Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a 1974 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Robert Getchell.[2] It stars Ellen Burstyn as a widow who travels with her preteen son across the Southwestern United States in search of a better life. Kris Kristofferson, Billy "Green" Bush, Diane Ladd, Valerie Curtin, Lelia Goldoni, Vic Tayback, Jodie Foster, Alfred Lutter and Harvey Keitel are featured in supporting roles.[2] It was one of Foster's earliest notable film appearances.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Scorsese
Produced byAudrey Maas
David Susskind
Written byRobert Getchell
StarringEllen Burstyn
Kris Kristofferson
Diane Ladd
Jodie Foster
Alfred Lutter
CinematographyKent L. Wakeford
Edited byMarcia Lucas
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 9, 1974 (1974-12-09)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.8 million[1]
Box office$21 million[1]

The film premiered at the 27th Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the Palme d'Or and was released theatrically on December 9, 1974, by Warner Bros. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing $21 million on a $1.8 million budget. At the 47th Academy Awards, Burstyn won Best Actress, while Ladd and Getchell received nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay.


When Socorro, New Mexico, housewife Alice Hyatt's husband Donald is killed in an auto accident, she decides to have a garage sale, pack what's left of her meager belongings, and take her precocious son Tommy to her childhood hometown of Monterey, California, where she hopes to pursue the singing career she abandoned when she married.

Their financial situation forces them to take temporary lodgings in Phoenix, Arizona, where she finds work as a lounge singer in a seedy bar. There she meets Ben, who uses his charm to lure her into a sexual relationship that comes to a sudden end when his wife Rita confronts Alice. Ben breaks into Alice's apartment while Alice is there and physically assaults Rita for interfering with his extramarital affair. When Alice tells Ben to calm down, he threatens her also and further smashes up the apartment. Fearing for their safety, Alice and Tommy quickly leave town.

Having spent most of the little money she earned on a new wardrobe, Alice is forced to delay her journey to the West Coast and accept a job as a waitress in Tucson so she can accumulate more cash. At the local diner owned by Mel, she eventually bonds with her fellow servers - independent, no-nonsense, outspoken Flo and quiet, timid, incompetent Vera — and meets divorced local rancher David, who soon realizes the way to Alice's heart is through Tommy.

Still emotionally wounded from the difficult relationship she had with her uncommunicative husband and the frightening encounter she had with Ben, Alice is hesitant to get involved with another man so quickly. However, she finds out that David is a good influence on Tommy, who has befriended wisecracking, shoplifting, Ripple-guzzling Audrey, a slightly older girl forced to fend for herself while her mother makes a living as a sex worker.

Alice and David warily fall in love, but their relationship is threatened when Alice objects to his discipline of the perpetually bratty Tommy. The two reconcile, and David offers to sell his ranch and move to Monterey so Alice can try to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming another Alice Faye. In the end, Alice decides to stay in Tucson, coming to the conclusion that she can become a singer anywhere.


Director Martin Scorsese cameoed as a customer while Diane Ladd's daughter, future actress Laura Dern, appears as the little girl eating ice cream from a cone in the diner.


The part of Alice was originally offered to Shirley MacLaine.[3] However, MacLaine turned down the role.[4] MacLaine admitted in a 2005 interview that she regretted this decision.[5]

Ellen Burstyn was still in the midst of filming The Exorcist when Warner Bros. executives expressed interest in working with her on another project. Burstyn later recalled, "It was early in the woman's movement, and we were all just waking up and having a look at the pattern of our lives and wanting it to be different... I wanted to make a different kind of film. A film from a woman's point of view, but a woman that I recognized, that I knew. And not just myself, but my friends, what we were all going through at the time. So my agent found Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore... When I read it I liked it a lot. I sent it to Warner Brothers and they agreed to do it. Then they asked who I wanted to direct it. I said that I didn't know, but I wanted somebody new and young and exciting. I called Francis Coppola and asked who was young and exciting and he said 'Go look at a movie called Mean Streets and see what you think.' It hadn't been released yet, so I booked a screening to look at it and I felt that it was exactly what...Alice needed, because [it] was a wonderful script and well written, but for my taste it was a little slick. You know – in a good way, in a kind of Doris DayRock Hudson kind of way. I wanted something a bit more gritty."[6]

Burstyn described her collaboration with director Martin Scorsese, making his first Hollywood studio production,[7] as "one of the best experiences I've ever had". The director agreed with his star that the film should have a message. "It's a picture about emotions and feelings and relationships and people in chaos," he said. "We felt like charting all that and showing the differences and showing people making terrible mistakes ruining their lives and then realizing it and trying to push back when everything is crumbling – without getting into soap opera. We opened ourselves up to a lot of experimentation."[6]

Scorsese's casting director auditioned 300 boys for the role of Tommy before they discovered Alfred Lutter. "I met the kid in my hotel room and he was kind of quiet and shy," Scorsese said. But when he paired him with Burstyn and suggested she deviate from the script, he held his own. "Usually, when we were improvising with the kids, they would either freeze and look down or go right back to the script. But this kid, you couldn't shut him up."[6]

The film was shot on location predominantly in and around Tucson, but some scenes were shot in Amado, and Phoenix. A Mel's Diner still exists in Phoenix.[6]

The soundtrack includes "All the Way from Memphis" by Mott the Hoople; "Roll Away the Stone" by Leon Russell; "Daniel" by Elton John; "Jeepster" by T-Rex; and "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton. During her lounge act, Alice sings "Where or When" by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; "When Your Lover Has Gone" by Einar Aaron Swan; "Gone with the Wind" by Allie Wrubel and Herb Magidson; and "I've Got a Crush on You" by George and Ira Gershwin. In a film clip from Coney Island, Betty Grable is heard singing "Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine" by Otto A. Harbach and Karl Hoschna; and in a film clip from Hello Frisco, Hello, Alice Faye performs "You'll Never Know" by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.


Upon its release, the film received critical acclaim and grossed $21 million worldwide.[1] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 87% "Fresh" rating from 30 reviews.[8] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it a "fine, moving, frequently hilarious tale" and observed it "is an American comedy of the sort of vitality that dazzles European film critics and we take for granted. It's full of attachments and associations to very particular times and places, even in the various regional accents of its characters. It's beautifully written...and acted, but it's not especially neatly tailored... At the center of the movie and giving it a visible sensibility is Miss Burstyn, one of the few actresses at work today...who is able to seem appealing, tough, intelligent, funny, and bereft, all at approximately the same moment. It's Miss Burstyn's movie and part of the enjoyment of the film is in the director's apparent awareness of this fact... Two other performances must be noted, those of Diane Ladd and Valerie Curtin... Their marvelous contributions in small roles are a measure of the film's quality and of Mr. Scorsese's fully realized talents as one of the best of the new American film-makers."[9]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "one of the most perceptive, funny, occasionally painful portraits of an American woman I've seen" and commented, "The movie has been both attacked and defended on feminist grounds, but I think it belongs somewhere outside ideology, maybe in the area of contemporary myth and romance."[10] Ebert put the film at #3 of his list of the best films of 1975 (even though the film came out in '74).[11]

The film did not go without its detractors, however. Variety thought the film was "a distended bore," saying it "takes a group of well-cast film players and largely wastes them on a smaller-than-life film — one of those 'little people' dramas that makes one despise little people."[12]

TV Guide rated the film three out of four stars, calling it an "effective but uneven work" with performances that "cannot conceal the storyline's shortcomings."[13]


Ellen Burstyn won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Diane Ladd was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress but lost to Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express, and Robert Getchell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay but lost to Robert Towne for Chinatown.

The film won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and BAFTA Awards went to Burstyn for Best Actress in a Leading Role, to Diane Ladd for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and to Getchell for Best Screenplay. Martin Scorsese was nominated for Best Direction but lost to Stanley Kubrick for Barry Lyndon.

Getchell was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay, Burstyn and Ladd were nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama and Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, respectively, and Scorsese was nominated for the Palme D'Or at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.[14]

Television adaptation

The film inspired the sitcom Alice, which was broadcast by CBS from August 1976 through July 1985. The only member of the film cast to reprise his role was Vic Tayback as Mel (though his diner was moved to Phoenix). Alfred Lutter portrayed Tommy in the pilot episode but was replaced by Philip McKeon for the series. Diane Ladd joined the show later in its run, but in a role different from that she had played in the film.

Home media

Warner Home Video released the film on Region 1 DVD on August 17, 2004. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Bonus features include commentary by Martin Scorsese, Ellen Burstyn, and Kris Kristofferson and Second Chances, a background look at the making of the film.

A book chronologizing the development of the film and spin-off TV series entitled Alice: Life Behind the Counter in Mel’s Greasy Spoon (A Guide to the Feature Film, the TV Series, and More) was published by BearManor Media in September 2019.

See also


  1. Box Office Information for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Archived June 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  3. Grist, Leighton (2000). The Films of Martin Scorsese, 1963-77: Authorship and Context. Springer. ISBN 98
  4. Foerster, Jonathan (February 9, 2011). "Shirley MacLaine isn't getting old, she's just advanced". Naples Daily News. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  5. Modderno, Craig (October 16, 2005). "Shirley MacLaine's Words of Wisdom". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  6. Turner Classic Movies
  7. "''All Movie Guide'' overview". November 1, 2010. Retrieved May 6, 2011.
  8. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. Canby, Vincent (January 30, 1975). "ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  10. "''Chicago Sun-Times'' review". December 1, 1974. Retrieved May 6, 2011.
  11. "Siskel & Ebert Top Ten Lists (1968-1998)". February 3, 2010. Retrieved May 6, 2011.
  12. "''Variety'' review". December 31, 1973. Retrieved May 6, 2011.
  13. "''TV Guide'' review". Retrieved May 6, 2011.
  14. "Festival de Cannes archives". Retrieved May 6, 2011.
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