Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean / Fool for Love  


Robert Altman


Sandy Dennis
Karen Black
Sudie Bond
Kathy Bates









1 Hr., 49 Mins.

the movie in an infinitesimal amount of time for $850,000. Said Altman, in August, to the Ottawa Citizen: “On stage it was humorous and bawdy. On film it's more emotional.”


But what is Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean if not a sluggishly paced, tiresomely verbose, flatly shot, photographed version of a highfalutin performance? According to critics, a good, if stagy reproduction; to time, a historic but otherwise superfluous facet in Altman’s oeuvre.


The movie, like the play from which it originated, takes place inside a Woolworth’s five-and-dime store in rural Texas. The year is 1975. Here, the women who comprised a fan club back in the day, the Disciples of James Dean, are reuniting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their favorite actor’s untimely death. Among them are the God-fearing proprietress Juanita (Sudie Bond), the former bombshell Sissy (Cher), the insecure Mona (Sandy Dennis), the guarded Joanne (Karen Black), and others.


As the stormy, sweltering day progresses, clear is that this will not be the long-winded reminiscing session these women might have been anticipating. It will, instead, be a raw conclave defined by revelations and heart-to-hearts, where all involved, for the first time publicly, it seems, ponder how they’ve changed since the days when Giant (1956) was one of the biggest movies ever made.


I found neither the revelations nor the heart-to-hearts particularly illuminating or stirring. Though the performances are sobered and sometimes-powerful, Altman, along with Graczyk’s pleonastic original script, does little to convince us that a cinematized version of a play no one cared for in the first place was ever a necessity. Look in the direction of, say, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) if the thirst for a dialogue-heavy, loquaciously titled, conversation-centric melodrama needs to be satiated; that movie, equal parts strange, revealing, and intimate, indulges its material better than the well-acted but stodgy Jimmy Dean.


hen Robert Altman directed Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, a 1976 play written by Ed Graczyk, for Broadway, in 1982, it ran for just 52 performances. By dramaturgic standards, this was a failure. Yet Altman, characteristically, was unperturbed by the lack of interest. Once the show concluded that April, he was convinced the play needed to be made into a movie. He rounded up the show’s mains — Sandy Dennis, Cher, and Kathy Bates among them — set up shop in a bare-bones set almost identical to the one seen on the stage, and shot

September 6, 2018

ltman’s interest in theatrical adaptation, or, at least, stage-imitating productions, didn’t end with Jimmy Dean. The movie was followed, in October, 1983, by the one-setting morality tale Streamers, which saw a group of soldiers reevaluating their values after one of them reveals that he’s gay. That was unceremoniously succeeded by the acclaimed — albeit commercially ignored — Secret Honor (1984), a one-man show that depicted a mumbling, fictionalized Richard Nixon roundlaying about a study with a revolver, a Scotch whiskey, and a tape recorder.


Fool for Love, from 1985, was the last of Altman’s ‘80s-era forays into theater imitation. And for the most part, it is, in lieu of its setting-based limitations and its loopy storyline, a suspenseful, seedy success. Based on a 1983 play by Sam Shepard, who wrote and headlined the screen adaptation, the movie stars Kim Basinger as May, a lapis-blue-eyed blonde working in, and living at, a beat-down motel and restaurant in a middle-of-nowhere portion of the Southwest. She is running from her past and an old flame, with an eye on the unachievable prize that it the restarting of one’s life.


Shortly after the movie opens, though, that life, and that lover, reemerge, when her one-time beloved, Eddie (Shepard), makes his way onto the scene and confronts her with memories from which she wanted to keep her distance. The nature of their relationship, which at first appears to be based in possessiveness and occasional outbursts of violence, is slowly revealed. And it has something to do with May’s next-door neighbor, a dog-eared, cowboy-like unnamed man (Harry Dean Stanton) who is more involved in the melodrama than we think.


It isn’t until its final act that Fool for Love becomes enrapturing. Beforehand, it makes for a clodhopping mixture of affectedly overexcited sequences and conspicuously actorly performances, vulnerable to why-was-this-adapted wonderings. But once Eddie and May begin recounting the earlier days of their romance, in the motel’s skeevy adjacent eatery to a handful of doubtful onlookers, the movie awakens the sort of tawdry tension that could have propelled the feature’s turgid first and second parts. In these scenes, we’re thrust into dreamy flashbacks, flip-floppingly narrated by our protagonists. Grippingly, the voicing-over contradicts the action — further mussing-up both the overarching reality of the film and our confidence in the leads.  


Toward the end of an interview featurette included in the film’s DVD set, Altman makes a remark that calls to mind Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (1944), a purgatory-set existential play responsible for popularizing the “Hell is other people” maxim. Unblinkingly, he ponders — since Shepard never explained what the play was about going into production — if all depicted took place in the real world, or if it was actually a look inside a couple of

hours in Hell.


It was during that moment that Fool for Love, which ranges from mannered and emotionally asinine to genuinely engaging, that the feature made sense to me: it is mostly driven by frustration and nonsensicality, and only features patches of clarity — a hellacious unfolding, no doubt. When you drape the aforementioned, Sartre-penned dictum over the picture’s operatics, it suddenly looks like more than an unusually intelligent exercise in dime-store soap opera.


Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean: C

Fool for Love: B


Robert Altman


Sam Shepard

Kim Basinger

Harry Dean Stanton

Randy Quaid









1 Hr., 47 Mins.