David and Lisa (1962) Film Review

David and Lisa
DIRECTOR: Frank Perry
BOTTOM LINE: Released in 1962, “David and Lisa” was made on a shoestring budget and featured two unknown actors, Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin, making her movie debut. They play troubled teenagers whose paths cross when they are admitted to a mental health facility. The psychiatrist is played by Howard da Silva, making his first movie in 12 years, after being blacklisted by Hollywood.
Screenwriter Eleanor Perry based the film on the second story from the two-in-one novellas “Jordi/Lisa and David” by Theodore Isaac Rubin. Rubin was an American psychiatrist and author whose work she had read while doing her master’s degree. His specialty was psychoanalysis, then at its zenith in The United States. In fact, many of his beliefs have now fallen out of favor. From today’s vantage point, the movie, despite its sensitive moments, seems dangerously simplistic and naive. Like “Rebel Without a Cause”, the parents are blamed for everything. This is especially true of Dullea’s mother who thinks of her son only in terms of her own needs and expectations.
Nevertheless, when the movie was released, it became an art-house sensation, particularly in New York. When the nominations for the 35th Academy Awards (1962) were announced in early 1963, to everyone’s surprise, both Eleanor and Frank were nominated in their respective categories. Eleanor joined the esteemed list of Vladimir Nabokov (“Lolita”), William Gibson (“The Miracle Worker”), Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and the winner Horton Foote (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, while Frank found himself in the company of Pietro Germi (“Divorce Italian Style”), Arthur Penn (“The Miracle Worker”), Robert Mulligan (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), and the winner, David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia”) in the Best Director category.
Despite its superannuated view of both the causes and treatments of mental illness, Eleanor’s screenplay was itself adapted into a stage play in 1967 and an Oprah Winfrey-produced TV Movie in 1998.
POST TITLE: Eleanor Perry: One of the Great Screenwriters
CATEGORY: My Favorites
SUBCATEGORY: Underappreciated
STREAMING: Criterion Collection

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