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Entry updated 8 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1968). Selmur and Robertson Associates. Directed by Ralph Nelson. Written by Stirling Silliphant, based on Flowers for Algernon (April 1959 F&SF; exp 1966) by Daniel Keyes. Cast includes Claire Bloom, Cliff Robertson, Lilia Skala and Dick van Patten. 106 minutes. Colour.

The first screen adaptation of Flowers for Algernon was The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon (1961), a Television movie based on the original novella "Flowers for Algernon" (April 1959 F&SF) and starring Cliff Robertson as Charlie (so spelled). The more ambitious cinematic version was largely made because Robertson, who had loved doing the first version and was an admirer of the original story, purchased movie rights to it after the television version was made.

The movie Charly (1968) was the first screen adaptation made of the new version of the story after its book publication, with the novella now expanded into a novel, Flowers for Algernon (1966). Robertson was enthused with the idea of playing for a second time – with a bigger budget and better script – the character who goes from subnormality to super-genius and then back again. He formed his own production company and, after setbacks, made Charly. He won an Academy Award (Oscar), as Best Leading Man, for his excellent performance.

Much of the pathos of the original is evoked in 30-year-old Charly's progression, following experimental surgery, from amiable idiocy to high Intelligence, his falling in love with his teacher (Bloom), his further development to genius, and the horror of his final regression. But it is a sentimental story to start with, and Nelson milks it for all it is worth, both happiness (glamorized like a television commercial) and sadness, and Charly's genius phase is marred by the platitudes about society that Silliphant's script requires him to speak. Nonetheless, Charly seriously addresses ideas about intelligence and feeling, and also the ethics of scientific research, and is more ambitious than most sf films of its time.

The sentimentalization of the story is anyway not simply a populist veneer, since it produces its extreme pathos (the film was and is a notorious weepie) with some fidelity to the original. Furthermore, it looks like a model of restraint when compared to Flowers for Algernon (2000), another television version, released more than thirty years after Charly. [PN/JB]

see also: Seiun Award.


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