The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN (1982) | The Movie Waffler


Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean review
A group of women reunite on the 20th anniversary of James Dean's death.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robert Altman

Starring: Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, Sudie Bond, Marta Heflin, Kathy Bates, Mark Patton

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean bluray

One of the great box office myths is that Robert Altman's 1980 Popeye flopped. In truth, the movie made $60 million on a $20 million budget, but this fell short of Paramount and Disney's hopes for the film and as a result, Altman found doors closing on his Hollywood career.

Deciding he needed a break from filmmaking, Altman turned to the stage, directing a Broadway run of Ed Graczyk's 1976 play Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. For the play, Altman enlisted two actresses he had previously worked with in Sandy Dennis and Karen Black, and gave a singer named Cher her acting debut.

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean review

Altman's break from cinema was short-lived, as he quickly decided to adapt Come Back... for the screen, taking his Broadway cast along with him. It would be the first of several adaptations of stage plays Altman would direct during the '80s, a decade that saw him fall out of critical and commercial favour until his comeback with 1992's The Player. Though Altman brought his distinctive craftwork and ingenuity to these adaptations, they were only as good as their source material, and in the case of Come Back..., the source material was decidedly second rate.

Altman's film has several parallels with Archie Mayo's 1936 adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's The Petrified Forest. Both dramas are set in a diner in a dusty backwater from which its main character wishes to escape, and both carried over their stage stars (Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart in the '36 film's case). But Sherwood's play is an American classic, while Graczyk's would likely be long forgotten were it not for Altman's adaptation.

The diner in question here is one of the last remaining Woolworth's five-and-dime stores, located not too far from where director George Stevens filmed his melodrama Giant in 1955. As teenagers, a group of female friends travelled to the film set hoping to meet its doomed young star, James Dean, and formed their own fan club, The Disciples of James Dean. Now, on September 30, 1975, the twentieth anniversary of Dean's death, they're reuniting.

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean review

Mona (Dennis) has long claimed that her 19-year-old son, Jimmy Dean, was fathered by the actor, though she has never been able to substantiate such a claim. The rest of the Disciples - Sissy (Cher), Edna Louise (Marta Heflin) and Stella Mae (Kathy Bates) - are unconvinced by Mona's boast, but humour her nonetheless. Rolling her eyes at all this drama is Juanita (Sudie Bond), the store's religious owner.

A spanner is thrown in the works of this anniversary party by the arrival of Joanne (Black), a glamorous and enigmatic sophisticate who turns up driving a Porsche and seems to have intimate knowledge of the Disciples, including the truth about young Jimmy Dean's parentage.

Graczyk's play comes from that insufferable school of drama that consists of characters we barely know reeling off a series of revelations through the sort of monologues actors might love performing but audiences rarely have the patience for. The trouble with Come Back... is in bridging the time between 1955 and '75 and making us feel like these are characters we have some familiarity with. Altman employs a flashback structure that sees the actresses play their younger selves minus the aid of any de-aging make-up, a theatrical technique that translates awkwardly to the screen, causing confusion at times as to which time period we're currently watching. For his Broadway version, Altman had devised a clever lighting system that turned his set's two-way mirror into a second set which he used to convey the flashbacks. He carries that over for his screen version, but the effect comes off as tacky on screen, drawing further attention to the film's theatricality.

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean review

The concerns of the assembled women feel decidedly like the creations of a male writer, all revolving around maternal instincts and physical appearance. The dialogue is so dense and didactic that we never get time to simply look upon these women and figure out who they are for ourselves. A revelation concerning the identity of Joanne - which would have been a huge deal in 1975, if not today - is accepted and forgotten about remarkably quickly by the other women.

Aside from his continuing technical innovations and the odd rousing performance like Philip Baker Hall's Nixon in Secret Honor, the '80s was a fallow period for Altman (ironically, his protege Alan Rudolph flourished during this era), whose best work of the decade would come on TV with 1988's ground-breaking political drama Tanner '88. Being an Altman completist means accepting his duds, and while you can't polish a turd, Eureka's disc of Come Back... will satisfy anyone wishing to see how Pierre Mignot's gritty 16mm cinematography in all its dusty glory.

Commentary by critic Lee Gambin; extended interviews with editor Jason Rosenfield and art director David Gropman; original trailer; collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is on blu-ray July 22nd from Eureka Entertainment.