The Paper Chase (1973) Poster

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MISTER Hart............
RNMorton5 February 2005
Story of Bottoms and cohorts trying to make it through first year of Harvard Law. Of anything I ever saw this is the one movie that made me want to go to law school. It's one of those treasured movies I feel like I lived; I actually used to set my watch, sit back and smile before my exams just like my boy Timothy. Bottoms perfectly captures the feel of a smart, hip and modest kid from the sticks trying to hang tough in the pressure cooker. Houseman was a behind-the-scenes movie guy who became an overnight sensation with his portrayal of the brilliant, caustic Professor Kingsfield. Wagner is hauntingly beautiful as Bottom's elusive love interest. I don't know how someone first viewing this film today would look at it, but it still has a classic, timeless quality for me and I highly recommend it.
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Do Hippies Dream of Good Grades?
tieman6413 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"The Paper Chase" charts the relationship between James Hart, a hard working student in his first year at Harvard Law School, and Professor Kingsfield, an imposing teacher who both terrifies and fascinates Hart.

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.
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law school pressure and the pre-bionic woman
george-devlin4 February 2003
I have friends who have gone to law school and their subjective descriptions of how intense an experience that was seem to be validated in this now 30-year-old film. Houseman and Bottoms shine, the rest of the cast (while a bit too stuffy) seem to compliment them without flaw. I liked seeing a very young (unspoiled) Lindsey Wagner in her pre-bionic woman days. Truthfully, though certainly dated at this point, this film still held my interest. I was, however, disappointed in the last scene, for although it may have meant to be liberating for the Bottoms character to shift his priorities the timing, (upon receipt of his final grades) seemed ill chosen. Still, one can't help but root for him through all of this. In the end one wonders if while retaining his idealism he sacrificed his sanity.
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An education about getting an education
Ajtlawyer24 October 2001
Have there been any other movies that are as good about the process of getting an education? Yes, you can guess from my login name that I'm a lawyer. I didn't go to Harvard but I can attest that the student/faculty struggle the movie depicts is realistic (and thankfully confined only to a few traditionalist Socratic profs now). The stress and tension involved in getting a law degree is accurate, too. We had a saying, the first year they scared you to death, the second year they worked you to death, the third year they bored you to death. I'd seen the movie years before I went to law school and then I watched it again a few months after I graduated. I actually started getting sick to my stomach and shifted uneasily in my chair as I watched the classroom scenes. It was the one and only time a movie induced a "flashback" for me and I can understand now why some war veterans cannot watch war movies.

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.
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as a film school staple.
ptb-813 October 2005
Thirty six years ago (!) before multiplexes and without the blunting effect of Tarantino and Bigelow, regular effective and intelligent movies like THE PAPER CHASE were made by film companies who co-existed in a gentleman's game called production and exhibition. Films like this were made as stand alone statements about life and love and education, and were shown in luxury cinemas that had furniture (lampshades, even!) in the foyers and well dressed, informed adult staff. Today, in this clever new century we have an industry that has sawn off its own creative head in order to film the blood spurt, and reduced movie-going to all the elegance of a supermarket. Other comments here will tell you the whole story, but as with this comment, each distill down to one thing: THE PAPER CHASE is an excellent and interesting film made in a year of truly exceptional memorable films. Sadly THE PAPER CHASE has not been seen on TV or in cinemas for three decades either, a calamity hopefully balanced by a DVD release so new generations can discover what sensible life and times 1973 was....and how life had hope and success within reach. Timothy Bottoms and Lindsay Wagner have never really gone on to anything better either. The late great John Houseman reinvented a career at aged 71 in this film and won an Oscar for his withering excellence. What a great script and performances, and a defining film in many ways. Students in film schools everywhere should study THE PAPER CHASE ...perhaps along with LOVE STORY and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE two other films of the same period that fit the look and style and success of this film. I would love to sit in on a discussion by today's 20 year olds who having seen each of those three films can explain their success.
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In The Case Of Hart vs. Houseman
Lechuguilla6 January 2008
I shall recite the facts of the case, forthwith. An idealistic first year law student from the Midwest, named Hart (Timothy Bottoms), along with several other students find themselves unprepared for the academic rigors of Harvard Law School. Their insecurities bump up against the high standards of the renowned and intimidating Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman) who teaches a class in contract law. Further, Hart happens to become romantically involved with a woman named Susan (Lindsay Wagner) who initially fails to tell Hart that she is Kingsfield's daughter. Complications ensue.

"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.
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A must see for One-Ls
kls1314 July 2001
So, you're planning on starting law school in the fall, are you? Even if it's not Harvard, you should definitely watch this movie to see what the Socratic method is all about and why you should carefully choose your study group members. Even though this movie was made nearly 20 years ago, it still rings true and feels current. John Houseman gives a terrific performance as the terrifying Professor Kingsfield. An absolutely outstanding movie!
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This was one of the great films of 1973,and it shows in grand detail.
rcj536517 December 2004
The year was 1973. The top ten films of that year were sure fire Oscar contenders and some were one of the highest grossing pictures of that year. The Best Pictures of 1973 were "American Graffiti","The Sting", "The Exorcist","Save The Tiger","Cries and Whispers","Paper Moon", "Cinderella Liberty","The Way We Were","Papillon","Serpico","The Last Detail","A Touch Of Class",not to mention the several movies that shattered the box office receipts that were the best of the genre,the action flick/marital arts adventure smash hit "Enter The Dragon",and the Southern crime drama "Walking Tall",and the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar". The movie that took home the statues that year was "The Sting",which won seven Oscars including The Best Picture of that year,1973.

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.
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A great movie, especially for those considering law school
tripleo12 August 2003
A lot of what this movie contains jibes with the exact things I've been researching in my quest to figure out if I'd like to try law school. Socratic Method, Case book studies, study groups, 1st year hell, Finals Uber-crunch time...and the lack of a life outside of law school. The romantic element adds a nice touch and serves as a necessary plot line to keep this from becoming just a boring law school trials and tribulations flick. It is actually relevant as it addresses the issue of maintaining relationships while in the midst of pursuing what is, for many, a lifelong dream in one of the most rigorous programs of study existing in post graduate education.

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.
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Graduate school exposed
MiguelMoniz28 September 2001
I cant say this movie is anything at all like law school, but I have been in a PhD program for seven years and I know this: The Paper Chase is far and away the most accurate representation of the first year of graduate school as depicted in film. Not there are really *any* depictions of graduate school in film, at least this one gets it right. The students at once detest and seek approval from a professor who cares very little about whether or not they make it. They must rely on one another to get through the year but in the end it is up to each one as individuals whether or not they succeed and go on, or even if they want to continue. Some may knock what might appear to be a cliched cast of first year law students(not unlike a World War II movie) including the arrogant one, the kooky one, the rich guy, the brainy one, the selfish one, the self doubting one--but honest, all of these stereotypes exist in every first year grad program in every department across the country.

If you think you want to go to grad school, this movie may (and hopefully will) cure you.
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