Martin Scorsese (director)
BFI Film (studio)
27 March 2017 (released)
03 April 2017
This 1974 movie is a comparatively early Martin Scorsese number and really quite untypical of the kind of film Scorsese was to become associated with in later years. Apparently the star, Ellen Burstyn, had a considerable hand in getting this project under way. It is quintessentially a woman's film (although scripted by a man, Robert Getchell, who later created an 'Alice' TV series) which makes a pleasant change from the usual foul-mouthed macho stuff.
Alice Hyatt (E. Burstyn) is trapped in a futile and seemingly loveless marriage to one asshole of a guy called Donald (Billy Bush), a truck driver who gets killed in a traffic accident. Alice packs up her few belongings, sells off the rest, and together with her wisecrack of a young son Tommy (Alfred Lutter) heads off to her former hometown Monterey on California’s west coast to pursue her old dream of a singing career – a dream that came to a halt when she got married. Unfortunately though she’s pretty broke and circumstances force her and Tommy to stay in motels whilst looking for a job as a singer. During a stay in Phoenix, Arizona, an old guy is sympathetic to her plight (she bursts into tears and he takes pity) and offers her a job as a unappreciated lounge singer in a seedy watering hole. It soon gets worse when she gets chatted up by yet another persistent wannabe-paramour called Ben (Harvey Keitel) who simply won’t take ‘no’ for an answer - despite Alice initially telling him to get lost. If only she could have stuck to her guns… She ends up in bed with him but it isn't too long before she finds that he is married to a little terrified wife called Rita (Lane Bradbury) who he beats up (presumably on a regular basis). During one confrontation between Rita and Alice, out of the blue Ben appears and turns out to be a complete and utter psycho – so terrifying in fact that Alice leaves town again before you can say “Help!”
This time ‘round she and Tommy end up in Tucson where she gets a job as a waitress in a diner dominated by loudmouth waitress Flo Castleberry (Diane Ladd) and nice but timid and utterly useless waitress Vera (Valerie Curtin). Tempers between Flo and Alice tend to flare up quickly and if this wasn’t enough trouble enough our poor heroine has to endure the whims and pranks of her brattish son. Fear not, romance is about to bloom again - this time it's local rancher David (Kris Kristofferson), one of the diner regulars. Will things work out this time?
This is Ellen Burstyn's film and it was some mighty contrast after her performance in The Exorcist. Burstyn rightly received a number of well-deserved plaudits for her performance as the long-suffering Alice and there must be quite a few single mothers who will equate with her plight. Alfred Lutter is also on key as her somewhat troublesome Tommy though the friendship between mother and son is quite touching. Jodie Foster appears briefly as the streetwise and Artful Dodger-like Audrey, Tommy’s new friend who sounds like she smokes a few Havana's a day. Keitel is simply Keitel in yet another bravura performance. Kristofferson doesn't come in until halfway through the film and it’s easy to see why Alice would fall for his a little rough-round-the-edges charm. As an actor there is no middle ground with Kristofferson, you either like him or you don't. As is usual with Scorsese we have the usual mixed bag of musical numbers ranging from Marc Bolan to Gershwin to Hank Williams etc. to accompany the action.