Advertisement

Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Harvard Law School Looks Back on “The Paper Chase”

posted by Nell Minow

The Paper Chase, the story of a student’s first year at Harvard Law School and his rocky relationship with a demanding teacher, was released in 1973.  The fiercely Socratic law professor was played by John Houseman (at one time producer of Orson Welles’ Federal Theater Project plays) and was so popular he inspired a spin-off television series.

Advertisement

The movie and series were based on a novel by Harvard Law School graduate John Osborn, and on the 40th anniversary of its publication Osborn returned to the law school for a conversation with Dean Martha Minow, my sister.

According to Osborn, a 1967 Harvard College and 1970 HLS graduate, 40 years ago the Law School had professors with stern classroom styles and zero tolerance for poorly prepared pupils. Based on that experience, Osborn crafted his curmudgeonly composite, one that has proved popular to generations of readers and moviegoers.

Osborn talked about the way he worked with legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis to show the evolving relationship of the initially intimidated student (tellingly named Hart) and the icy professor, who famously told the student to call his mother and tell her he would never become a lawyer.  They showed the relationship

by including close-up shots of the gruff professor throughout the first part of the film. In addition, camera tricks and a movable set heightened the sense of distance between teacher and student. As the film progressed, Hart came increasingly into the foreground of the camera’s lens and was finally “right in the frame with Kingsfield,” on a par literally and figuratively with the stern professor, said Osborn.

Advertisement

Reflecting on the choice of Houseman to portray the professor in the film, Osborn said the actor was the perfect fit. “He could be that way; it wasn’t a big stretch for him. He was used to being in control.”

But when it came to the TV series, they had to modify the Kingsfield role to entice a weekly audience to keep watching. “You can’t have a guy who is just nasty through and through,” said Osborn. Instead, Houseman, who reprised the role for the series, offered viewers “a watered-down version” of Kingsfield for the small screen.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Osborn himself became a professor, but he assured his audience that in his class, students are not scared to answer.

Previous Posts

Slate's Compilation of Movie Scenes With Teenagers Climbing Through Bedroom Windows
Slate has a very funny supercut inspired by a scene in "Paper Towns," where Cara Delevingne climbs through the window of her next door neighbor, played by Nat Wolff. Apparently every movie about teenagers features someone climbing through a window. ...

posted 8:00:50am Aug. 03, 2015 | read full post »

A "Star Wars" Superfan Breaks Down All the Changes and Tweaks
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNbzSH84mj0 ...

posted 8:00:49am Aug. 03, 2015 | read full post »

The Oldest Living Movie Stars
The Film Experience has a put together a list of the 200 oldest movie stars, from age 82-105.  It includes two-time Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland ("Gone With the Wind"), John Wayne c0-star Maureen O'Hara, and century-old Norman Lloyd, who ...

posted 8:00:53am Aug. 02, 2015 | read full post »

Tom Cruise Runs -- Supercut
I love this supercut of Tom Cruise's best running scenes, first because it shows the range of films he's worked in over the decades, and the different ways different directors and cinematographers shoot the scenes (and some similarities), and ...

posted 10:17:54pm Aug. 01, 2015 | read full post »

You Can Help Support This new Ed Asner Film on Indiegogo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAY_sMucKl4 Ed Asner stars in this new film about a young man who finds a book at his grandmother’s memorial, with a series of fantastical tales that his grandfather wrote for his grandmother. Each is a ...

posted 4:18:09pm Aug. 01, 2015 | read full post »

Advertisement


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.