David and Lisa: Frank Perry Seminal Independent Film, Starring Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin

Continental Distribution Company of a Heller-Perry Production

Director Frank Perry’s “David and Lisa” is directly responsible for the rise of indie filmmaking in the U.S.

Famed French filmmaker Jean Renoir (Rules of the Game) credited the sensitive black and white film as a turning point in world cinema, partly because it opened the doors for other independent filmmakers.

Loosely based on real case-histories, the narrative centers on two attractive misfits, David (Keir Dullea) and Lisa (Janet Margolin). David hates to be touched, and Lisa can only speak and be spoken to in rhymes. Vet actor Howard De Silva plays the sensitive psychiatrist who helps the teenagers after they are institutionalized.

A nicely directed and acted film, “David and Lisa” offers too much emphasis on reassurance, which makes the misfits’ cure appear facile and comfortable. One French critic asked how come David managed to achieve such a neat haircut if his problem is that he cannot be touched. Other reviewers critiqued the film by raising questions about the ability of romantic love to cure the serious mental problems of patients.

Frank and Eleanor Perry were nominated for Oscars in the directing and adapted screenwriting categories, respectively. The winners in those categories were Brit David Lean for “Lawrence of Arabia,” and American Horton Foote for his adapted screenplay for “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“David and Lisa” launched a cycle of American psychological films, including John Huston’s “Freud,” and became a campus favorite in the 1960s and 1970s, often playing on a double-bill with the French feature, “King of Hearts.”

Frank Perry

Born on Aug 21, 1930 in New York City, Frank Perry died in 1995. Perry worked in stock in various capacities before moving to New York City to study with Method Acting guru Lee Strasberg. He worked on various stage productions.

In 1958, after marrying Eleanor Bayer, the couple set up a company and raised $200,000 to produce “David and Lisa,” which was released in 1962.

Besides “David and Lisa,” Frank Perry was producer-director of such quintessentially 1960s films as “Last Summer” and “Diary of a Mad Housewife” which were also written by Eleanor Perry, and “Mommie Dearest” (1981), his most popular film, a campy biopic of Joan Crawford with a stellar turn from Faye Dunaway.