The Ladd Company/Warner Brothers, 1983
Starring: Dudley Moore, Elizabeth McGovern, Alec Guinness, John Huston, and Ron Silver
Director: Marshall Brickman
The plot: Middle-aged married psychiatrist Saul (Moore) takes on beautiful young patient Chloe (McGovern) after her shrink dies. As soon as he meets her, he’s in love. Chloe is a playwright from the Midwest whose first New York production is being staged at Lincoln Center; she’s living with the play’s temperamental, egomaniacal star (Silver). The ghost of Dr. Sigmund Freud (Guinness) begins to visit Saul, often at inopportune moments. Larry, the grand old man of Manhattan shrinks (Huston) counsels Saul on his self-destructive behavior, while a board of ethics inquiry calls Saul in to consider revoking his license. Saul must choose between his feelings for Chloe and his wife and career.
Why it’s good: At first glance, this looks to be just another light-as-air romantic comedy that proliferated the ‘80s, but there’s much more to it than that. Writer-Director Marshall Brickman co-wrote Woody Allen’s gems “Sleeper,” “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan,” and his script is smart and moving, but never cloying. He also displays an elegant touch behind the camera, making the Central Park West area look as Cole Porter mythologized it. Moore, McGovern, and Guinness are all excellent, but the support from an ensemble cast — Alan King, Selma Diamond, David Strathairn, Wallace Shawn, Anne De Salvo director Gene Saks, and painter Larry Rivers (and that’s not all) — is stellar. Okay, so the characters are upscale, privileged Manhattanites (shrinks, art dealers, actors), but the film manages to be romantic, sexy, funny and thought-provoking in 95 brief minutes. Everyone involved here has the sure, relaxed hand of a true professional — Hollywood doing what it does best (when it bothers to).
Should I watch it? Moore was once a truly hot property, but some bad films and a sad end from a rare, cruel illness have clouded his legacy. He was brilliant as one of the “Beyond the Fringe” quartet on stage in the ’60s, and equally so when teamed with Peter Cook in several British films (and the scandalous “Pete ‘n’ Dud” comedy albums). He enjoyed hits with “Foul Play” and “10,” then received a best actor Oscar nomination for “Arthur.” A lot of fluff followed, but if you watch him in “Unfaithfully Yours” and “Lovesick,” you see some truly impressive timing, depth, and nuance in his acting. McGovern, now famous for portraying Cora Crowley in Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey,” is as charming and gorgeous here as she was in “Ragtime.” Guinness is a scream as Freud’s fhost with his Jewish-Viennese accent, puffing a cigar. Philippe Sarde turned in his usual excellent score. The whole film is incredibly appealing and worth watching. Unfortunately, the DVD edition is without extras.