Released in 1968, Charly
is a period-piece from the summer of love when "natural" was nirvana, the air hummed with the mantra "Everybody's beautiful", and all ills stemmed from institutional monoliths such as Science, Government, Education, and Religion. It is adapted from Daniel Keyes' novel Flowers for Algernon
and its hero, Charly (Cliff Robertson), is 30 years old and mentally handicapped. His innocent sweetness makes him superior to most able-minded folk, whether they're the bigoted dolts he sweeps floors for or the ambitious scientists who see him as the human equivalent of Algernon, a mouse they've surgically (but impermanently) smartened up. Naturally, post-op Charly, sporting a genius IQ, "sees things as they are". Trotted out as the neurosurgeons' poster boy, he stands up to the "learned" audience--shot as faceless, inhuman interrogators. He's every 60s flower child, berating his "elders" for blighting their brave new world.
The one reward Charly derives from his higher IQ is sex. In a lengthy montage resembling a retro TV commercial, he and his teacher (Claire Bloom, a madonna with an eternal Mona Lisa smile) romp through Edenic gardens, their embraces hallowed by sunlight glinting through leaves, moonlight glinting on water, and sappy Ravi Shankar music (stylistic clichés also include embarrassing outbreaks of split screens and multiple small screens within the frame, notably when rebellious Charly turns biker). Robertson's performance is well-meaning but mawkishly sentimental. Still, in the penultimate moments when Charly begins to slide back into mental illness, the actor achieves a genuine tragic gravity, and he became a surprise Oscar winner for his pains. --Kathleen Murphy, Amazon.com
Mentally-challenged Charly Gordon (Cliff Robertson) fails in all his attempts to improve his IQ at night school, despite the encouragement and friendship of his teacher, Alice (Claire Bloom). After volunteering to act as guinea pig for an experimental new form of neurosurgery, Charly is transformed into a genius. He embarks on a romance with Alice, but a shocking discovery threatens his new-found success. Robertson won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Charly, seven years after he originally played the role in a television drama.