Jonathan Demme would later become one of America's premiere directors, with an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs and numerous nominations to his credit, but it was this sublime 1980 comedy that put him on the Hollywood ma... more »p. Esteemed critic Pauline Kael called it "an almost flawless act of sympathetic imagination," referring to the movie's semifictional treatment of the true story of Melvin Dummar (played to perfection by Paul LeMat), an average guy whose life was turned upside down when he was made beneficiary of a $156 million will allegedly signed by millionaire Howard Hughes. Demme and Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman do not concern themselves with the validity of Dummar's claim; they're more interested in showing how Melvin's life is transformed--not necessarily for the better--by the influx of sudden wealth. Melvin doesn't take easily to being rich, and in telling his story Melvin and Howard becomes a true American classic, guaranteed to stand the test of time and improve with age like John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath. It's also a rousing good comedy, largely due to Mary Steenburgen's Oscar-winning performance as Melvin's wife and the everyday integrity of Melvin as an admirably scrappy hero. With Jason Robards as the long-haired Hughes, whom Melvin had given a ride one cold desert night, never knowing that his simple act of kindness toward the hermit-like Hughes would eventually change his life. With its comical blend of fact and speculation, Melvin and Howard is a tribute to the little guy, celebrating the American dream and the average folks who struggle to make it real. --Jeff Shannon« less
"Directed by Jonathan Demme, Melvin and Howard (1980) tells the supposedly true story of Melvin E. Dummar, a man who may have had a chance encounter with the late multi-billionaire recluse Howard Hughes before his death, and Dummar's inclusion into Hughes' will.Demme, who also directed Something Wild (1986) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) does a wonderful job of relating the story of Melvin (Paul Le Mat) and how he came across Howard Hughes (Jason Robards) stranded in the desert outside of Las Vegas and gave him a ride. Hughes, looking disheveled and grisly, stated that he was who he was, but Melvin didn't take him seriously, thinking he was just some old wino.Some time goes by, Howard Hughes passes away, and a mysterious stranger leaves a handwritten letter in Melvin's gas station. The document, which appears to be Hughes will, names Melvin as a beneficiary, entitling him to somewhere in the neighborhood of $156 million dollars. Well, this immediately launches Melvin into the public spotlight and focuses much attention on the validity of the will.While the movie is titled Melvin and Howard, it's mostly about Melvin, and deals with his many ups and downs (mostly downs) in a particular period of his life. Melvin switches jobs a few times, working as a magnesium bagger, milk truck driver, and gas station owner, and deals with personal problems like his wife leaving, cars repossessed, being in debt up to his ears...Paul Le Mat, who many may recognize as John Milner from American Graffiti (1973) is wonderful as the poor but likeable schlub who, due to his natural good nature, may have found himself in a position to inherit millions. The supporting cast is great including Robards, Dabney Coleman, John Glover, Pamela Reed, and Mary Steenburgen, who won an academy award for best supporting actress as Melvin's wife, Lynda. The real Melvin E. Dummar even makes an appearance as a counter clerk at a bus terminal. And speaking of academy awards, it should also be noted that Bo Goldman won the award for best writing for this film.There are no special features on this release, only a trailer, but the picture looks wonderful in the wide screen format. There is another release, one from Anchor Bay Entertainment that does include some more extras like commentary and production notes not available here, so if you are interested in those kinds of things, you might want to search it out. Does Melvin get the money in the end? It doesn't really matter, at least not in the scope of this film. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys good filmmaking and is interesting in discovering an under-appreciated movie with great scripting, casting, dialogue, direction, and music. Everything clicks really well in this little 'slice of life' gem.Cookieman108"
A half-forgotten masterpiece
unhelpful | 05/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jonathan Demme is too successful for his own good. Long before Silence of the Lambs, he made this near-perfect film from a Bo Goldman script about a congenital loser named Melvin Dummar who one night gives Howard Hughes, whom he mistakes for a derelict, a ride to Vegas. His frenetic life takes up most of the rest of the movie, until a mysterious will signed by Hughes turns up naming Melvin as the recipient of $156,000,000. How this changes or fails to change Melvin's life is just another of the sweet ironies of this neglected, unassuming little masterpiece. Mary Steenburgen and Paul Le Mat make their characters achingly real as they try in their often divergent ways to find some kind of success in life, only to realize, divorced and living miles apart, that they were obviously meant for each other. Jason Robards manages to make Howard Hughes somewhat human underneath the millionaire's grizzled misanthropy. It's been ages since an American filmmaker showed this much love for his characters. One of the Great American films."
A fun movie that may just be true
Terry Baddley | 02/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"for as long as this movie has been out it wasn't till just this past weekend that i watched it for the first time. what a treat! as a boy i grew up in willard, utah, and was familiar with who melvin dummar was long before the howard hughes will incident took place. so it was extra fun for me to watch the segment of the movie that was filmed at the actual gas station that dummar operated back in the 70s. my dad operated a fruit stand just down the highway from there for a bunch of years till the property owner decided to build a house on the property and we relocated the stand. the old gas station is still there today, though no longer in business, on the old highway 89 that passes through willard. but being from that area i did notice a couple of trivial errors. when the willard sequence begins it gives the impression that the body of water you see in the background is the great salt lake. it isn't. actually that is willard bay you can see. the salt lake is several miles beyond on the other side of a big rock dike built in the 60s. but that's okay, no big deal. the other descrepency was when melvin went to salt lake city to drop the will off at the lds church headquarters the movie referred to temple square as "mormon square". no harm done really and none of that detracted from my enjoyment. so if you'd like to spend a little time with a fun movie i highly recommend this one. sure, the hughes will was thrown out by the courts, but that doesn't mean it was a fake, just that with all that fortune at stake that there were those with a motive to discredit anything that came along. maybe melvin dummar was robbed by the system. who can say for sure. and as for melvin i am unsure what became of him as his family moved from willard after the movie was made and i myself have moved away as well, though my parents still live there and i visit from time to time."
An offbeat, small treasure of a film and possibly true!
Daniel C. Markel | Rosharon, TX USA | 08/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This review is for the Universal DVD released in 2004.
The movie begins with Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat) accidentally finding an injured old man (Jason Robards) out in the cold Nevada desert. The haggardly old man convinces Melvin to drive him to Las Vegas and during the long drive, the old curmudgeon tells Melvin that he is Howard Hughes. Melvin is skeptical of the claim and even more so when the old man panhandles some pocket change from Melvin at the end of the trip. Later that morning Melvin returns to his mobile home somewhere in rural Nevada and later that day his pickup truck and motorcycle are repossessed. This apparently is the straw that breaks the camel's back for Melvin's wife Lynda (Mary Steenburgen) and she leaves him for another man. This sets up the rest of the movie where both Howard Hughes and Lynda are far from gone from Melvin's life.
The movie is supposedly based on a true story. The debatable issue is if Melvin Dummar really did meet and save billionaire Howard Hughes and did Hughes return the favor years later after he died by leaving Dummar 1/16th of his estate in a dubious hand-written will. The movie's goal isn't really trying to prove the veracity of the Hughes events. The story is in essence about a hardworking blue-collar guy who gets a few big breaks, in fact one potentially colossal break, and a few smaller breaks dropped in his lap, but in all cases does a seemingly poor job in handling them. Melvin is likable and earnest, but instead of taking charge of life, it seems that life takes charge of him. The movie is also a wonderful snapshot of lower middle class life in the later part of the `70's. There's a great scene in a gaudy Las Vegas wedding chapel, and later they participate in an outrageously artificial TV game show. It also had that unmistakable `70's aura of pursuing the American dream with ostentatious wealth such as a brand new, but cheaply constructed and unoriginal suburban house, an enormous Cadillac convertible, a monstrosity of a motorboat and a mammoth-size console TV. You also get your fill of some of the more comical and obnoxious country & western songs from that era. The charm of the movie is that when things go wrong, Melvin picks himself up, keeps his chin up, doesn't seem at all bitter, tries again tomorrow and nobody can take away his wonderful memories from yesterday. I don't recall a single moment in the film being laugh-out-loud funny, but just about every scene put a smile on my face. But overall for me, it wasn't a great film, but a very good one.
As for the DVD, it's a nice widescreen color presentation. The opening shot seemed noticeably grainy, and the rest of the movie had just average resolution and sharpness with no film defects. I've seen much sharper DVDs from late `70's films, but on the other hand, the comparative slight loss in sharpness made it look and feel like a cheap late 1970's film, true to the characters of the movie itself. The audio is excellent. The only bonus the original trailer.
DVD Quality: B+"
A forgotten classic
email@example.com | Las Vegas, NV | 09/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's too bad Paul Le Mat's career never really took off, as he played the common man, good or bad, as well as anybody. While he achieved immortality in the "American Grafitti" movies, and got the thankless role in "The Burning Bed", "Melvin and Howard" was his star vehicle. The movie tells the story of the very real Melvin Dummar, who made a big splash over twenty years ago by having his name appear in one version of the will of Howard Hughes. To the unitiated, Howard Hughes was at one time the richest man in the world, and flat-out owned several Las Vegas casinos. Dummar claimed his only prior contact with Hughes was giving him a ride once late at night after the billionaire had crashed his motorcycle while riding in the desert. The motorcycle riding would not have been out of character with Hughes at the time. However, nobody has ever been able to prove that this will was real. In fact, several investigations have leaned towards Dummar instigating a very clumsy fraud. But on the other hand, nobody has been able to say with 100% authority that the will was NOT real. The movie chooses to take this premise, to the gain of the American cinema. So the story goes on the premise that Dummar was telling the truth. Hey, if they can make the fictional "Shakesphere in Love", using real characters, why not this story? The genius of the movie is that it portrays mostly Melvin, and mostly the parts of his life that have nothing to do with Howard Hughes. He is portrayed as a complete loser when it comes to finances, barely able to hold even menial jobs, and foolishly spending money he doesn't have. This kind of person would probably try a scheme like the Hughes will, but yet the character is likeable. We feel the pain of not being able to pay everyday bills, and really root for the guy. We don't know whether it's a true reflection of the man, but we like who we see on the screen. I first saw this film when it came out, and I was living in Illinois. I never dreamed then that I'd someday be living in Las Vegas, where a lot of the story takes place, and next to Utah, where the rest does. While the movie doesn't dwell on the tourist part of Vegas, it does provide some interesting shots that show the incredible growth the Strip has experienced in the last twenty years. The entire location of the film is now my home turf. This, and seeing that other participants in the film would have future successes (Demme, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Coleman, Pamela Reed) baffles me why I only see four reviews of a movie this good, that's been around so long. Find it and see it."