DAVID AND LISA, a bare-budget ($183,000) indie from 1962, drew critical praise, pulled Oscar nominations for direction (Frank Perry, debut) and screenplay (Eleanor Perry), was a surprising success at the box office ($6,600,000), propelled the careers of stars Keir Dullea (25, his second film) and Janet Margolin (19, debut) and resurrected that of blacklist target Howard Da Silva (scorned from work for 11 years). *
When his mother brings him to reside at a psychiatric treatment center ‘David Clennon’ (Dullea) seems nearly unapproachable: not only is he distant and cutting, he’s deathly frightened of even being touched. Slowly, after giving him a hard time, he opens up to the kindly lead psychiatrist (Da Silva) and strikes a friendship with another patient, ‘Lisa’ (Margolin), who has a split personality: Lisa speaks only in rhymes, ‘Muriel’ only communicates by writing.
Whether the ‘science’ behind the drama is settled, the stylized behaviors more theatrical than honest and the likelihood of how things work out fanciful, there’s no arguing the sincerity behind the project, the persuasive performances from everyone in the cast and it’s hard not to be touched by the hope-affirming finale.
With Clifton James, Neva Patterson, Jaime Sanchez (debut), Karen Lynn Gorney (debut). 94 minutes.
* Though numerous films had dealt with mental illness and/or treatment—offerings as diverse as Bedlam, Spellbound, The Snake Pit, The Cobweb and Suddenly Last Summer, with 1962 also seeing Freud and Pressure Point—David and Lisa was the first to deal specifically with afflicted children (mostly teenagers). The following year saw another solid piece on the subject in A Child Is Waiting. Oprah Winfrey produced a 1998 remake of David and Lisa, with Lukas Haas, Brittany Murphy and Sidney Poitier. The screenplays for both versions were based on psychiatrist/author Theodore Isaac Rubin’s 2-in-1 novella “Jordi/Lisa” and “David”.