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Mrs. Harris (TV) More at IMDbPro »

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9 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Unique Style and Fresh take on the Stale "Bio-Pic" Genre...

Author: bdh18 from United States
25 January 2007

...Kingsley and Bening's performances are stellar. Like the Film itself, their portrayal of the idiosyncratic/intellectual characters and script is amazing. I'm usually not very psyched to see a Bio-pic because a film's length cannot squeeze the complexities of a life and often only the really good or bad is portrayed, neither giving the full story.

Mrs.Harris and "Hy" remind me of people from that niche of society I've known,especially in the way some intellectuals repress emotion w/logic. While for the most part I respect people who process feelings before acting out, but like in the film, too much repressed emotion can be a ticking time-bomb.

Props to the Film-makers and actors for an entertaining, unique,smart,& funny film that like most good/great films get better upon each viewing as details,layers are revealed. I'd recommend to those who seen it once, or didn't watch the film in its entirety to hold judgement until the 2nd viewing.

The film is well cast down to the smallest roles. And while Ellen Burstyn is a great actress(she played role of Mrs Harris in made-for-TV film soon after actual events in the early 80's)its amazing that she was nominated for an Emmy for her 15 seconds of screen time(she plays an ex-lover of Hy's that is being interviewed in a sort of "mock"umentary w/different characters who know the main characters in some way that threads its way throughout the film. The main plot is told through flashbacks from the trial of Mrs.Harris). It makes me wonder if whomever votes for the Emmy's owed her something, or it was pay-back for a past snubbing? While her 15seconds are solid, after seeing it three times I don't see them as worthy of an award or any more recognition than any of the other small roles(Brett Butler,Phillip Baker Hall, and Mary McDonald also give good short performances in the mock-doc thread)?? IMO ALL awards for art are irrelevant anyway(in comparing arts quality) because art is a subjective medium thats quality(sans technical proficiencies)and comparisons are up to an individuals personal taste and preference. Award shows are really just vehicles to promote stars, films, and the industries as a whole(music and/or Film). I'm not naive to the awards relevance and value to the individuals nominated or those involved w/a nominated project. Obviously the Financial gains and opportunity from the exposure and critical recognition is very important to an industry thats goal is to attract as many customers as possible(errr business). Too often people begin to believe that awards are fact,or a true gauge. Like a sporting competition. I've heard competent adults say things like..."that film should've won best picture because it was BETTER than that film..."??).

As a dark comedy Mrs Harris IMO is an excellent film, thats characters and script resinate later. I've laughed several times upon remembering certain lines by Bening and Kingsley. Kinglsey's portrayal of "Hy's" laugh is Hysterical

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Revisiting the Scarsdale Diet Doctor Murder!

Author: ( from United States
7 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Mrs. Jean Harris is a smart, educated woman but she's made some bad choices in life. The film begins with the shooting death of her longtime lover, Dr. Herman "Hy" Tarnower," better known as the Scarsdale Diet Doctor and best selling author. First, I have to say that the casting of this film was perfect. I recognized many faces such as Cloris Leachman who played Hy's sister, Pearl; Nan Martin played his mother; Chloe Sevigny played Lynne Tryforos; and others. This case occurred in 1980 and Jean testified on her own behalf and refused to have an attorney slander Hy. In fact, that was probably the main reason that she got convicted and served time. This shouldn't be a spoiler since this is factual. Anyway, Annette Bening and Sir Ben Kingsley give believable performances as the doomed couple. There are plenty of wonderful appearances by Mary McDonnell, Brett Butler, Lee Garlington, Michael Gross, and Frances Fisher. Oh, I can't forget a brief appearance by Ellen Burstyn who played Jean in the early 1980s too.

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7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Good Actors Wasted

Author: ( from Washington, D.C.
11 June 2007

For anyone who remembers the shooting of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor at the hands of the school mistress from Madeira, the fancy girl's school in Potomac, MD, this film is a soap opera scandal which should have been allowed to rest in yellowing newspaper clippings (though those are probably on line now in incorruptible digits). Annette Bening is Mrs. Harris, the abandoned and lovelorn teacher. Bening is a fine actress and while she succeeds in bringing her character to life, all that is accomplished is to demonstrate once again that Mrs. Harris was pathetic. Kingsley has much less to work with and all he is able to demonstrate is that Herman (Hy) Tarnower was an unmitigated son-of-a-bitch, which we already knew. Why did Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman allow themselves to be roped into this? One assumes for the money, certainly not the art. Could this have been a better picture? Given the facts of the case, which are reproduced more or less as they were presented at the time, I would guess not. Neither of the principals has much of a back story to be unpacked and, while the details of the murder made headlines for days at the time, at the end of the day it's merely a sad, sordid, essentially uninvolving tale.

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7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Color My World with Blood... a Tribute to the Enigmatic Mrs. Harris

Author: invoking_janis from United States
23 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilered just in case you are not familiar with the story. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Utterly fabulous film with a strong cast. Cameos done by Ellen Burnstyn and Brett Butler capture Tarnower's eclectic selection of women. Annette Bening does an amazing job of capturing the complexity of real-life woman Jean Harris, yet she does so with an seeming effortlessness that makes her performance eloquent. She IS Jean Harris -- petite, brilliant, vulnerable and dangerous. What a gifted and powerful actress! Ben Kingsley also does wonderful homage to cad/victim Dr. Tarnower. This movie is well cast, well scripted, and well done. For instance, I thought the thunderbolts edge the soft character of Jean Harris quite nicely. Dishes, diamonds and dark glasses. Also accompanied by poignant selections of music from the late sixties and seventies (for instance, Chicago's 'Color My World' as they struggle to get the doctor's stretcher down the spiral staircase as Jean sits by herself in a comatose haze -- very well done indeed. I'm not sure I totally believe her, but I sure do like her. This movie is wonderful!

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35 out of 70 people found the following review useful:

A Tawdry Story and an Amateurish Film!

Author: lavatch from Twin Cities, Minnesota
25 February 2006

This film was atypical of the many high-caliber films produced by HBO. "Mrs. Harris" played like a generic network made-for-television biopic. The normally excellent Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening were both mediocre, and the main problem was with the teleplay. The structure of the film was odd in the use of flashbacks interlarded with the courtroom scenes. The actual relationship of Jean Harris and Herman Tarnower was downplayed, as the film progressed through vignettes that were simply variations on a single stormy and turbulent argument.

The result was a one-note film with one-note performances. Tarnower was portrayed as a boorish womanizer, Harris as a pill-popping neurotic. There were no levels and no depth to the characters. Because the film-maker refused to take a stand on the actual sequence of events during the shooting, multiple versions of the crucial death scene were staged, and the viewer was left with no greater understanding of the events at the end of the film than at the beginning.

This was amateurish film-making with no substantial research apparent and no integrity in attempting to come to terms with this enormously publicized and scrutinized murder. Astonishingly, the film even attempted to integrate comedy with short cameos of actors playing friends and relatives and directly addressing the camera. The scenes did not work, and they tended to trivialize a serious subject.

In the tragic killing of Dr. Herman Tarnower by Jean Harris, there might have been the potential for a film to shed light on why Mrs. Harris pulled the trigger inflicting fatal gunshot wounds on the doctor. Unfortunately, this shallow film lacks intelligence in the scripting and fails even to deliver the kind of compelling drama that one may find in purely fictionalized films about a crime of passion, such as "Play Misty For Me" or "Fatal Attraction."

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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Very Nice Film!

Author: BreanneB from United States
18 November 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I thought that this film was very nice. Great acting, costumes, production, script, true to the real life events, etc. It is definitely the truth about what really happened and it's definitely not one of those run-of-the-mill t.v. movies. I give it 8/10 stars.

This film about Dr.Herman Tarnower's and Jean Harris' longtime on and off relationship is based on the book "Very Much a Lady" by Shanna Alexander. The movie starts off with the shooting and then goes into the story being told by friends, family members, and others who knew both of them. I do have to say that Dr.Tarnower was a playboy who heartlessly used women, even though that is no excuse for Jean killing him. I think that Jean should have served longer in prison for the crime. I also think that this movie should have showen some of her prison life in which she helped others.

That is one of the things that I do think she did do right is help others in prison. I think she still is kind of crazy and in denial. This is because she claims that it was an accident, not murder. But it has been proved that is not the case.

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8 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Great performances and accuracy.

Author: ecalantoni from MS, USA
1 March 2006

Having read Jean Harris' autobiography, as well as other materials on this case, I thought Annette Bening's portrayal of Jean Harris was excellent. She was Jean Harris. Ben Kingsley's performance was also excellent--he was given little to work with beyond witty/smug remarks/situations yet to his credit he was able to exude the charm that Tarnower reportedly had, and the chemistry between the Tarnower and Harris was obvious, which made their connection believable. I was drawn to this movie as a fan of both Bening and Kinglsey, and the chemistry between these two very charismatic actors did not disappoint.

What was bothersome was that the film seemed to fluctuate between serious drama and intentional camp. This made it difficult to get too involved in the story or feel empathy for the characters, which is often what people look for in a film of this genre. Even the soundtrack (which was excellent on its own) was used to this end—just when I was getting drawn into Harris' "withdrawal-induced perspective, a pop song from the 70's (was it Bread?) pulled me right out of it. But the more I thought about it (and read some viewer comments on this site) the more appropriate this approach felt. After all, the whole appeal of this story to the public was that a highly successful physician and the Headmistress of a prestigious boarding school were involved in a rather tawdry situation. Two highly educated, superior-acting, society folks who took themselves *way* too seriously were involved in affairs, drugs and cheap catfights. If the shooting scene at the beginning of the film seemed ridiculous and unbelievable, well, that was exactly how Jean Harris described the events herself. So after much consideration, I think that some aspects of the film that other viewers here have criticized were perhaps an effort by the filmmakers to underscore the absurd in this story. This makes "Mrs. Harris" not the typical murder drama/documentary and definitely worth seeing.

So comes down to this: Great cast, great performances (the cameo performances as well) and it accurately portrays the complexities of the situations and the people involved in this story. It is also somewhat disturbing--you won't leave with a feeling that justice was necessarily served, or that anything was really resolved, or with any sense of empathy for the characters. But hey, that's what happens in real life.

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2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

decent but nothing special

Author: funkyfry from Oakland CA
23 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An extraordinarily talented cast gathered for director Phylis Nagy's made for TV crime and punishment opus. The results aren't astounding (like, for example, "Reversal of Fortune"), but it's certainly interesting as a character study.

The story begins abruptly; rather than introduce the characters and setting, we are thrust into the primary "crime scene". Jean Harris (Annette Bening) confronts Dr. Herman Tarnower in his home and he urges her to sleep it off. Telling him that she drove 4 hours just to spend a few minutes with him, she produces a revolver and attempts to kill herself. In the process of attempting to stop her, the doctor is severely injured by 3 gunshot wounds. Once the "crime" is out of the way, the film goes back in time to fill us in on the background events that led to these events.

My feelings about the film are mixed. The performances are solid, and Kingsley is worth watching in just about anything. He's got a very interesting character here – a total narcissist whose main virtue seems to be the fact that he's so open and honest about it. His crowded room of hunting trophies symbolizes rather blatantly his attitudes about life in general, and women in particular.

He's not a very sympathetic character, but no matter how hard the film seems to try I just can't find Jean to be in the "right" here. First of all, I find the depiction of the crime which is shown later in the film based on the prosecution's evidence to be far more likely than the first version we're shown. Even allowing some room for the film to be ambiguous about its goals and giving them credit for showing the prosecution version, I think a number of factors tilt this film strongly in Jean's favor. Basically the film shows Jean as a victim of the doctor, particularly in that it asks us to accept that her depression and violent outburst are the result of her addiction to medication that Dr. Tarnower prescribed for her, and repeatedly reminds us that she took anything and everything he gave her based on faith. The film seems to ask us to hold the doctor responsible for her drug habit, which I find just as unpalatable as her story about the doctor being "accidentally" shot 3 times is untenable. Bening is a fine actress but she can't create pathos where none really belongs. The film is too heavy-handed in asking us to see things from her perspective, even going so far as to basically lampoon the doctor's living relatives and friends who doubt Jean's story and blame her for his death by directing these actors (including Cloris Leachman) in a ridiculous over-the-top manner.

This film will hold your attention to the end of its running time, after which point you may feel as I did that you actually wasted your time. That's not to say it's a horrible film, it's just that the story is finally not convincing on a human level because Bening's character is too improbable to generate anything beyond curiosity.

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4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

"I'm Sure She Meant To Call Me A Desiccated Old Bag…Not That She Would Use The Word 'Desiccated'." --- Jean Harris (Annette Bening)

Author: Robert_Hearth from United States
24 September 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Mrs. Harris" (2005)

Directed By: Phyllis Nagy

Starring: Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley, Frances Fisher, Cloris Leachman, & Ellen Burstyn

MPAA Rating: Not Applicable

There are good movies…and there are bad movies. There are average movies and there are amazing movies. Movies come in all different states of quality. But, "Mrs. Harris" is one of the very few movies that just don't fall into any category perfectly. The performances are flawless, the movie is well-made, and the initial storyline is intriguing. On the other hand, the movie is just uninteresting, disjointed, and pretentious. The promise of the plot is ruined due to tacky flashback sequences that don't appear to be in any particular order, many of which don't lead to anything of importance. "Mrs. Harris" desires to be a hard-hitting mystery that seeks to explain a real-life event, but it simply isn't. It doesn't do nearly enough to grab its audience, making for a rather dull watch. Do not get me wrong! "Mrs. Harris" is a well-made film and Annette Bening gives a spectacular performance. It has every ingredient to make a perfect film, except for one…the most important one. That ingredient is emotion. I kept waiting to feel something for the characters—something that would make me give a darn about them, but nothing ever presented itself. In fact, it seemed as though the movie wanted to do the complete opposite of what it wanted to do. It made both of our main characters into two dull, unlikable, and rather clichéd people. We are supposed to feel for these people? I do not think so.

Jean Harris (Bening) had dated the famous inventor of the Scarsdale Diet, Dr. Herman Tarnower (Kinglsey) for fourteen years before she shot him to death in his home. Harris, a divorced schoolteacher, had been swept off of her feet by Tarnower's irresistible charms…but, unfortunately, she was not the only one. Tarnower was famous for being a complete womanizer who moved from one woman to the next without so much as a heartfelt "I Love You". But, Jean thought she was different. After all, Tarnower had proposed to her with a ring worth more than $10,000. Later, Tarnower reclaimed his proposal, completely destroying Jean. Harris is, according to reports, a depressed, obsessive, and mentally-unstable woman who was suicidal and almost completely unhinged. After the death of Tarnower, Jean testified that she had only come to say goodbye and was planning on committing suicide. But, Tarnower attempted to wrestle the gun from her grasp and was accidentally shot in the process. Based on the 1980's media spectacle, "Mrs. Harris" tells this intriguing story of murder, obsession, and infidelity…though it is not nearly as interesting as it should have been.

The performances in "Mrs. Harris" are easily the highlight. Annette Bening gave everything she had and gave a phenomenal performance. I found her to be completely convincing. Unfortunately, the script did not give her part enough interest. Ben Kinglsey needed to give a darn good performance to make up for both "Bloodrayne" and "A Sound of Thunder". He did a great job…but not good enough to rectify both of those debacles. Why Ben? Why would you follow up two travesties with a mediocre film? Will you ever be in a good movie again? Cloris Leachman is always a delight. Here, she takes on a very serious role and handles herself very eloquently…though, I could not get the thought of her in "Scary Movie 4" out of my head. Frances Fisher gives an elegant, subdued performance. She did a nice job. Ellen Burstyn's role in this movie is now probably most remembered for being fourteen seconds in length and yet able to get her an Emmy nomination. Her performance, in my opinion, was good enough to warrant a nomination. She clearly believes in quality over quantity, because, in fourteen seconds, she gives a performance better than many people could give in an hour and a half.

When "Mrs. Harris" was over, I just could not grasp what I had seen. Every aspect of "Mrs. Harris", individually, is almost completely perfect. But, when everything was put together, these perfect pieces formed such a dull picture. I just didn't find myself interesting in the movie at all. I could not have cared less whether or not the characters lived, died, went to jail, went free, or ate each other in a bloody rage. There was no realism in the characters. I couldn't relate to any of them. The biggest problem, however, is the way in which the movie is edited. It begins with one scenario of the death of Tarnower (the one Jean Harris says occurred), then flashes back and forth between the court case of Harris and her past life with Tarnower. However, the flashback sequences all seem so disjointed. They are, at times, showing an argument between Tarnower and Harris and, at other times, showing them in love (or comfort, in the eyes of Tarnower). I simply got sick of having to regroup every fifteen minutes of the movie to decipher what page the movie was on and how this unlikable couple was getting along. You could watch "Mrs. Harris" simply for the performances and not feel cheated. So, after much deliberation, I have decided to recommend the movie. But remember: view it for the purpose of seeing great performances in action, not a great movie.

Final Thought: "Mrs. Harris" isn't a great movie, but its performances make up for many of its shortcomings.

Overall Rating: 5/10 (B-)

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2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

A Walk on the Campy Side

Author: Snoopymichele from CT
2 January 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw this movie upon recommendation from a friend and I have to say, I am not disappointed with it. It's campy, yes, but the campiness works because of the talented cast. The mighty Ben Kingsley as Hy Tarnower and the always terrific Annette Bening as Jean Harris are electric together. The supporting cast was great too-Cloris Leachman, Mary McDonnell, and Francis Fisher all gave top-notch performances.

My only complaint with this film is all the flashback scenes of the murder. I mean, it starts out with the murder, but then we see it for what seems like five times more. It was too much. Jean Harris was portrayed as alternately a cold blooded killer and a woman scorned who shot her lover accidentally because she was doped up on a pills. The truth must lie somewhere in the middle.

I liked the way the characters gave testimonials (Brett Butler was hilarious), and the script was very well done. The dialogue was at times a bit silly, but not overly insulting. Overall, I would give Mrs. Harris an 8 out 10.

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