The Boys in the Band


2h 1970

Brief Synopsis

A gay birthday party turns into a night of soul-searching when the host's straight college roommate turns up by mistake.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Mar 1970
Production Company
Leo Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley (New York, 14 Apr 1968).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Synopsis

Homosexuals Donald and Michael are discussing a birthday party the latter is giving for their friend Harold, when Alan, an old heterosexual college acquaintance of Michael's, telephones and asks if he can visit. Michael reluctantly agrees, even though the party guests are due to arrive at his Greenwich Village apartment. Emory, an interior decorator, is first to come, and he is soon followed by lovers Hank and Larry, and Bernard, a black. As the six of them dance raucously, Alan arrives and immediately is made uncomfortable by the situation; in addition, he and Emory instantly dislike each other. After the appearance of Cowboy, who has been rented by Emory as a birthday gift for Harold, the guest of honor arrives, and Michael suggests they play a game in which each person telephones the one he has loved most in his life. Both Bernard and Emory make unsatisfactory calls to men they have desired for years, and Hank calls Larry's answering service to declare his love. Michael then accuses Alan of being a "closet" homosexual and goads him into calling a former college friend whose advances Alan had once spurned; Alan dials a number and blurts out his love to the person on the other end, but Michael's brief victory is ruined when the person turns out to be Alan's estranged wife. The festivities begin to pall, and the guests start to leave, but not before Harold devastates Michael by characterizing him as a neurotic, unable to live in either the homosexual or heterosexual world.

Photo Collections

The Boys in the Band - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Boys in the Band (1970). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Mar 1970
Production Company
Leo Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley (New York, 14 Apr 1968).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Articles

The Boys in the Band


In 1968, an Off-Broadway play about a birthday party attended by a group of homosexual men made theatrical history by becoming the first play to deal honestly with gay urban life. The party brings together a group of misfits that have become clichés -- the self-loathing alcoholic, the bitchy queen, the flamboyant sissy, the stud-for-hire - for an evening of truth-telling. The film version of The Boys in the Band (1970), starring the play's original cast, has also become a landmark in the history of gays in film. Like many historical artifacts, it now seems dated in its attitudes. But the film's significance is undoubted, and its wicked wit is still intact.

Considering his later focus on action films such as The French Connection (1971) and thrillers such as The Exorcist (1973), director William Friedkin might seem an odd choice to direct The Boys in the Band. But he was the choice of author-producer Mart Crowley, who had seen Friedkin's film version of Harold Pinter's play, The Birthday Party (1968). Crowley later told Friedkin biographer Nat Segaloff, "I thought, well, anybody who has this gift of imagery within such enormous confines of a play with so much verbiage, and can still make some film imagery and get some movement and action out of it, then this is it." Wisely, Friedkin avoided "opening up" the play, only using the opening credits sequence to establish the details of the characters' outside lives, but confining the action to the events at the party. He also worked closely with Crowley on shaping the screenplay from Crowley's play. It was Crowley, however, who insisted on using the play's original cast in the film. Friedkin would have preferred more freedom in casting, but worked with the actors during a three-week rehearsal period to explore what he called "the real possibilities" of their roles.

Friedkin also insisted in interviews that the film was "not about the gay world, but about human problems." That kind of qualification may have been necessary at the time, but just weeks before The Boys in the Band went before the cameras, an event happened that would change the world's perception of gays, and gay attitudes about themselves. In June of 1969, patrons of a New York gay bar called Stonewall resisted police raids, launching the gay liberation movement. The movement, more than anything, has turned The Boys in the Band, with its miserable gay men, into a period piece, albeit an entertaining one. Friedkin, in fact, would later become a target of protests by the gay community because of his film Cruising (1980), a lurid murder mystery set in the gay S & M club scene.

Another factor dating The Boys in the Band is that the film was made before the AIDS epidemic, so it does not address that issue. Sadly, several of the film's actors, including Kenneth Nelson, Leonard Frey, Keith Prentice, Frederick Combs and Robert La Tourneaux, would die from AIDS-related illnesses.

The Boys in the Band did score a very real breakthrough at the time it was released, earning an R rating from the MPAA. Just the year before, The Killing of Sister George (1968) and Midnight Cowboy (1969) had both gotten X ratings simply because there were homosexual characters in the films.

Mainstream critics in 1970 treated The Boys in the Band with respect, even when criticizing its glibness and staginess. "If the situation of the homosexual is ever to be understood by the public," Time magazine's critic wrote ponderously, "it will be because of the breakthrough made by this humane, moving picture." In the years since, the critical pendulum has swung back and forth on the film, from Vito Russo's pronouncement in his book about gay images in film, The Celluloid Closet (1980), that "The internalized guilt of eight gay men at a Manhattan birthday party formed the best and most potent argument for gay liberation ever offered in a popular art form", to the more recent Gary Morris' 1999 re-evaluation in Bright Lights Film Journal: Writing about a revival of the film in 1999, San Francisco Chronicle critic Edward Guthmann put it in perspective: "In the attitudes of its characters, and their self-lacerating vision of themselves, it belongs to another time. And that's a good thing."

Director: William Friedkin
Producer: Mart Crowley
Screenplay: Mart Crowley, based on his play
Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz
Editor: Gerald B. Greenberg, Carl Lerner
Costume Design: W. Robert La Vine
Production Designer: John Robert Lloyd
Principal Cast: Kenneth Nelson (Michael), Frederick Combs (Donald), Leonard Frey (Harold), Cliff Gorman (Emory), Reuben Greene (Bernard), Robert La Tourneaux (Cowboy), Laurence Luckinbill (Hank), Keith Prentice (Larry), Peter White (Alan).
C-120m. Letterboxed.

by Margarita Landazuri
The Boys In The Band

The Boys in the Band

In 1968, an Off-Broadway play about a birthday party attended by a group of homosexual men made theatrical history by becoming the first play to deal honestly with gay urban life. The party brings together a group of misfits that have become clichés -- the self-loathing alcoholic, the bitchy queen, the flamboyant sissy, the stud-for-hire - for an evening of truth-telling. The film version of The Boys in the Band (1970), starring the play's original cast, has also become a landmark in the history of gays in film. Like many historical artifacts, it now seems dated in its attitudes. But the film's significance is undoubted, and its wicked wit is still intact. Considering his later focus on action films such as The French Connection (1971) and thrillers such as The Exorcist (1973), director William Friedkin might seem an odd choice to direct The Boys in the Band. But he was the choice of author-producer Mart Crowley, who had seen Friedkin's film version of Harold Pinter's play, The Birthday Party (1968). Crowley later told Friedkin biographer Nat Segaloff, "I thought, well, anybody who has this gift of imagery within such enormous confines of a play with so much verbiage, and can still make some film imagery and get some movement and action out of it, then this is it." Wisely, Friedkin avoided "opening up" the play, only using the opening credits sequence to establish the details of the characters' outside lives, but confining the action to the events at the party. He also worked closely with Crowley on shaping the screenplay from Crowley's play. It was Crowley, however, who insisted on using the play's original cast in the film. Friedkin would have preferred more freedom in casting, but worked with the actors during a three-week rehearsal period to explore what he called "the real possibilities" of their roles. Friedkin also insisted in interviews that the film was "not about the gay world, but about human problems." That kind of qualification may have been necessary at the time, but just weeks before The Boys in the Band went before the cameras, an event happened that would change the world's perception of gays, and gay attitudes about themselves. In June of 1969, patrons of a New York gay bar called Stonewall resisted police raids, launching the gay liberation movement. The movement, more than anything, has turned The Boys in the Band, with its miserable gay men, into a period piece, albeit an entertaining one. Friedkin, in fact, would later become a target of protests by the gay community because of his film Cruising (1980), a lurid murder mystery set in the gay S & M club scene. Another factor dating The Boys in the Band is that the film was made before the AIDS epidemic, so it does not address that issue. Sadly, several of the film's actors, including Kenneth Nelson, Leonard Frey, Keith Prentice, Frederick Combs and Robert La Tourneaux, would die from AIDS-related illnesses. The Boys in the Band did score a very real breakthrough at the time it was released, earning an R rating from the MPAA. Just the year before, The Killing of Sister George (1968) and Midnight Cowboy (1969) had both gotten X ratings simply because there were homosexual characters in the films. Mainstream critics in 1970 treated The Boys in the Band with respect, even when criticizing its glibness and staginess. "If the situation of the homosexual is ever to be understood by the public," Time magazine's critic wrote ponderously, "it will be because of the breakthrough made by this humane, moving picture." In the years since, the critical pendulum has swung back and forth on the film, from Vito Russo's pronouncement in his book about gay images in film, The Celluloid Closet (1980), that "The internalized guilt of eight gay men at a Manhattan birthday party formed the best and most potent argument for gay liberation ever offered in a popular art form", to the more recent Gary Morris' 1999 re-evaluation in Bright Lights Film Journal: Writing about a revival of the film in 1999, San Francisco Chronicle critic Edward Guthmann put it in perspective: "In the attitudes of its characters, and their self-lacerating vision of themselves, it belongs to another time. And that's a good thing." Director: William Friedkin Producer: Mart Crowley Screenplay: Mart Crowley, based on his play Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz Editor: Gerald B. Greenberg, Carl Lerner Costume Design: W. Robert La Vine Production Designer: John Robert Lloyd Principal Cast: Kenneth Nelson (Michael), Frederick Combs (Donald), Leonard Frey (Harold), Cliff Gorman (Emory), Reuben Greene (Bernard), Robert La Tourneaux (Cowboy), Laurence Luckinbill (Hank), Keith Prentice (Larry), Peter White (Alan). C-120m. Letterboxed. by Margarita Landazuri

Quotes

What's so fucking funny?
- Michael
Life. Life's a goddamn laugh riot.
- Harold
Who is she? Who was she? Who does she hope to be?
- Harold
What is he - a psychiatrist or a hairdresser?
- Michael
Actually he's both. He shrinks my head and then combs me out.
- Donald
Thanks to the silver screen your neurosis has got style.
- Donald
Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I didn't go around announcing I was a faggot.
- Michael

Trivia

Stars most of the same actors from the original play.

Notes

Location scenes filmed in New York City.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States February 1970

Released in United States July 1996

Released in United States June 19, 1989

Released in United States Winter February 1979

Re-released in United States March 19, 1999

Shown at New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film June 19, 1989.

Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.

"Boys in the Band" became the first American movie exclusively about male homosexuals--previously a Hollywood no-no.

Released in United States February 1970

Released in United States Winter February 1979

Re-released in United States March 19, 1999 (Film Forum; New York City)

Released in United States June 19, 1989 (Shown at New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film June 19, 1989.)

Released in United States July 1996 (Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.)