Melvin and Howard (1980) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • This movie tells the possibly true story of Melvin E. Dummar. Melvin is a nice guy, but he is a total loser: unlucky, impractical and can't keep a job. One night, however, he helps an old man who has had a motorcycle accident in the desert. Melvin laughs when the old man says he is Howard Hughes, the eccentric multimillionaire. But when Howard Hughes dies, Melvin is mailed a will leaving him part of the estate!

  • Melvin E. Dummar is a working class stiff who has been trying to find his professional place in life, he moving from job to job over his adult life as he hasn't been able to find anything to which he can stick. This life does wreak havoc on his marriage to Lynda Dummar, the two who live in a trailer park in the Nevada desert with their daughter, Darcy. Their possessions are routinely repossessed as Melvin has no concept of repayment of debt, always spending on those things he wants whenever they solely have the down payment. Their marriage is also not helped by Lynda's larger focus on wanting to be a dancer in whatever means rather than be wife and mother. These issues lead to an up and down marriage for the two, with Darcy often thrown between parents at a whim. One day, while Melvin is managing a gas station, he receives anonymously what looks to be the handwritten last will and testament for Howard Hughes, no other will which has been discovered following his death. Melvin received this document as years earlier, he picked up who he thought was solely a drifter in need in the middle of the night in the desert, that drifter who claimed to be Hughes, which at the time Melvin thought was just the rambling of a crazy old man. This will bequeaths Hughes' estate to a handful of people, with Melvin's share being $156 million. Melvin's actions following receipt of the will and public reaction as the story hits the media further affect Melvin's life as the authenticity of the will is questioned.

  • When luckless dreamer Melvin E. Dummar rescues a grizzled, half-dead man from the desert, he's skeptical of the man's claim that he's actually reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. But in the wake of Hughes' death a decade later, a will appears naming Melvin the recipient of $156 million, and a media circus ensues. Accused of forgery, Melvin vigorously maintains his innocence despite a strong intuition that he'll never see any of the money.

  • The story of hard-luck Melvin E. Dummar, who claimed to have received a will naming him an heir to the fortune of Howard Hughes.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In the desert near Tonopah, Nevada, Howard Hughes (Jason Robarts) rides his motorcycle and crashes. At night, Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat), a magnesium plant worker, stops by the side of the highway to urinate. There, he sees Howard huddled and shivering on the ground. He helps the man into his pickup truck, and says he should see a doctor. Howard refuses medical attention, although blood trickles from his ear. Howard asks Melvin to take him to Las Vegas, Nevada. Melvin makes small talk, saying he applied to work the graveyard shift at McDonnell Douglas, Northrup Corporation, and Hughes Aircraft Company, but was rejected. Howard says he might have helped Melvin get a job, and reveals that he is Howard Hughes, but Melvin does not believe him. Melvin sings an original song he wrote titled 'Santa's Souped Up Sleigh'. He teaches Howard the words, and then wants Howard to sing a favorite song, but he refuses. After being prodded, Howard hums 'Bye Bye Blackbird', and then sings the words.

    When they arrive in Las Vegas, Howard asks to be dropped off in a hotel parking lot. Before he leaves, he asks Melvin for money. When Melvin gives him the spare change in his pocket, Howard eyes Melvin as if to commit his face to memory, then says goodbye. After Melvin leaves, Howard tosses the change on the ground.

    Melvin returns to his trailer home, and makes love to his wife, Lynda (Mary Streenburgh). Later, she awakens and sees their motorcycle being repossessed. Lynda grabs their daughter, Darcy (Elizabeth Cheshire), and some personal items, and leaves Melvin. In a hotel room, she tells Darcy that she is no longer able to co-habitate with her husband. However, Lynda sends her daughter to live with Melvin.

    Later, Melvin and his co-worker, "Little Red," (Michael J. Pollard) take a ride to Reno, Nevada. There, Melvin finds Lynda working as a dancer in a topless club and orders her to come home. When he tries to remove her from the stage, the owner (Gene Borkan) kicks him out of the club.

    Another day or so later, Melvin arrives at another go-go club with divorce papers that grant him sole custody of Darcy. The couple fights, and again, the owner of that club (Joe Spinell) removes Melvin from the premises, complaining to Lynda about the disruption. Lynda quits, rips off her costume, and walks out of the club completely naked.

    A short time later, Lynda calls Melvin from Anaheim, California. He guesses that she is pregnant, invites her to come back home, and promises to marry her again. The couple has a quickie wedding in Las Vegas, and relocate to Glendale, California, where Melvin gets a job as a milk deliveryman. Months later, Lynda gives birth to a baby boy.

    While the family watches the 'Easy Street' game show on television, Lynda tells Melvin that their car has been repossessed. Melvin is not too worried, but Lynda becomes a contestant on 'Easy Street' to win money and prizes for her family. On the show, she tap dances to the tune of 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction' and receives a check for $500. Wally "Mr. Love" Williams (Robert Ridgley), the game show host, asks if she wants to trade her check for what is behind gate number one, two or three. She chooses gate number two, and, at first, wins a set of living room furniture. Then, the sound of rolling thunder signals additional prizes. Lynda also wins an upright piano, sheet music, piano lessons, and a check for $10,000.

    With the game show prize money, the couple purchases a new tract home. When Lynda insists on buying a more modest home, Melvin buys an expensive car and a motorboat. She demands he return them, but he refuses. She calls him a loser, and is furious that he has spent all of her prize money on frivolous things. Lynda says she is never coming back, takes her children, and leaves Melvin for the second time.

    At the company Christmas party, Melvin sings a parody of 'Six Days On The Road,' and Bonnie (Pamela Reed), a company staff member, is charmed by his performance. Afterward, his romance with Bonnie blooms, and she suggests they start a new life in Utah, running a gas station her cousin formerly owned.

    One day, their petroleum supplier refuses to make a gasoline delivery unless he gets paid. Melvin tells Bonnie they will write a check even if funds do not cover it, and he says there is a possibility he will pump enough gas over the weekend to pay the supplier. Meanwhile, television news reports that eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes has died. Melvin reminds Bonnie that he gave Howard a ride out in the desert many years ago.

    A few days later, a stranger leaves an envelope containing Howard Hughes' will at Melvin's gas station. After examining the document, Melvin travels to Salt Lake City, Utah, and leaves the document at the offices of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. One day, Bonnie receives a telephone call informing her that Melvin is one of 16 beneficiaries named in an alleged Howard Hughes will. Television reporters show up at the gas station, and interview Bonnie and her children while Melvin hides. Later, Melvin agrees to hold a press conference, and the media interviews anybody who knows Melvin.

    In a courtroom at the Las Vegas Clark County Courthouse, Melvin tells lawyers he gave the will to the church because he was afraid. The attorneys strongly suggest that Melvin's story about Howard is a lie, and Judge Keith Hayes (Dabney Coleman) says he will throw Melvin in prison if he tries to commit fraud. Under oath, Melvin claims he is telling the truth. After the hearing, Melvin's lawyer thinks he has a chance to inherit money, but Melvin thinks that most of the inheritance will be siphoned away by the federal and state government. He is not angry though. He is happy to have the memory of Howard singing his Christmas song.

    The movie closes with a flashback scene of Melvin recalling Howard asking to drive his truck. Melvin lets Howard take the wheel. As Melvin drops off to sleep, Howard drives and sings 'Bye Bye Blackbird'.

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