Although billed and promoted as such, Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter (based on the novel of the same name by Ann Beattie) is most definitely NOT a romantic comedy. In fact, it’s one of those rare movies which was re-released with a change of name (it was originally called Head over Heels) and a much more downbeat ending – which surprisingly resulted in greater critical and box office success.
The story concerns the almost obsessive love felt by civil servant Charles (John Heard) for his co-worker Laura (Mary Beth Hurt) who’s estranged from her husband (Mark Metcalf who played Neidermeyer in Animal House) and uncertain how to deal with her new suitor.
Taking place in a freezing Salt Lake City, the picture’s title is reflected in both the locale and the relationships between the characters. John Heard’s Charles is supposed to be a charmer, but to me he comes across as a rather pushy smart-arse, although you do feel sympathy for him at the (new) ending, which is quite affecting.
Heard was seriously underrated actor, best known to many as Macaulay Culkin’s dad in Home Alone (1990) and its sequel (1992), but he was excellent in Chilly Scenes of Winter, as well as Cutter’s Way (1981) and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985).
Reading between the lines, the troubled Heard seems to have a fair few similarities with the dissatisfied protagonist of Chilly Scenes, saying in 2008:
‘I guess I went from being a young leading man to being just kind of a hack actor. …I was a little bit of an arrogant jerk. I think I had my time. I dropped the ball, as my father would say. I think I could have done more with my career than I did, and I sort of got sidetracked. But that’s OK, that’s all right, that’s the way it is.’
Golden Years of Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (The Bad & The Beautiful, In a Lonely Place) makes the most of a small role as Charles’ eccentric (and suicidal) mother Clara.
A truly unique person and actress, Grahame died at the age of just 57 in 1981.
Incidentally, Annette Bening played Grahame in 2017’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool:
Rather than a link to a misleading trailer, here’s the full movie (decent quality print) you can watch in full. If you feel the inclination, that is. It’s also available on Netflix. I highly recommend it.
Charles: ‘It’s not that it doesn’t still hurt, it’s that you get used to it’