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Charly 1968.jpg
1968 theatrical release poster
Directed byRalph Nelson
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Based onFlowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes
Produced byRalph Nelson
StarringCliff Robertson
Claire Bloom
Leon Janney
Lilia Skala
Dick Van Patten
CinematographyArthur J. Ornitz
Edited byFredric Steinkamp
Music byRavi Shankar
ABC Pictures
Robertson and Associates
Selmur Productions
Distributed byCinerama Releasing Corporation
Release dates
June 28, 1968 (Berlin)
September 23, 1968 (New York City)[1]
Running time
106 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$8,500,000 (rentals)[3]

Charly (marketed and stylized as CHAЯLY) is a 1968 American drama film directed and produced by Ralph Nelson and written by Stirling Silliphant. It is based on Flowers for Algernon, a science-fiction short story (1958) and subsequent novel (1966) by Daniel Keyes.

The film stars Cliff Robertson as Charly Gordon, an intellectually disabled adult who is selected by two doctors to undergo a surgical procedure that triples his IQ as it had done for a laboratory mouse who underwent the same procedure. The film also stars Claire Bloom, Lilia Skala, Leon Janney, Dick Van Patten and Barney Martin. Robertson had played the same role in a 1961 television adaptation titled "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon," an episode of the anthology series The United States Steel Hour.

The film received positive reviews and was a success at the box office and later, in home media sales. Robertson won Best Actor at the Academy Awards.


Charly Gordon is an intellectually disabled man who lives in Boston. He has a desire to learn; He has attended night school two years. He learns to read and write. His teacher is Alice Kinnian. His spelling and penmanship are poor as he is unable to spell his own name. He works at the local bakery as a janitor. His coworkers take advantage of his disability, finding it amusing that his limitations make it so easy to trip him up. Charly enjoys playing with children at the playground, due to being childlike.

Alice takes Charly to researchers Dr. Richard Nemur and Dr. Anna Straus who experiment with increasing intelligence. After a new surgical procedure is successful with mice, they are looking for a human test subject to try the same operation. Charly is selected and is given aptitude tests. He is given a paper maze to solve and Algernon, a mouse who has had the procedure, is given the same maze. Algernon runs through this maze while Charly uses a pencil to trace his way through the diagram of the same maze. Algernon consistently solves the maze faster than Charly. Charly is selected for the experimental surgery.

After surgery, Charly loses to Algernon again. He is frustrated at not immediately becoming smarter. After some time passes, he finally beats Algernon. His intelligence begins to increase. At the bakery, Charly's coworkers try tricking him, asking that he operate a machine that is too complex for even them to operate. They hope that he will break it. But he successfully works the machine. They become embarrassed that he is now so intelligent, more intelligent than they are. They are frightened. The bakery fires Charly.

Alice continues teaching him, but his intelligence continues to increase and eventually surpasses her level of intelligence. Charly becomes infatuated with Alice and confesses his love for her. She rejects him, but then realizes that they can be married; he is no longer disabled.

Nemur and Straus present their research at a convention. Playing the film of Charly's original aptitude tests, Charly is brought out for questions-and-answers. At this point, Charly is a genius, with an intellect that appears to surpass every scientist in the room. He answers every question with aplomb.

Algernon dies as a side effect of the procedure. The research team tries to hide it from Charly. But because both Dr. Nemur and Dr. Straus hid Algernon's condition from him, Charly is angered. The enhanced intelligence is slowly fading.

Charly overhears Alice, Dr. Nemur and Dr. Straus discussing they keep Algernon's regression a secret. At this point, he is still more intelligent than both doctors. Charly offers to help with the research; he works with Nemur and Straus in hope that his intelligence can be saved. The results indicated that nothing can be done. The results show his regression will be worse than his original condition. Charly falls into depression, and after losing his mental ability, isolates himself.

Alice visits Charly. At that point, his intelligence equals hers. She asks him to marry her, but Charly refuses, asking her to leave and never return. Some time later, Alice finds Charly playing at a playground with children. His regression is complete.


Music by[edit]

Production history[edit]


Photo from the 1961 television presentation "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon", with Mona Freeman in the role of Alice.

The short story Flowers for Algernon had previously 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.[4] Robertson had starred in a number of television shows that were turned into films with other actors playing his roles, such as Days of Wine and Roses. He bought the rights to the story, hoping to star in the film version as well.[5]

Robertson originally hired William Goldman to write the screenplay on the strength of Goldman's novel No Way to Treat a Lady, paying him $30,000 out of his own pocket.[6] However, Robertson was unhappy with Goldman's work and then hired Stirling Silliphant to write a draft.[7]

Robertson received only $25,000 for his role in the film.[8]


The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on June 28, 1968.[1] It then opened at the Baronet Theatre in New York City on September 23, 1968.[1]

Box office[edit]

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, making it the 16th-highest-grossing film of 1968.[9] 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 few successful films made by Selmur/ABC Pictures.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

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."[10] 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] 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."[11] Screenwriter (and Hollywood blacklist target[12]) Maurice Rapf[13] 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."[14]

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."[15]

In 2009, Entertainment Weekly listed Charly among its "25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever."[16]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actor Cliff Robertson Won
Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Ralph Nelson Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Cliff Robertson Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Stirling Silliphant Won
Hugo Awards[17] Best Dramatic Presentation Ralph Nelson (director), Stirling Silliphant (screenplay) and Daniel Keyes (original story) Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Drama Nominated
Top Male Dramatic Performance Cliff Robertson Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[18] Top Ten Films 4th Place
Best Actor Cliff Robertson Won

Cliff Robertson won the Academy Award for Best Actor, but 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 that "many members agreed that Robertson's award was based more on promotion than on performance."[19] As time went on, many saw Robertson's performance to be weaker compared to other nominees, such as Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter.

Proposed sequel[edit]

In the late 1970s, following a period of extended unemployment after having alerted authorities to illegal activities committed by Columbia Pictures president David Begelman, Robertson wrote and attempted to produce Charly II, to no avail.[20]

Home media[edit]

Charly was released on Region 1 DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on March 31, 2005.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Charly at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "Charly (1968): Original Print Information". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "ABC's 5 Years of Film Production Profits & Losses", Variety, May 31, 1973, pg 3.
  4. ^ "Charly (1968): Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  5. ^ Karen, Zraick (September 11, 2011). "Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson dies in US at 88". Associated Press. Retrieved September 12, 2011.
  6. ^ Dennis Brown, Shoptalk, Newmarket Press, 1992 p 63
  7. ^ William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 164-176
  8. ^ Loynd, Ray (April 25, 1969). "No Flap Over Oscar Absence--Robertson". Los Angeles Times. p. i10.
  9. ^ "Top Grossing Films of 1968".
  10. ^ Vincent Canby (September 24, 1968). "The Screen: Cliff Robertson in Title Role of Charly". The New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  11. ^ "Cinema: Medical Menace". Time. October 18, 1968. Archived from the original on October 29, 2010. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  12. ^ "Maurice Rapf, 88, Screenwriter and Film Professor". The New York Times. April 18, 2003.
  13. ^ "Maurice Rapf".
  14. ^ Maurice Rapf (November 1, 1968). "Is Charly Cuter Than Necessary?". Life. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  15. ^ Roger Ebert (December 31, 1968). "Charly". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  16. ^ "25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever". Entertainment Weekly. June 26, 2009. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  17. ^ "1969 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. July 26, 2007. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  18. ^ "Awards for 1968". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  19. ^ "The Trade: Grand Illusion". Time. April 25, 1969. Retrieved March 25, 2011.[dead link]
  20. ^ 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. 20 (23). Retrieved March 25, 2011. 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.

External links[edit]