Blu-ray: Melvin and Howard

STUDIO: Twilight Time | DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme | CAST: Paul Le Mat, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Pamela Reed, Gloria Grahame
RELEASE DATE: April 16, 2019 | PRICE: Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: Isolated Music & Effects Track, commentary, trailer
SPECS: R | 95 min. | Comedy drama | aspect | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Jonathan Demme’s 1980 comedy-drama Melvin and Howard, a bittersweet look at the American Dream, finally receives a Blu-ray release courtesy of Twilight Time. And though the package isn’t overwhelming in the extras department, what’s here in terms of the film itself and visual quality is choice, and should be enough to satisfy the fans of this small-scale, overlooked gem.

The story centers Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat, American Graffiti), a hard-luck working class guy who helps a fallen motorcycle driver at night in the Nevada desert. The disheveled, fallen biker (Robards) claims to be reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. After Melvin drives the purported tycoon to Las Vegas, singing along the way, he continues his harried lifestyle, attempting to make ends meet by taking a variety of jobs he just doesn’t seem quite right for, all the while trying to strike it rich. Meanwhile, his personal life is a mess, as he breaks up with his stripper wife Lynda (Steenburgen), and remarries a co-worker (Pamela Reed, The Long Riders) at a dairy where he’s employed as a milkman. Then, his already frenzied life is turned upside-down when he discovers he has a copy of Howard Hughes’ will courtesy of the mogul’s Mormon associates that states he has been left $156 million by the now-deceased Hughes.

Before Demme’s blockbuster 1990 thriller The Silence of the Lambs, the filmmaker had a penchant for capturing the campy, tchotchke-filled world  of everyday Americana in such efforts as 1977’s Citizen’s Band (aka Handle With Care) and 1986’s Something Wild. His obsession is on display here, from the good ol’ boy gentlemen’s club where Steenburgen dances alongside a stripper in an arm cast, to the hubcap fence leading to the Dummar family’s tiny home.

Highlights of the insightful commentary provided by the late Demme and production designer Toby Rafelson (originally recorded in 1999) focuses on the little things that make this film special, from the wardrobe choices to the location filming (much of it was filmed where events really occurred) to the eccentric supporting cast, which includes Demme regulars Charles Napier and Robert Ridgely. There are also little nuggets revealed throughout the commentary, such as the director mentioning he was a candidate to direct the Oscar-winning Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore—“Marty” (Scorsese) eventually got the job although Rafelson was production designer on the project. In addition, Demme, who cast Dummar in a cameo in the picture and seemingly worked closely with him, says he believes his highly contested claim to the story of his alliance with Hughes.

Despite Oscars for Best Supporting Actress Mary Steenburgen (A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy) and Best Original Screenplay (Bo Goldman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Jason Robards (All The President’s Men), not to mention lots of accolades at the time of its release and a key spot in the New York Film Festival, the 1980 film fared disappointingly at the box-office.

Over the years, Melvin and Howard has drawn a solid core of admirers who will be more than thrilled to add this to their Blu-ray libraries. It’s a feel-good movie about some not not-so feel-good things.

Buy Melvin and Howard
on  Blu-ray

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.