Cast & Crew
Vincent Bruce, a young Korean War veteran, returns to his Maryland hometown and begins working as an occupational therapist at a nearby mental institution for the wealthy. There he meets the beautiful Lilith Arthur, who lives in a secret world of her own creation, and he falls in love with her. They have an affair, but he soon discovers that she is also having a lesbian affair with Mrs. Meaghan, another patient, and that her pursuit of love is limitless and often dangerous. Stephen Evshevsky, another inmate who is in love with Lilith, commits suicide when she rejects him. His death destroys Lilith, severing her last connection with reality, and she retreats into complete madness. The experience also shatters Vincent, and he decides to quit the job; instead of leaving the hospital, however, he asks a doctor for help.
L. Jerome Offutt
W. Jerome Offutt
Gwen Van Dam
Wendell Phillips Jr.
B. J. Desimone
G. K. Osborne
Anna Van Der Heida
Dorothy Weshner Kanzer
Robert Q. Lovett
Hugh A. Robertson Jr.
The opening frames feature a lot of whiteness and butterfly motifs as background for the credits, before the inevitable spider-web motifs are seen. Its lightness of touch, maintained throughout by cinematographer Eugen Schufftan, sets the stage for the film's way of communicating an increasingly tenuous hold on reality, a delicate blurring of the line between a woman's interior world and the everyday world into which she occasionally allows herself to be led. At first, Seberg's Lilith is ushered out of her private reveries by Warren Beatty's attentive novice occupational therapist. But only, you feel, because she wants to be. This is the Beatty who only three years before made his debut in Splendor in the Grass (1961), still figuring out how to use his good looks, but unable to conceal his awareness of them.
Even that early in his career, he comes on like the young king of hesitations, softly, seemingly tentatively, presumably oblivious to the fact that the windows of Lilith's room are covered with a thick steel wire grill for a reason. Like her fellow inmates, she's a schizophrenic whose family has money to pay for her cushy country-club confinement. His character a World War II vet who lives with his grandmother in town, is the one with the credibility problem. Even in a film clearly not realistic, we have difficulty believing that he could literally wander in off the street, not be subjected to a background check, be hired on the spot, and in no time be spending a lot of unsupervised time with patients. Lilith is very astute in its portrayals of the quickness of the other inmates to pick up on any ripples in the communal vibe much more rapidly than the staff. There are more than a few things to pick up on, despite the relative pleasantness of an institution that's positively pastoral, as asylums go.
Lilith, confined since the violent death of her brother, eyes the new staffer and allows herself to be drawn out of her solitariness. Seberg convinces us that she's an innocent, entirely true to her nature, uncalculating in that sense, but disturbing, partly because she so naturally uses her considerable personal appeal to satisfy destructive drives. In fact, the arrival of the new staffer protracts the agonies of another inmate, Peter Fonda's lanky, slavish admirer of Lilith, making sheep's eyes at her from behind the thick black frames of his glasses. He's devastated when her attentions turn to Beatty's rookie therapist. In no time, the would-be doc is going on long walks alone with Lilith. This gives Rossen and Schufftan the chance to unfurl visuals that not only match Lilith's seductiveness (it soon becomes clear who's seducing who in the mating dance between Seberg and Beatty), but open doors to lyricism sunlight glinting off water, shots of rushing water suggesting accelerating appetites, superimpositions of Seberg's face, eyes closed, over the settings of the natural world. They soon include physical interludes. Danger, too, in points of view shot from the top of a cliff. The credibility gap widens, though, when Beatty's new hire begins sleeping with her. Her dreaminess and combination of abandon and instinctive agenda bear out a senior staffer's description of Lilith as being capable of rapture. But isn't anybody riding herd on the new employee?
It's a strength that Beatty's minder, far from a Casanova (although his physicality is urgent and a little rough), seems to be in a bit of daze, not quite aware of what's happening to him. As we watch him fall under Lilith's spell, and have a foreboding that the story will end in tears, bits of his undersupplied background emerge, most notably the fact that his mother died young. Far from getting a handle on the developing situation between him and Lilith, he seems more and more confused and discombobulated, as if he knows he's getting in too deep, but doesn't know how to reverse course.
As Seberg's Lilith continues, almost serenely inscrutable, she begins to push his buttons ever more boldly, dissolving his will, replacing it with hers. She makes him jealous by switching her attentions to Anne Meacham's worldly fellow inmate. Fonda's love-struck fragility moves ever closer to an abyss. As if in a desperate lunge toward solidity and sanity, Beatty's staffer, who by now has moved onto a small room on the grounds of the asylum from his grandmother's house in town, visits the home of his prewar girlfriend, who married another man while he was away and out of touch. The scene in which Jessica Walter (in her film debut) communicates deep unhappiness and a young Gene Hackman radiates vibrant crassness and crudity as her husband is brief, but indelible, a reminder that not all is well in the world of the so-called sane, either.
Tension mounts as credibility plummets. Kim Hunter, as Beatty's immediate boss, projects kindness, but could her experienced character be so blind? You get the idea that the entire staff is deliberately averting its eyes from what is obviously developing between Beatty and Seberg simply because the plot needs her to keep spinning her scary web until she's got him where she wants him. All that saves the film from collapse is its feathery touch in evoking the realms of madness and withdrawal into which Lilith intermittently disappears. You can't help wondering whether Rossen's failing health contributed to the film's sense of life and sanity slipping the moorings. That, the strong performances, and Kenyon Hopkins's wonderful, moody, evocative jazz-flavored score save Lilith from its shortfall in trying to shoehorn an ancient myth into a contemporary setting.
Producer: Robert Rossen
Director: Robert Rossen
Screenplay: Robert Rossen; (novel by J.R. Salamanca)
Cinematography: Eugen Schufftan
Art Direction: Richard Sylbert (production design)
Music: Kenyon Hopkins
Film Editing: Aram Avakian
Cast: Warren Beatty (Vincent Bruce), Jean Seberg (Lilith Arthur), Peter Fonda (Stephen Evshevsky), Kim Hunter (Dr. Bea Brice), Jessica Walter (Laura), Gene Hackman (Norma).
by Jay Carr
Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story, by David Richards, Random House, 1981
Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Susan Finstead, Random House, 2005
From the Journals of Jean Seberg, documentary by Mark Rappaport, 1995
Warren Beatty and Jean Seberg in Lilith
Otherwise, Rossen's opaque screenplay is likely to leave many viewers wondering what the heck is going on. Instead of building on its unusual tension, Lilith meanders to a curiously unsatisfying end.
Once again living at home, troubled ex-soldier Vincent Bruce (Warren Beatty) takes a counseling position at a private mental hospital. Dr. Bea Brice (Kim Hunter) encourages Vincent to stay on the job despite his self-doubt. He soon becomes emotionally entangled with a patient, the enigmatic Lilith Arthur (Jean Seberg). Stephen (Peter Fonda) is another patient hopelessly in love with the manipulative, mysterious woman. Vincent breaks all the rules to be with Lilith, an obsession that is eroding his personality.
The expression of a serious artist, Lilith was made at a time when Hollywood had a low tolerance for exotic filmmaking. But even critics who championed Rossen's originality were puzzled by the murky result on screen. Some of the lack of clarity and direction was blamed, rightly or wrongly, on young actor Warren Beatty. The moody Vincent Bruce is in every scene, yet we never understand what his problem is. His only training is on-the-job experience, and he comes off as entirely too dour and conflicted to perform his duties. Kindly asylum chief Kim Hunter seems so convinced of his suitability, we wonder if she has a personal interest in the handsome young man.
Vincent is praised when he pulls the unresponsive Lilith out of her shell of silence. But he spends so much time with her, often alone in her room, that warning bells should be ringing all over the hospital. The movie is supposed to be about the influence one personality can have on another, but we are frankly more concerned about the murky ethics involved, especially when Vincent and Lilith become lovers.
If the Vincent character is a troubling question mark, Jean Seberg's Lilith is a unique character brilliantly realized. She's a intelligent victim and a predator as well. She embodies the theory of the chief doctor (James Patterson) that schizophrenics are superior personalities out of sync with the normal world. The artistic Lilith writes slogans on her wall in her own personal language. She comes to vibrant life when in contact with nature. In perhaps the film's most beautiful sequence, she hikes up her dress to walk in the shallows of a pond and leans over to the mirror-like surface to kiss her reflection. Cameraman Schufftan makes this scene conjure thoughts of classical Greek mythology, where fantastic beings seem to represent aspects of the human personality.
Lilith's sexual spell communicates directly to Vincent, who is an easy mark for her forceful personality. Lilith sometimes seems devious and manipulative, but her appeal is compellingly direct. Critics were impressed by the film's depiction of her lesbian association with another patient played by Anne Meachum, a relationship Lilith flaunts to further disturb the defenseless Vincent. They attend a Renaissance Faire-like jousting tournament where the mousy Vincent suddenly picks up a lance and becomes a mounted Lochinvar. Lilith plays the role of his garlanded fair maiden, and the patient-counselor relationship suddenly becomes a love affair.
The film doesn't conclude as much as it unravels. Peter Fonda's pitiful patient Stephen follows Lilith like a puppy and makes gifts for her in his craft class. The apparently unhinged Vincent cruelly returns Stephen's gift, as if jealous of Lilith's attention. The ensuing tragedy wants to be about the mysteries of the human personality, but we end up thinking about the lack of proper supervision at Kim Hunter's hospital.
Warren Beatty plays Vincent as a mass of unfocused attitudes. In an unresolved subplot he rekindles the interest of Laura, an old girlfriend now married (Jessica Walter of Grand Prix and Play Misty for Me). He loiters around Laura's house and spends an awkward few minutes with her husband, a go-nowhere scene seemingly engineered to provide a showcase for blooming talent Gene Hackman. Perhaps this is where Beatty got the idea of teaming with Hackman in Bonnie & Clyde. Peter Fonda's rigid performance is cleverly used to augment his character's cramped persona. Rene Auberjonois is visible in a smaller part. Ben Carruthers (A High Wind in Jamaica, The Dirty Dozen) has a standout scene as another patient and Olympia Dukakis is in there somewhere as well.
Something makes me think that the wife of the Frasier of the original Cheers TV show, Lilith, was named as an inside joke to this movie.
Columbia TriStar's properly formatted DVD of Lilith is a relief after Columbia's recent Pan'n Scan only release of the Panavision film Castle Keep. The enhanced picture has good detail and reproduces all the moody grays in the film's B&W cinematography. The tagline from the theatrical release ("Irresistable. Unpredictable. Homicidal") completely misrepresents the movie, as does the synopsis text that tells us that poor Vincent "can no longer determine which of the two worlds - his or Lilith's - is the sane one." Neither of the lovers comes to a happy end, and since Vincent already seems mentally disturbed when the story begins, we're left in a fine confusion.
To order Lilith, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Warren Beatty and Jean Seberg in Lilith
TCM Remembers - Kim Hunter
KIM HUNTER, 1922-2002
Kim Hunter, the versatile, distinguished actress who won the Supporting Actress Academy Award for her portrayal as the long-suffering Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and appeared as Dr. Zira in three Planet of the Apes movies, died in her Greenwich Village apartment from an apparent heart attack on September 11, 2002. She was 79.
Born Janet Cole in Detroit on November 12, 1922, where her mother was a concert pianist, she made her professional debut at 17 with a small theatre company in Miami. She gained notice immediately with her strong voice and alluring presence, and eventually studied at the Actors' Studio in New York.
She made a striking film debut in an eerie, low-budget RKO horror film, The Seventh Victim (1943), produced by Val Lewton. She played a similar ingenue role in another stylish cult flick, When Strangers Meet (1944) - a film directed by William Castle and notable for featuring Robert Mitchum in one of his first starring roles. Hunter's big break came two years later when Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger cast her in their splendid romantic fantasy, Stairway to Heaven (1946).
Despite her growing popularity as a screen actress, Hunter returned to the stage to make her Broadway debut as Stella in Tennessee Williams'A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). When Elia Kazan adapted the production for the silver screen, she continued her role as Stella opposite Marlon Brando, and won an Oscar as best supporting actress. A few more film roles followed, but sadly her screen career entered a lull in the late 1950s, after Hunter, a liberal Democrat, was listed as a communist sympathizer by Red Channels, a red-hunting booklet that influenced hiring by studios and the Television networks. Kim was blacklisted from both mediums despite never having been labeled a Communist, yet as a strong believer in civil rights she signed a lot of petitions and was a sponsor of a 1949 World Peace Conference in New York. She was widely praised in the industry for her testimony to the New York Supreme Court in 1962 against the publishers of Red Channels, and helped pave the way for clearance of many performers unjustly accused of Communist associations.
Hunter spent the next few years on the stage and didn't make a strong impression again in films until she was cast as Dr. Zira in the Planet of the Apes (1968), as a simian psychiatrist in the classic science fiction film. The success of that film encouraged her to continue playing the same character in two back-to-back sequels - Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Hunter spent the remainder of her career on the stage and television, but she a terrific cameo role in Clint Eastwood's Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (1997), one of her last films. She is survived by her daughter Kathryn, from her first marriage to William Baldwin, and her son Sean, from her marriage to actor and producer Robert Emmett.
By Michael T. Toole
TCM REMEMBERS J. LEE THOMPSON, 1914 - 2002
Oscar-nominated director J. Lee Thompson died August 30th at the age of 88. Though he worked in several genres, Thompson was best-known for his action films. Thompson was born in Bristol England on August 1, 1914. After graduating from college he became a playwright and it was the appearance of one of his plays on London's famous West End that got him noticed by the British film studio, Elstree. His first filmed script was The Pride of Folly in 1937 and others appeared sporadically until his career was side-tracked during the war when Thompson served in the RAF as a B-29 tail gunner. (He also reportedly worked as a dialogue coach on Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, 1939.) Thompson's directorial debut came in 1950 when he adapted his own play Double Error to the screen as Murder Without Crime. Throughout the decade he directed a variety of dramas and comedies until hitting it big in 1958 with Ice Cold in Alex (released in the US minus 50 minutes under the title Desert Attack). It was nominated for three BAFTAs and was enough of a commercial success that Thompson landed the film that made his career: The Guns of Navarone (1961). This enormous international hit snagged Thompson an Oscar nomination for Best Director. He immediately followed that with the original Cape Fear (1962) and his reputation was set. Though Thompson remained active almost three more decades he didn't reach that level again. He worked on Westerns (Mackenna's Gold, 1969), horror films (Eye of the Devil, 1967), literary adaptations (Huckleberry Finn, 1974) and others. During this time, Thompson directed two Planet of the Apes sequels but was kept most busy working with Charles Bronson, for whom he directed nine films. Thompson's last film was in 1989.
KATRIN CARTLIDGE, 1961 - 2002
The news of actress Katrin Cartlidge's death at the age of 41 has come as a shock. It's not just the age but the thought that even though Cartlidge was already a major actress--despite a slender filmography--she held out the promise of even greater work, a promise that so few artists of any type can make. "Fearless" is perhaps the word most often used to describe Cartlidge but emotions are never enough for an actor; much more is required. Director Mike Leigh said she had "the objective eye of an artist" while remarking on her "her deep-seated suspicion of all forms of woolly thinking and received ideas."
Cartlidge was born in London on May 15, 1961. Her first acting work was on the stage, in tiny independent theatres before she was selected by Peter Gill for the National Theatre. Cartlidge also worked as a dresser at the Royal Court where she later made one of her final stage appearances. She began appearing in the popular British TV series Brookside before making her first film in 1985, Sacred Hearts. A small role in the Robbie Coltrane-Rik Mayall vehicle Eat the Rich (1987) followed before Cartlidge had her first leading role in Mike Leigh's scathing Naked (1993).
Cartlidge never took a safe approach in her films. She told The Guardian that "I try to work with film-makers who I feel will produce something original, revealing and provoking. If something provokes a reaction, it's well worth doing." You can see this in her choice of projects. Before the Rain (1994) dramatized violence in Macedonia in the wake of the Yugoslavian break-up and made Cartlidge something of a star in the area. She appeared in Lars Von Trier's controversial look at redemption, Breaking the Waves (1996), Leigh's sharply detailed story of aging friends Career Girls (1997), as one of Jack the Ripper's victims in From Hell (2001), as a call girl trying to leave the business in Clair Dolan (1998) and in the Oscar-winning film about Bosnia-Herzegovina, No Man's Land (2001). Her last work included a BBC adaptation of Crime and Punishment (2002), playing Salvador Dali's wife Gala in the BBC comedy-drama Surrealissimo (2002) and an appearance in Rosanna Arquette's directorial debut, Searching for Debra Winger (also 2002), a documentary about women in the film industry.
Cartlidge died September 7th from septicaemia brought on by pneumonia.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Kim Hunter
Some location scenes filmed in Rockville, Barnesville, and Great Falls, Maryland.
Released in United States Fall September 20, 1964
Released in United States March 1996
Released in United States September 19, 1964
Shown at New York Film Festival September 19, 1964.
Film debut for actor Gene Hackman.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States March 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "The Films of Jean Seberg" March 15-28, 1996.)
Released in United States September 19, 1964 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 19, 1964.)
Released in United States Fall September 20, 1964