HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY
(director/writer: Daniel Raim; cinematographers: Battiste Fenwick, Daniel Raim; editors: Daniel Raim, Jennifer Raim; music: Dave Lebolt; cast: Harold Michelson, Lillian Michelson, Bill Krohn, Francis Ford Coppola, Danny DeVito, Mel Brooks, Gene Allen, James D. Bissell, Rick Carter, Stuart Cornfeld, Gabriel Hardman, Patrick Mate; Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Daniel Raim, Jennifer Raim; Zeitgeist; 2015)
“This is a true Hollywood love story for movie lovers to kvell over.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Daniel Raim (“Something’s Gonna Live”) helms a precious and humanistic cinema documentary. It’s more interested in celebrating its unsung creative subjects than in politically probing how the industry works or in offering film buff tidbits on the many films covered. It ignores that the directors get all the credit, even if making a film is supposed to be a collaborative effort. However, it’s an informative piece about movie making, funny on its personal take on things and moving because so many intimate moments are shared about the subjects. It’s deliciously filled with marvelous stories about a loving and humble couple who worked largely not credited for 60 years behind the scenes in Hollywood on some of the most iconic films (from Fiddler on the Roof to Scarface). They were not generally known to others outside the movie industry or even to most film critics.
Harold Michelson was an outstanding storyboard artist and production designer and his wife Lillian was a legendary film researcher (with her own film library). This is a true Hollywood love story for movie lovers to kvell over, a film that completely won me over by openly showing its big heart.
What the film has going for it is a lovable and straight-talking, with a bird-like voice, Lillian (now 88, who has been since 2010 in the living-assisted movie industry retirement home), who tells the story about the couple’s marriage and careers as she sees it. Harold passed away in 2007 and appears only in the archival clips. Also included are home movies, photographs, storyboard sketches, many conversations with appreciative work colleagues and showing how their autistic oldest son, now 63, found success as a computer programmer after almost being destroyed as a child by ten years of ineffective Freudian group therapy sessions (the other two sons also found success–one as a NY photographer and the other following in dad’s footsteps as a visual arts supervisor in Hollywood).
We learn that Lillian was an orphan from Florida while Harold grew up in NY, where his kid sister was friends with her. During the war, Harold flew 35 bombing missions as an Air Force pilot. After the war he met up with Lillian in New York and courted her. In 1947, the 28-year-old Harold moved alone to Los Angeles and talked the 17-year-old to go there six months later to marry him.
We follow how each got into their respective fields, with Harold in 1949 getting hired by Columbia to be a team player as a storyboard artist (using charcoal and ink storyboards) and then getting his big break being traded to Paramount in 1956 to work on The Ten Commandments under Cecil B. DeMille (who used his sketches but never met him). Harold enjoyed working for the storyboard knowledgeable Hitchcock on The Birds and assisting in making the birds look so scary, on The Graduate he claims the idea was his of Ann Bancroft seducing Dustin Hoffman while conversing with him while he looks between her sexy stocking-wearing legs that rest on a ledge, and how he enjoyed his bathtub conversations with a responsive Dalton Trumbo while on the set of Johnny Got His Gun.
The list of films Harold worked on is enormous, and his reputation remains as one of the best in his field. While Lillian details how she got her research library in 1980 and housed it over the years at the following studios-Paramount, the American Film Institute, Coppola’s ill-fated Zoetrope, and finally Dreamworks. Her task was to do the research to make sure the films were authentic.
Though this might come off to some as a glorified home movie, I found the stories most amusing and the subjects so talented and endearing and uplifting that I just couldn’t resist this valentine to the movie industry.
The film reached another level of inventiveness when Patrick Mate, the lead animator at DreamWorks, a friend of the Michelsons, made storyboard-like sketches to illustrate scenes from their early life.
REVIEWED ON 4/21/2020 GRADE: B+