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Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) Blu Ray (Eureka!)

A James Dean fan club reunites

This is a movie adaptation of the 1976 Broadway play of the same name, featuring the same director, writer and cast. It’s set entirely within a small Woolworth’s five-and-dime store in a dusty little Texas town and flits back and forth between two periods in time, 20 years apart. The 1975 scenes focus on the reunion party of an all-female James Dean fan club taking within the aforementioned store where two of its members - Mona (Sandy Dennis) and Sissy (Cher) - spend their days working in the employ of the devoutly religious Juanita (Sudie Bond). The 1955 scenes flashback to a time when James Dean’s final film Giant (1955) was filming in the nearby town of Marfa. Mona herself had a tiny part as an extra in the film.

While the group recollects their life experiences back then and in the subsequent years, two of them make major revelations to the others. Firstly, Mona has raised a retarded son whom she named after Jimmy himself. Secondly, they are joined by a mysterious woman named Joanne (Karen Black), who is far more familiar to them than they initially believe.

Watch a trailer:

A flat and overly literal stage adaptation

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean heralded Robert Altman’s return to small-budget filmmaking after the critical and commercial disappointment of his lavish musical adaptation of Popeye (1980). Unfortunately, whatever the shortcomings of his previous film, you might well end up wishing you watching that bloated but colourfully fascinating misfire instead of this relentlessly overwrought exercise in tedium.

Play-to-film adaptations are always tricky; while their relentlessly focussed, intimate nature works superbly in front of a live audience, their inherent constraints and reliance on words to paint pictures doesn’t sit well within cinema’s vast creative canvas. That’s not to say that they are invariably bad; Sidney Lumet’s big-screen adaptations of 12 Angry Men and The Offence are two of the most gripping examples of cinema that you are likely to find. However, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean falls resoundingly flat.

It doesn’t help that the original stage production wasn’t even particularly well-received by contemporary critics, who lambasted it as being implausible and cliched. Seen with modern eyes, it’s clear that there are one or two interesting ideas here including some surprisingly progressive commentary on gender identity. Nonetheless, the overall execution leaves a lot to be desired and the way in which the play has been translated to film only magnifies the issues.

For one thing, it is little more than literally just the stage play being performed in front of movie cameras. It has all been rather flatly-filmed within the one blatantly artificial store set and without even the briefest of cutaways or establishing shots outside of it. While there are a few brief special effects involving imagined reflections, that’s about it in terms of cinematic magic.

For another, the way in which the story flashes back and forth between 1955 and 1975 is baffling at first before becoming simply irritating. The only real visual differentiations between the two eras are the celebratory drapes hanging from the ceiling during the later year, and the fact that one of the characters is played by a different actor in each one (without wanting to spoil one of the plot’s major developments, it actually makes sense in context). There hasn’t even been any attempt made to age any of the actors via makeup.

However, the main problem is that the characters themselves come across as being annoying caricatures. While the cast is clearly talented and they all make valiant efforts to breathe life into the proceedings, all of the shrill wallowing in self-pity becomes exhausting by partway through the runtime. I felt every single one of those 109 minutes and came out the other side not wanting to cross paths with any of them ever again.

Cher in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dea

For all that, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean does seem to have a few admirers amongst Altman enthusiasts. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that, while undeniably talented, he was a prolific and often idiosyncratically experimental director. As such, not all of his work automatically deserves to have classic (or even good) movie status bestowed upon it. This is a case in point.

Runtime: 109 mins

Dir: Robert Altman

Script: Ed Graczyk

Starring: Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, Sudie Bond, Marta Heflin, Kathy Bates, Mark Patton

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

The film doesn’t really have much in the way of visuals to enhance in the first place and this restoration does about as much as it can be given the circumstances.

Extras

There’s a feature-length audio commentary by Diabolique Magazine’s Lee Gambin. There are also two interview featurettes: Cutting Jimmy Dean, with the film’s editor Jason Rosenfield, and Designing Jimmy Dean, with art director David Gropman. The extras are rounded out by a trailer as well as a booklet featuring an essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.

Overall:

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean might enchant a small niche of viewers. Unfortunately, I’m definitely not one of them. For major Altman buffs only.

Movie: ☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆1/2


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