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A Movie A Day: Quint on Sidney Lumet’s DANIEL (1983)
How could someone with such a big ass have such a small brain?

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Today we follow director Sidney Lumet over from yesterday’s Agatha Christie murder mystery MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS to an ‘80s drama called DANIEL. The title character is played by Timothy Hutton (this was his follow-up to TAPS) who is the son of a husband and wife who were very politically active in the ‘40s and ‘50s… so much so that they were fingered as communists (they were), accused of stealing atomic secrets, tried (without any proof), convicted and given the chair.

I saw a documentary a while back called HEIR TO AN EXECUTION all about the Rosenbergs, a real life couple who were tried and killed during the Red Scare and I kept drawing parallels between that movie and this one only to read the back of the DVD and see that I couldn’t claim being super smart since they explicitely state this is a fictional telling of what it could have been like for the children of the Rosenbergs. In this movie it’s the Isaacsons instead of the Rosenbergs and they’re played by Mandy Patinkin (pre-Inigo Montoya) and Lindsay Crouse (of SLAP SHOT fame). Lumet and screenwriter EL Doctorow (who also wrote the book this film was based on) split the narrative between Patinkin and Crouse’s story, told in sepia-toned flashbacks, and their grown son’s story. The Isaacsons had a son and daughter, the grown versions played by Hutton and Amanda Plummer who are all kinds of fucked up by the experience of seeing their mother and father taken away by the FBI. Plummer has externalized all her troubles, finding different outlets to vent her frustration and anger at what she views as the state murdering her parents. She’s involved in all sorts of protests, mostly protesting Vietnam. Her parents were revolutionaries, protesting the government in their day, so she figures she’s keeping their memory and spirit alive by doing her own part to fight the establishment. Daniel, on the other hand, internalizes his anger and confusion, putting on a cool exterior, but he becomes quite the prick in the process. He has a short temper and spends the rest of the time being sarcastic or condescending or both. The movie’s over 2 hours runtime has us discover the character of Daniel’s parents pretty much as he does, either by remembering bits and pieces from his childhood or finding out about them from their surviving friends, relations, enemies, accusers, supporters and acquaintances. As you would expect, Hutton’s character arc is the driving force of the film, but I’m not sure how different he is by the end of the film. Sure, he is forced to examine himself by certain events, usually pertaining to his sister’s self-destructive tendencies, but ultimately we don’t get a radical 180 change… the character just makes peace with the reality (or possible reality) of who his parents were and what they stood for.

There’s a lot of ambiguity in the movie, especially when it comes to finding out the truth about the Isaacsons. How much of the Government’s case against them was true, how much fabricated? We don’t get answers to these questions and in Hutton’s search for information on his parents and the case against them he hears both sides, sure that they were guilty, sure that they were innocent and some that think the reality was a little bit of both. This is a really solid little flick, but it’s not one I completely fell for. It feels like it is straining to be an epic story about a family, along the same lines as THE GODFATHER, but without the characters, photography, score or story to really succeed on that level. The performances are all great across the board, with the possible exception being Ilan Mitchell-Smith as Young Daniel. Ilan’s not bad by any means and is actually a very charming kid in the movie, but he’s a tad one-note. You’ll remember Ilan Mitchell-Smith as Anthony Michael Hall’s BFF in WEIRD SCIENCE a few years later. The highlight, though, is the work by Mandy Patinkin. He plays Paul Isaacson with the perfect amount of likability so that you really do take a hit emotionally when you see the hell that befalls him and his family.

Hutton hold the movie together well and has a few exceptional moments, like his introductory arugment with his sister over the dinner table. Plummer is surprisingly strong here as well… she can play tortured and a little bat-shit insane with the best of ‘em. Ellen Barkin has a very small, but sympathetic role as Daniel’s mistreated wife, Ed Asner is pretty great as the Isaacsons’ lawyer, doing everything he can to do right by the kids of his clients whom he believes he let down and Lindsay Crouse does a great job as the mother of the children, caught up in the same shit as her husband. Final Thoughts: This movie is an easy one to recommend to a certain type of film-watcher. If you like dramas at all or political dramas, specifically about the communist witch-hunt, then this is a no-brainer. It’s a movie that shouldn’t be as obscure as it is, but it also doesn’t set the world aflame. Some strong performances, an interesting, but short-of-epic story and solid direction by Lumet make this good, but not great movie.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Friday, November 14th: EL DORADO (1967)

Saturday, November 15th: THE GAMBLER (1974)

Sunday, November 16th: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

Monday, November 17th: SALVADOR (1986)

Tuesday, November 18th: BEST SELLER (1987)

Wednesday, November 19th: THE HOLCROT COVENANT (1985)

Thursday, November 20th: BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962)

Tomorrow we follow Ed Asner over to EL DORADO! See you folks then! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 14, 2008, 2:10 a.m. CST

    I remember Lindsay Crouse, now 60,

    by Napoleon Park

    from her appearance on Hill Street Blues. If you enjoy her work though you have to see the brilliant "House Of Games" with Joe Mantegna and J.T. Walsh. I love that movie. You will too.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 2:13 a.m. CST


    by caruso_stalker217

    I love that movie.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 2:27 a.m. CST

    House of Games

    by Quint

    I have seen it, actually. I even reviewed the Criterion release for the site a while back. Crouse is much better in this movie than she is in House of Games, which is a flick I really dig a lot, but she didn't quite blow me away with her performance.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 3:30 a.m. CST

    "Some day I shall understand"

    by seppukudkurosawa

    Awesome stuff, Quint! You can see your writing has visibly improved since the first Movie of the Day column. <p> </p>Keep churning them out!

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 5:28 a.m. CST

    I look at the cover and I have NO IDEA what the movie is about

    by ricarleite

    Not even the genre. That's not very good from the studio, I'd think.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 7:49 a.m. CST

    It's about Daniel

    by aint_it_cruel?

    and that's a picture of Daniel.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST

    Well, it looks like Daniel.

    by tonagan

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 9:15 a.m. CST

    If you don't pass out from boredom...

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    ...halfway through "Holcroft Convenant," you're a better man than I.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 10:35 a.m. CST

    Not to get too political but...

    by BobParr

    The Rosenbergs were very fucking guilty.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 10:40 a.m. CST

    Once Upon A Time in America

    by BobParr

    Hey Quint- About half way through that movie you Tuesday Weld will give you a massive boner that will not let up. Fair warning!

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 4:52 p.m. CST

    What really works for me...

    by TinkerTIW

    is the ending. The movie didn't do much for me, but I always loved the end "Let It Shine" sequence. (Who sings it, I always wanted to get a copy of it.) The lead up to that last shot in Central Park looks amazingly authentic... it just takes me right back to that time. Made the whole movie worth it.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 4:52 p.m. CST

    What really works for me...

    by TinkerTIW

    is the ending. The movie didn't do much for me, but I always loved the end "Let It Shine" sequence. (Who sings it, I always wanted to get a copy of it.) The lead up to that last shot in Central Park looks amazingly authentic... it just takes me right back to that time. Made the whole movie worth it.

  • Nov. 14, 2008, 11:51 p.m. CST


    by Quint

    I think her just being there should be enough, but can't wait for whatever this scene is... Weld in Pretty Poison is about as glorious as you can get...

  • Nov. 15, 2008, 2:06 a.m. CST

    She got BETTER LOOKING with age

    by seppukudkurosawa

    But it'll be a guilty boner. You'll see...

  • Nov. 15, 2008, 9:17 a.m. CST


    by Sgt.Steiner

    Ethel was railroaded. Her douchebag brother-in-law Paul Greenglass admitted he backed a false to deflect attention from his wife. And so his sister got the chair. Julius was guilty, though. No doubt.

  • June 28, 2009, 3:52 a.m. CST


    by zenmarc

    السكربتات الخاصه بلقيت روحي .. يتم تركيب الشكل الجديد لها والشكل عند عصام . خليه يسلمه احمد ربيع واحمد ربيع يعدل الثيمات للسكربتات

  • June 28, 2009, 11:24 a.m. CST

    Who is this message for?

    by orcus