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April 26, 2017

Movie Review: Chilly Scenes of Winter (aka Head Over Heels, 1979)

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

While many would come to this expecting a “rom-com,” as Julie Kirgo mentions in the liner notes to this Twilight Time release – limited to 3,000 copies, Chilly Scenes of Winter is every inch a painful “coming-of-age” comedy very much in the manner of Withnail and I (1988).

On the outside, Charles (a very young John Heard) is as white and pleasant as Salt Lake City, the place in which he works as an office drone. Scarcely underneath it all lurks dysfunction at every turn. His roommate Sam (Peter Riegert) is a perpetually unemployed “jacket salesman.”  His beyond eccentric mother’s (the great Gloria Grahame) favorite pastime is submerging in a bathtub while wearing satin gowns. Things are proceeding roughly, until Charles meets fellow office worker Laura (Mary Beth Hurt). The two meet cute, and spark a relationship, despite the fact she remains very married to a man nicknamed “Ox (the likewise great mark Metcalf, who also produced).”

After sneaking around friends and coworkers, the sensible Laura gives Charles up to get on with her life. But Charles is having none of it, starting a campaign that he thinks will make Laura leave her somewhat abusive marriage in a series of stunts that are outright stalker-ish.  It all culminates when both Charles and Sam attend an “open house” hosted by Laura and Ox in disguise as gay roommates!  Our erstwhile hero grows even less sympathetic by the minute until he too, must come to grips that he and Laura’s affair is essentially over before it began.

Chilly Scenes of Winter – at one time marketed disastrously under the title Head Over Heels is a treat to behold. We’ve seen countless comedies where the male protagonist wins out by sheer determination, and the audience grows to root for his romantic objectives, except … Charles is an immature jerk. Furthermore, he remains a naïve, gullible young man right up until the end where he finally accepts the situation that Laura doesn’t love him nearly as he loves her.

Based upon Ann Beattie’s novel of the same name, Winter is full of wonderful performances. Metcalf will be remembered by many as the ROTC heavy Doug Neidermeyer in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), in particular leaves a lasting impression as the too-big-for-his-britches Ox. In the film’s funniest sight gag, Heard accidentally crashes his car into a tree to which Metcalf quite casually lifts out of a snow bank. Metcalf is also notorious as the authority figure found in the classic Twisted Sister videos, "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock.’ Anyone who grew up in the eighties will never forget Metcalf’s bellowing “WHAT – do you want to do with your life?”

It is also heartening to see film noir great Grahame in a good film at the end of her life. The larger-than-life Grahame led a scandalous and colorful life, which unfortunately ended with parts in grade-Z horror pictures such as Mansion of the Doomed (1976) and The Nesting (1982). Grahame would die at the far too young age of 57, when she preferred to act in a play in Britain in lieu of seeking medical treatment for cancer in 1981.

This Twilight Time Blu-Ray release has a commentary track  with  writer/director Joan Micklin Silver and producer Amy Robinson , an isolated score track and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Equal parts biting and heartwarming, Chilly Scenes of Winter is a uniquely skewered look at love and desire. 

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