Forgotten gem still shines

Ellen Burstyn as Alice Hyatt in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was Martin Scorsese's fourth feature when it hit cinema screens in 1974 and it remains a key work in the director's remarkable filmography.

Re-released by the BFI on March 27 – Scorsese's debut, Who's That Knocking At My Door (1967) is also reissued on DVD on the same day – it's a beautiful, heartfelt study of everyday America that still packs a considerable emotional punch despite the passing decades.

Ellen Burstyn, in a career best performance, is Alice Hyatt a recently widowed mother who packs up her station wagon and heads off with her young son on the bumpy road towards a new life.

She hopes to make some sort of living as a singer but winds up working as a waitress in a small town diner in the semi-rural Southwest of America.

There is much here that you'd expect from a good Scorsese movie. There's the endlessly restless camera, the occasional bursts of shocking violence and the quality selection of music on the soundtrack that rolls effortlessly from 70's soft rock to much-loved standards.

There's also a lot on show that you wouldn't necessarily associate with a Martin Scorsese production.

As a standalone film the emphasis the director puts upon an ordinary woman trying to make her way in 1970's rural America marks this out as something special.

Viewed as the follow up to Mean Streets – a film that pretty much defines young males on the make, lest we forget – it suddenly becomes a truly remarkable piece of work.

In terms of setting and tone it couldn't be furthered removed from the seedy back streets and would-be wise guys of New York if it tried proving that lazy assumptions that the director was only at his best when dealing with male issues in urban environments are just that, lazy assumptions.

It may not be the man's greatest film but it shows his breadth of skills perfectly. Alice feels more in awe of the classic Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s than any tough guy gangster tradition and is all the better for it.

This is a tale of everyday emotions and everyday dreams lived out in a gently faded America of broken hopes and mislaid ambition – and, as such, it still rings true today.

The film eases us across a world of dreary diners, miserable motels and battered old service stations as Alice and Tommy (Alfred Lutter) hit the road looking for a future.

Sublime support comes along the way from Harvey Keitel, as a gently spoken hair-trigger potential psycho who corners Alice for a while, and the great Kris Kristofferson as an easy-going rancher who eventually wins her heart.

There are other memorable turns for Diane Ladd (Oscar nominated for her efforts here) and Valerie Curtin as waitresses in a diner where Alice works, but really this is all about the brilliance of Burstyn.

Bruised but never beaten by the deal life has dealt her she handles the gentle comedy and poignant moments that the story throws up for her beautifully.

Apparently, she had to leave the set briefly to attend the 1973 Academy awards where she was nominated for her work on The Exorcist. She came back empty-handed on that occasion, but would win Best Actress for her role here the following year.

Watching this melancholy beauty once again on DVD, it's easy to see why.

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