1968 Theatrical Poster
|Directed by||Ralph Nelson|
|Produced by||Ralph Nelson|
|Screenplay by||Stirling Silliphant|
|Based on||Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes|
Dick Van Patten
|Music by||Ravi Shankar|
|Editing by||Fredric Steinkamp|
|Studio||ABC Motion Pictures
Robertson and Associates
|Running time||106 minutes|
|Box office||$8,500,000 (rentals)|
Charly is a 1968 American film directed by Ralph Nelson. The drama stars Cliff Robertson (in an Academy Award-winning performance), Claire Bloom, Lilia Skala, Leon Janney and Dick Van Patten and tells the story of a mentally retarded bakery worker who is the subject of an experiment to increase human intelligence. The movie was adapted by Stirling Silliphant from the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
Charlie Gordon (Cliff Robertson), a mentally handicapped man with a strong desire to make himself smarter, has been attending night school for two years where he has been taught by Alice Kinnian (Claire Bloom) to read and write. However, his spelling remains poor and he is even unable to spell his own name.
Alice takes Charlie to the "Nemur-Straus" clinic run by Dr. Richard Nemur and Dr. Anna Straus. Nemur and Straus have been increasing the intelligence of laboratory mice with a new surgical procedure and are looking for a human test subject. As part of a series of tests to ascertain Charlie's suitability for the procedure, he is made to race Algernon, one of the laboratory mice. Algernon physically runs through a maze while Charlie uses a pencil to trace his way through a diagram of the same maze. Charlie is disappointed that he consistently loses the races. Nevertheless, he is given the experimental surgery.
After the surgery, Charlie is initially angered that he is not immediately smarter than he was before and still loses in races against Algernon. Eventually, however, he beats Algernon in a race and then his intelligence starts increasing rapidly. Alice continues to teach him, but he soon surpasses her. Charlie's co-workers also try to tease him by making him work on a machine that they believe he will not be able to work. When Charlie shows he can work the machine, his co-workers are not pleased with the fact that he is now intelligent and cannot be teased anymore. They sign a petition against him and he loses his job at the bakery. Charlie also starts staring at Alice's bottom and breasts as well as drawing and painting abstract nude figures of her. He also questions whether Alice loves her fiancé. One night, Charlie follows Alice back to her apartment and sexually assaults her, pulling her to the floor and kissing her forcefully until she breaks free by slapping him.
The film then uses a montage sequence to show Charlie with a mustache and goatee riding a motorcycle, kissing a series of different women, smoking and dancing. At the end of the sequence, Charlie has returned home and Alice comes to visit him, both having learned during their time apart that they want to be together. A further montage sequence shows Charlie and Alice running through woods and kissing under trees accompanied by a voice-over of the two of them talking about marriage.
Straus and Nemur present their research to a panel of scientists, including a question and answer session with Charlie. Charlie is aggressive during the session and then reveals that Algernon has just died, causing Charlie to believe that his own increased intelligence is only temporary. After suffering visions of his intelligence fading and of the Charlie from before the operation following him, Charlie decides to work with Nemur and Straus to see if he can be saved. Charlie discovers that there is nothing that can be done to prevent his own intelligence from fading. Alice visits Charlie and asks him to marry her, but he refuses and tells her to leave.
Alice watches Charlie playing with children in a playground, having reverted to his former self.
- Cliff Robertson – Charlie Gordon
- Claire Bloom – Alice Kinian
- Lilia Skala – Dr. Anna Straus
- Leon Janney – Dr. Richard Nemur
- Ruth White – Mrs. Apple
- Dick Van Patten – Bert (as Richard Van Patten)
- Edward McNally – Gimpy (as Skipper McNally)
- Barney Martin – Hank
- William Dwyer – Joey
- Dan Morgan – Paddy
Production history 
The novel had been the basis of The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon, a 1961 television adaptation in which Robertson had also starred for CBS's U. S. Steel Hour. Robertson bought the rights to the story, hoping to star in the film version as well. He originally hired William Goldman to do the screenplay based on Goldman's No Way to Treat a Lady, paying him $30,000 out of his own pocket. Robertson was unhappy with Goldman's work and then hired Stirling Silliphant to do a draft.
Box Office 
The film was a hit, earning $7.25 million in theatrical rentals during its release in North America, and it earned an additional $1.25 million in theatrical rentals overseas. It was the 16th highest grossing film of 1968. After all costs were deducted (including $1,325,000 paid to profit share), the film reported a profit of $1,390,000, making it one of the most successful movies ever made by ABC Pictures.
Critical Reception 
Vincent Canby called the film a "self-conscious contemporary drama, the first ever to exploit mental retardation for...the bittersweet romance of it"; he called Robertson's performance "earnest" but points out that "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. " Canby calls Nelson's direction "neo-Expo 67", referring to the use of split screen to "show simultaneously the reactions of two people facing each other and conversing" and the use of "little postage stamp-sized inserts of images within the larger screen frame. " Time magazine called Charly an "odd little movie about mental retardation and the dangers of all-conquering science, done with a dash of whimsy." While "the historic sights in and around Charly's Boston setting have never been more lovingly filmed", "The impact of [Robertson's] performance...is lessened by Producer-Director Ralph Nelson's determination to prove that he learned how to be new and now at Expo '67: almost every other sequence is done in split screens, multiple images, still shots or slow motion. " Screenwriter (and Hollywood blacklist target) Maurice Rapf called Robertson's performance "extraordinary" and called "astonishing" his on-screen "transformation from one end of the intellectual spectrum to the other"; Rapf took issue with what he called the "pyrotechnics of the camera" and the "flashy opticals", calling the effects "jarringly out of place" and better suited for a "no-story mod film like The Knack. "
Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, saying "The relationship between Charly (Cliff Robertson) and the girl (Claire Bloom) is handled delicately and well. She cares for him, but inadequately understands the problems he's facing. These become more serious when he passes normal IQ and moves into the genius category; his emotional development falls behind. It is this story, involving a personal crisis, which makes Charly a warm and rewarding film. " By contrast, Ebert pointed out "the whole scientific hocus-pocus, which causes his crisis, is irrelevant and weakens the movie by distracting us. "
At the 41st Academy Awards, Robertson won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, under some controversy: less than two weeks after the ceremony, Time magazine mentioned the Academy's generalized concerns over "excessive and vulgar solicitation of votes" and said "many members agreed that Robertson's award was based more on promotion than on performance. " The film was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, losing to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Proposed sequel 
In the late 1970s, following a period of extended unemployment that followed an act of whistle-blowing against David Begelman, the then-president of Columbia Pictures, Robertson wrote and attempted to produce Charly II, to no avail.
Home video release 
- "Charly (1968): Original Print Information". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- "ABC's 5 Years of Film Production Profits & Losses", Variety, 31 May 1973 p 3
- "Charly (1968): Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- Karen, Zraick (September 11, 2011). "Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson dies in US at 88". Associated Press. Retrieved September 12, 2011.
- Dennis Brown, Shoptalk, Newmarket Press, 1992 p 63
- William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 164-176
- Vincent Canby (September 24, 1968). "The Screen: Cliff Robertson in Title Role of Charly". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- "Cinema: Medical Menace". Time. October 18, 1968. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- "Maurice Rapf, 88, Screenwriter and Film Professor". The New York Times. 2003-04-18.
- Maurice Rapf (November 1, 1968). Is Charly Cuter Than Necessary?. Life. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- Roger Ebert (December 31, 1968). "Charly". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- "25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever". Entertainment Weekly. 2009-06-26. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- "Awards for 1968". National Board of Review. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- "The Trade: Grand Illusion". Time. April 25, 1969. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- "1969 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- Michelle Green (December 5, 1983). "Hollywood's Mr. Clean Shot Down David Begelman; Now the Actor Has Pulled His Career Out of a Nose Dive". People (Time Inc.) 20 (23). Retrieved 2011-03-25. "Hoping to capitalize on his 1968 Oscar-winning role in Charly, playing a mentally retarded man who becomes, briefly, a genius, he wrote and began peddling Charly II, only to have the film's backers pull out."