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Reuben, Reuben

****
1983

‘…Reuben, Reuben is a tragic-comedy of the highest order…’

Why do some truly great films fall into neglect? Reuben, Reuben is a perfect case in point. Tom Conti won an Oscar nomination for best actor in 1983 for his performance as a drunken poet, with Dylan Thomas a clear inspiration. The screenplay, adapted from a novel by noted humourist Peter De Vries and then a play called Spofford, is by Julius J Epstein, who wrote everything from Casablanca to Cross of Iron, and that was also Oscar nominated as one of the five best adapted scripts of the year.

Need more incentive for a Criterion edition? It was the first film of Top Gun star Kelly McGillis. And it’s a funny, sweet and yet harsh and original story about excess and survival that’s not dated in any way. And yet there’s no blu-ray revival, nor even a spot on Amazon or iTunes, just a rare DVD or Blu Ray that, at twenty bucks a piece, won’t ensnare many casual viewers. The reputation of Robert Ellis Miller, director of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and this, was practically zero when he died in 2017, and that’s a shame for anyone with career highlights like this.

Conti is ideal as Gowan McGland, a Scottish poet in suburban American, seducing women, drinking excessively, generally mooching off everyone and unaware that his behaviour is leading to a sticky end, and not one that he can possibly imagine. The problem is more than sex or alcohol addiction. Like Ray Milland in The Man With X Ray Eyes, McGland’s problem is that he sees too much; his wit pulls people towards him, but then he inevitably pushes them away.

Reuben, Reuben is a tragic-comedy of the highest order, and it’s well-past high time something was done about restoring the reputation of this film, which takes its title from the old song, and from the last line of dialogue in a devastating, surprising final scene.

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  1. An essential for any Scot and Conti at the time with his crinkling smile and shaggy hair was something of a movie star and the biggest star to come out of Paisley until the advent of one Gerard Butler. Remember enjoying this at the time. Quite offbeat and very waspish humor and fully deserving of Oscar recognition.

  2. Plenty of blah movies get a wide screen restoration, gems like this not. Something to do with rights / permissions from the original production companies? Another one on my list would be “The Grey Fox” starring Richard Farnsworth, from 1982, nothing online but a crappy VHS copy taped off someone’s TV.

    • Great spot, The Grey Fox was great, but I’ve only ever seen it on VHS. Music licensing issues are sometimes the problems, much like Looking for Mr Goodbar, but surely it’s worth sorting things out for the streaming world. I really adore this film, but don’t have a copy, can’t share it and don’t see it coming down the pike. Very frustrating…

    • Didn’t realise Grey Fox was missing. Remember seeing it as a birthday treat during its premiere run in the UK at the iconic Everyman in Hampstead (London) at a time when that was the only Everyman in the UK – now there are dozens of them.

      • In fact, last night I found a copy online which was clearer than any I’ve seen. I saw it at the Everyman too and spent years searching for it in video shops. One movie that really is missing, I defy anyone to find it, is “The Field” with Richard Harris.

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