her mother. A quickie marriage ensues and a hilarious montage follows where World War II is rapidly finished up by about four newspaper headlines interspersed with Valerie’s hard at work on her hideous sculptures as if to show that while Luke is risking his life for freedom, Valerie is keeping the American home front strong for pampered rich girls by carving ugly doodads for other wealthy morons.
Once back in civilian life, Luke sets about having his hopes and dreams obliterated by his pushy, scheming mother-in-law. Spurning her offer of a job at her business, Luke strikes out on his own with his dream of building homes to take advantage of the post-war demand for housing. Ultimately Gerald succeeds in emasculating the war hero by secretly sabotaging his efforts and forcing him to slink back to her and accept her job offer.
This begins the slow and fitfully funny downward spiral of Luke and his marriage to Valerie. He drowns his sorrows in booze, Valerie responds by becoming a slut, and it all explodes in domestic fights that are funny where the film probably meant them to be dramatic and shocking. (“You’re not a woman! You’re a disease!” Luke shouts at Valerie provoking unintended chuckles despite his icky attempt to rape her moments before and her equally icky response!)
Valerie’s mom forces them to get a divorce, Luke moves away, doesn’t get to see his daughter, dries out and becomes a successful architect. He comes back into all their lives once he receives word that his daughter has killed a man.
The remainder of the movie details Luke trying to reach his daughter to find out exactly what happened. The daughter, played as a pouting and vaguely creepy sexpot by Joey Heatherton, refuses to tell anyone anything, but it is clear that she is jealous of her mother and that her childhood with her mother, while well provided for financially, was lacking emotionally.
The movie though doesn’t actually detail any of this because it is obsessed with showcasing the screaming melodramatics of the mother, father and mother-in-law. In fact, other than a brief mention by Luke of the “baby” early in the marriage, the child is never seen or referred to until the divorce hearing that wraps up the flashback.
Presumably inspired by the real life events surrounding movie star Lana Turner and her boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, the film, from the writer and the director of the similarly salacious The Carpetbaggers, delights in throwing out its tawdry accusations and morally degenerate characters, but is hampered by its slapdash treatment of the effect such a life has on the child as well as its over-the-top histrionics that fail to resonate with modern audiences raised on afternoon talk shows, reality programming, and more generally, the immoral society we have today.
Whether it’s the garish self portrait the mother-in-law insists on hanging in the house she gave Luke and Valerie, the overbaked dialogue (“when you’re dying from thirst, you’ll drink from a mudhole!” Valerie tells her mom), the dirty letters both mother and daughter wrote their boyfriend, the smarmy art critic with the pipe, or the entirely gratuitous confrontation Luke has with Valerie in the courtroom climax that sets in motion another series of tragic events that couldn’t help but scar his daughter even worse than killing the man she shared with her mother, Where Love Has Gone is exactly the sort of outdated hypertrashy flick where you aren’t surprised that Luke threatens to spank his elderly mother-in-law played by Bette Davis, but only that it doesn’t actually happen!
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