Sunday, May 09, 2010

cinema obscura: Paul Newman's "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" (1972)

As noted in this month's turner this month - bravo! post, the premiere cable channel is having fun with its Mother's Day line up, mischievously scheduling as Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy" and Graeme Clifford's "Frances," two films in which the mothers are decidedly unmotherly.

Turner would have had an ideal trilogy if it had included Paul Newman's "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" (1972), a major achievement in filmmaking and acting that has been casually, inexplicably, neglected by 20th Century-Fox, for more than 35 years now. It's also Newman's best directorial effort.

It's easy to see why Newman snagged Paul Zindel's delicious play for his wife Joanne Woodward. It's a showcase role this side of Tennessee Williams. Sada Thompson starred on stage as Beatrice Hunsdorfer - better known in her neighborhood as "Betty the Loon" for her odd behavior - a woman who is in way over her head as a mother.

Her daughters on stage were played by Swoosie Kurtz and Pamela Peyton-Wright, both in their late 20s at the time.

For the film, Newman enlisted more age-appropriate actresses - his own daughter Elinor Teresa Newman, billed as Nell Potts, as the sensitive Matilda (Peyton-Wright onstage) and Roberta Wallach, daughter of Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach, as the troubled and troublesome Ruth (Kurtz).

But Woodward is the titanic supporting structure here, carrying the film in a performance that is at once heartfelt and hateful. The great Alvin Sargent did the adaptation, enlarging the play ever-so-slightly, and his fidelity to Zindel's words is heartening; reliable Adam Holender did the evocative cinematography, and Maurice Jarre wrote the moody, tinkly score.

Put it out on DVD already!


Jeff said...

Damn! I loved Newman. The pleasures of his film of "Marigolds" are simple and stark. In Woodward's just-about-unforgettable performance, we’re watching a woman who tragically has decided that life’s not worth living. Her choice had been made long before the film begins. It’s decay as a human activity. "Marigolds" rushes forward with urgency and its heart open. The film says a lot about Newman.

John said...

I don't know about that film, but my favorite Newman films are...

1) "Nobody's Fool" - One of his greatest performances.
2) "The Verdict" - His greatest performance.
3) "The Color of Money" - This one is more of a guilty pleasure, not as good as "The Hustler", but I still really liked him in it.
4)"The Sting" - I actually like this better than "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".
5) "Where the Money Is" - Not a great movie, but I have a 4' x 6' hanging poster for it in my living room which showcases Newman with that scheming glint in his eyes perfectly.

Gidget said...

This is indeed an excellent film. I've only seen it once, years ago, on the Fox Movie Channel. It deserves to be on DVD.

Sid said...

I missed Marigolds when it was first released and still haven't had a chance to see it. I hope Fox will resurrect it, now that my cable service includes their movie channel. He did a great job on Rachel, Rachel.

Seymour said...

This film seemed a bit elusive in theaters and I never saw it until TV airings. It's the kind of film I like, not trumpeting out its message and letting the viewer decide what it all means. Last time I watched it, I found it very haunting and many scenes replayed in my mind. I did come away wondering what it meant, and what is the deal with that crazy title? Well, some insightful person somewhere online explained the symbolism, and of course it's pretty obvious. The daughters are the marigolds, and the mother is the gamma rays: They (well really just the younger one)survive her damaging effect and learn how to face life the way she never did or could. I like that it's filmed in Bridgeport, CT, a run-down depressing city with a big population but not much claim on the attention (although Robert Mitchum and P.T. Barnum came from there). I like Newman's non-showy direction and Woodward's typically impressive and committed performance. This makes an interesting double bill with "Rachel, Rachel", a film that remains impressive to this day. At least that one is on DVD and can be appreciated, let's hope the same happens to TEOGROMITMM