By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Fighting for her sanity.
In celebration of Barbra Streisand turning 72 on April 24th we will be reviewing three of her films, one from each decade during the week. This one is based on the Broadway play by Tom Topor dealing with a high priced call girl named Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand) who murders one of her customers (Leslie Nielson) in self-defense and is arrested. Her mother (Maureen Stapleton) and step father (Karl Malden) think she should be diagnosed as incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental institution, but she with the help of her lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss) fight for her right to stand trial.
The story and characters evolve in layers, which I liked, but Streisand doesn’t seem right for the part. Her presence makes it seem too much like a star vehicle instead of the character driven story that it should be. Her cantankerous outbursts become a bit excessive and self-destructive making it hard at times to cheer for her or empathize. In the Broadway play the character was played by a woman in her twenties, which made more sense and would’ve worked better instead of casting someone who was already 45.
Seeing her in provocative poises in snapshots that her lawyer obtains is a bit weird but fun as a novelty as is the scene where she spreads her legs without the benefit of any underwear for Dreyfuss, but having her constantly shown with a bright spotlight around her seems disconcerting. It gives her a ghostly appearance and makes her stand out in the wrong way.
The veteran supporting cast comes off better since they wisely underplay it as opposed to her overplaying. Stapleton is quite good especially the moving scenes showing her crying as she listens to her daughter’s testimony. James Whitmore is solid as the thoughtful judge, but it’s Dreyfuss who carries it as the feisty and sometimes exasperated counsel.
This film is also a milestone as it is the last time Leslie Neilson performed in a non-comedic role. He is surprisingly chilling as the psychotic attacker who was apparently so convincing that it scared Streisand during the filming of the scene.
There are times when it gets a bit too theatrical. The judge advises Claudia to quit disrupting the proceedings, but then she continues to do so anyways, which would have gotten most people thrown out of the courtroom. The scene where she sits on the witness stand and describes being a hooker in a very sensual and seductive way seemed over-the-top in a court of law as is the part where she is allowed to wander around the courtroom going on a long rant while everyone else just sits there and passively listens.
Still on the whole I found most of it to be quite riveting and as a drama its first- rate. I just felt Striesand’s presence didn’t help it. She can be quite good in certain other roles just not here. The part was originally intended for Debra Winger who I feel would have fared better.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: November 20, 1987
Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes
Director: Martin Ritt
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video