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The Paper Chase (film)

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United States


Comedy, Drama



The Paper Chase (film) movie poster

Release date
October 16, 1973 (1973-10-16) (USA)

Based on
The Paper Chase1970 novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr.

James Bridges, John Jay Osborn Jr. (novel)

Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture

(James T. Hart), (Susan Fields), (Charles W. Kingsfield Jr.), (Franklin Ford III), (Kevin Brooks), (Thomas Craig Anderson)

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You have to choose between the girl you love and the diploma you've worked for all your life. You have 30 seconds.

The paper chase 1973

The Paper Chase is a 1973 film starring Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay Wagner, and John Houseman, directed by James Bridges.


The Paper Chase (film) movie scenes

Based on John Jay Osborn, Jr.'s 1971 novel, The Paper Chase, it tells the story of James Hart, a first-year law student at Harvard Law School, his experiences with Professor Charles Kingsfield, a brilliant, demanding contract law instructor, and Hart's relationship with Kingsfield's daughter. Houseman earned an Academy Award for performance as the professor. Houseman later reprised his role in a TV series of the same name that lasted four seasons (following Hart, played by James Stephens through his four years of law school).

The Paper Chase (film) movie scenes

9 things you don t know about the paper chase


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James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) starts his first year at Harvard Law School in a very bad way. In his contract law course with Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. (John Houseman), he assumes the first class will be an outline of the course. When Kingsfield immediately delves into the material using the Socratic method and asks Hart the first question, Hart is totally unprepared and feels so utterly humiliated that, after class, he throws up in the bathroom.

The Paper Chase (film) Overlooked Gems The Paper Chase 1973 Pretty Clever Films

Hart is invited to join a study group with five other students:

The Paper Chase (film) The Paper Chase film Wikipedia

  • Frank Ford (Graham Beckel), the fifth generation of Fords at Harvard Law School
  • Kevin Brooks (James Naughton), a married man with an eidetic memory, but no analytical skills
  • Thomas Anderson (Edward Herrmann)
  • Willis Bell (Craig Richard Nelson), an abrasive individual who is devoted to property law
  • O'Connor (Robert Lydiard)

  • The Paper Chase (film) Overlooked Gems The Paper Chase 1973 Pretty Clever Films

    While out getting pizza, Hart is asked by a woman, Susan Fields (Lindsay Wagner), to walk her home, due to her feeling uncomfortable with a man who had been following her. Hart returns to her house soon after and asks her on a date, after which they begin a relationship. Their relationship is complex; she resents the time he devotes to his studies, while he expects her to provide him with a great deal of attention and wants a firm commitment. When Hart and his classmates are invited to a cocktail party hosted by Kingsfield, he is stunned to discover that Susan is Kingsfield's married daughter. (She is, however, separated from her husband and eventually gets a divorce.) She and Hart break up and get back together several times.

    The Paper Chase (film) The Paper Chase 1973 MUBI

    Hart divides the class into three groups: those who have given up; those who are trying, but fear being called upon in class to respond to Kingsfield's questions; and the "upper echelon". As time goes on, he moves from the second classification to the third. Late one night, Hart and another student break into a secured room of the library and read personal notes Kingsfield had taken when he was a law student.

    The Paper Chase (film) The 10 File The Paper Chase BILL HANNAS FILMTV REVIEWS

    The mounting pressure, as the course nears its end, gets to everyone. When Hart gives Kingsfield a flippant answer, the professor gives him a dime and tells him, "Call your mother. Tell her there is serious doubt about your becoming a lawyer." Hart calls Kingsfield a "son of a bitch" and starts to walk out. Surprisingly, Kingsfield agrees with his assessment and invites him to sit back down, which he does. Brooks makes an unsuccessful suicide attempt and drops out of school. The study group is torn apart by personal bickering. With final exams looming, Hart and Ford prepare feverishly in a hotel room for three days.

    The Paper Chase (film) Overlooked Gems The Paper Chase 1973 Pretty Clever Films

    The film is a faithful adaptation of the novel, although it adds two things not in the book: Hart's first name and middle initial (James T.), and his grade in contract law (93, an A). In both the novel and the film, Hart makes a paper airplane out of the unopened letter containing his grades and sends it sailing into the ocean.

    Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr.

    There are several possible inspirations for the character. Retired Harvard Law professor Clark Byse is said to have been the inspiration for the character's position at Harvard Law School, though not the character's personality. According to John Houseman, the inspiration for Kingsfield was crusty professor Edward "Bull" Warren, also reflected in The Boston Globe in 2004. Houseman noted that Kingsfield's behavior is actually a toned-down version of Warren's famous classroom rudeness, as enshrined in classroom lore, and recounted several examples of the professor's putdowns.

    James Bridges had originally earmarked James Mason for the Kingsfield role, but he was unavailable. After failed attempts to cast Melvyn Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, John Gielgud, Paul Scofield, and other famous actors in the role, Bridges offered it to Houseman, who agreed to fly to Toronto (where the film's interior sequences were to be shot) for a screen test. Bridges called it "fabulous", and Houseman accepted the part, thus launching his acting career. He had seldom acted before, but had known Bridges from the time he had been a stage manager in Houseman's UCLA Professional Theater Group. Houseman had then recommended Bridges as a writer for the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for which Bridges wrote eighteen teleplays before establishing himself as a motion picture writer-director.


    The exterior shots of Harvard Law School buildings were filmed on the Harvard Law School campus, and the library shots were filmed in the Harvard Andover library at the Harvard Divinity School. All interiors were shot on stages in Toronto. In a 1999 interview, Gordon Willis said production designer George Jenkins "reproduced the Harvard Law School in The Paper Chase beautifully." The hotel scene was filmed at the Windsor Arms Hotel. The scene of Hart and Ford entering a building to take their final exam near the film's end was shot in front of the Law School's iconic oldest building, Austin Hall. Most of the extras for the Harvard Law School venue scenes were then current Harvard Law students paid a $25 per diem by 20th Century Fox.

    Willis shot The Paper Chase in anamorphic format due to the "schoolroom and the graphics in the film". He also commented on the cinematography, noting that the composition of the scenes with Houseman and Bottoms "related to who had command of the situation. We used huge close-ups of John, and demeaning shots of Timothy. Then as the movie goes along and Timothy begins to get on top of it, you'll notice the shot sizes begin to diminish on John and begin to get a little bit bigger on Timothy—until finally they are equal partners shooting back and forth."


    Vincent Canby wrote the film "goes slowly soft like a waxwork on a hot day, losing the shape and substance that at the beginning have rightfully engaged our attention"; he concludes "it takes a long while for The Paper Chase to disintegrate, and there are some funny, intelligent sequences along the way, but by the end it has melted into a blob of clichés." Jay Cocks called it a movie of "some incidental pleasures and insights and a great deal of silliness":

    What [writer/director] Bridges catches best is the peculiar tension of the classroom, the cool terror that can be instilled by an academic skilled in psychological warfare. His Ivy League Olympian is Kingsfield, a professor of contract law who passes along scholarship with finely tempered disdain. In an original bit of casting, Kingsfield is played by veteran theater and film producer John Houseman. It is a forbidding, superb performance, catching not only the coldness of such a man but the patrician crustiness that conceals deep and raging contempt.

    Houseman was awarded Best Supporting Actor at the 46th Academy Awards and the same award from the National Board of Review. Bridges was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, losing to William Peter Blatty, who won for adapting his novel into the screenplay for The Exorcist. Donald O. Mitchell and Larry Jost received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound. In spite of Houseman's awards, the University of Chicago Law School calls his rendition of the Socratic method "over-the-top", telling prospective students:

    John Houseman may have won an Oscar for his impressive performance, but if anyone ever did teach a law school class like his Professor Kingsfield, no one at Chicago does today. Instead, our students discover quickly that the Socratic Method is a tool and a good one that is used to engage a large group of students in a discussion, while using probing questions to get at the heart of the subject matter. The Socratic Method is not used at Chicago to intimidate, nor to "break down" new law students, but instead for the very reason Socrates developed it: to develop critical thinking skills in students and enable them to approach the law as intellectuals.

    Others disagreed; another reviewer found it accurate:

    This is really the only serious flick about law school life. It’s brooding and intense, perfectly capturing the dynamic between law professor and student. The movie is worth watching just for actor John Houseman’s academy award-winning performance as Professor Kingsfield. Every school still has a professor that knows how to absolutely terrify the 1Ls — for us at UChicago, that was Richard “The Hammer” Helmholz. The Paper Chase’s Professor Kingsfield is like a distillation every one of these scary Arch-villain type professors.

    Over three decades later, the American Film Institute included the film on its 100 Years...100 Cheers list.


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