• Effect of Gamma Rays On Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, The

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: February 20, 2018
    Director: Paul Newman
    Cast: Joanne Woodward, Nell Potts, Roberta Wallach, Judith Lowry, David Spielberg, Richard Venture, Carolyn Coates, Will Hare
    Year: 1972
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Paul Zindel, who passed away at the age of 66 in March 2003, spent his life becoming quite the Renaissance man; he wrote 53 books (most aimed at younger readers), studied under the great playwright Edward Albee, taught chemistry and physics at a Staten Island high school, wrote several screenplays (including one for Runaway Train, one of my favorite action films), and penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. First staged in Houston in May 1965, the production came to off-Broadway venues five years later and finally premiered on the Great White Way another eight years after that.

    In midst of the play’s quiet domination of the United States, movie star supreme Paul Newman helmed a film adaptation starring his wife Joanne Woodward that debuted less than a week before Christmas 1972 and won Woodward the Best Actress Award at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. Despite never receiving a home video release in its homeland, Newman’s film has popped up on television over the decades, keeping its modest cinematic legacy alive and well. Now it comes to Blu-ray for the first time, courtesy of Twilight Time.

    Woodward plays Beatrice Hunsdorfer, a widow raising her two daughters Ruth (Roberta Wallach, daughter of actor Eli Wallach) and Matilda (Nell Potts, daughter of Newman and Woodward) in a dilapidated home in a working-class Connecticut neighborhood. Ruth, prone to epileptic seizures, has developed a rebellious nature that often puts her at odds with her mother, while the quieter Matilda prefers to keep to herself and pour her affection into her pet rabbit and a project for her high school’s upcoming science fair involving experimenting on marigolds (which gives the film its title).

    The story takes on an episodic structure revolving around the increasingly complicated relationships between Beatrice and her daughters and the various people who enter and exit their lives when it suits them. Beatrice is a decent human being, but she has never been much of a traditional mother to Ruth and Matilda, who have been left with permanent emotional scarring due to their mother’s brash, often erratic behavior and how it has affected her meager parenting skills. Beatrice isn’t a bad parent, just one whose own traumatic upbringing left her ill-prepared for the task of raising a pair of impressionable young women to adulthood.

    Marigolds (which I will refer to the film for the bulk of this review due to its lengthy full title) could have become a mawkish tearjerker in the hands of a polished studio filmmaker, but Newman snapped up the movie rights to Zindel’s play with the intention of making a more grounded and emotionally nuanced adaptation that balked at going for simplistic sentiment. His third film as director following Rachel, Rachel and Sometimes a Great Notion, Newman’s background in acting permitted him to make different choices in the direction of Marigolds, translated from stage play to screenplay by Alvin Sargent, whose future credits included Paper Moon, Ordinary People (for which he won the second of two Oscars), and four Spider-Man features for Sony.

    The film lives and dies by the strength of the performances from its three female leads, all of which are powerful and mesmerizing and breathe flesh-and-blood life into Zindel’s three-dimensional characters, aided by Newman’s subtle direction and Sargent’s masterful scripting. Having previously starred for her husband in Rachel, Rachel (a performance that earned her Best Actress nominations from both the Golden Globe and Academy Awards – the former of which she won), Woodward was a natural choice to take on the role of the damaged yet irrepressible Beatrice Hunsdorfer, a part she makes her own through haunting delicacy and soulful arrogance. Nell Potts, who portrayed her mother’s character as a child in Rachel, Rachel’s flashback sequences, embodies the character of Matilda with an achingly realistic adolescent poignancy, matched beautifully by the budding feminine grit and grace Roberta Wallach brings to her equally laudable performance as the rebellious Ruth.

    The exquisite cinematography from Adam Holender (Midnight Cowboy) employs naturalistic lighting choices and long takes to allow the acting to take center stage in settings that ring true. Though the film is dominated by the memorable lead performances from Woodward, Potts, and Wallach, Newman surrounds them with an ace ensemble of interesting supporting players such as David Spielberg (Christine), Judith Lowry (Husbands), Richard Venture (Being There), Jess Osuna (All the President’s Men), and Will Hare (Back to the Future). The collective familiarity of these veteran character actors only serves to further enhance the atmosphere of downbeat realism preferred by Newman.


    Never granted an official home video release in the U.S. (though it had been released on Region 2 DVD in France), The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds makes its Blu-ray debut as a limited edition from Twilight Time. The centerpiece of this disc is a stunning new 1080p high-definition transfer sourced from a recent 4K scan of the original camera negative by 20th Century Fox, from whom Twilight licensed the film, and presented in the proper 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio.

    The transfer delivers a very textured, naturalistic image filmic in its presentation and awash in autumnal hues of dark browns, bright greens, and visible blacks perfectly befitting of the film’s tone and setting. Grain content is strong but authentic for an early 1970’s drama made on a modest budget and remains consistent in every frame. Print damage is nowhere to be found. The film’s original mono soundtrack has been recreated via the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, which brings to the table clean, audible dialogue, balanced volume levels, a lack of distortion or damage, and the subtle integration of Maurice Jarre’s low-key original music score. English subtitles have also been provided.

    Extras are limited to an isolated music & effects track, the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes), and a slim booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. On April 23, the UK distributor Indicator Films released a Region B edition of the film with the same restored transfer and better extra features, including a film historian commentary, archival audio interviews with Newman and Woodward, and more.

    The Final Word:

    The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is an honest and sensitive drama more in line with the daringly different independent films of the 1970’s than a film of its type would be in another age. Paul Newman’s performance-focused direction and the powerful raw nerve acting from Joanne Woodward, Nell Potts, and Roberta Wallach combine to make this a family film like no other, one that remains potent and unforgettable more than four decades after its initial theatrical release. Twilight Time finally brings this lost gem from one of cinema’s finest eras to Blu-ray with the fantastic restored transfer it has richly deserved for many years.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!