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Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More

Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More(1974)


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teaser Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974)


Alice Hyatt lives a life of daily drudgery in New Mexico caring for her gruff, neglectful husband and their precocious eleven-year-old son Tommy. When her husband is killed in an accident, Alice decides to take Tommy on the road to her native Monterey, California, to pursue her long-delayed childhood dream of becoming a professional singer. Short on cash, she stops in Phoenix, gets a job singing in a cheap nightclub, and falls into a relationship with Ben, a man who seems to be kind and romantic at first but turns out to be married and violently abusive. Alice grabs Tommy and flees to Tucson, where she's forced to take work as a waitress in a diner. She meets a sensitive, divorced rancher, David, and finds herself faced with the choice of a new relationship or continuing on toward her dream.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Producers: Audrey Maas, David Susskind
Screenplay: Robert Getchell
Cinematography: Kent L. Wakeford
Editing: Marcia Lucas
Production Design: Toby Carr Rafelson
Cast: Ellen Burstyn (Alice Hyatt), Alfred Lutter III (Tommy), Diane Ladd (Flo), Harvey Keitel (Ben), Kris Kristofferson (David), Jodie Foster (Audrey).
C-112m. Letterboxed.

To get any kind of handle on what makes Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) essential, it's probably necessary to jettison all notions of it as a feminist statement. Almost immediately upon its release, people began arguing about its ideological value. It's a measure of both the film's flaws and complexities that some saw it as a positive, upbeat study of a woman's evolution from domesticity to independence while others attacked it for being a retrograde "woman's picture" and not so different from a studio-era melodrama in which feminine happiness can only be achieved through a man. Some reviewers even went so far as noting that Doris Day in her comedies of the late '50s and early '60s actually exhibited more spunk and personal resolve than Alice Hyatt does in this picture (and they may even have a point).

Director Martin Scorsese has insisted many times that Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was never meant to be a feminist tract but, as he put it, "a human picture," although it would be easy to take exception to the idea that somehow "feminist" and "human" are mutually exclusively and that the former term could never be quite as universal as the latter. From statements made by Ellen Burstyn, the star and prime mover of this project, there was at least some sense that what they were working toward was an awareness of what it takes to no longer be "an auxiliary person." Nevertheless, Scorsese had a fairly solid point when he told one interviewer, "It was a film about self-responsibility and also about how people make the same mistakes again and again."

Perhaps a good way into Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, one that doesn't skirt the thornier issues it poses but still allows for great enjoyment of its gifts, came from critic Roger Ebert: "The movie has been both attacked and defended on feminist grounds, but I think it belongs somewhere outside ideology, maybe in the area of contemporary myth and romance. There are scenes in which we take Alice and her journey perfectly seriously, there are scenes of harrowing reality, and then there are other scenes (including some hilarious passages in a restaurant where she waits on tables) where Scorsese edges into slight, cheerful exaggeration. There are times, indeed, when the movie seems less about Alice than it does about the speculations and daydreams of a lot of women about her age, who identify with the liberation of other women, but are unsure on the subject of themselves."

There are also times when the movie seems to be charting a journey through increasingly more acceptable men. (Despite Burstyn's central role in getting the picture made and the positioning of several women in key production capacities, it was, after all, written by one man, directed by another, and developed within the confines of a male-dominated industry.) Alice's evolution, then, becomes not so much about how to live without anyone than about how to have love and companionship that also accounts for her needs and feelings. The story moves her through an unhappy marriage with a sullen and neglectful husband to a sexually charged relationship with a man who appears passionate and attentive but turns out to be violent and possessive. She then becomes involved with a more balanced man, one who has his own issues that may raise some problems down the road but is still gentle, caring, and genuinely interested in what she has to say. Ultimately, however, the male-female relationship at the core of this movie is not between Alice and her lovers but between her and her son, and after the somewhat compromised climax of her relationship with her new boyfriend David, the story ends with mother and son walking off into the sunset, as it were, facing an uncertain and perhaps disappointing future but armed with a bit more strength and understanding than they started with.

There are other ways to look at Alice that yield viewing pleasure as well as value in terms of film history. For one, it's a glimpse into the early development of one of our most influential and important directors. Scorsese has said he learned much on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore about different styles of acting, particularly the "New York school" typified by Actors Studio players like Burstyn and Diane Ladd, incorporating improvisation into the script and aiming for raw and real emotions. One can also see his characteristic style already at work here in his first Hollywood picture (its box office success moving him from New York indie to bankable director). The opening sequence--skewered by many critics for its hyper-stylization and glaring opposition to the realism of the main story--is like a trial run for his take on the studio-bound Hollywood genre film in New York, New York (1977). In fact, Alice offers up many fascinating observations of Scorsese's exploration of genre, combining as it does the conventions of the 1960s road movie, the 1950s romantic comedy, and women's melodramas of the studio era.

And perhaps feminism isn't so beside the point after all because, however important the influences of director, writer, and studio executives were, this is ultimately Ellen Burstyn's picture. After struggling in the industry for two decades, she had broken through at forty years old with acclaimed performances in The Last Picture Show (1971), The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), and The Exorcist (1973). With Alice, she was finally accorded a healthy measure of control, and she used it to push through a project that allowed her to exercise every muscle of her Method acting style while confronting personal issues that coincided strongly with those of the character she was portraying. She also used her power to take a chance on a new and exciting young director whose career might have been different without this chance to prove himself in the commercial arena. What she and Scorsese collaborated on back in 1974 still has the ability to entertain and move audiences with its warmth and wit, offering a concise and well-detailed portrait of its era; it looks back at a time when women still could not easily maneuver through the world without the backing of a man, and gets us to think about--and argue about--many issues that remain mostly unresolved to this day.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974)

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore inspired the long-running TV sitcom Alice, with Linda Lavin as the title character.

The title was likely inspired by the old song "Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore," originally recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in 1933, with lyrics about a woman who tires of waiting for her suitor and leaves town with "a gentleman with a top hat." It was also recorded by Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich, and others.

The 1933 song that inspired the title of this movie also inspired an episode of The Brady Bunch TV sitcom about the family's housekeeper, Alice, feeling the family no longer needed her. The episode, titled "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," aired in October 1969, five years before this movie.

Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944) is a comedy about a young woman who rents an apartment from a recently enlisted man who has given keys to several of his friends. It was based on a story by Alice Means Reeve.

A number of recent productions have played with variations on the title, including the Irish film Samuel Doesn't Live Here Anymore (2009) and the 1981 BBC comedy series Roger Doesn't Live Here Anymore starring Jonathan Pryce.

The title has been used as episode titles for a number of TV shows, with "Alice" replaced by the names of characters from the series, including Family Ties, Kate & Allie, The Simpsons, Roseanne, and Married with Children.

It has been noted that one can spot the highly stylized, studio-bound look of Martin Scorsese's New York, New York (1977) in the opening segment of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

The opening sequence of Alice as a little girl in Monterey deliberately called to mind old movies Scorsese knew well, most notably The Wizard of Oz (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939), Duel in the Sun (1946), and Invaders from Mars (1953).

Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (Indian University Press, 1984) is the title of a book by film theorist Teresa de Lauretis.

In an NBC news special entitled "Women and Men," footage from Alice was juxtaposed with footage from the Doris Day film My Dream Is Yours (1949), in which she plays a single mother struggling to make it as a singer. Interestingly, Martin Scorsese has cited the older film as a major influence on his musical New York, New York.

Shortly after Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore came out, the National Organization for Women organized a one-day work strike called "Alice Doesn't Day" to raise awareness of the importance of women in the workplace.

Scorsese said in an interview he thought making Alice would be a way to try making a woman's picture much like a Bette Davis or Joan Crawford vehicle. Indeed, the opening credits, in cursive font against a draped blue satin background with Alice Faye singing "You'll Never Know," look very much like the opening of one of those movies, or a 1950s Technicolor melodrama by someone like Douglas Sirk.

Robert Getchell turned his script into a novel, published in 1975, that greatly expands the story, giving a much fuller picture of Alice's life prior to her husband's death, including their courtship and marriage. It also more fully details her relationship with her son.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974)

Ellen Burstyn did not attend the Academy Awards to collect her Best Actress win for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. At the time, she was appearing on Broadway in the hit comedy Same Time, Next Year. Burstyn and Alan Alda appeared in the film version of that play in 1978. Martin Scorsese accepted Burstyn's Oscar®, naming the people she had asked him to thank, including himself.

Ellen Burstyn noted in a March 1975 interview that it "broke the house record for the first week at the Sutton Theater [in New York], and all the men who said it wouldn't work are eatin' crow."

The day after winning her award, Burstyn received a congratulatory phone call from Jackie Gleason. In her early days, as Erica Dean (one of her many stage names), she worked on his show as a "Glea Girl," a cast of pretty faces who introduced various segments of the program. "I haven't heard from him in 20 years," she told the New York Post's Earl Wilson. Gleason had also placed a call to Best Actor winner Art Carney. Burstyn later said she really wanted to win alongside Carney, having played his daughter in Harry and Tonto (1974), the film for which he won his award and which she made just prior to Alice.

Burstyn's Oscar® was delivered to her in a liquor box by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau at the stage door of the Broadway theater where she was working. She asked Matthau what an Oscar® really meant, and he told her, "Let's put it this way, Ellen. When you die, the newspapers will say, 'The Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn died today.'"

"I'm still not entirely happy about the ending, but we don't say definitely they're getting married. We say that whatever they do will have to include Alice's aspirations. I think any way we ended it would have been partly unsatisfactory because this movie is about something we're all going through right now, and nobody knows how it's all going to end." - Ellen Burstyn, interview with Joan Barthel, New York Times, March 2, 1975

In her autobiography, Lessons in Becoming Myself (Riverhead, 2006), Ellen Burstyn lamented not taking producer credit for the project she found and brought to the studio, and for which she hired the director. "If I'd been executive producer, I would have been part of the deal when it was sold as a television series and had a piece of what John Calley told me were the 'mega millions' Warner Bros. made."

The opening sequence of Alice as a little girl in Monterey was the last footage to be shot on the old Columbia sound stages on Gower Street in Hollywood.

Martin Scorsese felt that editing down the movie from more than three hours to less than two made the story very simplistic, whereas the longer version "was quite three-dimensional."

The opening fantasy flashback sequence, of which Scorsese was particularly proud and excited, actually drew the most negative reaction from reviewers.

"To tell you the truth, the reviews that praise Alice as a feminist picture couldn't have surprised me more. I don't like to think of it as a woman's picture, but as a human picture--if that doesn't sound too corny." - Martin Scorsese, quoted in Hollywood Renaissance by Diane Jacobs (Gazelle Book Services, 1977)

Scorsese, whose astrological sign is Scorpio, borrowed the scorpion necklace Harvey Keitel wore in the movie and wore it on set during production. He later said it was for him a symbol of the anger he was suppressing while making the film. Scorsese also said the production was "a kind of therapy for me."

While he was finishing work on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Scorsese was also working on his documentary Italianamerican (1974) about his parents. Observers noted that the relationship between Scorsese and his mother in that film echoed the give-and-take between Alice and Tommy in this one.

Although he had received much attention and critical praise for Mean Streets (1973), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore made Scorsese a bankable director and helped him get the backing he needed for his next film, Taxi Driver (1976).

The TV series based on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore featured Polly Holliday as Flo, the character created by Diane Ladd in the movie. When Flo was spun off into her own series, Ladd joined the cast as Belle. She left after a couple of dozen episodes and a new character, Jolene, was added to replace her. The part was played by Celia Weston.

Vic Tayback as diner owner Mel was the only member of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore cast to play in the television series adaptation.

Alfred Lutter III reprised his role as Tommy in the pilot for the TV show, but when it was picked up for a full series run, Philip McKeon was cast. Lutter made only a few other movies, including portraying Woody Allen's character as a child in Love and Death (1975) and one of the players in The Bad News Bears (1976) and its 1977 sequel. He also made a few television appearances before retiring from acting at the age of fifteen.

Diane Ladd's seven-year-old daughter Laura Dern made her second screen appearance in this picture, uncredited as the little girl eating an ice cream cone at the counter in the final diner scene. Her next picture was the teen drama Foxes (1980) starring Alice cast member Jodie Foster.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was the feature film debut of Valerie Curtin as diner waitress Vera. She went on to become a screenwriter. Her credits include Inside Moves (1980), Best Friends (1982), Toys (1992), and a 1975 episode of Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was married to director Barry Levinson from 1975 to 1982.

Ellen Burstyn's good friend from the Actor's Studio, Lelia Goldoni, played Bea, Alice's friend from Socorro. Goldoni was the star of John Cassavetes directorial debut, Shadows (1959).

by Rob Nixon


ALICE (Ellen Burstyn): "How are we supposed to have a meaningful family relationship if he's always on the verge of killing you?"

ALICE: "I'm an okay sorta person. How'd I get such a smart-ass kid?"
TOMMY: (Alfred Lutter III): "You got pregnant."

ALICE: (after singing) "It ain't Peggy Lee."

TOMMY: "Mom, are we in Arizona yet?"
ALICE: "If you ask me that one more time, I'm gonna beat you to death. Just sit back there and relax and enjoy life, huh?"
TOMMY: "Life is short."
ALICE: "So are you."

CHICKEN (Dean Casper): "Would you mind turning around for me?"
ALICE: "Turn around? Why?"
CHICKEN: "I wanna look at ya."
ALICE: "Well, look at my face, I don't sing with my ass."

ALICE: "You're a very weird kid."

BEN (Harvey Keitel): "Hiya, Hyatt."
ALICE: "Oh, please."
BEN: "I bet a lotta guys pull that on you."
ALICE: "Yeah, but most of them are under 12."

FLO (Diane Ladd): "I could lay under you, eat fried chicken and do a crossword puzzle at the same time, that's how much you bother me."

FLO: "You kiss me where the sun don't shine."

FLO: "My old man, he ain't talked to me since the day Kennedy got shot."
ALICE: "Why? Did he think you had something to do with it?"

AUDREY (Jodie Foster): "Tucson is the weird capital of the world. Weird."

ALICE: "I know what I'm doing!"
DAVID (Kris Kristofferson): "Yeah, you do. That's why you can't make up your mind about your kid, your job, Monterey, or me."

DAVID: "Who's stoppin' ya? ... Pack your bags, I'll take you to Monterey. ... I don't give a damn about that ranch."

ALICE: (hugging Tommy tightly) "My boy."
TOMMY: "Mom, I can't breathe."

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974)

While Ellen Burstyn was filming The Exorcist (1973), she got a message from executives at Warner Bros. who had screened the dailies, liked what they saw, and wanted to do another picture with her. They sent her a number of scripts, but she felt every female in them was either a victim, the understanding wife of the hero, or some sort of sex object, but never the protagonist.

Burstyn's new agent sent her a script by Robert Getchell, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. She loved it and felt a kinship with the main character because "I had just gone through a divorce and I was discovering for myself what it was like not to be an auxiliary person." David Susskind, a producer and pioneering talk show host who Burstyn knew slightly (and didn't really want to work with), held the option on the script and wanted to make it with Anne Bancroft. (Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross were other stars who had been considered for the project.). When Susskind heard Warners was ready to greenlight it with Burstyn, he agreed.

Warners executive John Calley initially asked Burstyn if she wanted to direct it herself, but she didn't have the confidence. She told him she wanted someone new and exciting and called Francis Ford Coppola for a recommendation. He told her to watch Mean Streets (1973) by Martin Scorsese. Burstyn was very impressed with Scorsese's picture, but she was concerned because it was very male-dominated. She set up a meeting with the young director, whom she found nervous and uncomfortable. She told him she liked his film but that she wanted this one made from a woman's point of view. "What do you know about women?" she asked. His pleasant reply--"Nothing, but I'd like to learn"--won her over.

Burstyn was also eager to work with Scorsese because she liked the vibrant immediacy of Mean Streets and thought that edge could keep Alice from becoming too glib and facile and too much of a formula "woman's picture."

Scorsese told film scholar Richard Schickel he was attracted to the project as a way of exploring his ability to make a genre film in Hollywood. "It was something like a vehicle, like a Bette Davis vehicle or a Joan Crawford vehicle," he said. "So I felt this would be a way of embracing the genre."

Scorsese was also attracted by Burstyn's background with the Actors Studio. He felt that with New York-trained actors like her, Diane Ladd, Harvey Keitel, and Lelia Goldoni in the cast, he could work with improvisations and incorporate them into the script. The process, he said, was inspired by the films of John Cassavetes.

Scorsese was convinced by John Calley that working successfully on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore would show Hollywood that he could make a commercial film from someone else's script with established talents, a big budget, multiple locations, and starring a woman.

Early drafts of the script contained some very different approaches to what was eventually seen on screen. There was some thought of having her divorce her husband and run away, but Scorsese liked the idea that his death happened out of the blue--"the hand of God," he called it--that forced her to make the decision to change her life.

In the earliest version of the script, one Scorsese never saw, Getchell had Alice's son Tommy commit suicide.

Getchell's skill at almost 1930s-style wisecracking dialogue, most evident in Alice's interchanges with Tommy, inspired Scorsese to begin thinking about a completely different opening to the picture, a flashback filmed on a highly stylized studio set that recalled movies of a bygone era.

Scorsese scheduled several weeks of rehearsal before principal photography began on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, allowing the actors to improvise many scenes. Screenwriter Robert Getchell sat in on these sessions, taking notes and incorporating the improvised material into the script.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974)

Ellen Burstyn wanted as many women working on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore as possible, and director Martin Scorsese agreed. They hired Toby Carr Rafelson (then director Bob Rafelson's wife) as production designer and Marcia Lucas (married to director-producer George Lucas at the time) as editor. Other women in important positions included producer Audrey Maas and associate producer Sandra Weintraub.

The production presented Burstyn with a new challenge -singing. "I have the worst voice," she explained. "I can't carry a tune, but I was determined not to have Marni Nixon sing for me." (Nixon was the voice talent who dubbed for many non-singing actresses in big musicals over the years, including Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn.) Burstyn spent six months with piano and singing teachers to prepare.

Kris Kristofferson said Martin Scorsese told him not to worry about the acting directions in the script but to think of how he would say it himself. He said the director did everything to bolster his confidence, including telling him complimentary things other people said about him.

Burstyn said Kristofferson was "slightly daunted at the time [of production]. He was young in his film career and not sure of himself."

On the other hand, according to Burstyn, nothing daunted Alfred Lutter III, who played her son Tommy. She said he was a "very secure little boy" and a lot like his character, which she described as both "brilliant and annoying."

Tommy's "shoot the dog" joke that drives Alice crazy on the road was an actual story he told to Martin Scorsese on an hour-long drive between where the cast was staying and a location where they were shooting one day. The kid drove Scorsese crazy to the point where the director thought it would be perfect to incorporate into the scene.

Scorsese allowed the actors freedom to improvise during shooting. Burstyn credited the great results with how "everyone on the set gets turned on by the enormous creative energy of Martin Scorsese."

Burstyn wrote in her autobiography that she considered the scene between Alice and David in her kitchen, where she improvised the story of her and her brother doing an act together, "the best scene in the film; the most real and the best example of what Marty's kind of directing can do."

Scorsese said Alfred Lutter III improvised the last line in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, "Mom, I can't breathe," when Burstyn hugged him so tightly as they walked down the street.

Burstyn improvised the line "I don't sing with my ass," supposedly based on her own show business experiences.

Burstyn often drew on her own experiences, including her relationship with her son, Jefferson, who traveled with her on location wherever she was working and was a young teen at the time of production. He plays the son of her neighbor and best friend of Tommy in the opening sequences set in Socorro, New Mexico. She would tell Scorsese about conversations and incidents between her and her son, as well as things that happened off camera with Lutter, and he would include them in various scenes.

Kristofferson also had his own personal emotions and experiences that came up during production. He later said he had guilty feelings because of the two kids he left behind in a broken marriage when he went off on his "quest to become what I was becoming." In the story, his character is also divorced with children he never sees.

In a documentary about the making of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Burstyn describes how the wind kept whipping her hair around during the scene where Alice and David are talking as he's mending fences on his ranch and kiss for the first time. "The camera operator told me I should always do love scenes in a high wind: 'It does something for you.'"

Scorsese decided to keep the camera in almost constant motion to reflect Alice's emotional turmoil and indecisiveness.

The scenes in the ranch house owned by Kristofferson's character were shot in a real home. The company relocated the couple who lived there for a set time to do the shoot, but delays kept the production there longer. When the couple came home on the agreed date, they sat in the room during the shooting of the final scenes at that location. They grew more and more impatient, demanding to know why Martin Scorsese was calling for retakes and insisting what they had seen was perfectly fine. "Has anybody ever made a movie like this?" Scorsese wondered.

Scorsese said later that occasionally they would have trouble with the people who owned buildings where they were shooting but that Kristofferson was always able to smooth it over and buy more time for the crew to complete its work.

Scorsese felt that Ben, the character played by his friend Harvey Keitel, star of Scorsese's previous picture, Mean Streets (1973), needed to be the "most accurately delineated" character in the movie. He said he and Keitel worked together to make Ben both funnier and crazier.

Scorsese found the process of working on Alice to be very draining and found the Ben scenes to be particularly cathartic for him. He told interviewer Tony Macklin during production, "It's my own relationship with people I'm in love with, relationship with my friends. Harvey--what he represents of me in that film, what he represents to himself. Everybody's playing this like a documentary part of themselves in this picture, and so am I."

Ellen Burstyn said she was not prepared for how frightening Harvey Keitel became in the scene where Ben threatens his wife and Alice. "I had a meltdown after shooting and cried for an hour," she said. Scorsese himself, even as well as he knew Keitel, said the actor terrified him from the moment he began his very intense and rather demonic preparations for the scene.

Keitel improvised the bit about the scorpion hanging around his neck.

In the process of rehearsal and shooting, it became apparent the biggest snag in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was going to be the ending. Screenwriter Robert Getchell had Alice marry David in the original draft. Burstyn thought that was too conventional and wanted it changed, but Warner executive John Calley rejected the notion that Alice would leave David and go off on her own: "We already made a movie last year with an unhappy ending, Scarecrow [1973], and it didn't make any money." Burstyn bridled: "Are you telling me that if she ends up with a man, it's a happy ending, and if she doesn't, it's an unhappy ending?" She thought the film should end with David proposing marriage, Alice saying maybe, and then continuing on the road. Getchell told her point blank that if she didn't end up with David, they weren't making the movie. The scene was rewritten many times, generally to no one's satisfaction, and up to the day before shooting the final diner scene, the problem still wasn't resolved. As they were rehearsing the next day's scene (something that was done every day, according to Burstyn), they tried improvising so she could find a way to make it work for the studio without compromising the theme of a woman's search for independence. In the course of the improv, Kristofferson blurted out "Come on, I'll take you to Monterey." The smile on Burstyn's face in response to this was genuine. She was happy with this solution, although in her autobiography she lamented that it came from the man she was working with and not herself.

According to Scorsese in an interview with Tony Macklin, the shot of Alice and Tommy walking off together with a big sign saying "Monterey" ahead of them was not planned. It was only when cinematographer Kent Wakeford alerted him that it was in the shot that Scorsese became aware of it and very excited by it, instructing Wakeford not to crop it out of the frame.

The set for the opening sequence, modeled on the look and feel of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and other movies, cost $85,000. Scorsese called it "the first time in my movie career that I was able to build a proper set." According to Scorsese, he had the services of Darrell Silvera, set decorator of Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and Cat People (1942), along with other pictures from Val Lewton's legendary horror unit at RKO in the 1940s. Silvera, however, is not credited on Alice.

Scorsese also said that veteran cinematographer Russell Metty, who worked multiple times with John Huston, Orson Welles, Douglas Sirk, and Stanley Kubrick (winning an Oscar® for Spartacus, 1960), happened to be present at the studio and shot the tests for that sequence.

The purpose for the highly stylized opening, according to Scorsese, was to find a way to represent how Alice saw her past. "In her mind, Monterey is fantasy, pure illusion. So I shot a flashback [to the late 1940s] as if it were a Hollywood movie being made on a soundstage. Unreal. Because that's where Alice is at."

According to Ellen Burstyn, Warner Bros. executives wanted to cut the opening sequence of Alice as a little girl in Monterey but Scorsese told them they would have to take his name off the picture if they did.

The first cut of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was three hours and sixteen minutes. Scorsese trimmed it down to just under two hours for its release, losing entire sequences and characters. He was especially unhappy about losing so much of the Socorro sequence, which he believed would have made Alice's husband into a more fleshed-out character. He wanted this part of the movie to be about a third of the picture's running time, but preview audiences were bored with it and felt the movie really didn't get started until she and Tommy hit the road.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974)

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) was a film that spoke to the generation of women who were trying to find their own place in the world in the midst of the "Sexual Revolution." The story was of a wife and mother whose marriage and life has fallen into a rut. When her trucker husband is killed in an accident, she is left with a twelve-year-old son to raise. She decides to sell everything and drive across country, intent on following her childhood dream of becoming a singer.

It was an idea that particularly resonated with the film's star, Ellen Burstyn (who would win an Academy Award for Best Actress for the film): "I was shooting The Exorcist (1973), Warner Brothers was the studio and John Kelly was the executive," said Burstyn (in an interview for The Guardian, November 5, 2000). "John was looking in the dailies every day back in Los Angeles, we were in New York and Washington - and he decided that he wanted to do another film with me, so he started sending me scripts. Now at that time, 1973, it was early in the woman's movement, and we were all just waking up and having a look at the pattern of our lives and wanting it to be different. With that in mind, and what was happening to me and my own consciousness, as I looked at the scripts they all reflected the 'old position' of women. They were either victims, dutiful wives or prostitutes, or ...well, that was pretty much it. I wanted to make a different kind of film. A film from a woman's point of view, but a woman that I recognized, that I knew. And not just myself, but my friends, what we were all going through at the time. So my agent found Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the script by Bob Getchell [who would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay]. When I read it I liked it a lot. I sent it to Warner Brothers and they agreed to do it. Then they asked who I wanted to direct it. I said that I didn't know, but I wanted somebody new and young and exciting. I called Francis Coppola and asked who was young and exciting and he said to look at a movie called Mean Streets (1973), which hadn't been released yet. So I looked at it and I felt that it was exactly what the script of Alice needed, because Alice was a wonderful script and well written, but for my taste it was a little slick. You know - in a good way, in a kind of Doris Day-Rock Hudson kind of way. I wanted something a bit more gritty."

When Burstyn met Scorsese, she told him how much she admired Mean Streets and asked him if he knew anything about women. Scorsese replied, "No, but I'd like to learn." Burstyn said they went to work and it was "one of the best experiences I've ever had." Scorsese felt as Burstyn did, that the film should have something to say. "I wanted to see if Ellen had the same ideas I had about the script. And she did and I had similar ideas to what she had. [...] It's a picture about emotions and feelings and relationships and people in chaos. Which is something very personal to me and to Ellen at the time. We felt like charting all that and showing the differences and showing people making terrible mistakes ruining their lives and then realizing it and trying to push back when everything is crumbling - without getting into soap opera. We opened ourselves up to a lot of experimentation."

One problem Scorsese ran into on his first studio film was the child welfare worker on the set who objected to the lines said by the little girl playing young Alice [Mia Bendixsen]. "The worst thing with the welfare worker [was] that thing with the little girl in the beginning of the film," recalled the director in Martin Scorsese: Interviews (edited by Peter Brunette). "We'd built that set for $85,000 and the whole key to the scene was where she says, "Blow it out your ass." That line. And "Jesus Christ," she says. We have the kid walking down the road, she's eight years old, and she says her line. The welfare worker comes over and says, "She can't say those lines." I said, "Lady, we just built this whole set. What do you mean, "'She can't say those lines?'" She said, "It's nothing to get upset about," I said, "Nothing to get upset about! We didn't build this set overnight. They've been building it for months. I've been fighting the studio to get this set. It's the last day of shooting. You mean we can't use the goddamn kid to say the line?" She said, "Well, I don't care what you've done, you can't use the kid to say the line." She got furious and walked off. So we had the kid say other things. But luckily, we had taken one take where the kid actually said it and that's what we used."

Scorsese's casting director had gone through 300 boys and Scorsese hadn't liked any of them until he found Alfred Lutter: "Sandy Weintraub told me there was one kid I had to see," said Scorsese (in Martin Scorsese: Interviews). "She had asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up and he said, "A stand-up comic." I met the kid in my hotel room and he was kind of quiet and shy. I looked at Sandy and said, "What, are you kidding me?" She said, "Believe me. Maybe he's a little nervous in here. Get him together with Ellen; it should be something crazy that happens." Sure enough, he came into the room and I would tell Ellen to throw little improvs in every now and then to throw the kids off. Usually, when we were improvising with the kids, they would either freeze and look down or go right back to the script. But this kid, you couldn't shut him up. With this kid, she had to hang on. She kept looking at me. We kept giving each other looks and writing down things. "Fine, see you later, Alfred. Fine, thank you." I said, "That's it, thank God." Lutter made a few more films after Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and played Tommy in the pilot for the television show, but got out of acting. He later became CIO of a computer information systems company in Southern California.

Rounding out the cast was Diane Ladd who played Alice's fellow waitress, Flo, the role that Polly Holliday would play in the television series. Ladd would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film. Ironically, when Holliday left the show, Ladd replaced her, playing a waitress named Belle. Vic Tayback played Mel, the diner owner in both the film and the series, which lasted for nine seasons. Kris Kristofferson and Harvey Keitel played Alice's love interests. Jodie Foster had a small role and Laura Dern (Diane Ladd's daughter) had an uncredited role of a little girl eating an ice cream cone. The diner itself still exists as Mel's Diner in Phoenix, Arizona.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was a hit with critics. Vincent Canby in The New York Times called it, "fine, moving, frequently hilarious tale of Alice's first lurching steps toward some kind of self-awareness and self-sufficiency." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "The movie has been both attacked and defended on feminist grounds, but I think it belongs somewhere outside ideology, maybe in the area of contemporary myth and romance. There are scenes in which we take Alice and her journey perfectly seriously, there are scenes of harrowing reality and then there are other scenes (including some hilarious passages in a restaurant where she waits on tables) where Scorsese edges into slight, cheerful exaggeration. There are times, indeed, when the movie seems less about Alice than it does about the speculations and daydreams of a lot of women about her age, who identify with the liberation of other women, but are unsure on the subject of themselves."

Producers: Audrey Maas, David Susskind
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Robert Getchell
Cinematography: Kent L. Wakeford
Film Editing: Marcia Lucas
Cast: Ellen Burstyn (Alice Hyatt), Alfred Lutter (Tommy), Billy Green Bush (Donald), Lelia Goldoni (Bea), Ola Moore (Old Woman), Harry Northup (Joe & Jim's Bartender), Martin Brinton (Lenny), Dean Casper (Chicken), Murray Moston (Jacobs), Harvey Keitel (Ben), Lane Bradbury (Rita), Diane Ladd (Flo), Vic Tayback (Mel), Valerie Curtin (Vera), Kris Kristofferson (David), Jodie Foster (Audrey).
C-112m. Letterboxed.

by Lorraine LoBianco

Ellen Burstyn: NFT Interview . The Guardian, November 5, 2000
Martin Scorsese: Interviews edited by Peter Brunette
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore film review by Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times, December 1, 1974
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore film review by Vincent Canby, The New York Times, January 30, 1975

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teaser Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974)

Ellen Burstyn won a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Other Oscar® nominations went to Diane Ladd (Best Supporting Actress) and Robert Getchell (Best Writing, Original Screenplay).

The British Academy (BAFTA) gave the movie awards for Best Film, Actress (Burstyn), Supporting Actress (Ladd), and Screenplay (Getchell). It was also nominated for Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Supporting Actress (Lelia Goldoni), and Most Promising Newcomer (Alfred Lutter III).

Martin Scorsese was nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Burstyn and Ladd received Golden Globe nominations for, respectively, Best Actress-Drama and Supporting Actress.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was included in the National Board of Review's list of the Top Ten films of the year.

Robert Getchell received a Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen.

The Critics Corner: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

"One of the most perceptive, funny, occasionally painful portraits of an American woman I've seen. ... The movie's filled with brilliantly done individual scenes." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, December 1, 1974

"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore takes a group of wellcast film players and largely wastes them on a smaller-than-life film--one of those 'little people' dramas that make one despise little people. ... The last half of the film is, indeed, a picture; but as a whole it's a distended bore." -- Variety, 1974

"One of the rare films that genuinely deserve to be called controversial. I think people will really fight about it. It's the story of a woman who has a second chance thrust on her; she knows enough not to make the same mistake again, but she isn't sure of much else. Neither is the movie. Alice is thoroughly enjoyable: funny, absorbing, intelligent even when you don't believe in what's going on--when the issues it raises get all fouled up." - Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, January 13, 1975

"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore seems especially remarkable because it was directed by the man who first smashed into our consciousness with an entirely different kind of movie, Mean Streets [1973], a male-dominated melodrama about life in New York's Little Italy. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is an American comedy of the sort of vitality that dazzles European film critics and we take for granted. It's full of attachments and associations to very particular times and places, even in the various regional accents of its characters. It's beautifully written (by Robert Getchell) and acted, but it's not especially neatly tailored. ... At the center of the movie and giving it a visible sensibility is Miss Burstyn, one of the few actresses at work today (another is Glenda Jackson) who is able to seem appealing, tough, intelligent, funny, and bereft, all at approximately the same moment." - Vincent Canby, New York Times, January 30, 1975

"Even at the comparatively pleasant moments of Alice, Scorsese's insecurity as a director works to cripple the narrative. He seems so utterly enamored of Ellen Burstyn (or perhaps intimidated by doing a 'woman's story') that he allows the leading lady to do anything she wants--pout, mug, mutter, soliloquize, reminisce--and for as long as she wants. Burstyn takes full advantage, putting her whole repertoire of raw emotions on proud display. Yet without properly controlled direction (the kind Cukor gave Hepburn, for example), this woman's intuition often proves completely wrong. Her Alice is strictly a non-character--floating, undefined, inconsistent--veering this way and that, depending on Burstyn's whims in any particular scene." - Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary, Jump Cut, No. 7, 1975

"The filmmakers seem to think that they actually made a feminist film. They may have started out to do so. But Alice is more regressively chauvinist than a Russ Meyer softcore B simply because it pretends to be something it's not. The preoccupations that Scorsese imposes on it don't help much either. The quotes from old films and old music helped greatly to develop the atmosphere of Mean Streets. They belonged there. They don't belong here, unless the suggestion is meant that this is really a forties woman's movie which will teach the old lesson that you're nothing without a man. It's Mildred Pierce [1945] all over again, except that Mildred actually owned the restaurant." - James Monaco, American Film Now (Oxford University Press, 1979)

"Burstyn is excellent as the eponymous heroine.... Her encounters, and those of her precociously witty 12-year old son, are observed with great generosity and a raw realism, while Scorsese typically makes wonderful use of music to underline character and situation. Bitter-sweet and very charming." - Geoff Andrew, Time Out, 2000

by Rob Nixon

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