Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1965. Harrell. Screenplay by Herb Gardner, based on his play. Cinematography by Arthur J. Ornitz. Produced by Fred Coe. Music by Don Walker. Production Design by George DeTitta Sr., Herbert F. Mulligan. Costume Design by Ruth Morley. Film Editing by Ralph Rosenblum. Academy Awards 1965. Golden Globe Awards 1965.
Jason Robards is raising his whipsmart nephew (Barry Gordon) after the boy’s mother left him without explanation, but thanks to his sharing his unconventional view of life with the boy(working every day is for suckers!) has inspired the concern of the welfare board. Tightass William Daniels and a delightful Barbara Harris (in her film debut) show up to assess the situation and see if they can’t pull Robards into a middle-class attitude, but he responds with rebellious bluster that infuriates one and inspires the sympathy of the other. Herb Gardner’s rarely remembered play becomes a film that was a huge success at the time and has been mostly forgotten today. It’s easy to see why as it’s a smart movie that isn’t exactly brimming over with charisma, its romance too muted for the Breakfast At Tiffany’s crowd and its cynicism about modern corporate culture a bit too ambivalent for fans of The Apartment. You get the impression that Gardner is criticizing the world that tries to normalize the creative spark of Robards’ type by forcing him to fit into a narrow idea of productivity and morality, but at the same time his unconventional mode of living is presented with enough grime that perhaps his capitulating to the man would be a relief. Martin Balsam steals the show in an Oscar-winning performance as Robards’ brother.