Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Directed by
Paul Newman
Written by Alvin Sargent, from a play by Paul Zindel
Starring Joanne Woodward, Nell Potts, Roberta Wallach, Judith Lowry
IMDB Entry

It’s a cliché that what actors really want is to direct. Paul Newman managed to get the chance,and made the most of it with films like Rachel, Rachel and the wonderfully titled The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.

It’s ostensibly the story of Matilda “Tillie” Hunsdorfer (Nell Potts), a shy middle school student with an interest in science, which gives her a refuge from her mercurial mother Beatrice (Joanne Woodward). Beatrice is filled with ideas, some sensible, some wildly fantastic,  but never can follow through with them, and often uses Tillie as the subject of her rage. Her other daughter Ruth (Roberta Wallach) is older and trying to form her own identity. The title of the movie* is the description of the experiment Tillie is preparing for the science fair: she exposes marigold seeds to gamma rays to see how they are affected.

The movie is a character study about how toxic Beatrice is her children, without her being aware of it throughout the movie. The title indirectly references this:  how her influence affect her kids.

The Hunsdorfers

Woodward is excellent in the role, managing to develop sympathy for a character that is hardly sympathetic.

Of note is Judith Lowry as Nanny, an old woman in a wheelchair that Beatrice takes in as way to make some money. Lowry was a stage actress who retired to raise her kids, but then returned to play old women. She is important to the plot but manages to give Nanny some personality.

The movie was a family affair. Woodward was married to Newman and had already won an Oscar.  Potts was their daughter, and Wallach was the daughter of Eli Wallach.

The movie was a success, with Woodward gaining a lot of notice. Wallach went on to a minor career in TV and movies and is still working today. But it looks like Potts decided not to pursue a movie career:  This was her last film.

*From the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Paul Zindel.

Sunday, September 5, 2021



Directed by
Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson
Written by Todd Alcott, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Starring Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman Sylvester Stallone, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Jane Curtin, Danny Glover, Christopher Walken
IMDB Entry

From time to time, two movies come out at the same time with the same general theme. In the early 60s, for instance, there were two biographies of Jean Harlow that came out within a month of each other. Sometimes this is coincidence, but when it is not, and things can get ugly. A prime example of this was Antz.

Z (voice of Woody Allen) is a worker ant who is dissatisfied with his insignificant life. He gets sent out to war by the scheming General Mandible (Gene Hackman), and returns as an inadvertent hero who goes to meet the queen (Anne Bancroft). He also falls for Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) and he has to run from the colony, taking her along as a hostage. Z is looking for Insectopia, a heaven for insects, but General Mandible, seeing Z’s independent thought a threat to his scheme to take over the colony, goes hunting.

The movie does cover some grown-up themes as to the dangers of blindly following a leader, and the importance of individualism. Allen is fine as Z (written for his usual screen persona).*  Hackman makes a great meglomaniac and Stone does a good job voicing Bala.

The main controversy at the time was that Antz was produced by Dreamworks. Jeffrey Katzenbach had been with Disney, and knew that Pixar was also planning an animated film with insects that eventually became A Bug’s Life. John Lasseter of Pixar was appalled that Dreamworks was doing the film, and insisted Katzenbach had stolen the idea, something Katzenbach furiously denied.  The bad blood lasted for years.

I tend to think Antz is the superior film. It was more adult in conception and more edgy**.  A Bug’s Life was more kid-friendly and soft. It’s  not a bad movie (but not one of Pixar’s best), but is less ambitious. Antz*** also uses ant biology in its conception – its ants have six legs.

Ultimately, A Bug’s Life, with the Disney marketing machine and the Pixar name, did far better in the box office. It also helped that it was something kids could enjoy.  Plus Disney can market the DVDs far better.

But Antz is still a fine piece of animation.
*According to the producers, he came in, knew his lines cold, and recorded it all in five days.

**I note that the images on the DVD soften the characters and make it seem more like  a kids’ movie.

***Like all the best ant movies – Them!, Phase IV.