Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
In September 1962, the world was introduced to Sean Connery as James Bond in "Dr. No" & to a more adult Hayley Mills sharing her first screen kiss at 16 with Michael Anderson, Jr., then 19. "Lawrence Of Arabia" was the big moneymaker that fall & in this lavish Technicolor world, a short, skinny actor named Tom Courtenay made his debut in Tony Richardson's "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner," filmed in black-&-white. He played a juvenile delinquent with a chip on his shoulder because, even at 25, he could easily pass for teen-aged Colin Smith, the title character. The following month, he played another title role in another black-&-white movie, "Private Potter" & by June of 1963, he played his third leading character in a row with John Schlesinger's "Billy Liar", which had been a well-known novel by Keith Waterhouse & later a play.
Billy Fisher hides from the truth as if it were his own private hired assassin. If Billy didn't lie to himself every waking hour, he'd have to face the reality of his life with parents Geoffrey & Alice (Wilfred Pickles & Mona Washbourne). He'd have to take a close look at why he's engaged to two girls at the same time. And he'd have to examine whether there's any consistency to his fantasy of being a top comedy writer for a television star when he continues working as a clerk at a funeral parlor. Well, the movie's 98m.long, & focuses entirely on Billy's existential quandry. There IS an escape in sight with a charismatic blonde named Liz, played by a charismatic blonde named Julie Christie. Everyone fell in love with this 22-year-old actress, who, like Courtenay was making her third appearance onscreen. (She'd made two comedies the previous year, "Crooks Anonymous" & "The Fast Lady.") When the magnetic Liz implores the indecisive Billy to make his fantasies come true by joining her on a fast track out of town, 1963 audiences could only sigh that anyone would think twice about resisting her even for an instant. Christie won an Academy Award for Schlesinger's "Darling," released in July of 1965. (She was nominated twice more, for "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" in 1971 & "Afterglow" in 1997.) Both Courtenay & Christie were in the David Lean epic "Dr. Zhivago," winning Courtenay his first Oscar nomination. (He was nominated again for "The Dresser" in 1983.) "Billy Liar" made them both famous allover the world, & a dozen years later, "Billy" became a musical triumph for future "Phantom Of The Opera" Michael Crawford. Most of us with a pulse have imaginations as vivid as Billy's: they comfort us when life is a drag & remind us of what we can lose when we reach for fantasies we really don't want to grab. That's why "Billy Liar" carried such resonance in the summer of 1963 & is still meaningful to contemporary viewers.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/21/01
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