Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1980. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Bo Goldman. Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. Produced by Art Linson, Don Phillips. Music by Bruce Langhorne. Production Design by Toby Carr Rafelson. Costume Design by Eddie Marks, Nancy McArdle. Film Editing by Craig McKay. Academy Awards 1980. Boston Film Critics Awards 1980. Golden Globe Awards 1980. National Board of Review Awards 1980. New York Film Critics Awards 1980.
Driving through the Nevada desert in the middle of the night, a down on his luck Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat) picks up a penniless old man (Jason Robards) and gives him a lift into Las Vegas. He laughs when Robards tells him that he is millionaire Howard Hughes and insists he was happy to give him the ride anyway, but is quite surprised when Hughes dies and leaves a huge fortune to Dummar in his will. Having spent years feeling like a loser who couldn’t keep a job down for long, Dummar has now hit the jackpot, but the pot of gold remains beyond his grasp when Hughes’s estate lawyers decide the will to be a fraud and the terms within it unacceptable. This excellent meditation on the American Dream and its unavailability to those are deemed undeserving is an insightful character study that benefits from some excellent performances. Mary Steenburgen makes a huge splash with her adorable, Oscar-winning performance as Dummar’s first wife, while Pamela Reed lends terrific support as his second. Demme has made a career out of films about people who are sympathetic no matter what their situation; here he does the trick by making a film based on fact that isn’t concerned with the validity of the story (no one really knows if Dummar’s claim about giving Hughes a ride is actually true) but with the effect it has on this ordinary Joe’s completely extraordinary life.