Film review: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Spoilers may occur. A drama/comedy/road movie directed by Martin Scorsese. The opening credits somehow reminded me of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), the blue curtain background, with a haunting song playing across the credits.

According to the interview book Scorsese on Scorsese, the director wanted it to begin like a Douglas Sirk melodrama – although Sirk is not a director to whom he responds emotionally – and then shift into a different world where Alice is on the road.
Another reviewer commented on that the opening is similar to The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Alice’s husband is distant, we don’t see his face at the beginning, and Alice is frustrated he is not more talkative at the dinner table. The story follows Alice on a journey, travelling with her precocious young son and determined to make a new life for herself as a singer. It’s partly a road movie, partly a mother-son relationship drama, partly a depiction of Alice’s turbulent new life.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore received three Oscar nominations, Ellen Burstyn winning for female actress in a leading role, even though I consider her Oscar-nominated performance in Requiem for a Dream equally as good, if not better. There was even a spin-off TV series called Alice. Scorsese, barely into his thirties, was solidly establishing himself as a successful and respected director.

Scorsese: “It’s a picture about emotions and feelings and relationships and people in chaos," he said. "We felt like charting all that and showing the differences and showing people making terrible mistakes ruining their lives and then realizing it and trying to push back when everything is crumbling

Burstyn later recalled:
"It was early in the woman’s movement, and we were all just waking up and having a look at the pattern of our lives and wanting it to be different . . . I wanted to make a different kind of film. A film from a woman’s point of view, but a woman that I recognized, that I knew. And not just myself, but my friends, what we were all going through at the time. So my agent found Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”

Film critic Roger Ebert: “The movie has been both attacked and defended on feminist grounds, but I think it belongs somewhere outside ideology, maybe in the area of contemporary myth and romance. There are scenes in which we take Alice and her journey perfectly seriously, there are scenes of harrowing reality, and then there are other scenes (including some hilarious passages in a restaurant where she waits on tables) where Scorsese edges into slight, cheerful exaggeration. There are times, indeed, when the movie seems less about Alice than it does about the speculations and daydreams of a lot of women about her age, who identify with the liberation of other women, but are unsure on the subject of themselves”

In Scorsese on Scorsese, Scorsese is quoted: “In Hollywood they liked Mean Streets a lot, but on the strength of it they thought I could only direct actors, not actresses! Ellen Burstyn, who was riding a wave on account of her success in The Exorcist, was looking for a young director for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. (…) I thought it was a good idea too, dealing with women for a change, only I wanted to improvise some of it and change the third part dealing with the farmer. I was only partly happy with the result, as we really shot a three-and-a-half-hour picture and then had to cut it down to less than two hours” (…) We never intended it to be a feminist tract. It was a film about self-responsibility and also about how people make the same mistakes again and again.”

Scorsese: “It’s very easy to discipline oneself to go to mass on Sunday mornings. That’s not redemption for me: its how you live, how you deal with other people, whether it be the streets, at home or in an office”

A highly recommendable film, it certainly has a very 70s atmosphere, with strong performances, humour, the funniest scene for me is when the waitress is swapping the plates around, and Diane Ladd’s comments in the diner are pretty outrageous and amusing. Alice’s son also is pretty funny at times. I like what another reviewer wrote, the story is about small victories, something everyone can strive for.

My favourite quote is spoken by Kris Kristofferson about his former wife: “She wanted this, I wanted that. She said I’m leaving, and I held the door for her”

Readers of the review, have you seen Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? If so, what did you think? Are you a fan of Scorsese?

Look out next week for more Scorsese, as I continue my blogathon with a review of Taxi Driver (1976)




Scorsese on Scorsese (2003)
Scorsese by Ebert (2008)


  1. The only Scorsese film I've seen until now is The Aviator, which I liked very much. I know, his films are extremely famous and must-watch, so I'm planning on watching more.
    I like the title of this film, but I didn't read the review because of the spoilers.

  2. @Mette: Also Saw The Aviator, was entertaining, maybe I should review that film too, we'll see, as I don't have any recent Scorsese for the blogathon.

    Scorsese, some of his gangster films I find too violent and full of swearing. I know a lot of people love Goodfellas, The Departed, Casino. I don't understand why people admire those films, I'd love to hear someone defend why I should watch those 3.

  3. Haven't seen this, but I'm a big Scorcese fan, so might check this one out. I do know Kris Kristofferson as he starred in a movie which my parents just loved watching called Convoy, still don't know why they loved it so much.

  4. This is one of the films on my "see" list. I watched the horrible sitcom Alice for years yet never bothered to watch the film it was made from. Some of these 70's film really don't age well and as a woman they sometimes infuriate me, but they are often interesting time pieces.

  5. @Nostra: You should check it out, it seems to be an underrated film by Scorsese, even though it won an Oscar for female lead. Kris Kristofferson is also a singer in real life, and actually sings during the film.

    @Colleen: I know what you mean, sometimes women are depicted in a condescending way, particularly in bygone years. The TV-shows that movies are based on are seldom as powerful in my experience, and also when they turn hit TV-shows into a film it often doesn’t work-take the mr bean movies for example.
    I think Scorsese manages to get an ambiguous character and great performance out of Ellen Burstyn, and not in a patronizing way.


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