Theme Song: Some piano, some guitar, some violins.
Interesting Dated References: Being a depressed, alcoholic poet as a sustainable and practical career choice, which also gets you laid by old women and young ladies alike; Being a depressed, alcoholic poet whose entire wardrobe head-to-toe is various shades of beige tweed.
Best Line: Gowan McGland, the poet who is the main focus of Reuben, Reuben, has good ramblings about life, women, and drinking, which pop up throughout the movie. A few of note:
“People are always talking about selling out. Personally I can’t wait to sell out. I just can’t seem to find any buyers,”
“What I did notice is that she has a flat ass and women with flat asses lack warm nature because the curve is also missing from the temperament,”
“No, I’m not alright, never was alright, never will be alright.”
Social Context: Since Reuben, Reuben deals with a drab, tweed-clad, depressed, alcoholic poet who makes a living scamming off of, and making love to, unhappy elderly socialite women, it has no relevant social context or real-world application. Nobody really lives this way.
Summary:Gowan is a disheveled poet who hasn’t published anything in ten years. He drowns his sorrows by drinking large glasses of warm Pimm’s and attempting to womanize every female human he comes into contact with.
After a speaking engagement with a socialite women’s group, Gowan returns to his dreary apartment at the Dew Drop Inn and shuffles about. The leader of the women’s group shows up so they can make love. Gowan is condescending non-stop, yet women still seem to throw themselves at him.
Later Gowan tells the clerk of the Dew Drop about his neck pain and the terrible traction device he has to subject himself to. It involves standing on a frail chair and hanging for an hour or so. He repeatedly admits he’d be better off dead and should maybe hang himself with the traction contraption.
On his way to dinner with some other socialites, Gowan strikes up a conversation with Frank Spofford and his dog Reuben. Frank is played by the always old-looking Roberts Blossom (Deranged, Home Alone, Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Frank and Gowan take a liking to each other and discuss various things old curmudgeons talk about. Frank rants about the subdivisions that have been named after the trees and orchards they have replaced. Nowadays this is a popular sentiment espoused by dildos who are rebelling against their parents, but coming from a sad old man in the early 1980s, it sounds a little more genuine.
So Gowan goes to dinner with some socialite women and their husbands. The two women each grope Gowan’s thighs while he feigns interest in conversation with the husbands.
The next day Gowan meets with his estranged wife. She announces she has been hired to write a biography about Gowan. When she asks him if he’d like “Scotch, Vodka, Gin, or Jack Daniel’s,” he says, “Just mix them.” She proceeds to roast Gowan about his lack of artistic output and the perception he has that everyone should worship him. She gives him a tape recorder so he can dictate thoughts for the biography. Then her younger and more handsome boyfriend comes home. Gowan leaves and immediately heads to get drunk in a bar.
He get wasted and stumbles from the bar to the train, where, having no money, Kelly McGillis agrees to pay for his train ticket. She’s a literature student who recognizes him as Gowan McGland. He then goes into the bathroom and cries because that is what drunk failed artists do.
Upon arriving home, Gowan goes to drink with friendly Frank and his dog Reuben. Reuben really likes Gowan, and both Frank and Gowan really like the mid-day drinking of straight hard liquor, so it’s an ideal situation for all. As luck would have it, Kelly McGillis happens to be Frank’s granddaughter, Geneva. Gowan immediately starts making a play for Geneva, despite his life being a total mess.
At a party that weekend, Geneva dances with college dudes while Gowan watches from afar and speaks with the unhappily married Lucille about hating youth. Lucille seems to take particular joy in dragging Gowan around by his tie and flirting with him while her dentist husband stands in the corner scowling.
Much later that night, Gowan is sitting at home dictating into his new recorder a poem about how beautiful he thinks Geneva is. Lucille shows up and whips out her jugs which Gowan describes to her as being unleashed like hanged men. This makes her upset, but then he comforts her because he apparently gets off on insulting women prior to making love to them.
Then there’s a long montage as Geneva somewhat reluctantly falls in love with, gets drunk with, and is impregnated by Gowan. Throughout all of this he complains about his various rotting teeth. Eventually he calls Lucille in the middle of the night to try to get in with her dentist husband Dr. Haxby. Haxby then confronts his wife about sleeping with Gowan and she admits she did and then throws a bunch of popcorn at him.
The next day Dr. Haxby pulls a tooth, but this does nothing to help Gowan, so over dinner he has a giant fight with Geneva. The following morning he goes to see another dentist, who announces that Haxby pulled his one good tooth and that now all of his teeth are going to have to come out.
Then Geneva comes over to announce her pregnancy and then proceeds to break up with Gowan. She says they are ill-fated lovers and she will probably get an abortion, but either way she never wants to see him again.
Gowan then ties a noose for himself. As he gets on a chair and places the noose around his neck, he begins dictating his suicide into the tape recorder. Over the course of dictating the note, he verbally begins to compose a poem for the first time in years. This sudden outpouring of creativity makes him have second thoughts and he decides he won’t kill himself, he’ll get his act together and start fresh.
But before he can remove the noose, Reuben the dog runs in, and Gowan’s last words are, “Reuben, Reuben!,” as he tries unsuccessfully to prevent the dog from knocking over his chair, thereby choking him to death.
Tom Conti was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the smarmy Gowan McGland, whose character is based upon the poet Dylan Thomas. It’s a good character, but much of the dialogue is so dreary the viewer is left with a staid impression. Reuben, Reuben is the movie equivalent of an old, brown, tweed suit. I’m sure the book and play upon which the movie is based are similarly miserable.
Poster and Box Art: A very well-illustrated portrait of Conti as Gowan. It’s a good rendering, but it’s strange to look at.
Availability: The movie has been released on DVD. No word on extras, value-added content, or interactive menus.