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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Charly (1968)



Picture: B     Sound: C     Extras: D     Film: B



Cliff Robertson gives the performance of his career in 1968’s Charly, but as good as this performance is, it was a bit of a surprise when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year.  When the nominations were announced, Peter O'Toole in The Lion in Winter and Alan Arkin in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter were the two front-runners.  Interestingly, both Robertson and Arkin were nominated for roles in which they played handicapped men (Robertson playing a mentally challenged man and Arkin playing a deaf mute), and the Academy is traditionally partial to roles where actors portray people with disabilities.  But what gave Robertson the edge here, I think, is the fact that he essentially plays two extremely different characters in the same role.


Robertson stars as Charly Gordon, who would have been called "mentally retarded" in less sensitive times.  Charly is a kind soul who lives by himself in a modest room and works sweeping the floors at a Boston bakery.  Charly is constantly the target of cruel pranks by a few louts who work at the bakery, but is naïve enough to still call these jerks his "friends."


Longing to learn, Charly attends night classes, but sadly can't comprehend the most basic reading and writing skills.  Charly's night school teacher (Claire Bloom as Miss Kinnian) enlists him to undergo experiments at an institute run by two scientists (Lilia Skala and Leon Janney).  At first Charly can't even outsmart a little mouse named Algernon, but that will soon change after the scientists perform a new kind of experimental brain surgery on our lovable title character.


Adapted by screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, whose credits ranges from Oscar worthy (In the Heat of the Night) to Razzie worthy (The Swarm), from Daniel Keyes' novel Flowers for Algernon, Charly is reminiscent of another moving film, Awakenings, in that it concerns a middle-aged man seeing the world for the first time due to a medical miracle.  As Charly develops into a genius after surgery, he starts having a romantic relationship with Miss Kinnian, but also realizes for the first time how cruel the world can be.  And like the resurrection of Robert De Niro's character Leonard Lowe in Awakenings, Charly learns his new cognitive skills are only temporary.


Originally released by Cinerama Releasing (a company with many of its titles never released to video or DVD, and therefore, long unseen), Charly has been given a nice anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer to DVD by MGM.  These films have been leased by MGM from Disney’s ABC catalog.  The flip side contains the full-screen version of the film for people with a silly aversion to letterboxing.  This film was shot in Techniscope and is meant to be seen wide, which is the way to really take in how good a big screen drama this is.  A film like this calls for extras.  Unfortunately, though, there are no extras, not even a theatrical trailer.  It's also a shame Cliff Robertson wasn't recruited to record an audio commentary.  You'd think he'd have jumped at the chance to record a commentary and do interviews considering he produced Charly, the crowning achievement of his career.



-   Chuck O’Leary


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