With the notion of liberty top of mind on today’s Independence Day Holiday, you’re invited to revisit a time when mainstream, star-driven studio movies captured life honestly in the moment and did not engage in sensory overload. One undervalued example, from that hallowed free-spirited period of studio moviemaking between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, is a distinctly non-glossy romance Cinderella Liberty (1973). From a simple premise – the feisty but tenderly rendered relationship that develops between a lonely, temporarily sidelined career Navy man (James Caan) and a hardscrabble hooker (Marsha Mason) struggling to make her way hustling pool and raising an out-of-wedlock child (Kirk Calloway), screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan (adapting his own novel) and director Mark Rydell concoct an involving screen journey that, in the view of the Bergen Record’s John Crittenden, “has just about every quality that has marked the best American films down through the years. It has plenty of pathos, a couple of fine performances, and a strong, vivid story. It makes one laugh a lot, perhaps shed a tear or two, and it warms one’s heart. It’s insistently human.”
Ponicsan possessed an acute skill for portraying military careerists; the screen version of his book The Last Detail (1973, a Twilight Time title available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/30729/THE-LAST-DETAIL-1973/), another look into the souls of sailors chafing against the service bureaucracy, was also in theaters simultaneously in the winter of 1973/74, and he would later collaborate 43 years later with director Richard Linklater on the acclaimed film adaptation of his book Last Flag Flying (2016). Former actor Rydell’s previous feature directorial work – The Fox (1967), The Reivers (1969) and The Cowboys (1972) – involved unique explorations of either unexpected affection or the rites and responsibilities of coming into adulthood. In their hands, the simple story became profound. Women’s Wear Daily’s Howard Kissel considered Cinderella Liberty “a sentimental movie, a movie we believe in, because it is acted, directed and photographed with such sensitivity and skill. What makes it so successful is that the characters are realized with astonishing subtlety, soberness and emotional honesty. James Caan is enormously winning and believable. Marsha Mason again shows herself an actress of amazing emotional power and resourcefulness.” Both leads came to the project from celebrated recent projects – Caan was an Oscar® nominee for his bravura, recklessly macho Sonny Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and a hapless ex-con seeking hidden stolen loot in the goofball caper Slither (1973), and Mason played the casual pal/lover of the obsessed title character in Blume in Love (1973) – and each of them dug deeper than they had before for this “startlingly lovely film. A moving, genuine love story that reaches past the dross of living and exposes the beauty of the human ability to love” (Frances Taylor, Newhouse Newspapers).
Caan, who would later treasure this more reserved performance as one of his better post-Godfather role choices, was cheered, but the lion’s share of reviewer praise went to the revelatory Mason, a Golden Globe® Best Actress winner whom Judith Crist in New York called “an off-beat screen enchantress,…that rare creature who not only makes being over 25 seems something less than senility but also makes her whore-with-heart-of-gold role perfectly acceptable." There are other empowering efforts at work here: the gritty verisimilitude of the Seattle/Tacoma location Panavision cinematography by the era’s signature cameraman Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Scarecrow) and a soulful, poignant score by musical eminence – and collaborator on Rydell’s The Reivers and The Cowboys – John Williams. The emphasis on real people and rigorously true emotions is carried over into the film’s fine supporting cast, Eli Wallach, Burt Young, Dabney Coleman, Bruno Kirby and Allan Arbus as variously gruff and gregarious Navy types, and the distaff Allyn Ann McLerie as a concerned social worker and Sally Kirkland’s “fleet chick.” As in life, humor and sadness commingle with bittersweet effect, to which Motion Picture Academy voters responded with Oscar® nominations for Mason and Williams (a double contender for his score and for his melody to Paul Williams’ lyrics of Best Song candidate (You’re So) Nice to Be Around. TT’s Blu-ray, derived from a brand-new 4K restoration, liberates Cinderella Liberty in 1080p hi-def with a Rydell Audio Commentary, a vintage Making-of Featurette and an Isolated Score Track of Williams’ moving music. It sails into home ports July 17. Preorders open tomorrow, Thursday July 5.