In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_mv5bmjixmdywmtg3m15bml5banbnxkftztgwmdq1nzq0mze_._v1__sx1216_sy712_

Red Army

Emotionally charged, viscerally exciting and consistently enlightening, Gabe Polsky’s Red Army is a sports documentary like no other.

Thumb_mv5bmtg4mjuxodczm15bml5banbnxkftztgwmdy4mjy0mze_._v1__sx1216_sy712_

Son of a Gun

Avery’s more than capable behind the camera, he just needs to be met halfway by his screenwriting, which dwells in overly familiar territory.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

Charly

  |  

Strangely enough, Ralph Nelson's "Charly" succeeds as a movie for reasons having little to do with the plot. As the story of a personality in crisis, it works. We care about Charly. But the whole scientific hocus-pocus, which causes his crisis, is irrelevant and weakens the movie by distracting us.

The story idea is a simple one, which Daniel Keyes was able to spin out into a successful novel ("Flowers for Algernon") by keeping his focus on Charly's, developing character. We start with a good-natured mentally retarded man of perhaps 30. He can do simple tasks and write a few words.

He cheerfully inhabits a world that seems frightening to us. His barren room contains a blackboard with the next day's tasks on it; he works as a janitor at a bakery where his "friends" torment him. With heartbreaking persistence, he attends night classes and takes guided tours of the city, but the things he learns all slip away and he has to keep starting again.

Then Charly undergoes a brain operation (which remains unconvincing despite a surplus of fishy explanations). His IQ begins to increase rapidly, and he has to do 20 years of maturing in a few months. His tutor along the way is a young teacher, and not surprisingly he falls in love with her.

The relationship between Charly (Cliff Robertson) and the girl (Claire Bloom) is handled delicately and well. She cares for him, but inadequately understands the problems he's facing. These become more serious when he passes normal IQ and moves into the genius category; his emotional development falls behind. It is this story, involving a personal crisis, which makes "Charly" a warm and rewarding film.

Unfortunately, there's a supplementary plot involving the scientist who operated on Charly, the scientist's difficult wife and a plan to put Charly on show at an international convention. This takes place just as Charly and his doctors discover that the operation will not have a permanent effect; eventually Charly will slip back to subnormal intelligence again. There's a rather awkwardly handled confrontation between Charly and the scientists, and then one of those conventional Science Races Against Time sequences.

What really involves us is Charly and his bittersweet love affair (which, if you think about it, bears comparison to the dilemma of King Kong). There is also a lesson to be learned from the theme of the creator and his innocent, doomed creation (see "Frankenstein," Genesis, etc.). But what is unnecessary is all the scientific stuff. The movie would have been better on a totally human level, I think; certainly Cliff Robertson's portrait of Charly is a sensitive, believable one and Claire Bloom is well cast as the teacher.

Popular Blog Posts

Confessions of an Awards Season Skeptic, Part Two: I, A Lone Voice of Sanity and Calm Awash in a Sea of Noise and Indignation

Glenn Kenny tries to provide some calm, reason, and perspective to today's major Oscar nominations.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

They're All Gonna Laugh At You: The "Carrie" Remake

A look at Kimberly Pierce's 2013 version of "Carrie."

Gratitude

A note of thanks from Chaz Ebert to the wonderful people behind "Life Itself."

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus