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