Monday, January 15, 2024

Working Girl and The Verdict

Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford.
Working Girl (1988). Mike Nichol's R-rated update of a familiar comedy formula, Working Girl earned six Oscar nominations, made a star (albeit briefly) of Melanie Griffith, and transformed Harrison Ford into a romantic lead. Griffith plays Tess McGill, a hard-working, ambitious young woman who thinks she has landed the perfect job when she becomes the personal assistant to business executive Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). Katherine listens to Tess's ideas. It turns out that she also steals one of them, which Tess discovers while Katherine is in the hospital recovering from a skiing accident. Rather than confronting her boss, Tess passes herself off as one of Katherine's fellow executives. She uses her smarts to set up a big business deal, but will she be able to pull it off before Katherine discovers the charade? Kevin Wade's script offers no surprises, so Working Girl relies heavily on Griffith, Ford, and Weaver. Fortunately, they deliver whatever is required: Griffith's plucky heroine is vulnerable yet tough; Ford provides a charming romantic foil; and Weaver delivers a deliciously funny performance as the film's villain. Director Mike Nichols makes fine use of the New York City locations. However, his inclusion of three brief nude scenes (including two of Griffith) seems unwarranted in a film about female empowerment. Carly Simon's song "Let the River Run" earned Working Girl its only Oscar despite those six nominations. (Personally, I think a more deserving Carly Simon song was "Coming Around Again" from Mike Nichols' 1986 movie Heartburn.) 

Paul Newman as Frank Galvin.
The Verdict (1982). Paul Newman earned the seventh of his nine Best Actor Oscar nominations as Frank Galvin, an alcoholic, washed-up Boston lawyer. When a friend tosses a medical malpractice case his way, Galvin chooses not to settle it out of court. Instead, he ignores his clients' wishes and takes the case to trial. The reasons for his decision are unclear. Has Frank rediscovered his passion for law? Is he trying to prove to himself that he can still be a successful attorney? Is he solely concerned with justice for the comatose victim? David Mamet provides no clear answers. In his original draft of the screenplay, the verdict was never even revealed (the movie does include it). While I admire Mamet's intent, I find the The Verdict to be ambitious without being fully successful. There's a twist involving Charlotte Rampling's character that's obvious from the moment she is introduced. James Mason, a fine actor, struggles to find any nuance in his high-powered defense attorney who will do anything to win. On the plus side, Paul Newman breathes life into Galvin and convinces the audience to root for this self-pitying attorney--who may or may not have found his self-respect at the film's conclusion. I know many fans of The Verdict and I encourage them to make their case in the comments below or on Twitter (I'm @classic_film). I have made my final summation.


  1. Interesting that you mentioned Heartburn -- I'm reading the book right now and plan to see the movie once I'm finished. I'll keep an ear out for that song. Also interesting that you wrote about The Verdict, as I'm almost watching the Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward documentary (The Last Movie Stars) and am becoming a little obsessed with seeing movies of theirs that I've missed. The Verdict is one of them. I've heard lots of raves about it, so I look forward to finally checking it out for myself, especially in light of your review. Really enjoyed both of these!

    -- Karen

  2. I agree with you about the Simon songs. I heard Burt Bacharach say that the right movie soundtrack song moves/enhances the story, and I think "Coming Around Again" is so much more effective in Heartburn. Paul Newman is stunning in The Verdict. So achingly vulnerable. "There is no other case."