MELVIN & HOWARD (1980) The "true" story of real life Melvin Dummar and his encounter with Howard Hughes.

melvinandhoward_betaboxTheme Song: Jason Robards sings “Bye, Bye Blackbird” twice, so I guess that could count. There’s also an annoying song about a banjo-picking “good ol’ boy” and several wedged-in songs by The Rolling Stones.

Interesting Dated References: Some vintage shots of Vegas and Reno. A few shots of interior Reno casinos. This will be interesting to people who are interested in old casinos, none of whom rare reading this summary.

Best Line: Despite Oscar wins for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress, there are no good lines in this movie.

Social Context: None. There’s some social context to the actual story upon which the movie is based, mainly the idea you shouldn’t do nice stuff for people because in the end you just get screwed, but nothing is directly conveyed in the movie.

Summary: I have no interest in the life and times of Howard Hughes. For those of you not familiar with the story of Melvin Dummar, you can read about it at home via the world wide web.

The gist goes as follows: Melvin Dummar picks up drunken guy in the middle of the desert, drives drunken guy to Vegas, drunken guy says he’s Howard Hughes. Years later Howard Hughes dies and a will is found giving a shit-ton of money to Dummar. Court cases ensue, Dummar’s credibility is questioned, the will is thrown out of court. Then a book is written and Jonathan Demme decides to make it into a movie. The movie is then put out on Betamax and I wind up watching it.

The movie starts with Jason Robards hot-dogging it on a motorcycle, which he crashes, and later that night Melvin (Paul Le Mat) finds him and gives him a ride to Vegas.

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This is Vegas before Disney owned it. After Melvin drops off Howard, he goes back to his normal trailer park life, which includes working some shitty job and having Mary Steenburgen as a stripper wife.


In general, we get the idea Melvin’s life sucks. He can’t get ahead financially, he hates that his wife is a stripper, she’s trying to leave him, etc. Eventually he serves his wife with divorce papers while she is at the strip club. She becomes upset and quits her job, but not before she rips off her outfit and walks through the club naked. Apparently everyone was so impressed with Steenburgen’s nude scene they gave her an Oscar.

So life goes on, and eventually Melvin and his now-pregnant ex-wife get remarried in Vegas, complete with a scene featuring heart-shaped film transitions. Demme beats us over the head trying to stress how comedically broke Melvin is. It’s around this time he and his wife come up with the idea of having her appear on the game show Easy Street.


The game show host is none other than the dearly departed Robert Ridgely who was a semi-regular in Demme’s films. Steenburgen tap dances to The Rolling Stones and eventually goes on to win $10,000.00 and some other junk. They use that money to buy a house which is, get this, $44,000.00! Can you fucking believe that? I can because that’s what houses are worth these days.

The movie is generally well directed and acted, but seriously, I can’t even remember what it’s about. It seems like I’m just watching some yokel couple struggle with life. Speaking of which, the fiscally disabled Melvin buys a new car and boat and again his wife and kids leave him. Okay so then Melvin gets remarried, has two new kids, or gaines custody of his previous two kids and moved to Utah to work at a gas station.


The only thing of note there is a neon Olympia Beer sign in the window. So then some mysterious guy shows up, drops off an envelope (the will) that has instructions for Melvin to take it to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Everyone goes apeshit and the press shows up at the gas station. People think it’s a fake, hijinks ensue, banjos are plucked, a boring-ass courtroom scene plays out, then the movie ends with Melvin driving with his kids.

Poster and Box Art: Well first off, the Betamax box totally makes this movie look like some type of misguided buddy comedy, but of course that isn’t really the case and in fact, Robards isn’t even in the movie very much, nor do his actions have much to do with the bulk of the movie, which is just Melvin being a loser.


Look at this original poster. Clearly they marketed it as some light-hearted comedy about a lovable white trash couple. At least they were being honest, since that’s basically what it is. I do miss this style of poster, though.


I also located this action packed foreign movie poster that is a little misguided. And I know I say it over and over, but this DVD cover is fucking ridiculous! They make it look like one of those bad Drew Barrymore romantic comedies!

Availability: The above mentioned DVD is available from Amazon. Look at that fun and exciting cover! Doesn’t that look like a good movie?

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