Bad Movie Wednesday showcases films that are not necessarily rotten to the core. This one has much to redeem itself.
I this saw when it hit the theaters. That would be about my second year in college, in 1962, which means I saw it at a theater on The Drag (Guadalupe Street) in Austin. It’s David and Lisa, featuring Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin in the title roles. Fifty years, all right 54 years, was a long time to carry this one around in my head, and when it popped up on Amazon Prime Video I treated myself to a second, private, viewing. I must note, some things I remembered about the movie just were not so. Screen shots are from Amazon, and details are from Wikipedia. I’m not going to regurgitate the linear plot. It’s not the plot that makes this movie.
David is David Clemens, here being checked into a “residential treatment center” by his mother (Neva Patterson). David’s is a wealthy family, but it’s obvious he’s socially unstable.
David is intelligent, meticulous to a fault, and obnoxiously abrasive. He recoils violently at any physical contact with another person. A large part of the drama is David’s verbal and psychological fencing with head psychiatrist Dr. Alan Swinford (Howard Da Silva). He is obsessed with clocks, which is where my recollection went wrong. My brain carried for over a half century the image of David staring intensely at Dr. Swinford’s clock, showing the wrong time. I was close. He is obsessed with clocks and despises clocks that are not on time.
Prophetically he describes his idea of clocks driven from a world-wide master time keeper. This technology has come true. You can purchase wrist watches that synchronize with the Naval Observatory’s atomic clock by way of radio station WWV.
Lisa Brandt is certifiably schizophrenic. Lisa can speak only in rhyme, and her alter ego, Muriel, can only write.
The treatment center hosts a dozen or so troubled adolescents, exhibiting a range of personality problems. This becomes manifest when, on a field trip, they encounter a local family at the train station. The man leads his wife and child away from the teens, declaring, “Bunch of screwballs, spoiling the town.” The teens follow him out, mocking him, repeating the phrase. They realize they are different from the rest of society.
David gets belligerent with his mother, and his parents remove him from the center. Back home it’s apparent the Clemens family life is exacerbating his condition. He runs away from home and returns to the school.
Issues are resolved when Lisa acknowledges she is Lisa and not Muriel. She quits speaking in rhyme, but runs away when David rebuffs her. Seeking her out, David and Dr. Swinford locate her at the museum in Philadelphia, and David takes her hand. And that’s the end.
What caught everybody’s attention 54 years ago was the acclaim garnered by this low-budget film. Wikipedia shows a $185,000 budget, and it picked up two Oscar nominations:
My recollection (possibly faulty) is the producers attempted to repeat their financial coup, but without success. A stage play and TV movie followed.
This was the film debut for Margolin. Her film career continued into 1989, and she died in 1993. Dullea went on to play Dr. David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As recently as 2014 he was Dr. Marlow in Space Station 76.