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With: Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, Harvey Keitel, Alfred Lutter, Jodie Foster, Vic Tayback
Written by: Robert Getchell
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 112
Date: 12/09/1974

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Kissing Her Grits

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Martin Scorsese's detractors inevitably suggest that he only knows how to make guy movies; he doesn't know what to do with women.

This fails to take into account the many Oscar nominations his actresses have earned: Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Cathy Moriarty in Raging Bull, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Color of Money, Lorraine Bracco in GoodFellas, Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear, Winona Ryder in The Age of Innocence and Sharon Stone in Casino. Those were all tough roles, many of them strong women babysitting for childish men. But what about a truly feminine movie?

We've got one for you. Though Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore earned an Oscar for its lead actress Ellen Burstyn and a nomination for Diane Ladd in a supporting role, it usually doesn't show up on the radar of favorite Scorsese films. But it should. Coming just after Mean Streets and before Taxi Driver, it's as good as either of them.

Burstyn, hot from her appearance in the mega-hit The Exorcist, plays Alice, a New Mexico housewife with a wisecracking 12 year-old, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), and a mean, angry husband. When the husband suddenly dies in an auto accident, Alice decides to move back to her hometown of Monterey and return to her one vocation: singing.

It's not long before the travelers run out of money and must stop for a temporary job and a stay in a dingy hotel room. She attracts the attention of a potential suitor (Harvey Keitel), but he turns out to be a married, violent creep.

During another stop, reality sets in and Alice gets a job in a diner, where Flo (Diane Ladd) teaches her a kind of down-home wisdom and the gentle farmer David (Kris Kristofferson) begins to notice her.

The film rests on Burstyn's performance, and she pulls it off with different shells: a layer of self-confidence, a layer of aggressiveness, a layer of passivity and a layer of weakness. This, plus her relationship with the remarkable young Lutter, gives the film a huge emotional heft.

And a young Jodie Foster, plays a juvenile delinquent who introduces Tommy to the joys of shoplifting and Night Train wine.

Scorsese attempts a couple of his signature energetic shots, which zoom the frame into a kind of forced close-up, as if to shock the characters into doing something. But mostly he stays back, carefully observes and keeps the pace moving at just the right speed. He allows moments of nothingness that most other filmmakers would cut out, such as a lovely scene of Flo and Alice sunbathing, or a terrible joke that Tommy keeps trying to tell.

What he does best of all is begin the film with a sepia-toned shot right out of a musical or the Kansas of The Wizard of Oz. As a girl, Alice walks down a country road singing and dreaming of the big life that awaits her. Often, during the rest of the film, we mentally return to this sad little prologue and think how far Alice's dreams have been dashed.

Yet Alice doesn't give up and finds strength in other smaller, victories. Each time she makes it over one of life's small mountains, we feel a great elation and a great relief.

Note: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore spun off a hit TV series, called "Alice." Different actresses played Alice and Flo, but Vic Tayback appears in both as the gruff Mel, wearing his ever-present white cloth cap.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video has released Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore as part of a new Martin Scorsese Collection, also including AfterHours, Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Who's That Knocking At MyDoor? It comes with a sporadic commentary track by Scorsese, Burstynand Kristofferson, a making-of featurette, "Second Chances" and atrailer. The film comes with an optional French language track, plusoptional English, French and Spanish subtitles.

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