According to actor Robert Stack, one of the perks Universal employed while persuading him to star in the series The Name of the Game was the opportunity to headline one theatrical feature a year. Hollywood being Hollywood, only one such feature materialized even tough Game ran for three seasons. Given the uninteresting nature of that one feature, however, things probably worked out for the best. Written and directed by Leonardo Bercovici—a studio-era talent who thrived in the 1940s, lost a decade to the anticommunist blacklist, and never fully rebuilt his career afterward—Story of a Woman is a laughably trite soap opera. One can only imagine how old-fashioned this seemed to audiences when it was released in 1970, especially since the picture was lensed while LBJ was still president (as evidenced by the president’s photo on the wall of a set representing a U.S. embassy).
Stack’s involvement notwithstanding, the real star of the piece is Swedish actress (and frequent Bergman collaborator) Bibi Andersson. She plays Karin, a Swedish aspiring pianist who meets suave medical student Marco (James Farentino) in Rome. They enjoy a hot romance until Karin discovers that Marco is married. Heartbroken, Karin retreats to Sweden, where she eventually meets amiable American diplomat David (Stack). The couple marries and raises a daughter until, inevitably, David’s work brings the family to Rome, where Karin once again crosses paths with Marco. Nothing remotely surprising happens in Story of a Woman, and the narrative’s major would-be plot twist is so abrupt and convenient that it plays like a parody of melodrama instead of actual melodrama.
Not much can be said about Bercovici’s directorial style, since his pacing is sluggish and his visuals have the flat quality of bad episodic television. The American/Italian coproduction also bears the hallmarks of an insufficient budget, thanks to stock-footage aerial shots and, in one scene, a distracting cut during a rear-projection shot that amusingly presages a jokey rear-projection scene in Airplane! (1980) featuring . . . Robert Stack. In lieu of cinematic and/or narrative interest, Story of a Woman offers little to entice the viewer except a plaintive score by John Williams. Farentino is genuinely terrible here, whispering whole swaths of dialogue and embarrassing himself while trying to convey overpowering emotion. Andersson, unsurprisingly, fares much better, but even though her scene work is consistently believable, she’s hamstrung by Bercovici’s enervated scripting. As for Stack, he’s way out of his element. Watchable whenever he plays intense characters, he’s as compelling as lint in the role of a sensitive everyman.
Story of a Woman: FUNKY