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Charly Gordon, a retarded 30-year-old with the mind of a child, works as a sweeper in a Boston bakery, where he is often the victim of cruel jokes made by co-workers whom he considers his best friends. In a fruitless attempt to better himself, he diligently attends evening classes taught by Alice Kinian. Touched and impressed by Charly's intense desire to learn, Alice arranges to have him examined by Dr. Richard Nemur, a neurosurgeon, and Dr. Anna Straus, a psychiatrist. The two doctors have surgically cured mentally defective mice and are looking for a human subject. In his initial tests, Charly scores lower than Algernon, a mouse; but after experimental surgery, Charley rapidly improves, and his operation is considered a success. He quits the bakery job to devote all of his time to his studies, and his mental capacity soon reaches genius proportions. Charly develops slower emotionally, however; and, misinterpreting Alice's attentions, he tries forcibly to make love to her. Shamed by the rebuff, Charly runs away and briefly assumes a hippie lifestyle. When he returns to resume his studies, he has clearly become a mature adult. Charly and Alice then realize that they are in love, and they spend a idyllic holiday together before Charly is scheduled to speak to a gathering of distinguished scientists. Before going on stage, however, Charly discovers that Algernon is dead, and the other experimental mice have begun to revert to their former mental states. Aware that he probably faces a similar fate, Charly startles the assembly with a bitter attack on modern civilization. Although Dr. Nemur and Dr. Straus desperately attempt to prevent his regression, it soon becomes apparent that their efforts are in vain. Finally recognizing defeat, Charly returns to his room to face it alone, despite Alice's pleas that she be allowed to remain with him.