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Melvin & Howard

Melvin & Howard

Melvin & Howard

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

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3 comments on “Melvin & Howard

  1. 21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    “C’mon old timer, sing me a song…”, March 5, 2004
    By 
    cookieman108 “cookieman108®” (Inside the jar…) –

    This review is from: Melvin and Howard (DVD)

    Directed by Jonathan Demme, Melvin and Howard (1980) tells the supposedly true story of Melvin E. Dummar, a man who may have had a chance encounter with the late multi-billionaire recluse Howard Hughes before his death, and Dummar’s inclusion into Hughes’ will.

    Demme, who also directed Something Wild (1986) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) does a wonderful job of relating the story of Melvin (Paul Le Mat) and how he came across Howard Hughes (Jason Robards) stranded in the desert outside of Las Vegas and gave him a ride. Hughes, looking disheveled and grisly, stated that he was who he was, but Melvin didn’t take him seriously, thinking he was just some old wino.

    Some time goes by, Howard Hughes passes away, and a mysterious stranger leaves a handwritten letter in Melvin’s gas station. The document, which appears to be Hughes will, names Melvin as a beneficiary, entitling him to somewhere in the neighborhood of $156 million dollars. Well, this immediately launches Melvin into the public spotlight and focuses much attention on the validity of the will.

    While the movie is titled Melvin and Howard, it’s mostly about Melvin, and deals with his many ups and downs (mostly downs) in a particular period of his life. Melvin switches jobs a few times, working as a magnesium bagger, milk truck driver, and gas station owner, and deals with personal problems like his wife leaving, cars repossessed, being in debt up to his ears…Paul Le Mat, who many may recognize as John Milner from American Graffiti (1973) is wonderful as the poor but likeable schlub who, due to his natural good nature, may have found himself in a position to inherit millions. The supporting cast is great including Robards, Dabney Coleman, John Glover, Pamela Reed, and Mary Steenburgen, who won an academy award for best supporting actress as Melvin’s wife, Lynda. The real Melvin E. Dummar even makes an appearance as a counter clerk at a bus terminal. And speaking of academy awards, it should also be noted that Bo Goldman won the award for best writing for this film.

    There are no special features on this release, only a trailer, but the picture looks wonderful in the wide screen format. There is another release, one from Anchor Bay Entertainment that does include some more extras like commentary and production notes not available here, so if you are interested in those kinds of things, you might want to search it out. Does Melvin get the money in the end? It doesn’t really matter, at least not in the scope of this film. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys good filmmaking and is interesting in discovering an under-appreciated movie with great scripting, casting, dialogue, direction, and music. Everything clicks really well in this little ‘slice of life’ gem.

    Cookieman108

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  2. 8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    a fun movie that may just be true, February 13, 2006
    By 
    Terry Baddley
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Melvin and Howard (DVD)

    for as long as this movie has been out it wasn’t till just this past weekend that i watched it for the first time. what a treat! as a boy i grew up in willard, utah, and was familiar with who melvin dummar was long before the howard hughes will incident took place. so it was extra fun for me to watch the segment of the movie that was filmed at the actual gas station that dummar operated back in the 70s. my dad operated a fruit stand just down the highway from there for a bunch of years till the property owner decided to build a house on the property and we relocated the stand. the old gas station is still there today, though no longer in business, on the old highway 89 that passes through willard. but being from that area i did notice a couple of trivial errors. when the willard sequence begins it gives the impression that the body of water you see in the background is the great salt lake. it isn’t. actually that is willard bay you can see. the salt lake is several miles beyond on the other side of a big rock dike built in the 60s. but that’s okay, no big deal. the other descrepency was when melvin went to salt lake city to drop the will off at the lds church headquarters the movie referred to temple square as “mormon square”. no harm done really and none of that detracted from my enjoyment. so if you’d like to spend a little time with a fun movie i highly recommend this one. sure, the hughes will was thrown out by the courts, but that doesn’t mean it was a fake, just that with all that fortune at stake that there were those with a motive to discredit anything that came along. maybe melvin dummar was robbed by the system. who can say for sure. and as for melvin i am unsure what became of him as his family moved from willard after the movie was made and i myself have moved away as well, though my parents still live there and i visit from time to time.

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  3. 8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A half-forgotten masterpiece, May 29, 2000
    By 

    This review is from: Melvin & Howard (DVD)

    Jonathan Demme is too successful for his own good. Long before Silence of the Lambs, he made this near-perfect film from a Bo Goldman script about a congenital loser named Melvin Dummar who one night gives Howard Hughes, whom he mistakes for a derelict, a ride to Vegas. His frenetic life takes up most of the rest of the movie, until a mysterious will signed by Hughes turns up naming Melvin as the recipient of $156,000,000. How this changes or fails to change Melvin’s life is just another of the sweet ironies of this neglected, unassuming little masterpiece. Mary Steenburgen and Paul Le Mat make their characters achingly real as they try in their often divergent ways to find some kind of success in life, only to realize, divorced and living miles apart, that they were obviously meant for each other. Jason Robards manages to make Howard Hughes somewhat human underneath the millionaire’s grizzled misanthropy. It’s been ages since an American filmmaker showed this much love for his characters. One of the Great American films.

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