The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is one of those classic examples of what happens when a movie star turns director. It was Paul Newman’s second film as a director after Rachel, Rachel. As usual with his directorial work, it starred his wife, Joanne Woodward.
The film is based on a very popular stage play, and it shows in how it looks on-screen. The story is about Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Woodward), a middle-aged woman who is struggling to survive. Her husband has left her, and now she is stuck with her daughters, Ruth and Matilda. They both have their own concerns and quirks, Ruth is the rebellious daughter who has epilepsy, and Matilda finds her comfort in science projects and her pet rabbit. The science project Matilda is working on is where the very sci-fi sounding title comes from.
As you would expect, the performance from Woodward is great, and it’s no surprise that Newman got the best out of his wife. It’s much more of a actors’ film than a director’s film, which is part of the its problem—the story seems like a bad imitation of a Tennessee Williams play. Newman’s first Oscar nomination was for his role in the film adaptation of Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and he would later direct the second adaptation of The Glass Menagerie. Naturally, a Tennessee Williams-esque script would attract Newman.
Overall, it’s a film that doesn’t completely work for me—it just seems slightly off somehow. However, it has strong performances from Woodward, and also Nell Potts (Newman and Woodward’s own daughter) as Matilda. Woodward would also win the best actress award at the Cannes film festival, where the film played in competition.
For the longest time The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds has been impossible to locate, and this new Blu-Ray has a nice dose of features, including audio lectures from Newman and Woodward that both play separately as alternative commentary tracks. The other features are a two-minute snippet of the Cannes press conference, a TV spot, the isolated score, and a booklet with writing on the film.