Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, The (1972)

Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, The (1972)

“My experiment has shown some of the strange effects radiation can produce, and how dangerous it can be if not handled correctly.”

A harried single mother (Joanne Woodward) struggles to raise her two daughters: boy-crazy, baton-twirling Ruth (Roberta Wallach) and quiet, science-loving Matilda (Nell Potts).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Family Problems
  • Joanne Woodward Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Single Mothers

Paul Newman’s adaptation of Paul Zindel’s semi-autobiographical Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a bleak yet well-acted character piece which once again provides Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, with a chance to shine. As a cynical widow who embroils her two daughters in the web of bitterness she’s created for herself, Woodward’s character is far from likable, but eminently “real”; she’s surviving in the only way she knows how.

Both Wallach (daughter of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson) and Potts (daughter of Newman and Woodward) are excellent and believable as well in their respective roles as Woodward’s radically different daughters. While the film’s odd title is puzzling at first, playwright Zindel’s metaphors are soon made apparent, as we realize that Matilda’s interest in the effect of noxious rays on living plants closely parallels her quest for self-preservation in the face of an impossibly dysfunctional mother. No easy answers are provided, but a small amount of movement and change occurs by the end of the film, thus leaving viewers with hope for the future.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joanne Woodward as Beatrice Hunsdorfer
  • Nell Potts as Matilda
  • Roberta Wallach as Ruth

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.


One thought on “Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, The (1972)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as one of the few films directed (nicely) by Newman. As well, it’s my opinion that it’s only after Woodward began being directed by her husband that she came into her own as a real actress – in his films and those directed by others. (My favorite among her performances would probably be in 1990’s ‘Mr. and Mrs. Bridge’, playing very effectively opposite Newman.)

    Generally deliberately paced and often going for real-time realism, ‘…Effect…’ is marred a bit by some particularly slow sections (none more so than the scene in which Woodward, having just escaped being sexually approached, needs to be in the open air to relax). Still, the bulk of the film is engrossing and unique enough to merit a watch.

    The film script – by Alvin Sargent – of Zindel’s (not particularly Pulitzer Prize-worthy) play is at least more than half a spin (a much-improved one) on the original; which, in turn, is about half a re-thinking of Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’. (Gay audiences may, in fact, wonder if the playwright was closeted – as his work for the theater runs rampant with the kinds of sentiment and dysfunctional women found not only in Williams’ plays but also those of William Inge.)

    Unlike in the play, Woodward’s character is considerably less of a monster here. So she’s somewhat more sympathetic and Woodward makes her interesting to watch, even if we don’t always like what she says and does. As her daughters, Wallach comes off better, but Potts is at least very believable as a sensitive, bookish-type and is not really called on to be much more.

    Fave scene: as mother and daughters look through a window to across the way, they speculate on whether a neighbor sitting completely still is alive or dead.

Leave a Reply