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TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON (director: Otto Preminger; screenwriter: Marjorie Kellogg/from the novel by Marjorie Kellogg; cinematographer: Boris Kaufman; editors: Dean Ball/Henry Berman; music: Pete Seeger/Philip Springer; cast: Liza Minnelli (Junie Moon), Ken Howard (Arthur), Robert Moore (Warren), James Coco (Mario), Kay Thompson (Miss Gregory), Fred Williamson (Beach Boy), Emily Yancy (Solana), Ben Piazza (Jesse), Leonard Frey (Guiles), Anne Revere (Miss Farber); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Otto Preminger; Paramount Pictures; 1970)
“Never is fun.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The tyrannical Otto Preminger (“Laura”/”Skidoo”/”Daisy Kenyon”) directs this ridiculous tragicomedy, that examines in a nonjudgmental way social attitudes to those with a disability at a time America is undergoing rapid societal changes. This bizarre sitcom theme never is fun, but it’s overwhelmingly sentimental and reeks of banality despite its unconventional stance in favor of freaks. It’s based on the best-seller novel by Marjorie Kellogg, who also wrote the screenplay. An out of place Pete Seeger sings “Old Devil Time.”

Junie Moon (Liza Minnelli) is a facially disfigured girl whose pervert date (Ben Piazza) threw battery acid in her kisser when she laughed at him for wanting to make love in a cemetery; Warren (Robert Moore, stage director and future movie director), a homosexual paraplegic raised by one of his mother’s hippie friends, is confined to a wheelchair as the result of a suspicious hunting accident; and the introverted Arthur (Ken Howard) is someone always thought to be retarded and as a result forced to spend his childhood in a foster home, but it turns out he has an unnamed rare disease that resembles epilepsy. The trio meet in a hospital and view themselves as freaks, and when released together find solace by living together in a house they rent from a wealthy eccentric, Miss Gregory (Kay Thompson).

Junie manages to find Arthur a job with the aging bachelor Mario (James Coco), who runs a nearby fish market.

Miss Gregory invites the freaks to dinner. Late in the evening, she makes Warren an offer of a gift of a valuable jeweled cross if he gets up out of his wheelchair and walks. The misguided lady believes Warren’s paralysis is psychosomatic. But Warren can’t walk. I found that scene repulsive, and of little insight.

Soon afterwards, an anonymous phone caller tells Mario that Arthur is a homo because he lives with one. Mario cans Arthur, as a result. A guilt-ridden Mario, who is falling in love with Junie, lends the trio money to take a vacation at a fancy seaside resort. It leads to a few devastating and a few happy events. Arthur tells Junie he loves her, and the snake-bitten gal now mistrusts men so much that she’s reluctant to make love again. They finally do, and the next day Arthur dies in Junie’s arms. At his funeral, Junie, Warren, and Mario are the only mourners.

The point of the book was that the trio have had bad experiences dealing with the world and getting others to accept their handicaps, and bond together to discover their real self and sense of worth. The film which tastefully makes the misfits into three-dimensional humans, nevertheless misses the poetics dug out of the situation by the book and leaves us instead with just so many sour exchanges and platitudes — and a gooey (not compassionate) conceived plea for tolerance that wears its heart on its handicap and on Otto’s force-fed direction.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”