Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970): Preminger’s Tale of a Commune of Misfits, Starring Liza Minnelli, Ken Howard, and Robert Moore

Based on Marjorie Kellogg’s novel of the same name, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is one of the last (and the weakest) in Otto Preminger’s otherwise brilliant career.

This marked the vet director’s attempt to appeal to the growing youth market of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the wake of such films as Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970).

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon
Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon poster.jpg

Original Poster by Saul Bass

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The young Liza Minnelli (daughter of director Minnelli and Judy Garland) plays Junie Moon, a girl whose face is scarred in a battery acid attack by boyfriend Jesse (Ben Piazza).

However, later on, while in an institution, she meets a man with epilepsy, Arthur (Ken Howard), and a gay paraplegic, Warren (Robert Moore).

Disabled and stigmatized, but not depressed, the trio live together in an older rented house, where they bond, determined to prove themselves and to help each other.

The supporting cast includes James Coco, Kay Thompson, Leonard Frey, and Nancy Marchand, and Anne Revere.

Musicians Pete Seeger and Pacific Gas & Electric appear in the film as themselves.

Preminger acquired the screen rights to the Marjorie Kellogg novel in September 1968 prior to its October release and hired her to write a screenplay. The movie deviates sharply from the book, in which Junie’s whole face was scarred; in this version, only one side of her face is disfigured.

The scene in the cemetery where Minnelli appeared nude was shot at the Blue Hills Cemetery in Braintree, MA and resulted in a scandal, with a misdemeanor complaint from family members of those buried there.  A “Liza Minnelli Bill” was introduced in the following year (with six month prison sentence and $1,000 fine) for anyone shooting in cemeteries without permit.

The film marks the debut of Ken Howard and Robert Moore, both of whom render strong performances.

The narrative, well intentioned but diffuse, is too theatrical, lacking the director’s distinctive mise-en-scene, relying too much on the performances, and conveying the feeling that Preminger was the wrong filmmaker for such material.

Visually, too, the movie looks impersonal, with Boris Kaufman’s cameras staying (too) close to the characters, devoid of Preminger’s more typical style of sweeping long shots, deep focus, and more detached approach.

Unlike Liza Minnelli’s previous film, 1969’s The Sterile Cuckoo, which was an artistic and commercial success, earning Liza her Best Actress Oscar nomination, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, which world premiered at the 1970 Cannes Film Fest, was a failure on both fronts

Minnelli’s next film, Bob Fosse’s brilliant musical movie Cabaret, won her the Best Actress Oscar, and established her as a major star.

Credits:

Directed, produced by Otto Preminger, screenplay by Marjorie Kellogg, based on her book, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon
Music by Philip Springer
Cinematography Boris Kaufman
Edited by Henry Herman, Dean O. Ball

Production company: Sigma Productions

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Release date: May 10, 1970 (Cannes); July 1, 1970 (New York)

Running time: 113 minutes