Charly Review

This adaptation of Daniel Keyes' sci-fi novel Flowers for Algernon is slow and very dated, but manages to pull itself together for a fairly powerful ending. Keyes's book took a rather silly premise -- a mentally handicapped adult, Charly Gordon (Cliff Robertson), undergoes an experimental operation to reverse his disability and give him supernormal intelligence -- and created a disturbing psychological study and a complex portrait of mental disability.

The plot is somewhat predictable, but it's what you do with it along the way that counts. Keyes did a lot. Unfortunately, the film version (renamed Charly) doesn't do much beyond the obvious. As Charly gains intelligence, we're supposed to see the world develop through his eyes, but mostly we just see him studying and having boring conversations with love interest Claire Bloom. Robertson won an Oscar for the role, but his portrayal of the mentally disabled Charly seems crude by today's standards and inconsistent in tone - at times he's suspiciously aware, other times unrealistically slow. Robertson does better with Charly the genius, but this part of the film doesn't last that long and feels like an Outer Limits episode, with Robertson talking about the dehumanizing future and walking around in a lab coat narrating silly "scientific" dialogue.

The main problem with this film is that it was made in 1968. The love scenes - montages of Bloom chasing him around the park, close-ups of oak leaves, and the couple driving in a roadster - are absurdly trite. There's also a really stupid psychedelic cutaway sequence with Charly crashing a Harley and smoking pot with goateed, Nehru-jacketed hippies which was dated by 1969. (And by the way, the soundtrack by Ravi Shankar doesn't sound very Indian, and it isn't very good.)

Then comes the end of Charly's arc, when he learns that the effects of the operation are temporary. Here the movie achieves real pathos in a series of moving scenes. In particular, Bloom's portrayal of the loyal Alice (who asks him to marry her, knowing that he has only a short time left as an emotional adult) rescues the film from mediocrity and gives poignancy to the bleak ending.

It might have been better if this film had been made in the seventies, since the first part of the story would have benefited from a more modern and realistic approach. On the flipside, in the wrong hands the ending could have easily been more manipulative. As it stands, Charly/Algernon is another example of a memorable book which ends up diluted by the lesser talents of screenwriters.


Facts and Figures

Run time: 103 mins

In Theaters: Monday 23rd September 1968

Production compaines: Sangsho Film

Reviews 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew


Producer: , Selig J. Seligman

Starring: Kolia Litscher as Nicolas, as Charly, Jeanne Mauborgne as Vieille Dame, Abdelkader Belkhodja as Vieil Homme, Philippe Chevassu as Le Prof, Jean-Max Causse as L'automobiliste, Camille Grynko as Le motard