Charly (1968)


Charly is a 1968 American film directed by Ralph Nelson. The film stars Cliff Robertson, Claire Bloom, Lilia Skala, Leon Janney and Dick Van Patten and tells the story of a mentally challenged bakery worker who is the subject of an experiment to increase human intelligence. The movie was adapted by Stirling Silliphant from the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Cliff Robertson won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his work in this movie. The film was also entered into the 18th Berlin International Film Festival. Robertson had appeared in many television versions of screenplays that had gone on to be made into movies starring other actors (most notably Days of Wine and Roses, which had starred Jack Lemmon). When he starred in The Two Worlds of Charly Gordon, a 1961 television adaptation of Flowers for Algernon, he bought the movie rights so that he would be certain to star in the film version as well.


Charlie Gordon (Cliff Robertson), a mentally challenged man with a strong desire to make himself smarter, has been attending night school for two years where he has been taught by Alice Kinnian (Claire Bloom) to read and write. However, his spelling remains poor and he is even unable to spell his own name. Alice takes Charlie to the "Nemur-Straus" clinic run by Dr. Richard Nemur and Dr. Anna Straus. Nemur and Straus have been increasing the intelligence of laboratory mice with a new surgical procedure and are looking for a human test subject. As part of a series of tests to ascertain Charlie's suitability for the procedure, he is made to race Algernon, one of the laboratory mice. Algernon physically runs through a maze while Charlie uses a pencil to trace his way through a diagram of the same maze. Charlie is disappointed that he consistently loses the races. Nevertheless, he is given the experimental surgery. After the surgery, Charlie is initially angered that he is not immediately smarter than he was before and still loses in races against Algernon. Eventually, however, he beats Algernon in a race and then his intelligence starts increasing rapidly. Alice continues to teach him, he soon surpasses her. Charlie also starts staring at Alice's bottom and breasts as well as drawing and painting abstract nude figures of her. He also questions whether Alice loves her fiancé. One night, Charlie follows Alice back to her apartment and assaults her, pulling her to the floor and kissing her forcefully until she breaks free by slapping him. The film then uses a montage sequence to show Charlie with a mustache and goatee riding a motorcycle, kissing a series of different women, smoking and dancing. At the end of the sequence, Charlie has returned home and Alice comes to visit him, both having learned during their time apart that they want to be together. A further montage sequence shows Charlie and Alice running through woods and kissing under trees accompanied by a voice-over of the two of them talking about marriage. Straus and Nemur present their research to a panel of scientists, including a question and answer session with Charlie. Charlie is aggressive during the session and then reveals that Algernon has just died, causing Charlie to believe that his own increased intelligence is only temporary. After suffering visions of his intelligence fading and of the Charlie from before the operation following him, Charlie decides to work with Nemur and Straus to see if he can be saved. Charlie discovers that there is nothing that can be done to prevent his own intelligence from fading. Alice visits Charlie and asks him to marry her, but he refuses and tells her to leave. Alice watches Charlie playing with children in a playground, having reverted to his former self.