Lovin’ Molly (1974): Lumet’s Poor Version of McMurtry’s 1963 Novel, “Leaving Cheyenne,” Starring Blythe Danner Title Role, Anthony Perkins, Beau Bridges, Susan Sarandon

Sidney Lumet directed the romantic melodrama Lovin’ Molly, starring Blythe Danner in the title role, Anthony Perkins, Beau Bridges, Ed Binns, and Susan Sarandon.

Grade: C

The film is based on Leaving Cheyenne (1963), one of Larry McMurtry’s first novels,

Over a span of nearly 40 years, Gid and Johnny, a pair of Texas farm boys, compete for the affections of Molly Taylor, a free spirit who cares for both of them.

The story is told in three consecutive segments, each narrated by one of the three leads.

The first segment, set in 1925 and narrated by Gid, who introduces himself as, his best friend Johnny, and Johnny’s girlfriend Molly Taylor with whom Gid becomes smitten.

Gid works part-time as a ranch hand at Molly’s farm and often competes against Johnny for Molly’s affections. Despite their frequent arguments, Gid and Johnny’s friendship never ends during their excursions and errands for Molly’s father to sell and buy cattle for the farm.

Molly eventually sleeps with Gid and Johnny, but she eventually chooses neither, instead marrying school friend Eddie after her father’s death.

Gid eventually marries Sarah, a local widow with children, and Johnny leaves town for unknown future.

In the second segment, set in 1945 and narrated by Molly, it’s revealed that Molly had 3 sons from her 3 different suitors; each one died in combat during World War II.

Molly’s husband Eddie also died from an illness years before. Gid had divorced Sarah and began spending time with Molly, who withheld the news of their son’s death in battle.

Upon learning the news, Gid took it badly and got depressed. Johnny re-entered their lives, and, having had married and divorced his own wife, took active part in helping Molly run her farm.

The third and final segment is set in 1964 and is narrated by Johnny. He reveals that Gid is in a local hospital dying from cancer, with Johnny has at his bedside. Johnny takes Gid away from the hospital  to visit Molly who is still living at her father’s farm and about to sell it.

After working with Johnny on the farm to relive their “good old days” long gone by, Gid passes away.

Johnny and Molly vow to always be soul mates, before Johnny leaves for the last time.

Film rights to the novel were purchased in 1964 by Warner, who wanted to call the film Gid, after lead character Gideon, to cash in on the success of the movie Hud, based on McMurty’s first novel, Horseman Pass By.

The writer recalls, “Seven scripts ensued, one done by Altman, another by Don Siegel–the book was perceived as insidiously unfilmic and unfilmable.

In 1974, it finally was co-written by Stephen Friedman and Lumet,  retitling it “Lovin’ Molly”

The movie was shot in Bastrop, Texas.

Peak of his Career

Lumet directed this film during a span when his Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Equus were nominated for a combined 27 Oscar Awards.

McMurtry hated the movie as it wasn’t true to his book: “indifference to detail, on the scale evident in Lovin’ Molly, adds up to indifference to substance.”

The author felt that Lumet’s “indifference to locale was so total that one is sorry he was put to the anguish of uprooting himself from home and hearth for even the few short weeks he could bring himself to stay in Texas.”

Lumet said: “There were so many problems with that film! . I should have researched it more. It was an independent, with little financing, so we had to shoot quickly, and that’s why the makeup is not convincing. Anyway, it was a failure, due in great part to my haste.

(Prior to release, the film was also known as “Molly, Gid” and “Johnny and The Wild,” and “The Sweet”).

Anthony Perkins as Gid Frye
Beau Bridges as Johnny
Blythe Danner as Molly Taylor
Susan Sarandon as Sarah
Edward Binns as Mr. Frye
Conard Fowkes as Eddie White
Claude Traverse as Mr. Taylor
John Henry Faulk as Mr. Grinsom
Richard Ray Lee as Sheriff (uncredited)
Paul A. Partain as Willy (uncredited)

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