Play It Again – Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Play It Again – Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, and Alfred Lutter. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

This month, we’re reviewing some choice cuts from the filmography of one Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese has made no secret of his love for Powell and Pressburger‘s ambitious, visual palette. So, it’s fitting that his 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – Marty’s first studio production following indie Mean Streets – opens on a scarlet-tinged pastoral landscape. Alice, as a young girl, skips home to her ma and pa, singing sweetly to herself. But this is not Scorsese’s Wizard of Oz. Her mother calls out: “You get in this house before I beat the living daylights out of you.” She mutters to her dolly: “If anybody doesn’t like it they can blow it out their ass.” Martin Scorsese, ladies and gentlemen!

Young Alice’s singsong voice amplifies and duplicates, evolving into a swarm of locusts, and propels us into the 1970s, where we meet adult Alice (Ellen Burstyn). She’s now a housewife raising precocious (read: ‘incredibly annoying’) child Tommy (Alfred Lutter), and keeping a home for her cruel husband Donald (Billy Green Bush). When Donald is killed in an accident, Alice is confronted with an uncertain financial future, as well as the freedom to become a singer as she had always dreamed. She uproots Tommy, and they begin their trip to the bright lights of California.

But reality sinks them faster than her dreams can keep them afloat. She goes to work in Phoenix as a lounge singer, before fleeing an abusive cheater (Harvey Keitel) even more terrifying than her late husband. Spurred by her endlessly argumentative son to get a job, she takes a waitressing gig in Tucson, where she quarrels with loud-mouthed colleague Flo (the delightful Diane Ladd), and is romanced by sensitive rancher David (Kris Kristofferson). Future Taxi Driver star Jodie Foster pops up as boyish thief Audrey, who sets Tommy (even further) astray.

Despite the early stylistic flourishes, Alice is a mostly naturalistic venture from Scorsese, and not that indicative of what would follow in his career (it feels more like a Cassavetes film). But it’s a fantastic combination of these two seemingly divisive styles, elevated by Burstyn’s hilarious, heart-breaking, Oscar-winning performance as a woman regularly betrayed by the men in her life. The movie was later adapted for television by screenwriter Robert Getchell. Sadly, we’re still waiting for a TV spin-off for Bringing Out The Dead.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is available on DVD, and can be streamed via Quickflix’s Watch Now service.

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