The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (film)

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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Original Poster
Directed by Paul Newman
Produced by Paul Newman
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent
Based on The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel
Starring Joanne Woodward
Nell Potts
Roberta Wallach
Judith Lowry
David Spielberg
Richard Venture
Carolyn Coates
Will Hare
Estelle Owens
Jess Osuna
Ellen Dano
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Adam Holender
Edited by Evan A. Lottman
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 20, 1972 (1972-12-20)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is a 1972 American drama film produced and directed by Paul Newman. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same title by Paul Zindel. Newman cast his wife, Joanne Woodward, and one of their daughters, Nell Potts, in two of the lead roles. Roberta Wallach, daughter of Eli Wallach, played the third lead.


Middle-aged widow Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Joanne Woodward) and her daughters Ruth (Roberta Wallach) and Matilda (Nell Potts) are struggling to survive in a society they barely understand. Beatrice dreams of opening an elegant tea room but does not have the wherewithal to achieve her lofty goal. Epileptic Ruth is a rebellious adolescent, while shy but highly intelligent and idealistic Matilda seeks solace in her pets and school projects, including one which gives the film its title.

Matilda's science experiment is designed to show how small amounts of gamma radiation from cobalt 60 affect marigolds; some die, but others transform into strange but beautiful mutations completely unlike the original plants. Similarly, Matilda has managed to muddle through a grim existence in a dilapidated, debris-ridden house in a lower middle class neighborhood, learning to deal with her embarrassing mother while managing to avoid becoming anything like her, a future for which her sister seems fated.


  • Joanne Woodward as Beatrice Hunsdorfer
  • Nell Potts as Matilda Hunsdorfer
  • Roberta Wallach as Ruth Hunsdorfer
  • Judith Lowry as Nanny
  • David Spielberg as Mr. Goodman
  • Richard Venture as Floyd
  • Carolyn Coates as Mrs. McKay
  • Will Hare as Junk Man
  • Estelle Omens as Caroline
  • Jess Osuna as Sonny
  • Ellen Dano as Janice Vickery
  • Lynne Rogers as Miss Hanley
  • Roger Serbagi as Charlie
  • John Lehne as Apartment Manager
  • Michael Kearney as Chris Burns
  • Dee Victor as Miss Wyant


Although the story was set in Staten Island, New York, director Newman said that he chose to shoot the film in Bridgeport, Connecticut because it was only 17 minutes from his home in Westport.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times observed, "The Effect of Gamma Rays is not a stupid film. The talents of everyone connected with it are unmistakable, including those of Mr. Newman, a director of plain, straight style. It's just that the basic material calls for a kind of second-rate bravura performance from everyone, from the production designer to the actors. There's no way to underplay it. At times I had the feeling that Miss Woodward was auditioning for the role of Sadie Thompson, and that Miss Wallach was occasionally in competition. Only Nell Potts (in private life, the daughter of Miss Woodward and Mr. Newman) is allowed to perform at something like a reasonable pace. It's a lovely, solemn performance in a film that otherwise succeeds in being simultaneously too barren and too busy, like Beatrice herself."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said the film "is hard-edged enough to be less depressing than it sounds" and noted "Joanne Woodward's performance is not like anything she's ever done before . . . It serves notice that she is capable of experimenting with roles that are against type and making them work." He added, "Paul Newman's direction is unobtrusive; he directs as we expect an actor might, looking for the dramatic content of a scene rather than its visual style . . . And the performance by Nell Potts is extraordinary. She glows."[3]

Variety commented, "Newman has gotten it all together here as a director, letting the story and the players unfold with simplicity, restraint and discernment."[4]

Time Out London called the film "an engaging adaptation" of the play "which sees Paul Newman's cool, lucid direction transforming what could have been a pretentious domestic drama into a touching account of small joys in sad and stunted lives ... Potts steals the movie, but what makes it so watchable is Newman's reluctance to sentimentalise."[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Joanne Woodward was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama but lost to Liv Ullmann in The Emigrants. She won the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress and was named Best Actress at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival,[6] where Paul Newman was nominated for the Palme d'Or.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Home Sweet Home for Newman". Connecticut Sunday Herald. Norwalk. 1972-07-30. p. 28. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  2. ^ New York Times review
  3. ^ Chicago Sun-Times review
  4. ^ Variety review
  5. ^ Time Out London review
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds". Retrieved 2009-04-18. 

External links[edit]