Max Dugan Returns

Max Dugan Returns is a 1983 American comedy-drama film starring Jason Robards as Max Dugan, Marsha Mason as his daughter Nora, Matthew Broderick as Nora’s son Michael, and Donald Sutherland. Both Matthew Broderick and Kiefer Sutherland (cameo) are featuring in their first film appearance. This would be the last of seven Neil Simon-based films to be directed by Herbert Ross, as well as the last of his films starring Mason (Simon's wife at the time).

Max Dugan Returns
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHerbert Ross
Produced byHerbert Ross
Neil Simon
Written byNeil Simon
Music byDavid Shire
CinematographyDavid M. Walsh
Edited byRichard Marks
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 25, 1983 (1983-03-25)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$17,613,720


Max Dugan, the long-lost father of Nora McPhee, appears at her door one night. She does not recognize him, as he went to prison when she was only 9-years-old, and disappeared after serving a six year term. He tells her that he is dying within the year, and wants to give Nora and her 15-year-old son, Michael, the $687,000 ($1.7 million today) he managed to embezzle from a Las Vegas casino after they appropriated his property, worth that same amount.

Nora, a high school English teacher teacher and widow, lives with Michael in a broken down house in Venice, Los Angeles. Nora meets police detective Brian Costello when her car is stolen and they soon start dating. Nora and her (possible) father keep his identity a secret from Michael and Brian, with Dugan telling Michael that he knew "Max" in prison  then tells Nora the same, further obfuscating what she can believe.

Nora keeps refusing his money, only wanting his presence in her life. Max keeps buying extravagant cars, appliances, and renovations for Nora and Michael, making it harder for Nora to hide the truth from an increasingly suspicious Brian. This is compounded by busybody neighbor Mrs. Litke, who keeps reporting things to the police.

After two weeks together, Nora is now sure that it truly is her father. She pleads with Max to turn himself in, confident that the police will take the money and release him to her care for his final few months. Instead, he leaves a message that he is fleeing to Brazil with a portion of the money, leaving the rest for them.

Brian stops Nora as she heads to Michael's baseball game. He has figured out who Max is, and that he is dying, and warns her that she could face prison time unless she turns Max in. Nora refuses to do anything until after the game. After Michael hits the game winning home run  his first hit of the season, thanks to training from MLB coach Charley Lau, paid for by Max  Nora tells Brian everything. She also convinces him that Max is unimportant, and that the off-duty Brian can call in the information after lunch. Max is seen driving away, apparently headed for Brazil.


In addition, Kiefer Sutherland  in his first ever credited role (like Broderick)  appears briefly as Bill, Mike's school friend.

Production notes

Max Dugan Returns marks the first of only three times (as of 2018) that Donald Sutherland and his son Kiefer have appeared together in a dramatic film project, the others being A Time to Kill and Forsaken, in the latter of which they both starred in the leads.

Matthew Broderick was cast in this film and Simon's play Brighton Beach Memoirs simultaneously.

The real-life father of Matthew Broderick (whose birthname is James Joseph Broderick), noted character actor James Broderick, died (November 1, 1982) around the time of the making of this film. Co-star Jason Robards, who knew James and was a friend, helped Matthew through his grief over the loss of his father.

Former professional baseball player Charley Lau appears as himself having been hired by Robards' character Dugan to coach Broderick's Michael to hit better for his high school team. At the time of the movie, Lau was the hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox.

This was the last motion picture that Mason and Simon collaborated on before their divorce.


Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4, calling it "watchable and sort of sweet."[1] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune also awarded 2.5 stars out of 4 and wrote, "Robards makes the film work despite the cornball patter that Simon forces his characters to speak."[2] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Simon's original screenplay is fast and buoyant, and Herbert Ross's direction shows off the abundant jokes to their best possible advantage. There are certainly some questionable ingredients to the story, but you're not likely to notice them while the film is under way. You're likely to be laughing."[3] Variety described the film as "a consistently happy comedic fable which should please romanticists drawn again to another teaming of Neil Simon, Marsha Mason and Herbert Ross."[4] David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "It's a cute fantasy, and the players are certainly appealing. But Simon overplays his hand. Having created living and breathing comic characters, he starts to suffocate them inside an increasingly mechanized plot. The cuteness gets a bit out of hand."[5]


  1. Ebert, Roger (March 28, 1983). "Max Dugan Returns". Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  2. Siskel, Gene (April 1, 1983). "Siskel's Flicks Picks". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 8.
  3. Maslin, Janet (March 25, 1983). "Film: 'Dugan Returns'". The New York Times. C8.
  4. "Film Reviews: Max Dugan Returns". Variety. March 23, 1983. 18.
  5. Ansen, David (March 28, 1983). "Take the Money and Decorate". Newsweek. 73.

See also

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