Right now, there’s a lot of negative dialogue in the blogosphere, on television, the web, movies — people seem bereft of hope, or as if they don’t believe in the possibility of it anymore. Certainly there are lots of reasons not to be cheerful, with war, famine, disease and financial turmoil everywhere, and talking heads hurling insults at each other on both sides of the aisle. But we don’t have to live this way. That’s why seeing this film today — after many years — struck me as being indicative not only of a time and place, but also a way of feeling, that has almost vanished, and which we might strive to revive, if we could.
Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970) is a film by the notoriously volcanic and uneven director Otto Preminger, which tells the story of three outsiders who band together to live in a small, rundown cottage on the edge of town when society declares them outcasts for one reason or another. Junie (Liza Minnelli, in perhaps her best performance) has been horribly scarred by battery acid splashed on her face by a vindictive ex-lover; Arthur (Ken Howard) is suffering from an incurable neurological disease, which doctors have no idea how to treat; and Warren (future director Robert Moore), who is gay, is paralyzed from the waist down, and confined to a wheelchair.
In the era before the Fair Housing Act, Warren, as spokesperson for the group, is bluntly told by social worker Miss Harper (Anne Revere, a courageous survivor of the 1950s Blacklist, in here for a brief cameo) that “many people will probably refuse to rent to you.” But this doesn’t deter the group, who pool their disability checks and manage to scrimp by with dignity, courage, and style.
Though the film is deeply flawed, it is also deeply felt. Based on a novel by Marjorie Kellogg, and bracketed at the beginning and end by Pete Seeger singing his own composition “Old Devil Time,” Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is a film that not ashamed of its emotional excesses, or of its belief that when people gather together in good faith, they can overcome almost anything. With a superb supporting cast including James Coco, Kay Thompson, Fred Williamson, Nancy Marchand and Anne Revere, and luminous cinematography by Boris Kaufman (his last film; Kaufman also shot Jean Vigo’s classic films L’Atalante (1934) and Zero de Conduite (1933) and Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront (1954) in a career that spanned nearly five decades), Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is something of a mess, sprawling and often unpredictable, something like life, and a moving testament about human frailty and the power of friendship. Recommended.