Movies rarely deal with the psychological problems of teenagers. Although Rebel Without a Cause (1955) touched on some of these issues, David and Lisa (1962) is likely the first film to delve deeply into the subject. Director Frank Perry and his screenwriter wife Eleanor Perry adapted a clinical case study by a renowned psychologist for their first feature film.
David (Keir Dullea) goes into paroxysms of fear and anger when touched. His exasperated mother (Neva Patterson) commits him to a special school that also serves as a group home for disturbed teens. At the school David meets Lisa (Janet Margolin) who speaks only in rhyme. The constant rhyming alienates her from her fellow students. David, however, is intrigued and decides to converse with her in rhyme. Sympathetic Doctor Swinford (Howard Da Silva) becomes David’s in-house therapist. Swinford is delicate in his approach but David, being highly intelligent, understands enough about psychology to resist efforts to analyze him. The relationship that develops between David and Lisa, though not really a romantic one, is a personal connection that points to the possibility of healing for both of them.At one point when David’s parents briefly pull him out of the school we witness the dynamic within the family. There are clearly difficulties in the relationship between husband and wife as well as in their individual expectations of David. But there is no easy explanation of David’s psychological issues.
The screenplay by Eleanor Perry (who held a master’s degree in psychological social work) and the direction by Frank Perry is at once incisive and sensitive. The Perrys went on to collaborate on The Swimmer (1968), Last Summer (1969) and Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970). David and Lisa was only the second screen appearance of Keir Dullea and it was the film debut of Janet Margolin (only 19 years old at the time). Their performances are exceptional in their understanding and nuance. Dullea later appeared in such films as The Fox (1967) directed by Mark Rydell and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) directed by Stanley Kubrick. Margolin later co-starred in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969) and Last Embrace (1979) directed by Jonathan Demme. Blacklisted actor Howard Da Silva’s role as David’s therapist is one of his finest screen portrayals. Clifton James, as Lisa’s therapist, showed greater range in the movie than in later roles where he was often typecast as a redneck southern sheriff.
The black-and-white cinematography, though completely fluid and sometimes stylized, coupled with natural performances to give David and Lisa an almost documentary feel. Practical location work in Wynnewood, PA and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (later used in Rocky) add to the film’s authenticity. Though nominated for Best Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars and hailed by some critics as the best film of 1962, David and Lisa is rarely shown now. It is an unusual and special film that should not be forgotten.
The disc includes an interview with actor Kier Dullea who discusses not only his experience on David and Lisa but also an overview of his entire career including stage work.
David and Lisa is available in both Blu-ray and DVD. The black-and-white image is sharp and displays a full range of monochrome from white to gray to black. Since the transfer is billed as “Hi-Def” and not from a 2K or 4K scan, the difference between the quality of image on the Blu-ray to the DVD is minor. If you are on a budget the DVD is an excellent choice.
Extras: Interview with star Keir Dullea (Dullea goes into detail about his entire career including David and Lisa)
DIR: Frank Perry. PROD: Paul M. Heller. SCR: Eleanor Perry based on the book “Lisa and David” by Theodore Isaac Rubin MD. CIN: Leonard Hirschfield. ED: Irving Oshman. SCORE: Mark Lau. CAST: Keir Dullea, Janet Margolin, Howard Da Silva, Neva Patterson, Clifton James. B&W. Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1. Running Time: 94 minutes. Blu-ray & DVD release: Scorpion Releasing (scorpionreleasing.com).