Won Oscar for Best Actor (Cliff Robertson), and Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay (Stirling Silliphant).
"Charly" is less of a science-fiction tale and more of a straight, intimate drama of how a man deals with a wish fulfilled, the changes in his life after his dreams go beyond all aspirations, the desire for intimate human companionship, and the awful shock as his past self is poised to return, and ruin everything.
Daniel Keyes' story, "Flowers for Algernon," opened the door to some sharp ethical and social arguments, and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant ("In the Heat of the Night") kept his adaptation brisk and economical, steering away from overt pontificating so director Ralph Nelson could exploited more subtle performances from his fine cast.
A major asset of the production is Ravi Shankar's rare music score for an English language film, which captures the various stages of Charly's personality shifts, moving from the butt of cruel ignorance, to an emotionally immature genius, with a powerful appetite for knowledge.
Overall, the film's mono sound mix is well-balanced, although some of the soft dialogue exchanges near the end are too subdued. The image quality is very good, and there's excellent colour stability for Arthur Ornitz' warm, naturalistic cinematography. Nelson's occasional use of split-screen and multiple frames within a shot recall the stylish montages of "The Thomas Crown Affair," but here, the effects are well-suited during dialogue scenes, and add a trippy verve to a few time-passage montages.
MGM's DVD is a bare bones release, and it's a shame a commentary track or featurette wasn't planned, assembling memories from co-stars Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom, and placing some deserved attention on director Nelson, composer Shankar, and screenwriter Silliphant in his pre-Irwin Allen years.
The humanistic elements and Robertson's performance are still the film's draws, but "Charly" is also worth a look for Fredric Steinkamp's flawless editing, which is strikingly modern in assuming an audience's grasp of film technique.
Director Nelson would later riff on some of Charly's themes and story elements in the clunky sci-fi drama Embryo [M] (1976).
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan