Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 1981. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee, based on their play. Cinematography by Fred J. Koenekamp. Produced by Paul M. Heller, Martha Scott. Production Design by Philip M. Jefferies. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Peter E. Berger. Golden Globe Awards 1981.
Ronald Neame followed his hilarious Hopscotch with another Walter Matthau vehicle, this time adapting Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s hit play to the screen. Unfortunately, the results are tepid, with Matthau doing a terrific job as the outspoken left-leaning Supreme Court Justice who is thrilled to find out that the seat recently vacated by the death of his colleague will be filled by the judicial body’s first woman, but is dismayed when said woman turns out to be prissy, right-leaning Jill Clayburgh. The two argue over the merits of a dirty movie (she preaches community standards and he preaches the first amendment) and then really come to heads over the issue of an energy company that may have purposely killed a new motor technology in order to protect its own interests in oil. The opportunity to create something extraordinary is just bursting everywhere here, but the filmmakers go nowhere near where they should; the fights between Matthau and Clayburgh barely get started and they’re not really as diametrically opposed as they want you to think they are. The cases that they work on are not resolved well enough, and neither character goes through a transformation worthy of the film’s pretentious to high conflict; the film was slated to be released in the spring of 1982 but then rushed into production and release in order to avoid being outdated following the real-life appointment to the Supreme Court of Sandra Day O’Connor in the summer of 1981, and the hurrying shows. Still, both actors are outstanding even when the movie is letting them down.