Cast & Crew
Tim is a young man with below average intelligence. He works as a builder's labourer, and is often taken advantage of by his fellow workers and other people. Mary asks Tim to work around her yard for a day. The day stretches into a few weekends, and the two soon become good friends. Some people, however, are suspicious of their friendship which seems to be continually strengthening, accusing Mary of taking advantage of Tim's innocence. Will changing circumstances in Tim's family life change his relationship with Mary?
But in contrast to Mad Max and Gallipoli, Tim is a much more modest undertaking, stronger on character than action or plot, with a quieter kind of performance. Gibson plays Tim, a 23-year-old mentally handicapped man (really a man-child) who takes a job doing some gardening work for a 40-year-old American businesswoman, Mary (Piper Laurie), living in Australia. She teaches him to read, plies him with chocolate cake, and eventually friendship blossoms into romance, love and sex. Meanwhile, both of Tim's parents pass away, intensifying Mary's feeling of responsibility for him and adding a parent-child shading of complexity to their relationship.
Tim was an interesting venture from several perspectives. It was adapted from Australian writer Colleen McCullough's first novel. Her second, The Thorn Birds, would soon be made into an iconic television miniseries. The screenplay was written by Michael Pate, a well-known Australian actor who was also directing for the first and only time in his career. Pate as an actor had racked up over 100 credits in Hollywood and Australia, both in movies and in television, and often in rugged western or action roles. Tim, with its gentle, endearing story, was a definite departure from his milieu. Pate originally wrote the script as a kind of allegory to star Julie Harris. But when Harris fell ill and had to withdraw, Pate replaced her with Piper Laurie, which he felt necessitated "changing the whole script around. Instead of its being a more serious script, I made it a romance. And as Piper was fair-haired, I was looking for someone dark for Tim." That brought him to Mel Gibson. Mad Max hadn't yet been released, but Pate was able to get his hands on Gibson's screen test from that film, and found himself quite taken with the young actor.
The movie shot for six weeks in the late Australian winter of 1978, mostly about an hour north of Sydney. The Australian location was actually one of the main attractions for Piper Laurie, who was eager to spend a few months there. The twice Oscar-nominated star of The Hustler (1961) and Carrie (1976) -- she'd be nominated again for Children of a Lesser God (1986) -- was a bit worried about the prospect of working with Gibson, then a totally unknown quantity. Writing in her memoir (Learning to Live Out Loud) years later, she recounted the moment when they first met: "I had been dreading the moment of meeting the person who I was to have profound feelings for and would be working with in such an intimate way. I was told he was only 23. What if he were not only unattractive but also insensitive and stupid?
"I came down the three steps [from the wardrobe truck] to the sidewalk and saw someone smiling at me. He was blazingly handsome and looked warm as the earth... I was struck by the life, the intelligence in his face and in his eyes! I was enchanted. Now, if he can only act."
Laurie's question was soon answered, as she found Gibson to be a tremendously serious and conscientious actor: "I found him watching how I would handle something that was new to him. It was very touching. He would take his lunch as I did, on a tray in a little private corner of the set, so as not to waste time, and stretch out wherever he could find a flat spot. I noticed he also started bringing his toothbrush and brushing his teeth after lunch as I did."
Laurie's memories of director Michael Pate were not nearly as warm. She wrote that he used Gibson "as a whipping boy," chastising him in front of the crew for errors like missing his marks. At one point, Laurie wrote, "I saw Mel reveal the strength of character and restraint of someone much older and wiser. I could see the blood rising in his face as Pate ridiculed him, and I was sure he was going to just haul off and belt Pate, who deserved it. No doubt he'd be fired if he did. I saw this young man decide in about three seconds whether to turn his back on the opportunity of starring in his first movie to become 'the kid who's a troublemaker.' I'd seen that happen before. Instead, Mel steadied himself, swallowed his twenty-three-year-old pride, which had to be enormous, and moved forward to work."
Laurie was surprised one day when Pate asked her and Gibson to write some new scenes for the script, "because he didn't have the time to do it himself." She and Gibson declined. When Pate started a habit of leaving the set while they continued to shoot scenes under the command of the director of photography, Laurie grew truly nervous "that the movie might not get done."
But it did get done, and Laurie and Gibson grew very close. In her memoir, Laurie reveals that after filming was over, she and Gibson spent one night together, which she describes as a cementing of their sweet relationship but not something that was ever developed further.
Critics agreed that the duo's performances were excellent, but they were lukewarm over the film as a whole. The Hollywood Reporter said the picture "succeeds as a low-keyed and extremely sentimental tale" and noted Gibson as "one of the most attractive young men to be found in films today.... He should soon become a major actor." Vincent Canby of The New York Times found the story material "silly" but praised both actors -- especially Piper Laurie, whom he called "as gravely beautiful and intelligent as she has ever been."
Tim was remade as a CBS television movie in 1996 entitled Mary & Tim, with Candice Bergen and Thomas McCarthy in the lead roles.
By Jeremy Arnold
Piper Laurie, Learning to Live Out Loud
John McCarty, The Films of Mel Gibson
Roland Perry, Lethal Hero
The director got word of Mel Gibson's performance in Mad Max (1979) and cast him in this film. This film was shot while Mad Max was still in post production.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979
Released in United States July 13, 1979
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979
Released in United States July 13, 1979 (Premiered in Australia July 13, 1979.)