And this romantic SF drama is one of those almost forgotten films today, and a story that may sound a bit silly at first, works surprisingly well here. He shot “Charly” by Ralph Nelson based on Daniel Keyes ’1958 short story“ Flowers of Algernon ”, but the most credited for shooting this film is Cliff Richardson. He played Charly in an episode of a television series in the early 1960s. After failing to break into the film scene in the 1950s, Richardson became a major television star in the early 1960s, and the roles he played in TV movies and series often celebrated some other actors in film versions. So he decided to buy the rights to the book himself, hoping that he would play the same role in the film this time.
He first hired renowned writer William Goldman for the screenplay, who later won Oscars for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men,” but wasn’t happy with his version so he took Stirling Silliphant. He, on the other hand, won an Oscar for Jewison’s “In the Heat of the Night” a year earlier, and Richardson’s perseverance paid off because he himself won an Oscar for Best Leading Role for this role. Charly Gordon is a mentally and emotionally undercapacitated guy in his thirties who wants to thrive. For the last two years, he has been attending evening school in Boston, learning to read and write, but he is not doing well. He works as a janitor in a bakery where colleagues are constantly making fun of him, and emotionally he is at the level of a child of seven or eight, so it is not surprising that he sometimes plays with kids.
Alice (Claire Bloom) is a teacher who works with Charly and she will suggest to scientists involved in brain research that he could be the perfect opportunity for their experiments. They were the ones who managed to increase intelligence on laboratory mice by surgical method, and Charly is emerging as the ideal choice for a human guinea pig. The unfortunate Charly is constantly losing races with the mouse Algernon in some simple tasks and this is incredibly frustrating for him so he will agree to take part in this experiment. Clearly, the results of the operation will prove to be encouraging, so Charly will almost turn into a genius from a classic moron after a while.
But it won’t bring him too much luck in the beginning. As soon as he realizes that he is no longer stupid and that he no longer belongs, he will be fired from the bakery, and very soon he will lose friends whom he will only serve as someone they could make fun of and someone they feel smart about. It will seem to him that people loved him more when he was an idiot, and it seems like he was much happier when he had an IQ of barely 60. And surprisingly, this unusual story succeeds primarily not thanks to the very premise of the moron who will become smart, but thanks to Richardson’s great performance.
The viewer understands how much his personality will get into an identity crisis and how the situation will develop significantly differently from what he imagined until he did not even know what abstract thinking is. Richardson has made Charly a character we really care about and a character we try to put ourselves in. He will see himself as a Frankenstein character, and there is even a connection between him and Alice who obviously cares about him, but he can’t understand what is going on in his head. It is a warm and somewhat subversive romantic SF drama shot in a somewhat stylized New Hollywood style, which is also an interesting social critique that is still relevant today. Rating 8/10,
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