Since themes have provided memorable movie selections for this column of late, it felt right to explore a new one in the form of stage to screen cinema that cooks – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! We’re gonna be taking on films that had their humble beginnings as a play on the theatrical stage for a while and our first is a perfect powerhouse in the realm of great actors acting. A high-class prostitute charged with murder, an apprehensive lawyer in over his head, two overly loving parents and one explosive hearing all to determine if the unpredictable accused is indeed…Nuts.
Claudia Draper is a woman with issues. She’s estranged from her parents, makes her living as a high-priced call girl and has no filter when it comes to speaking her mind. But due to an altercation where one of her clients ends up dead, Claudia finds herself charged with Manslaughter in the first degree. Her parents decide she’s unfit to stand trial and hire both a high price attorney and a doctor to help declare her mentally incompetent. Determined not to be helped by her overbearing parents and to stand trial for her crimes, Claudia disposes of her current legal representation and gets saddled with court appointed public defender Aaron Levinsky. But in the face of huge odds, a client that’s prone to public outbursts and a case that seems like a slamdunk for the other side, can the unprepared Levinsky prove Claudia isn’t nuts?
Nuts is of course taken from the Broadway play by Tom Topor and while it does expand character backgrounds and dialogue, the main meat that made the play such a smash is fully intact movie wise. The sassy speeches of an incensed Claudia (her memorable monologue on her various services is pure poison poetry!), the unyielding determination of Levinsky, and the emotional impact of the various twists and turns give Nuts a firm dramatic film foundation.
And while the courtroom scenes don’t break any new ground in terms of visual prowess, it’s the impressive turns by the entire cast that keeps Nuts from feeling stagnate. As the high and low lead rife with unpredictability, Barbra Streisand makes the perfect Claudia and infuses her terrific turn with just the right amount of both mania and solace. As her earnest attorney, the great Richard Dreyfuss not creates a charismatic character, but also adds elements of engaging empathy to his humble everyman. Their scenes together and unconventional chemistry are a huge part of the effectiveness of Nuts – two very different sides of the same coin. The supporting cast are all equally interesting as well, especially Maureen Stapleton and Karl Malden as Claudia’s oppressive parents and the late great Eli Wallach as the smarmy psychiatrist, but it’s the one-two punch of Streisand and Dreyfuss that makes Nuts truly noteworthy.
Reportedly there were a ton of issues even before Nuts started shooting including director (original Producer/Director Mark Rydell and Topor had “issues”), cast (at one point Debra Winger was going to be Claudia!) and script (apparently Streisand was heavily involved in script re-writes!) changes, but the end result is a film that feels right. A good script with good stars equals a good flick – Nuts has nuts.