The Subject Was Roses (film)

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The Subject Was Roses
Original poster
Directed byUlu Grosbard
Produced byEdgar Lansbury
Written byFrank D. Gilroy
Based onThe Subject Was Roses
1964 play
by Frank D. Gilroy
StarringPatricia Neal
Jack Albertson
Martin Sheen
Music byLee Pockriss
CinematographyJack Priestley
Edited byGerald B. Greenberg
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • October 13, 1968 (1968-10-13)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,375,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

The Subject Was Roses is a 1968 American Metrocolor drama film directed by Ulu Grosbard. The screenplay by Frank D. Gilroy is based on his 1964 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same title.

The film stars Patricia Neal, Martin Sheen and Jack Albertson. Albertson won an Academy Award for his performance.


Returning to his Bronx home following World War II, Timmy Cleary (Martin Sheen) discovers his middle class parents have drifted apart and constantly quarrel at the least provocation. Once closer to his mother Nettie (Patricia Neal), the young veteran finds himself bonding with his salesman father, John (Jack Albertson), but he tries to remain neutral when intervening in their disputes.

En route home after a day trip to the family's summer cottage with his father, Timmy purchases a bouquet of roses and suggests John present them to his wife. Nettie is thrilled by his apparent thoughtfulness, and the three spend the evening nightclubbing in Manhattan. When an inebriated John, whose infidelities have already been revealed, attempts to make love to his wife later that night, Nettie rejects his advances, suggesting he go to "one of his whores", and breaks the vase of flowers, prompting her husband to reveal it really was Timmy who bought them.

The following morning, while John is at Sunday Mass, Timmy accuses his mother of trying to make him choose between his parents, and she goes out to allow both of them time to calm down. When she returns, she finds John arguing with their half-drunk son. Realizing the domestic situation is not likely to improve, Timmy announces he is leaving home, a decision his parents grudgingly accept. When he changes his mind, his father insists he stick to his plan, and the three eat breakfast together before he departs.



This was the first film directed by Ulu Grosbard, who had been nominated for the Tony Award for his direction of the 1964 Broadway production of Frank D. Gilroy's play.[2] Joining him were original cast members Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen as John and Timmy Cleary; Patricia Neal replaced Irene Dailey in the role of Nettie.

The film was a significant comeback for Neal, who was recovering from a debilitating stroke she had suffered three years earlier and hadn't appeared on screen since In Harm's Way in 1965. During filming, the actress was beset with memory problems and physical limitations she struggled to overcome, and in her autobiography As I Am, she described the experience as a career milestone that convinced her she still was a good actress. She also discussed her effort to memorize a five-page monologue she was required to do in one take and her pride at doing so successfully.[3]

The film was shot on location in New York City, Spring Lake, New Jersey, and Belmar, New Jersey (the Belmar Fishing Club).

The soundtrack includes "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" (written by Sandy Denny) and "Albatross," both performed by Judy Collins (who wrote the latter song).

Critical reception[edit]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "one of those . . . middle-class domestic dramas that — for various reasons — time has passed by, as it has the Philco Playhouse . . . The play has been brought to the screen with flat, fatal fidelity by Mr. Gilroy . . . Quite awkwardly (since it makes you aware of everything else you are not seeing), the one-set play has been opened up with several excursions outside the Bronx apartment. What's worse, Mr. Grosbard has retained the Broadway pace, which is particularly evident in the performances of Mr. Albertson and Mr. Sheen . . . The tempo of the acting often seems to be outrunning the movie itself . . . Miss Neal's presence . . . gives the movie an emotional impact it wouldn't otherwise have . . . She has, in fact, simply too much style and wit for this kind of monosyllabic nonsense."[4]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times thought Gilroy's "extraordinary play . . . has been filmed with the greatest care, but it fails as a movie. It is hard to say exactly why. There's nothing obviously wrong, but when you walk out you don't feel as if you've been there. Something was missing." He added, "Part of the problem is with the actors, I think . . . Albertson and Sheen . . . talk loudly, their movements are too obvious, they are trying to project . . . Miss Neal, who knows the movies, is better suited to the medium. She holds back, she suggests more than she reveals, and when all three actors are on camera her performance makes the other two look embarrassingly theatrical. And there is where the movie fails."[5]

Variety said, "The terrific writing, which top-notch performances make more magnificent, displays a wide range of human emotions, without recourse to cheap sensationalism or dialog. Grosbard's perceptive direction keeps the bickering and banter from becoming shrill histrionics."[6]

TV Guide rated the film four stars, citing "the terrific acting, sharp writing, and outstanding direction from Grosbard" and adding, "Never does the emotion explode into oratory, so almost every scene has an underlying tension that continues to bubble."[7]

The film has a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but the number of people who voted (6) is very small.[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Patricia Neal Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jack Albertson Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Martin Sheen Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Patricia Neal Nominated
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films The Subject Was Roses Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  2. ^ "Internet Broadway Database". Archived from the original on 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  3. ^ "The Subject Was Roses (1968) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies.
  4. ^ The New York Times review
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (4 February 1969). "The Subject Was Roses".
  6. ^ Variety Staff. "The Subject Was Roses". Variety.
  7. ^ "The Subject Was Roses".
  8. ^

External links[edit]