Has there ever been a greater kiss of death for an actor’s career than to appear in their first film as ‘Introducing…?’
Scorsese’s film ‘introduces’ Alfred Lutter as Tommy, the 11 year old son of Ellen Burstyn’s Alice, a put upon wife stuck in a loveless marriage with a husband who is killed in a truck accident in the first few minutes. Trapped in Socora County, New Mexico, Alice dreams of returning to Monterey. She therefore sells their stuff in a garage sale, loads the car and sets off with sassy Tommy for a new life.
Thus begins this brilliant road-trip of a movie with Ellen Burstyn superb (she deserved and won the Oscar) as the independent, vulnerable, sharp single parent searching for a new life for her and her son. Stopping in Tucson, Alice lands a job as a singer in a bar where Harvey Keitel as a lonesome cowboy hits on her with sudden violent and almost predictable results. Escaping his clutches they hightail it in the night and land in Phoenix where Alice foreswears her dreams of being a singer and takes a job in a diner. She soon catches the eye of Kris Kristofferson as a ranch owner. Does Alice find true love? Does she make it to Monterey? What happens to her sassy son? Watch and learn and be endlessly entertained.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is different from the rest of Scorsese’s canon – there are no Italian Americans, no gangsters, no Robert de Niro, no New York stories, no dreary Catholic angst – just a simple story beautiful told. It stands or falls on the strength of Burstyn’s performance and she does not put a foot wrong – she is on screen for every minute and every nuanced gesture, glance and aching vulnerability is there for the camera to see. Alfred Lutter as her son does well but his screen career effectively dies with this film. One whose career takes flight is Jodie Foster as a tom-boy who befriends Tommy and her performance is so stunning it is easy to understand why Scorsese kept her on for Taxi Driver. Kristofferson is handsome and reliable (an under-rated actor) while Keitel delivers a stand-out, albeit brief performance.
One way in which the film does resemble Scorsese’s other wok is in the soundtrack – pulsating loud rock starting with perfect use of Mott the Hoople’s All the Way from Memphis and including T Rex’s Jeepster and Elton John’s Daniel.