The Paper Chase (1973)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
The film offers nice ambiance quiet study halls, ancient academic buildings, dimly lit student accommodations, tense classrooms and study groups and so for anyone who has attended a prestigious university, the film has a certain charm. This is academia as pure romance; campus as a fantasy-land of character building, imparted wisdom, young love and tough life lessons.
Mostly, though, it's the film's distinctly 1970s vibe which really elevates things. Like most Hollywood films of the era, "The Paper Chase" borrows liberally from New Wave and Neorealist movements, lending the film a tone which oozes an air of relaxed realism. Its cast, with their 70s moustaches, bell-bottoms and big hair, also convey a sort of anti-establishment vibe, which most Hollywood movies at the time possessed.
The film is also strange in the way that it manages to both romanticise Harvard and be "against" Harvard types. As the film unfolds, Hart goes from a kid killing himself chasing paper ("paper chase" literally means chasing grades, knowledge, money, status, approval etc), to a kid who realises that external approval ultimately does not define who he is, what he knows or what he's worth.
The film is too ambiguous (or confused) to be accepted as a simple pro-hippie "middle finger to paper chasers" flick, though. Professor Kingsfield may be the typical stern father figure who rules with an iron fist only because he "wants what's best" for his boys, but there is also a sense that Kingsfield is himself a man resigned from "the paper chase". That it is Hart (and the Professor's disgruntled daughter) who is really projecting an authoritarian image onto Kingsfield, when in fact the elderly man really is, in his own way, himself a sort of anti-authoritarian figure, in possession of very strong values. What the film offers is thus something slightly different to other anti-establishment, counterculture movies of the time. It's not a matter of "sticking it to the man", but recognising that "the man" (in this case, the authoritarian Kingsfield) is demonized only because "man" is fundamentally unable to define himself unless he places himself in opposition to others.
8.5/10 An excellent film, its appealing atmosphere making up for its failures as a romance or message movie. Worth two viewings.
John Houseman hadn't been in a movie in years when he made this one and he got a deserved Oscar for it. Having a babe like Lindsey Wagner would've made law school easier but I wasn't that lucky. On the other hand, the romance in the movie depicts a dilemma that many people find themselves in---they're caught up in an important part of their life such as getting a degree, dealing with a very challenging job, and then suddenly an opportunity for romance comes along. Do you let the romance distract you from your larger cause? "The Competition" was another movie that dealt with that romance vs. career theme and did it well.
"The Paper Chase" is a rather slow moving drama laced with occasional humor. The dispassionate story is simple and straightforward, if perhaps slightly contrived. It lacks emotional intensity, especially by today's standards. But that's somewhat to be expected for a setting that is so cloistered and cerebral. Characters are stereotypical, but still interesting.
And the "heart" of the story is the discourse between student and professor, especially as Hart relates, or fails to relate, to the demanding Kingsfield, a man who never smiles. Kingsfield has a one-track mind. He lives, breathes, and sleeps contract law. He expects his students to do the same. Always impersonal, he's like an intellectual robot. And half the fun of the film is listening to John Houseman's monologues, as he "fills the room with (Kingsfield's) intelligence".
The film's color cinematography is fine; camera "takes" are very long. The film's visuals do look dated. Guys have long hair. And students use ... typewriters -- yikes! Background music is intermittent and mostly classical. Overall acting is fine. Both Timothy Bottoms and Lindsay Wagner give credible performances. And, of course, John Houseman is terrific. I can't imagine anyone else in that role.
Low-key, and nostalgic in its view of education, "The Paper Chase" is a good film to watch for its high technical quality, for its theme of the individual trying to measure up to society's expectations, and of course for the wonderful performance of John Houseman.
And the one movie that defined a generation,even some who have never seen it,it is still one breathtaking piece of cinematic work,and even 30 years after its release,it still has that impact,and that motion picture,"The Paper Chase" still holds that stance to this day. This was a film that had some great performances,literate screen writing,sensitive direction and handsome production. This was a tale of a young law school student from Minnesota,in his first year of Law at Harvard,is confused by his professional calling versus his inner evolution as a human being,may seemed a bit timeless yet dated,but instead goes into the vortex of his experiences as a student as he goes through the motions here,which gets the audience a series of sideways though entertaining of the thespian declamations. James Bridges directs his own adaptation of the novel by Jay Osborn. Jr. But the performances here are sensational,with Timothy Bottoms,who is excellent as the puzzled law student,Lindsay Wagner as the girl who plays not only his love interest,but is the daughter of a tyrannical college professor. But the one who steals the show is John Houseman,who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1973 gives a outstanding performance as a hard-nosed but urbane law professor. A man who looms over students like a quietly arrogant Goliath. The three players here constitute the pervading plot triangle that gives the picture its intensity-Houseman as the classroom dictator,Bottoms the uncertain supplicant,and Wagner,who plays Houseman's daughter. This is a film that in some places,particularly on college campuses in shown as a midnight movie for student and it is available on video for those who really want to know what the experiences of being a law student is really like. A must see. It is to note,that Houseman later replayed his role of the college professor in a much-respected and Emmy nominated television series based on "The Paper Chase",which ran for six years on television.
Keep in mind, however, that this IS just a movie. I can see this movie discouraging 90% of potential law school students from giving it a try. The main "antagonist" is a BEAR of a professor who is legendary for his role in humiliating students in class. At one point, he gives the movie's main character a dime as he says "Here's a dime. Now go call your mother and tell her that there is serious doubt that you will ever become a lawyer."
This film is almost worth giving a look-see just for the dated 70's hairdo's alone. Keep an eye out for the character by the name of Bell. So obnoxious and pompous you love him. The Paper Chase is a classic which needs to be seen by all.
If you think you want to go to grad school, this movie may (and hopefully will) cure you.