Netflix Update No. 6: “The Grass Harp”

April 27, 2009



We watched “The Grass Harp,” the film version of a Truman Capote novel about an orphaned boy, Collin (Edward Furlong) who is sent to live with two aunts in a southern town during World War II. One aunt, Verena (Cissy Spacek) is humorless, insular, and materialistic in the extreme; the other, Dolly  (Piper Laurie) is an eccentric who spends all her time cooking or manufacturing a dropsy remedy in the company of her childhood friend Catherine (Nell Carter). A rare confrontation between the sisters brings on a crisis that permanently alters the lives of the main characters – sending Dolly, Catherine and Collin into self-imposed exile in a tree house. Some of the character resolutions are implausible, even within the somewhat fanciful context of this story. The film also stars Walter Matthau as a retired judge whose family regards him as dotty and Jack Lemmon as a Chicago con-man. It was the seventh of the ten films Matthau and Lemmon made together, but they have very little interaction in this one.  
This is a low-key movie for the most part, despite some borderline slapstick. Charles Matthau – Walter’s son – directed the film, and to say that he did it without a heavy hand would be putting it mildly. Presumably, he was actually on the set when these scenes were shot. The quirky characters – including RoddyMcDowell as a barber who calls all his male customers “honey” and Jo Don Baker as a sheriff who keeps perpetual company with a white rooster – are in themselves worth the trouble. The film, beautifully shot in Alabama, has a strong sense of place.

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