Reds (1981): Warren Beatty’s Lavish Epic, Starring Diane Keaton, Himself, Jack Nicholson

Warren Beatty’s endeavor as producer, cowriter (with Trevor Griffith), director, and star, Reds, is an ambitious attempt to make an historical epic, romantic adventure, and political drama, all rolled in one film.

“Reds” found an intelligent and original way to used informants as interviewees, all contemporaries of John Reed, the adventurous journalist who was in Russia during the 1917 Revolution and wrote the influential book, “Ten Days That Shook the World.”

“Reds” also provided good parts for Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill, who had an affair with Bryant, and best of all, Maureen Stapleton, as the revolutionary Emma Goldman, who finally won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

In 1978, Diane Keaton became romantically involved with Warren Beatty (single after break-up with Julie Christie), and two years later he cast her to play opposite him in the epic historical drama Reds.

Keaton played Louise Bryant, a journalist and feminist, who flees from her husband to work with radical journalist John Reed (Beatty), and later enters Russia to locate him as he chronicles the Civil War in Russia.

Beatty cast Keaton after seeing her in Annie Hall, as he wanted to bring her natural nervousness and insecure attitude to the role. The production of Reds was delayed several times following its conception in 1977, and Keaton almost left the project when she believed it would never be produced.   Shooting finally began two years later.

Keaton described her difficult role as “the everyman of that piece, as someone who wanted to be extraordinary but was probably more ordinary.  I knew what it felt like to be extremely insecure.”

Upon its release, Reds opened to critical acclaim and Keaton’s performance was particularly praised.  The N.Y. Times Vincent Canby thought that Keaton was, “nothing less than splendid as Louise Bryant – beautiful, selfish, funny and driven. It’s the best work she has done to date.”

She deviated from playing the bright but insecure New Yorker to play an intelligent, exasperated, bright, and loyal, femme, and the Academy rewarded her with her second Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Oscar Nominations: 12

Picture, produced by Warren Beatty
Director: Warren Beatty
Actor: Warren Beatty
Actress: Diane Keaton
Screenplay (Original): Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths
Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson
Supporting Actress: Maureen Stapleton
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Richard Sylbert; Michael Seirton
Film Editing: Dede Allen and Craig McKay
Costume design: Shirley Russell
Sound: Dick Vorisek, Tom Fleischman, Simon Kay

Oscar awards: 2

Supporting Actress

Oscar Context

In 1981, the British sports melodrama “Chariots of Fire,” was the surprise winner of the Best Picture Oscar, with seven nominations and four awards.

The other four nominees were (alphabetically): Louis Malle’s “Atlantic City,” The schmaltzy family saga “On Golden Pod,” Warren Beatty’s semi-successful epic “Reds,” which received the largest number of nominations (12), and Spielberg’s nostalgic adventure “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The winners of the lead acting awards were: Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, both for “On Golden Pond.” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” won most of the technical awards.



(J.R.S. Production)