Paper Chase, The (1973): Law School Melodrama Starring John Houseman

The young director James Bridges made a sleeper out of John Jay Osborn Jr.’s novel Paper Chase.

Timothy Bottoms (who made an impression in The Last Picture Show in 1971) stars as the Minnesotan Hart, a brilliant but naive freshman at Harvard Law School.

Like most of his fellow aspiring attorneys, Hart is in fearful awe of his demanding, ego-deflating instructor, Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman in a grand, theatrical performance).

But lo and behold, Hart falls in love with the professor’s pretty daughter (Lindsay Wagner).

Better known as a theatrical and film producer, John Houseman won an Oscar for his first important screen role; he’d played an unbilled cameo in 1964’s Seven Days in May).

The Oscar launched Houseman on a late but successful acting career, playing variations of Kingsfield.

Houseman also recreated the role for a Paper Chase TV series, which first ran on CBS, then on Public TV and on Showtime.

Top production values, especially Gordon Willis’ cinematography and John Williams score, made this rather conventional and old-fashioned melodrama more enjoyable and commercial than anticipated.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Supporting Actor: John Houseman

Screenplay (Adapted): James Bridges

Sound: Donald O. Mitchell and Lawrence O, Jost

 

Oscar Awards: 1

 

Supporting Actor

 

Oscar Context:

The Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to William Peter Blatty for The Exorcist, which also won the Sound Award.