Nuts (film)

Nuts (film)

Original poster
Directed by Martin Ritt
Produced by Barbra Streisand
Written by Tom Topor
Darryl Ponicsan
Alvin Sargent
Starring Barbra Streisand
Richard Dreyfuss
Maureen Stapleton
Eli Wallach
Music by Barbra Streisand
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Editing by Sidney Levin
Studio Barwood Films
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) November 20, 1987
Running time 116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $30,950,002 [1]

Nuts is a 1987 American drama film directed by Martin Ritt and starring Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss. The screenplay by Tom Topor, Darryl Ponicsan, and Alvin Sargent is based on Topor's 1979 play of the same title. This was Karl Malden's final film before his death in 2009, and was Leslie Nielsen's final non-comedic film.



When call girl Claudia Draper kills client Allen Green in self-defense, her mother Rose and stepfather Arthur attempt to have her declared mentally incompetent by Dr. Herbert Morrison in order to avoid a public scandal. Realizing if her parents succeed she will be remanded to a psychiatric facility for an indefinite period of time, strong-willed Claudia is determined to prove she is sane enough to stand trial.

The attorney her parents hire to defend her quits after Claudia assaults him, and the court appoints public defender Aaron Levinsky to handle her case. She resists him as well until she comes to the realization he is on her side. Aaron begins to probe her background to determine how the seemingly pampered child of supposedly model upper-middle-class parents could find herself in this situation, and with each piece of her past he uncovers he receives additional disturbing insight into what brought Claudia to this crossroads in her life.



In 1980, Universal Studios purchased the film rights to Tom Toper's off-off-Broadway play and financed its move to Broadway. The studio greenlighted the film adaptation in January 1982 and announced Mark Rydell would produce and direct Debra Winger in the relatively low-budget film. Barbra Streisand had campaigned for the role, but filming was scheduled to begin in the summer of 1982 and Rydell was unwilling to postpone the project while she completed Yentl. [2]

Universal was concerned about the controversial nature of Nuts and eventually sold it to Warner Bros., where it remained in limbo until 1986, when Streisand was signed for $5 million plus a percentage of the gross. Topor and Rydell clashed about the film's focus and Rydell eventually quit, citing scheduling problems, budgetary concerns, and artistic differences. It was his second time that he had abandoned a Streisand property; he had walked away from A Star Is Born a decade earlier. Streisand assumed producing chores but declined to direct, and Martin Ritt was hired to replace Rydell. She hired Andrzej Bartkowiak, who had filmed the documentary chronicling the making of The Broadway Album, as director of photography. She researched her role by studying schizophrenic patients in a mental ward and interviewing prostitutes at a Los Angeles brothel, and began to work on her own draft of the screenplay. Although she received no screen credit for her work, the studio later publicly acknowledged her contribution. [3]

Richard Dreyfuss was offered the role of Aaron Levinsky, and when he passed Dustin Hoffman suggested himself, but Warner refused to meet his artistic and salary demands. At various times the media reported Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Al Pacino were considered. Original choice Dreyfuss finally was cast, and filming was postponed yet again to allow him to complete Tin Men. [4]

This film also has the distinction of being Leslie Nielsen's final dramatic film role. Nielsen had been establishing himself in comedy and the next year would star in The Naked Gun.

Aside from a few days of exterior shooting in Manhattan, the film, budgeted at $25 million, was made in Los Angeles. Principal photography began on October 6, 1986 and ended in early February. When the film previewed in October 1987, audience feedback was very positive, [5] leading Streisand to believe it was powerful enough to sell itself. She refused to promote it other than in a three-part interview with Gene Shalit on The Today Show, although she later participated in a press conference when the film was released in foreign markets. [6]

Critical reception

Janet Maslin of the New York Times observed, "The film is almost entirely adrift. A group of three screenwriters … have not succeeded in giving it any momentum at all … The material is exceptionally talky and becalmed, the central question none too compelling, and the visual style distractingly cluttered … Still, Miss Streisand … manages to be every inch the star." [7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film two out of four stars and noted that "the movie's revelations are told in such dreary, cliched, weather-beaten old movie terms that we hardly care … As the courtroom drama slogs its weary way home, Streisand's authentic performance as a madwoman seems harder and harder to sustain … Nuts is essentially just a futile exercise in courtroom cliches, surrounding a good performance that doesn't fit." [8]

Rita Kempley of the Washington Post called the film "a consistent character study, paced like a good thriller" and cited Barbra Streisand's "bravissimo performance." She added, "She is so dazzling, in fact, that she blinds us to the pat psychology of the facile script … There's heat in the moment, but there's nothing to chew on afterward … Nuts is less than the sum of its illustrious parts. Despite all its achievements, it's ultimately hollow inside, like a cake at a bachelor party. The filmmakers never quite succeed in their larger purpose: pitting inner truths against outward appearances to force us to decide who is and is not nuts. It wants to be a movie with a message, but in the end it's just a melodrama." [9]

Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader commented, "While the movie holds one's attention throughout, and its liberal message is compelling, we are clued in to certain facts about the heroine so early on that the audience is never really tested along with the characters. What might have been a sharper existential confrontation of our received ideas about sanity merely comes across as an effective courtroom drama, with strategically placed revelations and climaxes." [10]


The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama but lost to The Last Emperor. Streisand was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama but lost to Sally Kirkland in Anna, and Richard Dreyfuss lost the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture to Sean Connery in The Untouchables.

Home media release

Warner Home Video released the film on Region 1 DVD on July 1, 2003. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Bonus features include commentary by Barbra Streisand and a production stills gallery.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Kimbrell, James, Barbra: An Actress Who Sings. Boston: Branden Publishing Company 1989. ISBN 0-828-31923-5, pp. 9–10
  3. ^ Kimbrell, pp. 11-12
  4. ^ Kimbrell, p. 12
  5. ^ Nickens, Christopher and Swenson, Karen, The Films of Barbra Streisand. Citadel Press 2001. ISBN 0-806-51954-1, p. 182
  6. ^ Kimbrell, pp. 13, 16
  7. ^ New York Times review
  8. ^ Chicago Sun-Times review
  9. ^ Washington Post review
  10. ^ Chicago Reader review

External links

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