Subject Was Roses, The (1968)

Subject Was Roses, The (1968)

“Tell her the roses were your idea.”

When a young soldier (Martin Sheen) comes home from fighting in WWII, he soon finds himself caught between the squabbling marriage of his mother (Patricia Neal) and father (Jack Albertson).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Grown Children
  • Marital Problems
  • Martin Sheen Films
  • Patricia Neal Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Veterans

Belgian director Ulu Grosbard helmed this adaptation of Frank Gilroy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play (which he also directed on stage). Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen reprised their original roles, while Patricia Neal — having spent the previous few years recovering from a series of aneurysms — took over the lead female role, using this as an opportunity to prove to herself that she could still perform (she very much could). The tale itself is harsh and challenging; however, the truths it unearths about a troubled marriage — as well as the direct impact this can have on kids well into their adulthood — is timeless, and well played.

Unfamiliar viewers should note that the film takes place just after WWII, not the Vietnam War, as one might think from Judy Collins’ folksy music playing across the credits.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Patricia Neal as Nettie
  • Jack Albertson as John
  • Martin Sheen as Timmy

Must See?
Yes, as a fine adaptation of Gilroy’s play, and especially for Neal’s performance.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Subject Was Roses, The (1968)

  1. Rewatch 12/11/20. A once-must, as an absorbing and satisfying drama with standout performances. As posted in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):

    “How did you meet Mother?”

    ‘The Subject Was Roses’: A brilliant, heartfelt work. Frank Gilroy’s play ran for 2 years on Broadway, winning a Pulitzer Prize and Tony awards for Best Play and Best Actor (Jack Albertson). The film version was Patricia Neal’s return to the screen after experiencing a stroke. Albertson won an Oscar.

    As director, it was Ulu Grosbard’s first film. (He had also directed the play, being a Bway first-timer there as well.) The result is a piece about a very specific time which nevertheless remains timeless emotionally.

    When Timmy (Martin Sheen) returns home from WWII, he realizes that his parents (Neal and Albertson) have put him in another war – a tug-of-war for their individual affections. ‘TSWR’ is the story of a family that hasn’t learned how to be one; its members operate by choosing sides. Dad insists on being a patriarch, Mom has fallen into a total lack of confidence about herself but is nevertheless a fighter; these two have lost their initial ease in communication and attraction and have allowed life’s challenges to act as blockades.

    Throughout the film, you can sense that love lies bleeding. The constant verbal ping-pong is, by turns, meant to hurt and meant to assuage; it cuts deep in blind attempts at cutting through.

    It’s a film that’s all-too-human.

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