Oscar winner Cliff Robertson may be best known to modern audiences as Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-07). However, his crowning achievement came in 1968, when he won the Best Actor Oscar for playing the title role in Charly. Based on the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Charly Gordon is a 30-something mentally handicapped man who longs to be smarter. He lives in a shabby room, containing little more than a bed, bureau, small table, and a chalkboard where he carefully writes the next day’s tasks. He works as a sweeper in a bread factory where his co-workers, he sees as buddies, tease him constantly. He dutifully attends night school, but regardless of his dedication, reading and spelling just don’t make sense to him. He even takes regular tours of the city, but nothing seems to help.
Charly’s teacher, Alice (Claire Bloom, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) introduces him to doctors who just might have a solution. They’ve performed on operation on a mouse named Algernon that improved his intelligence, now their ready for a human. Charly readily agrees to be the guinea pig. With time, and a lot of attention, Charly transforms into a genius. However, his emotional development lags. That’s not surprising, since his entire life has been transformed in a matter of months. Complicating matters, he falls in Alice, who soon finds herself reciprocating those feelings. Just when Charly and Alice seem on the road to a lifetime of happiness, he discovers that surgery isn’t a permanent fix.
While a subplot involving the doctor, who performed the surgery on Charly and his desire to showcase him at an international science conference bogs down the story, the highlight here is the performance of Cliff Robertson. In the early scenes we see him, childlike, naïve, living a simple life, and longing to be better. His sunny disposition makes him easy to root for, as he turns into a caring, very intelligent adult. Not having seen the film, I liked him so much, I hoped (though I knew better), he and Alice would have the long, happy life together they envisioned. Claire Bloom does a nice job as Alice; first a caring teacher, slowing trying to teach Charly things his mind has no ability to grasp, and then as a lover to a super intelligent man, admitting she’s not sure what she has to contribute to his life.
Directed by Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field), the film is very much a product of its era, and he gives the subject matter the light touch it deserves. The one obvious misstep is a brief scene involving a class of real-life mentally challenged children seems unnecessary, and exploitative. That aside, Charly is worth seeing for Cliff Robertson’s engrossing performance.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray is a brand new 2K master featuring 1080p resolution. Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the image is good, with a nice level of detail, particularly in close-up, and outdoor Boston scenes. Colors look strong throughout. There were no noticeable digital anomalies.
The English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio track is a strong one. Dialogue is clear throughout—Charly’s slurred vocabulary before his surgery is completely distinguishable—and Ravi Shankar’s score comes through nicely.
English Subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson
Movie title: Charly
Director(s): Ralph Nelson
Actor(s): Cliff Robertson, Claire Bloom , Lilia Skala , Ruth White , Dick Van Patten