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The Trip to Bountiful

The Trip to Bountiful(1985)

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teaser The Trip to Bountiful (1985)

"I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language!"
F. Murray Abraham, announcing that Geraldine Page had won the 1985 Best Actress Oscar®

The eighth time was the charm for Geraldine Page when she finally won the Academy Award® after three decades of nominations and losses. The role that finally brought her the prize was Carrie Watts, the elderly woman who dreams of returning to her small-town Texas home in The Trip to Bountiful (1985).

Horton Foote had written the script for television, where it aired in 1953 with Lillian Gish as Carrie, John Beal as her son, Eileen Heckart as the daughter-in-law with whom she feuds and Eva Marie Saint as the war widow she befriends on the bus ride to her family home. Gish and Saint repeated their roles when the production moved to the stage in 1953, with Jo Van Fleet winning a Tony Award as the daughter-in-law. Surprisingly, the play only lasted 39 performances, though it would remain a popular piece in theatrical revivals, particularly as a vehicle for character actresses hoping to put their stamp on the role of Carrie.

The Trip to Bountiful was a product of actor-turned-stage-director Peter Masterson's desire to break into filmmaking. Best known for his performance as Katharine Ross' husband in The Stepford Wives (1975), Masterson scored a Broadway hit as writer and director when he helped turn The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas into a hit musical, winning his wife, Carlin Glynn, a Tony Award for her performance as the down-home Madame. After a frustrating experience adapting the play to the screen in 1982 (he accused Burt Reynolds of re-writing his role to make the sheriff fit his star persona), he spoke with Robert Redford about his wish to move into film direction. Redford advised Masterson to pick a project he felt passionate about for his first picture, and the Texas-born theatre artist turned to Foote, his second cousin, to request the rights to The Trip to Bountiful. Foote had resisted film offers for years because he wanted Gish to re-create her original role in the movie version of the play. With the 92-year-old too frail for location shooting in Texas, he agreed to work on the film, but only if Geraldine Page or Kim Stanley could be secured for the leading role. Since both actresses were stage legends, this was hardly a deal-breaker. Masterson cast Page, with Glynn as her daughter-in-law, John Heard as her son and, in a surprising choice, Rebecca De Mornay as the girl she befriends. At the time, the young actress was best known as the business-minded prostitute who introduces high school senior Tom Cruise to sex in Risky Business (1983).

Masterson shot The Trip to Bountiful entirely on location, though Dallas substituted for the son's Houston home. Despite her status as one of the world's greatest actresses, Page was far from the diva. She even told Masterson not to let her get away with the acting tricks she had developed over the years but rather to push her to give a totally honest performance.

Most critics agreed that was exactly what the film delivered. With few exceptions, her performance as the feisty, hymn-singing widow was hailed as a national treasure, with her bonding scene with De Mornay widely considered the film's highlight. But Page was hardly a shoo-in come awards season. Meryl Streep picked up the Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Universal's big-budget Out of Africa, while the New York Film Critics chose Norma Aleandro for the Argentine film The Official Story. In addition, Cher seemed a strong possibility, having shared the Cannes Film Festival's Best Actress honors with Aleandro for her performance in Mask. When the Oscar® nominations came out, however, two thirds of the competition had fallen out of the race. Cher's public feud with director Peter Bogdanovich was believed to have cost her a nomination, while the Academy's voters, rarely receptive to actors not working in English, failed to nominate Aleandro. Running against three former winners -- Streep, Anne Bancroft (Agnes of God) and Jessica Lange (Sweet Dreams) -- and first time nominee Whoopi Goldberg, for the controversial The Color Purple, Page was clearly the sentimental favorite. After seven losses, however, she was hardly optimistic. She told reporters she would be happy to "be champion for most nominations without ever winning" and said all the real fun of the Academy Awards® was "watching everyone run up and down those aisles" (Page quoted in Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, Inside Oscar®).

For all her talk, however, Page was delighted when colleague F. Murray Abraham, the previous year's Best Actor winner for Amadeus (1984), announced her as the winner. She tried to get him to join her at the podium, but he just motioned for her to bask in the limelight. After thanking all involved in the film, she ended with, "But mainly, it's Horton's fault." It was a fitting climax to one of the screen's most acclaimed careers. The Trip to Bountiful would turn out to be Page's last shot at Oscar®. After a television film (Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story, 1986), a short (Riders to the Sea, 1987) and two more features (Native Son [1986], My Little Girl [1987]), she would die of a heart attack in 1987 while appearing on Broadway in a revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit.

In addition to winning Page her long-overdue Oscar®, the 1985 film version of The Trip to Bountiful brought Foote's play back into prominence. The play continues popular in revivals, with Lois Smith winning raves as Carrie in a 2005 off-Broadway production co-starring Foote's daughter, Hallie Foote. The title has become a part of popular culture, frequently turning up as a headline for restaurant reviews or in articles on nutrition and farm policy. In addition, the story has inspired Texas singer Nanci Griffith's 1998 album Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful) and a 1988 song by The Adventures.

Producer: Sterling Van Wagenen, Horton Foote
Director: Peter Masterson
Screenplay: Horton Foote, based on his play of the same title
Cinematography: Fred Murphy
Art Direction: Philip Lamb
Music: J.A.C. Redford
Cast: Geraldine Page (Mrs. Watts), John Heard (Ludie Watts), Carlin Glynn (Jessie Mae), Richard Bradford (Sheriff), Rebecca De Mornay (Thelma), Kevin Cooney (Roy).
C-108m. Letterboxed.

by Frank Miller

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