Charly (marketed and stylized as CHAЯLY) is a 1968 American drama film, directed and produced by Ralph Nelson, and written by Stirling Silliphant. It was based on Flowers for Algernon, a science fiction short story (1958) and subsequent novel (1966) by Daniel Keyes.
1968 theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ralph Nelson|
|Produced by||Ralph Nelson|
|Screenplay by||Stirling Silliphant|
|Based on||Flowers for Algernon|
by Daniel Keyes
Dick Van Patten
|Music by||Ravi Shankar|
|Edited by||Fredric Steinkamp|
Robertson and Associates
|Distributed by||Cinerama Releasing Corporation|
|Box office||$8,500,000 (rentals)|
The film stars Cliff Robertson as Charly Gordon, an intellectually disabled adult who is selected by two doctors to undergo a surgical procedure that triples his IQ as it did for Algernon, a laboratory mouse who also underwent the same procedure; additional roles are co-played by Claire Bloom, Lilia Skala, Leon Janney, and Dick Van Patten. Robertson was reprising his previous portrayal of the same role in a 1961 television adaptation, "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon", an episode of the anthology series The United States Steel Hour.
The film received positive reviews, and was a success at the box office and, a generation later, in home media sales.
Charly Gordon (Cliff Robertson) is a mentally handicapped man with a strong desire to make himself smarter. For the past two years, he has attended night school in Boston, learning to read and write from Alice Kinnian (Claire Bloom). However, his spelling remains poor, and he is unable to spell his own name. He works as a janitor in a bakery, where his co-workers frequently amuse themselves at his expense.
Alice takes Charly to see Dr. Richard Nemur and Dr. Anna Straus, two researchers who have increased the intelligence of laboratory mice with a new surgical procedure and are now looking for a human test subject. To assess Charly's suitability as a candidate, they put him through a battery of aptitude tests and have him race against Algernon, a mouse who has had the procedure. Algernon physically runs through a maze while Charly uses a pencil to trace his way through a diagram of the same maze. Charly consistently loses the races, but is nevertheless given the experimental surgery.
After the surgery, Charly is initially angered at not immediately becoming smarter and still loses to Algernon. Eventually, he beats Algernon and his intelligence increases rapidly. Charly's co-workers tell him to use a machine that they think is too complex for him to operate, hoping that he will break it so they can have the day off. When he successfully works the machine, though, they become displeased that he is now too intelligent to fall for their jokes and get him fired from the bakery. Alice continues teaching him, but he soon surpasses her. Nemur and Straus argue over the importance of Charly's emotional development, with Straus pointing to the drawings and paintings he has created (including several abstract nude figures of Alice) as evidence of his need to mature in this respect.
Charly becomes infatuated with Alice and questions whether she loves her fiancé. He follows her to her apartment one night, declaring his love for her, but flees after she sharply rejects his sexual advances. He briefly rebels by immersing himself in the counterculture – riding a motorcycle, kissing a series of different women, smoking and dancing – but eventually returns to Boston. The two reconcile, and both realize that they want to be together and consider marriage.
Four weeks later, Nemur and Straus present their research at a convention of scientists, culminating in a question-and-answer session with Charly. Angry and aggressive, he reveals that Algernon has died after regressing to his original mental state – a fact that had been withheld from him – and that he expects to lose his own enhanced intelligence as well. Charly flees the convention, but hallucinates seeing his former self everywhere he goes. Stopping at a bar for a drink, he sees a mentally handicapped busboy drop a tray of glasses; the other customers laugh at the incident, but stop when Charly silently begins to help the busboy clean up the mess.
Charly overhears an argument between Alice, Nemur, and Straus over the decision to keep Algernon's regression a secret from him and offers to help research the issue. He works with Nemur and Straus in the hope that his intelligence can be saved, but the results indicate that nothing can be done. Alice visits Charly and asks him to marry her, but he refuses and tells her to leave. Some time later, Alice watches Charly playing with children in a playground, having reverted to his former self.
The short story Flowers for Algernon had previously been the basis of "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon", a 1961 television adaptation in which Robertson had also starred for CBS's U. S. Steel Hour. Robertson had starred in a number of TV shows which were turned into films with other actors playing his role, such as Days of Wine and Roses. He bought the rights to the story, hoping to star in the film version as well.
He originally hired William Goldman to write the screenplay on the strength of Goldman's novel No Way to Treat a Lady, paying him $30,000 out of his own pocket. Robertson was unhappy with Goldman's work and then hired Stirling Silliphant to do a draft.
The film was a hit, earning $7.25 million in theatrical rentals during its release in North America, and it earned an additional $1.25 million in theatrical rentals overseas, making it the 16th-highest-grossing film of 1968. After all costs were deducted (including $1,325,000 paid to profit share), the film reported a profit of $1,390,000, making it one of the few successful movies made by ABC Pictures.
Vincent Canby called the film a "self-conscious contemporary drama, the first ever to exploit mental retardation for... the bittersweet romance of it"; he called Robertson's performance "earnest" but points out that "we [the audience] are forced into the vaguely unpleasant position of being voyeurs, congratulating ourselves for not being Charly as often as we feel a distant pity for him." Canby calls Nelson's direction "neo-Expo 67", referring to the use of split screen to "show simultaneously the reactions of two people facing each other and conversing" and the use of "little postage stamp-sized inserts of images within the larger screen frame." Time magazine called Charly an "odd little movie about mental retardation and the dangers of all-conquering science, done with a dash of whimsy." While "the historic sights in and around Charly's Boston setting have never been more lovingly filmed", "The impact of [Robertson's] performance...is lessened by Producer-Director Ralph Nelson's determination to prove that he learned how to be new and now at Expo '67: almost every other sequence is done in split screens, multiple images, still shots or slow motion." Screenwriter (and Hollywood blacklist target) Maurice Rapf called Robertson's performance "extraordinary" and called "astonishing" his on-screen "transformation from one end of the intellectual spectrum to the other"; Rapf took issue with what he called the "pyrotechnics of the camera" and the "flashy opticals", calling the effects "jarringly out of place" and better suited for a "no-story mod film like The Knack."
Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, saying "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." By contrast, Ebert pointed out "the whole scientific hocus-pocus, which causes his crisis, is irrelevant and weakens the movie by distracting us."
In 2009, Entertainment Weekly listed Charly among its "25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever."
At the 40th National Board of Review Awards, Charly was fourth in their list of "Top Ten Films" of 1968, and Cliff Robertson was chosen the year's "Best Actor."
At the 41st Academy Awards, Robertson won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, under some controversy: less than two weeks after the ceremony, Time magazine mentioned the Academy's generalized concerns over "excessive and vulgar solicitation of votes" and said "many members agreed that Robertson's award was based more on promotion than on performance. " The film was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, losing to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In the late 1970s, following a period of extended unemployment that followed an act of whistle-blowing against David Begelman, the then-president of Columbia Pictures, Robertson wrote and attempted to produce Charly II, to no avail.
Home video release
Charly was released on Region 1 DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on March 31, 2005.
- "Charly (1968): Original Print Information". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- "ABC's 5 Years of Film Production Profits & Losses", Variety, May 31, 1973, pg 3.
- "Charly (1968): Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- Karen, Zraick (September 11, 2011). "Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson dies in US at 88". Associated Press. Retrieved September 12, 2011.
- Dennis Brown, Shoptalk, Newmarket Press, 1992 p 63
- William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 164-176
- No Flap Over Oscar Absence--Robertson Loynd, Ray. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]25 Apr 1969: i10.
- "Top Grossing Films of 1968". Listal.com.
- Vincent Canby (September 24, 1968). "The Screen: Cliff Robertson in Title Role of Charly". The New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- "Cinema: Medical Menace". Time. October 18, 1968. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- "Maurice Rapf, 88, Screenwriter and Film Professor". The New York Times. April 18, 2003.
- Maurice Rapf (November 1, 1968). Is Charly Cuter Than Necessary?. Life. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- Roger Ebert (December 31, 1968). "Charly". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- "25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever". Entertainment Weekly. June 26, 2009. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- "Awards for 1968". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- "The Trade: Grand Illusion". Time. April 25, 1969. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- "1969 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- Michelle Green (December 5, 1983). "Hollywood's Mr. Clean Shot Down David Begelman; Now the Actor Has Pulled His Career Out of a Nose Dive". People. Time Inc. 20 (23). Retrieved March 25, 2011.
Hoping to capitalize on his 1968 Oscar-winning role in Charly, playing a mentally retarded man who becomes, briefly, a genius, he wrote and began peddling Charly II, only to have the film's backers pull out.