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Melvin and Howard

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Original title
Melvin and Howard
Running time
95 min.
United States United States
Bo Goldman
Bruce Langhorne
Tak Fujimoto
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Universal Pictures
Comedy. Drama
Synopsis / Plot
Jonathan Demme would later become one of America's premiere directors, with an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs and numerous nominations to his credit, but it was this sublime 1980 comedy that put him on the Hollywood map. Esteemed critic Pauline Kael called it "an almost flawless act of sympathetic imagination," referring to the movie's semifictional treatment of the true story of Melvin Dummar (played to perfection by Paul LeMat), an average guy whose life was turned upside down when he was made beneficiary of a $156 million will allegedly signed by millionaire Howard Hughes. Demme and Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman do not concern themselves with the validity of Dummar's claim; they're more interested in showing how Melvin's life is transformed--not necessarily for the better--by the influx of sudden wealth. Melvin doesn't take easily to being rich, and in telling his story Melvin and Howard becomes a true American classic, guaranteed to stand the test of time and improve with age like John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath. It's also a rousing good comedy, largely due to Mary Steenburgen's Oscar-winning performance as Melvin's wife and the everyday integrity of Melvin as an admirably scrappy hero. With Jason Robards as the long-haired Hughes, whom Melvin had given a ride one cold desert night, never knowing that his simple act of kindness toward the hermit-like Hughes would eventually change his life. With its comical blend of fact and speculation, Melvin and Howard is a tribute to the little guy, celebrating the American dream and the average folks who struggle to make it real. --Jeff Shannon (from
1980: 2 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Mary Steenburgen), Original Screenplay
1980: Golden Globes: Best Supporting Actress (Mary Steenburgen). 4 Nominations
1980: New York Film Critics Circle: Best Director, Screenplay, Supp. Actress (Steenburgen). 5 Nominations
1980: Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Original Drama Screenplay
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