Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

“He chose me from everybody else to bring his child into the world.”

When members of the Disciples of James Dean fan club — Mona (Sandy Dennis), Sissy (Cher), Joanne (Karen Black), Stella Mae (Kathy Bates), and Edna Louise (Marta Heflin) — meet for a twenty-year reunion at a small drug store in Texas run by a deeply religious widow named Juanita (Sudie Bond), secrets emerge that shake up long-held beliefs around identity and paternity.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cher Films
  • Flashback Films
  • Get Togethers and Reunions
  • Karen Black Films
  • Obsessive Fans
  • Play Adaptations
  • Robert Altman Films
  • Sandy Dennis Films
  • Small Town America

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this film about “a James Dean fan-club reunion 20 years after his death” — taking place nearby where “Dean’s last film, Giant, was filmed” — centers around “revelations [having] to do with self-identity, [and] how [the characters] deal with being female.” He notes that “most critics agreed that Ed Graczyk’s screenplay is awful, but thought Robert Altman’s direction (he also directed Graczyk’s play) and the performances by Dennis, Cher, and Black gave the film emotional resonance.”

However, Peary ultimately asserts that he “thinks it’s a bore,” noting that “the acting is okay, but [he doesn’t] believe any of the characters” and “can’t even figure out why any of these particular women would like James Dean.” (I don’t have trouble believing that latter point; obsessions over Dean were legendary and wide-spread at the time when they were young women.)

Peary points out that “Altman’s one interesting touch was to use a two-way mirror through which we can look back to 1955,” which is indeed a clever cinematographic technique.

Knowing that one of Altman’s first feature films was a documentary entitled The James Dean Story (1957) helps make his choice of directing this adaptation even clearer, given that — like September 30, 1955 (1977) — it serves as an interesting meta-commentary on the American public’s fascination with the enigmatic young actor. However, I’m in agreement with Peary that this movie isn’t really all that successful. While there are several “secrets” at play, two are “spoiled” nearly right away, leading us to simply wait for the moment when all the other characters will finally catch up to what we’ve known from the beginning (and the third secret, involving Cher, isn’t all that revelatory). Meanwhile, it’s not a lot of fun watching these women — each unhappy in her own way — come together to spill their guts and/or be told off by one another.

Altman fans will be curious to check this one out, but it’s not must-see viewing for everyone.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Creative direction and cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Altman fans.


One thought on “Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

  1. I’ll concede that it’s not must-see, as it’s one of Altman’s films that are particularly eccentric. However, *as* such a film (and keeping in mind that some Altman films are too eccentric, even for me), I personally think it’s a fun, engaging and satisfying cult item. As per my brief 1/3/16 post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “I chose to rise above the attitudes of this small town, while you chose to lay spread over a gravestone and take them inside you!”

    ‘Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’: Robert Altman’s film version of the play he directed on Broadway (which I saw) just prior to making the film. It was, of course, interesting seeing Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black and Kathy Bates together on-stage (as high school friends getting together for a private reunion) – but the script seems to work better as a film.

    Even on-stage – with its blending of the past with the present – it seemed film-like and, therefore, crying for the camera. I saw it again just recently on blu-ray – and I was surprised by how well it has stood the test of time.

    This is some of the best work that all of these ladies have done.

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