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Melvin and Howard

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Director Jonathan Demme and writer Bo Goldman tell you almost nothing about the strange case of Melvin Dummar and the $156 million left to him by Howard Hughes in the disputed Mormon Will, cramming all of that to-do into the final fifteen minutes and offering instead a friskily affectionate portrait of Dummar's blue-collar background. The seamy-side-up view of America — gambling casinos, topless bars, bus stations, quickie wedding chapels, TV game shows, prefab housing developments — might be more fun if you didn't have to peer through Tak Fujimoto's grainy and garishly lit photography. The workmanship overall, in fact, gives an impression of sloppiness, with the movie's tone pitched uncertainly between funny and sad, and never quite in harmony with one or the other or both. And what was the point of hiring Gloria Grahame to play Dummar's mother-in-law and then permitting her to speak only one word ("Two"), two or three times? With Paul Le Mat as Dummar, Jason Robards as Hughes, Mary Steenburgen and Pamela Reed as the two Mrs. Dummars. (1980) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R

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