Melvin And Howard [DVD] 
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Comedy drama directed by Jonathan Demme. When Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat) picked up a tramp (Jason Robards) claiming to be Howard Hughes on a highway in Las Vegas, he had no idea that this small act of kindness would change his life forever. After losing his job and his wife, down-on-his-luck Melvin thinks that his life is doomed to fail. Then, a mysterious man delivers to him the Last Will and Testament of Howard Hughes stating that the billionaire had left Melvin $156 million. However, with the authenticity of the Will in dispute, Melvin must fight to prove that the money is rightfully his.
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Top Customer Reviews
Great cast-Paul Lemat, mary Steenbergen and Jason Robards--only in the movie for around 10 minutes but very convincing. well worth seeking out...
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Demme, who also directed Something Wild (1986) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) does a wonderful job of relating the story of Melvin (Paul Le Mat) and how he came across Howard Hughes (Jason Robards) stranded in the desert outside of Las Vegas and gave him a ride. Hughes, looking disheveled and grisly, stated that he was who he was, but Melvin didn't take him seriously, thinking he was just some old wino.
Some time goes by, Howard Hughes passes away, and a mysterious stranger leaves a handwritten letter in Melvin's gas station. The document, which appears to be Hughes will, names Melvin as a beneficiary, entitling him to somewhere in the neighborhood of $156 million dollars. Well, this immediately launches Melvin into the public spotlight and focuses much attention on the validity of the will.
While the movie is titled Melvin and Howard, it's mostly about Melvin, and deals with his many ups and downs (mostly downs) in a particular period of his life. Melvin switches jobs a few times, working as a magnesium bagger, milk truck driver, and gas station owner, and deals with personal problems like his wife leaving, cars repossessed, being in debt up to his ears...Paul Le Mat, who many may recognize as John Milner from American Graffiti (1973) is wonderful as the poor but likeable schlub who, due to his natural good nature, may have found himself in a position to inherit millions. The supporting cast is great including Robards, Dabney Coleman, John Glover, Pamela Reed, and Mary Steenburgen, who won an academy award for best supporting actress as Melvin's wife, Lynda. The real Melvin E. Dummar even makes an appearance as a counter clerk at a bus terminal. And speaking of academy awards, it should also be noted that Bo Goldman won the award for best writing for this film.
There are no special features on this release, only a trailer, but the picture looks wonderful in the wide screen format. There is another release, one from Anchor Bay Entertainment that does include some more extras like commentary and production notes not available here, so if you are interested in those kinds of things, you might want to search it out. Does Melvin get the money in the end? It doesn't really matter, at least not in the scope of this film. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys good filmmaking and is interesting in discovering an under-appreciated movie with great scripting, casting, dialogue, direction, and music. Everything clicks really well in this little 'slice of life' gem.
The movie tells the story of the very real Melvin Dummar, who made a big splash over twenty years ago by having his name appear in one version of the will of Howard Hughes. To the unitiated, Howard Hughes was at one time the richest man in the world, and flat-out owned several Las Vegas casinos. Dummar claimed his only prior contact with Hughes was giving him a ride once late at night after the billionaire had crashed his motorcycle while riding in the desert.
The motorcycle riding would not have been out of character with Hughes at the time. However, nobody has ever been able to prove that this will was real. In fact, several investigations have leaned towards Dummar instigating a very clumsy fraud. But on the other hand, nobody has been able to say with 100% authority that the will was NOT real. The movie chooses to take this premise, to the gain of the American cinema.
So the story goes on the premise that Dummar was telling the truth. Hey, if they can make the fictional "Shakesphere in Love", using real characters, why not this story? The genius of the movie is that it portrays mostly Melvin, and mostly the parts of his life that have nothing to do with Howard Hughes. He is portrayed as a complete loser when it comes to finances, barely able to hold even menial jobs, and foolishly spending money he doesn't have. This kind of person would probably try a scheme like the Hughes will, but yet the character is likeable. We feel the pain of not being able to pay everyday bills, and really root for the guy. We don't know whether it's a true reflection of the man, but we like who we see on the screen.
I first saw this film when it came out, and I was living in Illinois. I never dreamed then that I'd someday be living in Las Vegas, where a lot of the story takes place, and next to Utah, where the rest does. While the movie doesn't dwell on the tourist part of Vegas, it does provide some interesting shots that show the incredible growth the Strip has experienced in the last twenty years. The entire location of the film is now my home turf.
This, and seeing that other participants in the film would have future successes (Demme, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Coleman, Pamela Reed) baffles me why I only see four reviews of a movie this good, that's been around so long.
Find it and see it.
The movie begins with Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat) accidentally finding an injured old man (Jason Robards) out in the cold Nevada desert. The haggardly old man convinces Melvin to drive him to Las Vegas and during the long drive, the old curmudgeon tells Melvin that he is Howard Hughes. Melvin is skeptical of the claim and even more so when the old man panhandles some pocket change from Melvin at the end of the trip. Later that morning Melvin returns to his mobile home somewhere in rural Nevada and later that day his pickup truck and motorcycle are repossessed. This apparently is the straw that breaks the camel's back for Melvin's wife Lynda (Mary Steenburgen) and she leaves him for another man. This sets up the rest of the movie where both Howard Hughes and Lynda are far from gone from Melvin's life.
The movie is supposedly based on a true story. The debatable issue is if Melvin Dummar really did meet and save billionaire Howard Hughes and did Hughes return the favor years later after he died by leaving Dummar 1/16th of his estate in a dubious hand-written will. The movie's goal isn't really trying to prove the veracity of the Hughes events. The story is in essence about a hardworking blue-collar guy who gets a few big breaks, in fact one potentially colossal break, and a few smaller breaks dropped in his lap, but in all cases does a seemingly poor job in handling them. Melvin is likable and earnest, but instead of taking charge of life, it seems that life takes charge of him. The movie is also a wonderful snapshot of lower middle class life in the later part of the `70's. There's a great scene in a gaudy Las Vegas wedding chapel, and later they participate in an outrageously artificial TV game show. It also had that unmistakable `70's aura of pursuing the American dream with ostentatious wealth such as a brand new, but cheaply constructed and unoriginal suburban house, an enormous Cadillac convertible, a monstrosity of a motorboat and a mammoth-size console TV. You also get your fill of some of the more comical and obnoxious country & western songs from that era. The charm of the movie is that when things go wrong, Melvin picks himself up, keeps his chin up, doesn't seem at all bitter, tries again tomorrow and nobody can take away his wonderful memories from yesterday. I don't recall a single moment in the film being laugh-out-loud funny, but just about every scene put a smile on my face. But overall for me, it wasn't a great film, but a very good one.
As for the DVD, it's a nice widescreen color presentation. The opening shot seemed noticeably grainy, and the rest of the movie had just average resolution and sharpness with no film defects. I've seen much sharper DVDs from late `70's films, but on the other hand, the comparative slight loss in sharpness made it look and feel like a cheap late 1970's film, true to the characters of the movie itself. The audio is excellent. The only bonus the original trailer.
DVD Quality: B+