Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1962. Lisa and David Company, Vision Associates Productions. Screenplay by Eleanor Perry, based on the book by Theodore Isaac Rubin. Cinematography by Leonard Hirschfield. Produced by Paul M. Heller. Music by Mark Lawrence. Production Design by Paul M. Heller. Costume Design by Anna Hill Johnstone. Film Editing by Irving Oshman.
The fascination with psychiatry and psychology that found its way into fifties melodramas resulted in films that play quite laughably now, usually in the vein of The Three Faces of Eve where the unlocking of one specific secret of the past solves all problems and cures the patient of their illness. What a refreshing sigh of relief must greeted this sleeper hit when it was released, directed by Frank Perry and produced outside the studio system, in which the characters’ mental health issues are treated as something that cannot be easily solved but can be helped through compassion and understanding. Keir Dullea established his career as David, a young man who suffers from a terror of having anyone touch him and has issues with empathy, whose parents have sent him to live at a school run by a kindly psychiatrist (Howard Da Silva, who is terrific) who believes he can help. At this school are a range of students in varying situations, many of them misfits who have been worn down by a world refusing to accept their differentness, among them Lisa (Janet Margolin), a girl with a dissociative disorder who mostly speaks in impersonal rhymes. She finds David fascinating and he, believing he can help her, becomes something of a therapist for her, not realizing that it’s the time they are spending together that is aiding them both in learning to deal with the world as themselves. Perry throws in some visually ornate sequences (like David’s giant clock dream sequences) that don’t upend the film’s more generous emotional nature, and treats all the characters with care and consideration. David’s mother, played expertly by Neva Patterson, could read like a villainous snob in Eleanor Perry’s script, but the precise direction ensures that we understand that she’s a frightened woman frantically working with whatever tools she has to understand and help her son. A lovely movie that speaks poetically to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, capped off by a very touching ending.
Academy Award Nominations: Best Director (Frank Perry); Best Adapted Screenplay
Golden Globe Awards: Most Promising Newcomer-Male (Keir Dullea)
Nomination: Most Promising Newcomer-Female (Janet Margolin)
Venice Film Festival Award: Best First Work