The movie Charly and Flowers for Algernon

I recently read Flowers for Algernon by William Keyes, a classic science fiction story about a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence. (Read my review here.)

Today I watched the 1968 movie Charly, which is based on the book and stars Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. The movie was one of the most successful films made by ABC Motion Pictures and Robertson won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance.

While the film is dated in its style and effects, the main story is close to the one depicted in Flowers for Algernon. As with any book-to-movie, however, not everything is the same. The setting is changed (book in New York and movie in Boston), several side stories are omitted and the romantic element altered. I was disappointed that the movie didn’t include references to Charly’s childhood relationships, especially those with his family, because I feel they explain a lot about how he came to forgive or at least accept how his mother, father and sister treated him. I think if the movie were made today, the directors might focus on some of these aspects.

There’s definitely a 60s feel to it, particularly at its climax, when Charly begins to understand how he’s been treated and what will happen to him. He goes off on a wild spree and at that point, I felt I was watching something out of The Mod Squad because of the effects and music.

I liked watching it so soon after reading the book, which I enjoyed very much. It’s impossible not to compare for accuracy and, even though there are some differences, I thought the movie was entertaining.

Not all reviews were positive, however.

Vincent Canby, an American film and theater critic called Charly a “self-conscious contemporary drama, the first ever to exploit mental retardation for… the bittersweet romance of it.” He added, “we [the audience] are forced into the vaguely unpleasant position of being voyeurs, congratulating ourselves for not being Charly as often as we feel a distant pity for him.”

But Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars out of 4 and, in 2009, Entertainment Weekly included Charly in its “25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever.”

Have you watched the movie? What did you think?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

If you like book-to-movie comparisons, check out these previous posts:

The Age of Innocence
Billy Bathgate
The Dinner
The Great Gatsby
The Light Between Oceans
The Lincoln Lawyer
The Martian


6 thoughts on “The movie Charly and Flowers for Algernon

    1. I think only sometimes the movie is better, but most of the time, the directors can’t include all the things that make the book good. I remember reading Bonfire of the Vanities and thinking what a great book it was, but the movie was a complete flop! Thanks for the visit – making my rounds through comments after a couple days away from the blog!

  1. The movie Charly was one of the first film adaptations I saw as a child, and I couldn’t wait to read the novel after I saw it. I think this was the beginning of my belief that I should either watch the movie first or allow plenty of time between reading the novel and watching the movie … because “the book is always better.” Thanks for both reviews, Barbara; they brought back fond memories.

    1. Hi, I can’t remember if I saw the movie before, but I remember reading the book in high school. I thought both were very good. As for the the book or movie debate, I think sometimes the movie is better, but it’s usually the other way around! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. Ha! We had talked about that book recently 🙂 As far as book-to-film comparisons go, my top two would be A Clockwork Orange (great book and Kubrick’s best film, imho), and Heart of Darkness -> Apocalypse Now. Those are the two instances where the film was as good (or better?) than the book. Anyway, thanks for the post.

    1. These are great examples, Jeff. Although I have only seen the movie of A Clockwork Orange, and haven’t read the book. But I read both Heart of Darkness and saw Apocalypse Now and appreciated what the filmmakers did with that story. Thanks for reading and commenting – on to the next book!

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