Kramer vs. Kramer

Kramer vs. Kramer won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1979, and won four others, Best Director (Robert Benton), Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Robert Benton again). Justin Henry, god bless him, remains the youngest ever Oscar nominee at the age of 8.

The other Oscar-nominated films were Breaking Away, which I have seen, and All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, and Norma Rae, which I haven’t. IMDB users rank Kramer vs. Kramer 6th on one list and 7th on the other. Alien, which won the Hugo Award, tops both lists, and Apocalypse Now and Mad Max are also ahead of it on both. Apart from Alien and Breaking Away, I’ve seen seven other films made that year: Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Moonraker, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Muppet Movie, Zulu Dawn, The Prisoner of Zenda (the Peter Sellers version) and The Warriors. To be honest I would put Kramer vs. Kramer in the lower half of that pack. Here’s a trailer.

It’s the story of a New York advertising guy whose wife leaves him, with the result that he needs to develop hitherto unused childcare skills; and then she demands custody of their son in a bruising courtroom battle. She wins, but then in a twist ending decides he can keep the kid after all. The script is by Robert Benton who also got a credit for Superman last year.

We’ve seen a few faces here before starting with the two leads. Dustin Hoffman is Ted Kramer here, and was Ratso in Midnight Cowboy ten years ago.

Meryl Streep is Joanne Kramer here, and was Linda in The Deer Hunter last year.

Going back a good deal further, Howland Chamberlain is the divorce court judge here, and way back in 1946 was the department store owner Mr Thorpe in The Best Years of Our Lives. (Born in 1911, he was only 35 then, but played it older.)

Incidentally, one of the child actor extras grew up to be a TV editor and worked on Heroes, The Vampire Diaries and Lovecraft Country.

OK, so, our usual suspects: not a single black speaking part, in a film set in New York (the 16th of 52 Oscar-winning films set there). And in these days of Men’s Rights Activism, the plot is basically a dramatisation of their raison d’être. Ted and Louise are not terribly nice people; but we get much more of Ted’s viewpoint and we are clearly meant to sympathise with him. I didn’t find the music or the cinematography terribly exciting. There is of course a real drama to the courtroom sequence, and Streep in particular is very impressive here, but I can’t really be bothered to write much more about it. MAD Magazine, as so often, had a better ending.

I’ve thought long and hard about where to put it on my personal ranking. In the end it’s going three quarters of the way down, below Gentleman’s Agreement, also a New York drama about real issues but whose heart is in the right place, and above Gone With the Wind, which is also a family drama but with overt rather than covert racism.

The original novel by Avery Corman is actually somewhat better. (Incidentally, this is the first Oscar-winning film based on a novel since The Godfather in 1972.) The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Billy was two. Joanna’s mother would have said he wasn’t any trouble. He was sometimes stubborn or slow, but he was emerging as a person, moving from the primitive state of sticking cottage cheese into his ears into a semi-civilized being you could take to a Chinese restaurant on a Sunday.

It scores over the film by taking us into Joanna’s mind and showing us the reasons for her actions; there’s also some good colourful incidental detail which is missing from the film (the housekeeper, the grandparents, Ted’s love life). We have the same twist ending though.

Right. Next up is Ordinary People, of which I know nothing at all. But first, The Empire Strikes Back.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)

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