ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE

(1974)
With Ellen Burstyn, Alfred Lutter, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Green Bush, Diane Ladd, Vic Tayback, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster, Valerie Curtin
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Reviewed by JB

     Fresh from her success in THE EXORCIST, Ellen Burstyn came across the script for ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE and on the strength of Francis Ford Coppola's endorsement and a viewing of MEAN STREETS, met with Martin Scorsese to see if he would direct it.  Although she admired his enthusiasm and energy, she wasn't sure if he had what it took to do a "woman's" picture.  "What do you know about women?" she asked.

     "Nothing," replied Scorsese, "but I'd like to learn."

     You'd never know he knew nothing about women.  ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE is not just one of Scorsese's finest, most accessible films, it is a great example of how to make a great, entertaining socio-political movie based without being preachy.  It is a gentle comedy about one woman, her son and their side trips while trying to make it to Monterey.  The script is excellent, and in any other hands but Scorsese's, it would have still resulted in a good film.  Scorsese, however, brought the realism of MEAN STREETS to the project, resulting in a film that looks and feels like real life.

     However, this is Ellen Burstyn's film.  If Scorsese did not know anything about women, Burstyn did, and Scorsese stepped out of the way and let her do her stuff.  Her sweet, funny, emotionally complex portrayal of Alice Hyatt, the 35-year-old widow who dreams of being a professional singer, won her a well-deserved Best Actress award from the Academy.

     The supporting cast ranks among the best in Scorsese's history, with standouts being Diane Ladd as the foul-mouthed waitress Flo, and Vic Tayback as diner owner Mel, a role he would reprise on the popular television series Alice.  Jodie Foster plays a world-wise teen who befriends Alice's son, a turn that would lead to her famous role in Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER two years later.  Both Billy Green Bush and Harvey Keitel are frighteningly believable as abusive men in Alice's life, and Valerie Curtin is memorable as the not-quite-all-there waitress Vera.  Alfred Lutter as son Tommy and Kris Kristofferson as Alice's potential beau can be faulted for over-acting and underacting respectively, but they do nothing to hurt the movie.

     BOXCAR BERTHA proved Martin Scorsese could competently direct a movie.  MEAN STREETS proved he could direct a great personal movie.  It was ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE that first hinted that this Scorsese kid just might be capable of directing anything.  4 - JB

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BEHIND THE SCREEN

The famous "Shoot the dog!" scene, in which Alice is driven to near tears in a car listening to her son Tommy retell the same lame  joke again and again was added to the movie after Scorsese was similarly trapped in a car with child actor Alfred Lutter, who drove the director to near tears with that same lame joke.

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