Goodbye Charlie

Goodbye Charlie is a 1964 American comedy film directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis. The film is about a callous womanizer who gets his just reward. It was adapted from George Axelrod's play Goodbye, Charlie. The play provided the basis for the 1991 film Switch, with Ellen Barkin and Jimmy Smits.

Goodbye Charlie
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVincente Minnelli
Produced byDavid Weisbart
Written byHarry Kurnitz
Based onplay by George Axelrod
StarringDebbie Reynolds
Tony Curtis
Music byAndré Previn
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byJohn W. Holmes
Venice Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • November 18, 1964 (1964-11-18)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million[1]
Box office$3,700,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[2]


Philandering Hollywood writer Charlie Sorrel (Harry Madden) is shot and killed by Hungarian film producer Sir Leopold Sartori (Walter Matthau) when he is caught fooling around with Sartori's wife, Rusty (Laura Devon). Novelist George Tracy (Tony Curtis), Charlie’s best and only friend, arrives at Charlie's Malibu beach house just in time for the memorial service, after an exhausting series of flights from Paris that have left him broke. There are only three people there, Charlie’s agent and two ex-girlfriends. George does his best to eulogize his friend but there is little to be said in favor of Charlie, whose final bad joke on George has been to make him executor of his estate—which is a mess of debts and unpaid taxes. The guests leave, and George collapses, exhausted, on the sofa. He is soon awakened by a knock at the terrace door and the appearance of a petite blonde woman (Debbie Reynolds) swathed in a huge brown overcoat. At the front door is Bruce Minton III (Pat Boone), who came to her aid when he found her dazed and wandering on the road, completely naked. She does not remember much, but she recognized Charlie's house as they drove past it and it made her feel safe. Minton rushes off to a dinner engagement, leaving a sleep-deprived George to cope with the now-unconscious woman.

The next morning, George awakes to her screams. It all comes back to her: She is Charlie, brought back to life. After getting over the shock, she convinces George of her identity by telling him about a really dirty trick that s/he had recently played on him. George figures out that this must be a case of reincarnation, Providence’s way of getting justice for all of the women Charlie has used and betrayed.

All manner of complications arise as Charlie first accepts the situation, and then decides to take advantage of it. George helps her by establishing her as Charlie’s widow, figuring out their finances —they are both broke—and boosting her morale. From the beginning, Charlie finds herself subject to a whole new set of emotions and sensations. Her masculine mannerisms begin to fade, partly because Charlie is a consummate actor, but also because the change is more than skin deep. At one point, she bursts into uncontrollable tears. George comforts her as he would comfort a weeping girl, wiping her tears and stroking her hair to calm her down, and then pulls back, appalled at the moment of tenderness.

Meanwhile Sir Leopold gets off by claiming the traditional justification that he was defending his home.

Although Charlie has changed his sex, he cannot or will not change his ways: He decides to solve his money problems by using his intimate knowledge for blackmail and by marrying well—Minton for starters. The plans fall apart when Bruce, on the verge of passing out, reveals the depth of his love for her. Charlie takes pity on him snd slips the engagement ring into his hand.

Eventually, in a grim role reversal that he recognizes all too well when it happens, Charlie ends up being chased around the house by Sir Leopold, who cheerfully spouts amorous nonsense but is, in fact, intent on rape. Rusty arrives, gun in hand, and just as Charlie climbs onto the terrace railing to jump, she shoots him; he plunges into the ocean below. George, who has arrived in the midst of the mélée, leaps after Charlie, but there is no sign of a body. George tells Sir Leopold to go away and never say anything about it again. The Sartoris reconcile, and Sir Leopold promises eternal gratitude to George.

George is asleep in a chair; the sound of a woman’s voice calling “Charlie” over and over again wakes him. This time there are two beings on the terrace—a woman (Debbie Reynolds) and her Great Dane, Charlie. George quickly establishes her bona fides as a real person, Virginia Mason. She takes one look at him and decides he needs food. She commands Charlie to sit and stay. Virginia and George talk in the kitchen; it is clearly love at first sight. The dog goes into the living room, to the bookcase, to Charlie’s secret cache of vodka (behind War and Peace). The bottle falls and breaks; Charlie laps a bit from the floor and looking heavenward, begins to howl.


Original play

Goodbye Charlie
Written byGeorge Axelrod
Date premiered16 December 1959
Place premieredLyceum Theatre, New York
Original languageEnglish
SettingThe beach house of the late Charlie Sorel, a few miles north of Malibu, California. The present.

George Axelrod's play debuted on Broadway in 1959 starring Lauren Bacall and Sydney Chaplin, produced by Leland Hayward, and directed by Axelrod himself. It was not a big success, running for only 109 performances.[4] The New York Times wrote it played like "an extended vaudeville sketch".[5]


Film rights to the play were bought before it premiered by 20th Century Fox for $150,000 plus a percentage of the profits.[6] James Garner and Marilyn Monroe were discussed as stars.[7]

Darryl F. Zanuck offered the project to Billy Wilder after he returned to Fox, but Wilder turned it down, saying "no self-respecting picture maker would ever want to work for your company".[8] (Zanuck had just forced Joseph L. Mankiewicz to re-cut Cleopatra (1963)).

Playwright Harry Kurnitz was hired to write the script and Tony Curtis was attached early.[9] Vincente Minnelli was hired to direct, his first movie away from MGM since 1942.[10]


According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $7 million in rentals in order for the studio to break even on its release. The film ultimately failed to make this goal, making only $4,555,000.[11]

Diabolique magazine later wrote "It’s not that shocking to see the star of Spartacus (1960)... make moves on a woman not knowing she’s a man, but it is a surprise to see Boone to do it. He later admitted to having a drinking problem around this time and shot some scenes for the movie while drunk.... This film remains resolutely undiscovered by queer/feminist film analysts, despite its subject matter and bisexual director... I think this is in part because Reynolds’ performance is so utterly sexless. It holds any feeling of kinkiness at bay. However, there’s no denying it because Boone plays a guy who effectively tries to make out with a dude." The magazine also pointed out the opening scene features a tracking shot at a party where a man gets upset and shoots the man sleeping with his wife just like in Boogie Nights (1997).[12]

Television adaptation

In 1985, Goodbye Charlie was made into a TV series (starring Suzanne Somers as the reincarnated Charlie), but only the pilot episode was broadcast.[13]

See also


  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p254
  2. This figure consists of anticipated rentals accruing distributors in North America. See "Big Rental Pictures of 1965", Variety, 5 January 1966 p 6 and Solomon p 229. Please note these figures are rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  4. Goodbye Charlie at Playbill
  5. Theatre: Expanded Vaudeville Sketch: " Goodbye Charlie" Has Premiere at Lyceum Lauren Bacall Stars in Axelrod Comedy By BROOKS ATKINSON. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 17 Dec 1959: 50.
  6. Of Local Origin New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 03 July 1959: 8.
  7. Garner Gets Offer to Co-Star with Marilyn Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 30 Jan 1961: a1.
  8. Studio Shakeups Send Hopes High: Hollywood Letter By John C. Waugh. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) [Boston, Mass] 13 Dec 1962: 6.
  9. Looking at Hollywood: 'Goodbye, Charlie' Script Is in Work Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 20 Feb 1964: c2.
  10. Film Director Moves to Fox New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Jan 1964: 24.
  11. Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away: the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 323.
  12. Vagg, Stephen (10 September 2019). "The Surprisingly Interesting Cinema of Pat Boone". Diabolique Magazine.
  13. Goodbye Charlie (TV pilot) on IMDb
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