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Charly

Ralph Nelson

Charly
A colleague of mine often expresses contempt for what he calls "the gimp role," which is some sort of mentally- or physically-challenged person cynically contrived to make an actor look heroic. He'd be all over Charly, whose quintessential gimpishness was intense enough to earn Cliff Roberson an Oscar. The adaptation of Daniel Keyes' cult novel Flowers for Algernon posits Roberson as Charlie Gordon, a mentally-disabled man whose intelligence is spiked by an experimental treatment. After failing for two years to beat an augmented mouse in solving a maze, he becomes a genius, discovers how the "normal" world has been laughing at him and falls in love with his teacher (a gently condescending Claire Bloom), only to discover that the effects of the operation are temporary. A sharp mind could have drawn some conclusions about the social definition of intelligence, but the opportunity is squandered in an orgy of "with it" '60s moralising and cheesy melodrama straight from the primordial ooze. Whatever the limitations of the novel, it trapped you in the protagonist's POV and made you see from his confused perspective; the movie makes an external and shameless spectacle of his tics and childish credulity to squeeze out those tears and find that lump in your throat. Things are not helped by Ralph Nelson's direction, which throws around a few post-French New Wave camera tricks to no discernable purpose and splits the screen like there's no tomorrow — you get the feeling he senses the Rod McKuen tone of the script and knows he's got to hide it. In the end, it's all for naught, proving as Tarantino did that gimps should stay in the trunk, where they belong. (MGM)

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