I know that Otto Preminger is probably best remembered as a film director; that’s not how I think of him, though. When I hear his name the first thing that comes to my mind is when he played Mr. Freeze for two episodes of the 1966 Batman series. He wasn’t even that good in the part but that’s still how I think of him. He did direct many well known films, though, and a few that have vanished from the radar a bit. Which brings us to our film today, one of his last…1970’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon.
The film focuses on three people who have been recently released from a hospital and have decided to live together to make a new life for themselves. Junie Moon (Liza Minnelli) is a young woman who has suffered burns on her face and arms when a bad date assaulted her and doused her with battery acid. She rents a house from a wealthy woman for her and her two friends, Arthur (Ken Howard), an epileptic who is prone to seizures, and Warren (Robert Moore), a gay man who is paralyzed from the waist down. The three are determined to make their own way and get past the way some look down on them, including their nosy neighbor.
There’s not really an overarching plot, but a series of episodes showing bits of their lives. They have a weird get together with their landlady (Kay Thompson) who tries to convince Warren that his legs not working is all in his mind. Later Arthur gets a job at a fish market, but the owner, Mario (James Coco) fires him when an anonymous caller claims Arthur is a sex pervert. Later Mario has a change of attitude and begins to romance Junie. He even offers to pay for a vacation for the trio during which Warren starts to get somewhat romantic with a hotel employee (Fred Williamson) and Arthur proclaims his love for Junie.
This is a very interesting film for its time, especially for how it addresses attitudes regarding the disabled and homosexuality. As I said earlier, there’s really not a story in the traditional sense, so it is a film that really depends on the strength of the performances. For the most part I would say the performances succeed. This was Liza Minnelli’s last performance before she won the Oscar for Cabaret two years later. You can’t really compare the two performances, there’s a world of difference. Still, Minnelli’s performance in this film is quite engrossing. Minnelli gives Junie great strength, no small task considering what the character has been through. In the first moments of the film we see her made to strip naked in a cemetery by her boyfriend before being hauled off to a junkyard to have acid from a car battery poured on her as she lays in the mud. It’s not portrayed graphically, but is haunting none-the-less. Yet the specter of this moment doesn’t hang over Minnelli’s performance, though it is an emotional one. Minnelli’s mother, Judy Garland, passed away during the production of this film, which may have also contributed to the performance.
I also really enjoyed the layered performance of Robert Moore as Warren. It’s a very measured performance, not over-the-top by any stretch of the imagination. His backstory is particularly intriguing. We have an entire flashback sequence that shows how he came to be raised by a homosexual photographer who he clearly developed great affection for both as a father figure and perhaps in another way as well. It’s left slightly vague. The one performance I wasn’t quite on board with was Ken Howard who doesn’t really seem to inject his character with much depth until the film starts to move towards its climax. Far stronger performances are turned in by James Coco and Fred Williamson in supporting roles.
This film did not make a splash at the box office. In fact, probably the biggest thing to come out of it was a lawsuit brought against Preminger by the citizens of Braintree, MA when they learned about the nude scene shot in their cemetery. He was accused of desecrating the graves and eventually found not guilty.
I suppose you could claim that this is one of those films where nothing really happens. I can’t say I minded, though. The characters are, for the most part, interesting enough to make me care about their struggles and victories, though they may be the everyday sort. Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is not the sort of film that grabs you…it doesn’t try to. However it is a touching and engaging little slice of life.
Note: Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon was recently released on DVD and BluRay for the first time by Olive Films. Thanks to them, as always, for letting us check out the film.