Expecting only the basic pressures of attending Harvard Law School, a serious, hard-working student (Timothy Bottoms) finds himself the fearful adversary of the school's most imperious, sarcastic professor (John Houseman).... more » Their relationship grows even more complex when the boy discovers that the girl he's in love with is the professor's daughter (Lindsay Wagner). Edward Herrmann and James Naughton co-star in this moving, intelligent drama.« less
Outstanding storyline surrounding a law school class. Timothy Bottoms and John Houseman were at their best. The Paper Chase also features a young Lindsay Wagner. This movie will make you think!
3 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
A Film at many levels
Katherine Lawrence | Boston, MA USA | 04/23/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Well... I DID take this class -- Contract Law -- and I took it at Harvard Law School. The class was not ~exactly~ like the one presented in the film, but my Harvard experience was pretty much like the film.I saw the film in the theatre, originally, weeks before I started classes at Harvard and it was as if Kingsfield directed his questions into the audience and I wanted to dive under the theatre seat. Obviously I had not read the cases. "Hawkins versus McGee" may have been the first case, but I defy anyone to find "Carbolic Smoke Ball" in their editions of West's casebook on Contracts.My own study group was pretty much like the one shown in the film, except there were women in ours, so "The Paper Chase" is pretty much of a "buddy film" in that women play pretty much of the support role -- Kingsfield's daughter and the ever suffering Ashley who is disarming in her performance as she hands Hart the firearm her husband nearly uses on himself.Yet, these guys are very real and the movie captured the men of my first year study group, except for the effete Bell who they would have chomped down for breakfast -- better that they had Tom Cruise from "The Firm" add even more colour to the colourless first year students than Bell, "as in liberty Bell."Yet for its dated 1970's sexist subplots and sometimes silly characters, John Housman manages to hold it all together as the quintessential Harvard professor -- and don't get me wrong -- these grand old men are still alive and well and walk those halls working on those of us student who come into those classes with our "skulls full of mush."To this day I am deeply moved when Kingsfield describes his "little questions" spinning the tumblers of our minds and in so doing how this process led us to learn how to teach ourselves.Dated, quaint, and sometimes silly, this film never fails to move me to near tears and a recollection of what those magic years at Harvard were all about and what the process of learning, not just passing an exam, was all about."
Required Viewing for Teachers: You too can be Kingsfield!
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 09/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I always warned students at the beginning of each year that I had screened "The Paper Chase" once again and was interested in using the Socratic method to spin the little tumblers of their minds. Certainly this was the film that made me want to curb my innate desire to stand up in the classroom and pontificate on every subject under the sun. Ostensibly the film is about the pressures of first year students at Harvard Law School, but since most of us do not want to become lawyers, know any lawyers, have any dealings with lawyers or even watch television programs with lawyers, "The Paper Chase" ultimately succeeds as a film about wanting to learn and learning to think. At the heart of the film is James Hart (Timothy Bottoms), come from Minnesota to learn at the feet of the great Professor Charles Kingsfield. Despite some painful moments of confrontation in the classroom with his would be mentor-my favorite: "Mr. Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer"-Hart finds he can play the game and play it well. Having given his mind over to Kingsfield, the question then becomes whether his heart and soul will follow as well. The other members of his study group (which includes Edward Herrmann and James Naughton), make different choices and take different paths in order to survive the year. By the end of the film Hart is more alone than he was at the beginning.As Kingsfield, John Houseman is the powerful center of the film. A producer and drama teacher for almost half a century, Houseman won the 1973 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and began a new career as an actor in films and a pitchman in television commercials (however, this was not Houseman's first film, since I know he played an admiral in the political thriller "Seven Days in May"). Indeed, Houseman went on to play the Kingsfield character in the ambitious television versions of the movie. However, it is important to note that those who knew Houseman as a producer or teacher were always quick to point out that he really was acting in "The Paper Chase." There might be Harvard professors fighting over the honor of being the real Kingfield, but Houseman was indeed just doing a role.As the autocratic master of his domain, Kingsfield is very much the antithesis of the traditional dedicated teacher usually presented in films about school, a point driven home in the film's final meeting between Hart and Kingsfield. If there is a happy ending in this film, it is achieved by Hart's character on a personal, almost private level.The original novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr. was brought to the film my director James Bridges, who also did the screenplay. Although the sub-plot where Hart discovers the young woman of his affections (Lindsay Wagner) is in fact (gasp!) Kingsfield's daughter is decidedly contrived, overall the film is an intelligent and thoughtful piece. If you are a teacher, or are thinking about becoming a teacher, "The Paper Chase" is just as much recommended viewing as the more conventional fare as such classics as "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "To Sir, With Love," "Up the Down Staircase," or more contemporary efforts such as "Songs of the Heart.""
An Educational Experience
AntiochAndy | Antioch, CA USA | 05/08/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The closest I ever got to Harvard Law School was a graduate class in education law at UC Berkeley. The class was taught by a silver-haired Jesuit, who stood ramrod straight behind his podium at the front of the class and proceded in a manner not unlike John Houseman's Professor Kingsfield. It was only a pale shadow of what is depicted in "The Paper Chase", but it was very enlightening. The way this movie vividly brings back my student days, both the fun and the hard work, is one of the reasons I like it so much. It also shows what people can accomplish.The plot involves a love affair between Hart, a student who idolizes Kingsfield, and Kingsfield's daughter. It has its funny moments, but is somewhat predictable. What elevates this movie is the psychological study of how the different students respond to their situation, some finding it within themselves to persevere while others fall by the wayside. The film also benefits from strong acting, particularly by John Houseman, who is the quintessential Professor Kingsfield. He is outstanding.This is an excellent flick. It delivers a dramatic portrayal of an intense academic experience, while delivering some very funny moments along the way. Sort of like real life, sometimes. The TV series spawned by this movie was also quite good, and it's too bad it didn't last longer on its major network. Anyway, both college students and former college students will find a lot to relate to here. Those whose background isn't academic, though, will also find "The Paper Chase" quite entertaining. Highly recommended."
James Bridges' Best Directorial Work
Sam Bethune | Lincoln, Nebraska USA | 04/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I found myself compelled to write this review for a number of reasons: (1) I graduated from law school (although not Harvard), (2) My mother and James Bridges were childhood friends, (3) I've been an admirer of John Houseman's work for as long as I can remember, and finally (4) I've watched this movie several times and like it.Timothy Bottoms stars as James Hart, a midwestern boy literally dumped into his first year of Harvard Law School. John Houseman is Professor William Kingsfield, a curmudgeonly contract law professor about whom Hart has ambivalent feelings of dread and admiration. Lindsay Wagner is Kingsfield's daughter, with whom Hart is having a relationship.This picture brought the so-called Socratic method of instruction into the light of day and doubtlessly inspired many professors of subjects other than the law. It no doubt also inspired many impressionable young men to consider a career in the law (as it did me). But the reason to really enjoy this movie is neither of those...it's Houseman's electrifying performance that netted him an Academy Award for best supporting actor. This film also stands as a testament to the short but spectacular directorial career of the late James Bridges, who went on to direct "The China Syndrome" and "Urban Cowboy" among several other films.It should also be remembered that this picture inspired a short-lived CBS television series of the same name in which Houseman reprised the Kingsfield role. The show spawned the careers of, among others, Jon Lovitz of Saturday Night Live fame and Jane Kaczmarek (of the TV series "Malcolm in the Middle") and after its rather short-sighted cancellation by CBS was picked by Showtime, who ordered new episides, giving the series another five years of life until discontinued in 1984.Did this picture have an impact? Absolutely. Was it good? You bet! And to James Bridges, wherever you are "thanks for the career advice...and hello from my mom!""