Lost And Found Series: Chapter 13: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Art & Culture

HAPPY 2015 MY FELLOW LOST AND FOUNDERS!! I hope we all had an eventful Christmas and New Years. It has been a while; the last time we found something was the Christmas double special then took a break at the end of 2014 to give a warm welcome to 2015. Now it is back to business as usual. For the first chapter of the New Year we are going back to the usual darkly comical territory, but this time with a poetic twist. We shall laugh, cry and be frustrated as we enter the world of infamous poet Gowan McGland in Reuben, Reuben.


Film: Reuben, Reuben

Cast: Tom Conti, Kelly McGillis, Roberts Blossom and Lois Smith


Director: Robert Ellis Miller


Writers: Julius J. Epstein, Herman Shumlin and Peter De Vries


Although Reuben, Reuben was a quiet hit at the time of its release in 1983, even going as far as to receiving Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Writing, little is known about its production or the film itself as it pretty much faded into obscurity. What is known however is it was adapted by Julius J. Epstein, a successful screenwriter who also wrote the romantic Hollywood classic Casablanca. The source was a play by theatre director Herman Shumlin called Spofford, which was originally adapted from the novel Reuben, Reuben written by American novelist Peter De Vries.  That’s just a little confusing now isn’t it? Let’s jump into the film now.


Gowan McGland (Tom Conti) is a Scottish poet that has not written a word in years. Instead he does the occasional lecture, looks down at the rich and wealthy residents of the small Connecticut town he lives in, steals tips from waiters to get by, drinks excessive amounts of Whisky and sleeps with bored middle-class housewives that find his bitter charm irresistible. However, one day McGland falls for young college student Geneva Spofford (Kelly McGillis in her debut film role) and he starts to see the brighter side of life. However, his own insecurities start to get the best of him and all his wrong doings appear to be coming back and haunting him as he struggles to remain happy with Geneva and be inspired to write again and not end up alone.


Ladies and gentlemen, we have a dialogue film here. Reuben, Reuben is definitely placed in the found category due to its powerhouse performance from Tom Conti and more importantly  insanely well-written hostile sharp script by Epstein, Shumlin and De Vries. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the acid-tongued McGland and his numerous memorable put-downs, which they are delivered perfectly by Conti. What makes Reuben, Reuben such a rare gem of a film and not too harsh to enjoy is the character of McGland is consistent in his nasty observations and never backs down. He is his own worst enemy and yet his own best friend too. Although he does eventually fall in love with young college student Geneva Spofford, this does not necessarily effect what he says just merely how he says it. McGland is something of an anti-hero, the audience roots for him because we believe that underneath all the sarcastic remarks that there may be some hidden warmth. On the other hand some may even relish in his hostility towards establishments. Although he despises the rich, McGland does not mind leaching off them and rather enjoys mocking anyone that succumbs to his unique charm. He finds it fun to live off the rich by channelling the bored lifestyle of married suburban couples and ridiculing it  by letting them take him out to expensive restaurants then sleeping with the wives. Although, at one stage when karma starts to play a part in McGland’s life the viewer witnesses that he has picked the wrong couple and a successful dentist gets his own back in a very cruel yet effective manner.


Conti’s performance as McGland is really something to marvel at as he walks around in a drunken limbo in his tweed suit, mischievous facial expressions and always equipped with stinging one-liners to anybody that thinks twice. In one of the many memorable scenes when he is giving a talk at one of his lectures to a group of affluent women that are in awe of him and his work, somebody asks if a man of his statue would ever ready trashy material. He responds he reads everything no matter what it is. The lady does not believe him and continues to pursue the truth to which McGland calmly states, “There are no trashy writers, only trashy readers”.


The rest of the cast do very well and have good performances also, with a fresh faced Kelly McGillis in her film debut years before she met fame in Top Gun starring alongside Tom Cruise. It should be said that considering this was her first showing McGillis is very impressive and holds her own against Conti. Her Spofford characters falls for McGland in a doomed relationship but one cannot blame her considering he manages to sweep mature women off their feet, while Spofford has yet to finish college. Spofford goes into the relationship sensing it will end badly but unlike others gives McGland a chance and deals with the consequences and ultimately is the real adult in the situation. McGillis balances the oblivious traits yet strong minded decisions of the character perfectly with veteran like touches. Playing her grandfather is Robert Blossom a fine actor some may not be familiar with, but many will know as the creepy old neighbour that turns out to be not so bad and saves Kevin from the robbers in Home Alone. Yes, that guy.


The most poignant joke however, is hidden in the title of the film and comes at the expense of the viewer. At the time of the release many thought that the film’s lightly dark tone was a huge set-up to the punch line of the final scene. Although the last joke works well in reflecting the overall spirit of the film and comes as quite a tragic surprise even if one works it out seconds before it is revealed. Almost like something McGland would have come up with if he had written the film.


You can watch the whole film here on YouTube