The People vs. Larry Flynt Review

by D&S Associates (dsassoc AT neponset DOT com)
January 21st, 1997

    A film review by Laura & Robin Clifford Copyright 1997 Laura & Robin Clifford
(This review is an excerpt from Reeling, a movie review show hosted by Laura and Robin Clifford, running on Boston Cable TV. Note that the film descriptions vary in completeness due to the fact that they're actually intros for running film clips.)


"The People vs. Larry Flynt", directed by the great Czech filmmaker Milos Forman, stars Woody Harrelson as the title character - a sleazy, flesh-peddling strip club owner who parlayed raunchiness into the multi-million dollar Hustler empire and became, through circumstance, a major proponent of the First Amendment right to the freedom of expression.

Alternative rock star Courtney Love makes her starring debut as Althea Leasure, the underage stripper who became Flynt's lover, wife and business partner before succumbing to AIDS in 1983.

The film follows Larry Flynt's beginnings as an adolescent moonshiner, through his rather amazing career as sleaze-meister, a redeemed Christian, and, finally, a crusader of the Constitution, ending in his Supreme Court victory against the Reverend Jerry Falwell and the so-called Moral Majority.


Any film about pornography and sleaze, directed by Milos Forman, starts off with high points from me. "The People vs. Larry Flynt" does not disappoint, almost, at all.

Up front, I have to say that this an actors movie. All the trappings of First Amendment rights and the battle to maintain these rights in a reactionary, self righteous society takes a back seat to the performances of Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Ed Norton and a bevy of supporting characters.

Woody Harrelson (who would have thunk it when watching him on Cheers) is proving himself to be one capable actor, possibly only under capable directors such as Forman and Oliver Stone ("Natural Born Killers"), possibly because he CAN act. Here, as Larry Flynt, Harrelson starts off slowly, but builds steadily Flynt's character until the line between the actor and the character blurs. In the last half of the movie, I believed I was watching the man, not the actor. Damn good job by Harrelson that may or may not garner an Oscar nom. He will get more serious attention in the future.

Courtney Love gives a truly outstanding performance as Althea Flynt. In the hands of a master such as Forman, Love delivers a powerful and believable performance as a young woman drawn to the sleaze of Larry Flynt, mainly because he is her kindred spirit in that sleaze. Altheas dedication to Flynt, the man and the business, is well drawn and without any falseness. If Madonna is nominated, for "Evita", over Courtney Love, it will be one of Hollywood's grander screwups.
Edward Norton, who blew me away in his debut as the psycho in last years "Primal Fear", plays a composite of lawyers involved with Flynt over the years, including the real Alan Isaacman. Nortons boyish looks belie the inherent acting ability portrayed here. He is convincing as Flynt's longtime friend and legal advisor and gives a very effective speech before the Supreme Court in the film's climax. Edward Norton is an actor to watch for in the coming years.

Other supporting cast, such as "Good Day, New York" correspondent, Donna Hanover, in a terrific debut as evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton , who briefly turned Flynt toward Christ, and political consultant James Carville, making his acting debut as Simon Leis, Flynt's opponent in early legal battles, are examples of exemplary casting. Also notable is Harrelson's real-life brother, as Larry Flynt's brother and business partner.

The rest of the supporting cast, such as a Vincent Schiavelli and Crispin Glover, were not only miscast, they hurt the scenes they are in. A mixed bag of support, some very good, some not.

Milos Forman ("One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest", "Amadeus") is a masterful filmmaker and it shows here. He draws terrific performances from much of his cast and deftly conveys the screenplay to the screen.
The screenplay, by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, is rich in detail and dialogue. Alexander and Karaszewski also showed an adeptness with biographies with their script for Tim Burton's "Ed Wood".

I have one not-so-minor problem with "The People vs. Larry Flyn"t: it doesnt go far enough in conveying the utter sleaziness that Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine represented. Some of you may have seen Hustler, but I can safely bet that most have not. For the uninitiated, Larry Flynt is portrayed as a working class Hugh Hefner, with a working class version of Playboy. He was anything but a Hefner clone. The purification of raunch that represented Flynt takes the edge off of what could have been a terrifically edgy film.

Because of this, I give "The People vs. Larry Flynt" an A-.


Czech director Milos Forman ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Amadeus") has directed an American classic with "The People vs. Larry Flynt." I must state right up front, however, that this should not be considered a Larry Flynt bio-pic, but a piece of American Pop - at least that's how I'm viewing it. Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, whose last script lionized another oddball outsider, Ed Wood, have portrayed Flynt almost as a naif who happens to be a shrewd businessman faithful to his friends, madly in love with his wife, Althea Leasure, and a crusading proponent of free speech. I'm sure there are plenty of people (the Reverend Jerry Falwell aside) who would love to air a sleezier, darker, nastier more self-serving picture of the man (as is the case with a former security man and brother-in-law in the February issue of Penthouse).

"The People vs. Larry Flynt" is essentially about two things - Larry Flynt's fight for his first amendment rights and the love story between him and Althea. Flynt's head for business is established in 1952 Kentucky where he was a child moonshine bootlegger. The grown up Flynt (Woody Harrelson) enjoys running a strip club and the employees who dance there. He decides to promote his Hustler club via newsletter consisting of nude shots of his dancers, but the printer informs him that without any textual content, he'd be arrested for distributing pornography. Voila - the birth of Hustler magazine.
There are three terrific performances from the three principals in "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Woody Harrelson loses himself in the role, particularly in the latter part of the film after Flynt's paralyzed by an attempted assassin's bullet. I found myself watching Larry Flynt, not Woody Harrelson. Courtney Love is as good as all the hype around her performance says - she's a either natural actress or Althea Leasure's soulmate. Edward Norton ("Primal Fear") impresses again as Flynt's lawyer - a very mature performance from a very boyish looking young actor. All three performances are strong contenders for an Oscar nomination.

Also of note is Donna Hanover, a newswoman, as the strangely seductive Ruth Carter Stapleton, helping Flynt be born again. James Cromwell ("Babe") appears as Flynt adversary Charles Keating (later of the savings and loan scandal) and Bill Clinton's campaign advisor James Carville debuts as a county prosecutor. Flynt himself appears as Judge Morrisey, who presided over Flynt's first obscenity trial.
The film is funny, epic, tragic and brashly colorful in a 70's period way. The film's locations include Flynt's actual Hollywood mansion and publishing offices.

My one small nit with "The People vs. Larry Flynt" is that there are several scenes which are too abruputly editted throughout the midsection of the film which broke me out of the movie experience. Otherwise, I was totally wrapped up in Forman's American fable.


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