Robert Mulligan | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style | Film Rankings

Early Television: The Crooked Frame | The Blue Panther | The Invisible Killer | The Kiss-Off | F.O.B. Vienna | Nightmare at Ground Zero | The Defender

Feature films: Fear Strikes Out | Come September | The Spiral Road | To Kill a Mockingbird | Love With the Proper Stranger | Baby the Rain Must Fall | Inside Daisy Clover | Up the Down Staircase | Summer of '42 | The Nickel Ride | Same Time, Next Year | The Man in the Moon

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Mathematics and Visual Style | Color in the Arts

Robert Mulligan

Robert Mulligan is an American director, who started in out in live television during the Golden Age of TV in the 1950's. He directed 21 feature-length films.

Robert Mulligan: Subjects

Generational conflicts: Civil Rights: Subjects: Surrealism: Crime: Food: Technology: Images and Pictures: Geography:

Robert Mulligan: Structure and Story Telling

Plot structure and elements: Genre films:

Robert Mulligan: Visual Style

Architecture: Landscapes: Staging in depth: Mirrors: Camera movement: Geometry: Color: Costumes and Color: Costumes: Several Robert Mulligan films have unusually poetic titles. These might reflect his TV background. Such poetic titles were favorites on TV drama shows circa 1960. The writers did not need to produce titles that could easily be marketed the way theatrical film titles were, and were free to let their imaginations soar. In several cases, these titles are taken directly from source novels. Still, they are unchanged, unlike the frequent retitling of films.

Mulligan made numerous dramas for television in the 1950's. His last work for TV seems to be Tomorrow (1960). His TV work has a substantially longer cumulative running time, than do his twenty feature films made for theaters.

Ranking Mulligan films

Here are ratings for various films directed by Robert Mulligan. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.


The Philco Television Playhouse: Studio One: Made-for-TV Movies: Feature Films:

Suspense: The Crooked Frame

The Crooked Frame (1952) is an episode of the early television series Suspense. It is an adaptation of a 1952 crime novel by the well-known writer William P. McGivern. I liked this TV version of The Crooked Frame very much, and found it much livelier than McGivern's original book.

Comic Books and Social Consciousness

The Crooked Frame deals with murder among people who work in the comic book industry.

Comic books in this era were often denounced as harming youth, allegedly contributing to juvenile delinquency, etc. There is none of that in The Crooked Frame. It seems to view comic books with respect.

A line of dialogue praises one of the comic books in the story as being full of "social consciousness". This is an unusual recognition in this era, that comic books could contain positive ideas and social commentary.

Please also see my index to comic book stories with political and social commentary.


In the film's first half, the hero is in a coat and tie, and seen mainly in a work context. But in the tale's second half, he gets in clothes that reflect Mulligan traditions: The hero literally tears his dress shirt off, revealing his white T shirt. It marks a dramatic moment, when he transforms his appearance into these non-work, edgier looks.

Suspense: The Blue Panther

The Blue Panther (1952) is an episode of the early television series Suspense. It has complex dealings in stolen goods: a subject that will return in Robert Mulligan films. In this case, the stolen item is a priceless painting called The Blue Panther.

Short Story to Film

The Blue Panther is likely based on a crime short story, "Red Goose" (1934) by Norbert Davis. The credits only state that the film is based on an unnamed tale by Davis.

"Red Goose" and The Blue Panther share the same central character, private eye Ben Shaley. There is a good discussion of Ben Shaley and both works at The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

The Blue Panther considerably re-works "Red Goose". "Red Goose" is a tough pulp magazine story. The Blue Panther takes out most of the heavy violence found in "Red Goose". There is still a little action in The Blue Panther, but it is mild. The violence in The Blue Panther forms brief punctuation to a crime plot, as was pretty typical of TV crimes shows of its era.

The characters in The Blue Panther are far more genteel than those in the story. They have mainly become sophisticates. Also, the title of the painting "Red Goose" has comically vulgar connotations, while The Blue Panther sounds dynamic and classy.

The Blue Panther shows the theft of the painting on-screen. In "Red Goose", the theft is part of the back-story that has occurred before the tale opens. The theft is only talked about in dialogue, not shown as action. Dramatizing events and showing them on-screen, is a common strategy in adapting prose fiction to film.

The plot of The Blue Panther shows a delightful construction, with parallel events nested inside one another. This plot draws on events in "Red Goose", but polishes them up into a better structure.

Suspense: The Invisible Killer

The Invisible Killer (1952) is an episode of the early television series Suspense.

Mulligan Subjects

The Invisible Killer is an example of a Mulligan subject: god guys being stalked or hunted by a villain. Mulligan would later develop this into exotic treatments in historical films, such as The Spiral Road, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Stalking Moon. The Invisible Killer shows him tackling the subject, at an early date in his career. This version takes place among "ordinary" Americans in modern times.

This subject has a long pre-Mulligan history: see Richard Connell's much filmed short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924), for instance.

The hero of The Invisible Killer is one of several Mulligan characters to undergo a mental collapse. Some attempt is made to explore his mental problems.

His issues are rooted in difficulties in growing up and "becoming a man". This links him to the major Mulligan subject of young people and their growing-up problems. However, unlike many such Mulligan characters, the hero of The Invisible Killer has no family or family problems.

The Invisible Killer is also an early Mulligan film to deal with planes. Both heroes are pilots. However, there are no plane or aerial sequences in this low-budget, live TV drama. The characters simply talk about their work as pilots.

Links to Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950) is a famed crime thriller, about a man with an obsession with guns. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but The Invisible Killer shares some imagery with Gun Crazy, and was perhaps influenced by it: However, there are many differences between the two films. The protagonist of Gun Crazy becomes a professional bank robber; the protagonist of The Invisible Killer is a deranged killer who stalks innocent people. Many other details of the two films are completely different.

Suspense: The Kiss-Off

The Kiss-Off (1953) is an episode of the early television series Suspense.

No Goals

The viewer does not know where this tale is going. The events are clear and easy to follow. But why they are happening, and what the protagonist's plans are and how the events help his plans, are NOT shared with the viewer. Eventually the tale does resolve itself into a coherent story, where all is made clear.

In the terminology of David Bordwell, The Kiss-Off lack a goal: a clear destination where viewers know a story is headed. It turns out that the protagonist does have a goal - but it is not shared with the viewer.

In my judgment, this story telling strategy works well in The Kiss-Off.

Visual Style

The Kiss-Off benefits from visual style. This is especially true for the parade scenes. And for the shorter episode with the mirrors.

Suspense: F.O.B. Vienna

F.O.B. Vienna (1953) is an episode of the early television series Suspense. It is a half-hour long, and was performed live.

F.O.B. Vienna anticipates The Nickel Ride, in that the hero is trapped in a miasmic, paranoid situation which he has difficulty understanding. Both films contain cryptic - but menacing - conversations between crooks, that the audience does not fully understand.

F.O.B. Vienna, like Come September, shows prosperous but naive Americans in Europe, up against Old World criminals with tricky schemes.

Mulligan Imagery

The settings have a Robert Mulligan feel, even at this early date: The buffet, filled with food and candelabra, is one of Mulligan's still lifes. The nearby piano also has flowers along its side, as do the restaurant tables.


The villain (Mike Kellin) resembles some of the strange young blond men in other Mulligan: like them, he's good-looking and around thirty. However, he is dark-haired.

The villain appears unexpectedly twice: once in a camera movement in a hotel room, once at the end in the harbor shack in Hamburg. These appearances have a surreal quality.

His surrealism anticipates some of the blond young men in other Mulligan works.

Camera Movement

F.O.B. Vienna is full of camera movement. Early live television seemed to encourage and emphasize such moving cameras.

Many of the camera movements, move from stage to stage. Each stage is sedentary, with a fixed camera, then the camera moves agin to the next stage.

A movement in the hero's room goes through four stages:

  1. Pouring liqueur into small glasses.
  2. Seeing the hero and a smooth crook in a mirror.
  3. Seeing the hero and the crook directly.
  4. Including a second, more sinister crook in the action.
Later, the hero and heroine have a scene in the same room. It is mainly made up of two fairly long camera movements. The first has a stage, which shows BOTH the hero and heroine, and their reflections in the mirror. This is different from the earlier hero-and-villain pair, who get seen first in the mirror, later outside the mirror, but not both in the mirror and directly, at the same time.

The shot at the end where the hero identifies the crates, is outstanding. It too is in stages, with the hero moving from locale to locale among the crates. But the length of each stage is much stage than in the hotel room shots. This gives it a rapid pace.

The crates shot is notable for its visual beauty.

The film's final shot is also good: a slow moving shot among the crates.


The DVD comes with the original commercials, for an auto parts company. There is a delightful animated ad, showing spark plugs and other auto electric parts, marching down a street on parade. Mulligan had nothing to do with this. But the commercial is so much fun it is mentioned anyway. The animation is part of an excellent industrial film Auto-Lite on Parade (J. Cullen Landis, 1940). The music is "Marche militaire" by Franz Schubert.

Suspense: Nightmare at Ground Zero

Nightmare at Ground Zero (1953) is an episode of the early television series Suspense. It has no mystery elements. It is a pure example of suspense.

Mulligan Subjects

The many bizarre plots elements, make Nightmare at Ground Zero an example of the surrealism in Robert Mulligan.

The painfully sensitive artist hero is contrasted with military types, both the nasty Colonel and all sorts of insensitive guards. This anticipates the contrast between the sensitive school teacher heroine in Up the Down Staircase, and the school's security chief.

The heroine is terrified of the bomber planes flying over head. While she's a bit neurotic, these planes are indeed ominous and scary. Her fears seem fairly justified, or at least understandable. Planes are a Mulligan subject.

The radio coverage of the bomb test is creepy. It is perhaps a mild example of the dangers of publicity, a theme explored more fully in other Mulligan films.

The heroine is menaced while sleeping. She is actually set up to be killed while sleeping in bed. Beds and sleeping are images that run through Mulligan films.

Rod Serling

Nightmare at Ground Zero is written by Rod Serling, and is a precursor to his Twilight Zone scripts. It is not quite science fiction: but it takes place in a world filled with high tech, near-futuristic technology.

The sensitive artist hero, who wants to escape from the world, is a Serling theme.

So is the imitation reality: the fake house designed to hold mannequins like an exhibit.


The guards' check points, are full of the fences Mulligan likes.


The hero is another Mulligan man in a white suit. It forms a striking contrast to all the other men, who are in uniform. It makes him look mild-mannered, sensitive, and a strong civilian contrast to the other men.

The suit is not as purely white as those in other Mulligan films. It is light-colored, and looks nearly white, in the black-and-white photography.

There are constant hints, that the hero prefers his mannequins and puppets to his actual wife. Later Mulligan heroines will sometimes wear bizarre costumes that suggest they are dressed as mannequins or inanimate objects: the ham in To Kill a Mockingbird, a rag doll in Inside Daisy Clover. The rag doll costume is especially close to the puppet that gets its head torn off by the wife in Nightmare at Ground Zero.

Studio One: The Defender

The Defender (1957) is an episode of the early live television series Studio One. It is feature length (102 minutes), and was originally shown in two one-hour parts (February 25, March 4, 1957). It is available on DVD. While both parts are good, the first part has an emotional electricity missing in the second part.

The man on trial is played by Steve McQueen, who would later appear in Robert Mulligan features. As in Baby the Rain Must Fall, McQueen plays a highly vulnerable, emotionally sensitive young man.

Links to To Kill a Mockingbird

As a courtroom drama with a lawyer-for-the-defense hero, The Defender anticipates the trial scenes in Mulligan's most famous film, To Kill a Mockingbird. It also anticipates the courtroom aspects of The Pursuit of Happiness.

The non-stereotyped black maid is notable. So is the frequently seen presence of a black New York City cop in the courtroom. This respectful treatment of black characters at an early date must have been seen as involving a Civil Rights theme. In this The Defender also anticipates To Kill a Mockingbird. A black maid in a well-to-do white family will return in Clara's Heart.

Fathers and Sons

The father and son defense lawyers have plenty of conflict. However, this is not a typical Mulligan tale of a parent pushing or abusing his grown son. There is plenty of stressful disagreement, but neither side is abusive. Both father and son have emotional resources, and secure lives and careers, unlike many Mulligan films about such conflicts.

The son has seemingly chosen his own career as a lawyer. However, we do learn this has involved endless parental pressure and emotional influence. This recalls the fathers controlling their sons' careers in other Mulligan. We also learn about the prosecutor's failed attempt to get his own son to become a lawyer.


The Defender was written by Reginald Rose, who is famous for an earlier courtroom drama he wrote for Studio One, Twelve Angry Men (1954). Both dramas are highly unusual in being murder mysteries, in which we never learn the truth about the crime. Instead, both films strive to introduce "reasonable doubt" that the accused on trial is guilty.

The Defender is a full scale exercise in ambiguity.

However, The Defender is always clear. It is not miasmic and opaque the way F.O.B. Vienna and The Nickel Ride are, with their discussions of things the audience doesn't understand. Instead, most of the conversations are completely clear. The most cryptic conversations are those between the two defense lawyers, about some scheme the son has dreamed up. While we don't learn the nature of this scheme till the end of the film, the basic idea of a "legal trick" is clearly established. And even the ambiguities of the court case are spelled out with clarity.

A courtroom novel about an ambiguous case, Anatomy of a Murder (1958) by Robert Traver, would appear next year, and be filmed by Otto Preminger in 1959. Anatomy of a Murder differs from the Reginald Rose TV plays Twelve Angry Men and The Defender, in that the identity of the killer is well known - only his motives and the background facts of the crime are ambiguous. By contrast, in Twelve Angry Men and The Defender, the big issue is whether the accused man on trial actually did it.


Imagery in Robert Mulligan is sometimes suggestive, beyond the functioning of the plot. The doubles imagery at the finale is a major example. Mulligan lingers on this, by having the doubles march around the courtroom. Such doubling has a surrealist quality, like something one might see in a dream. Doubles return in The Other.

Also surrealistic: the emphasis on the defendant's headaches. We learn more and more about these as the tale progresses. Sociologically The Defender takes us into a shadow world we rarely see on-screen, that of the chronically ill. Surrealistically, we are inside the head of a man who is in the grip of a strange mental process.

Much is made of the defendant being in bed due to his illness. This relates to several Mulligan films which open with the hero in bed.

Fantasy of the High Life

The very poor defendant spends much of his life engaged in fantasies of wealth. In his court trial, these are introduced as evidence that he would rob the rich. Soon, Mulligan would look at a young man whose fantasies would actually be acted out, in The Great Impostor.

The defendant especially fantasizes about foreign travel. That is what the rich hero of Come September can actually do.

The Defender is relentless about exploring social class. The poor defendant has every sort of social disadvantage: he's poor, with a dead father, a bad job, a mean boss. He is contrasted with William Shatner's rich son of a supportive father. Shatner is a nice guy, but one look at his snazzy suit suggests his class privilege. No one in the court treats the defendant with the slightest respect.


The Defender takes place entirely in a courtroom, and adjacent chambers and halls. It thus completely lacks many of the locales one associates with Mulligan.

The courtroom is fully designed to display the typical Mulligan wooden interior: the walls are wood paneled, and the judge's bench, witness seat and jury box are all made of wood too. The design is also modular in the Mulligan tradition: there are repeating windows, wood wall panels, and repeating designs on the wooden fixtures such as the judge's bench, witness seat and jury box. The ceiling beams also have modular designs. The opening shot of the jury filing in is composed of rectilinear forms like Ozu.

One of Mulligan's round arches is over the judge's bench.

The wire mesh grillwork in the chamber window, perhaps relates to the fences elsewhere in Mulligan. This window is frequently used as a background for characters. It seems to intensify and dramatize anyone who stands in front of it.

The private discussion takes place in a stairwell. The stairs are not wide or big, unlike typical Mulligan stairs, but they do have their own room, which is more typical of Mulligan.

Both halves of The Defender show a lunch, consisting of a sandwich and glass of milk. This is a simple example of a Mulligan still life. So are the objects on the defenders' and prosecutors' tables.

Fear Strikes Out

Mulligan Subjects

Fear Strikes Out (1957) is Robert Mulligan's first theatrical film. It shows a number of Mulligan themes:


The family home at the beginning is visually similar to those in many later Mulligan works. Even though many later Mulligan films are set in rural areas, their family homes share a surprising similarity to this urban home: All of the above are features that return in the rural homes that dominate so many Mulligan films.

There is also an unloading region for a bakery in the background, near the home. This anticipates the warehouse loading docks in The Nickel Ride (1974).

The bleachers of the high school ballpark are also wooden, and full of repeating units, such as the seats, and the sections of the bleachers.


Eventually, the hero is institutionalized at the asylum. There is wire mesh on the windows at the asylum. This gives a strong visual indication of the hero being caged. Such wire mesh rooms will appear in other Mulligan films: the room for prisoner in courthouse in The Defender, the wire door and window at the mother's asylum rest home in Inside Daisy Clover. In all three films they remind us that a character is imprisoned.

The fence and gate at the hero's house are also made of wire. There is wire fencing at the ball parks. These also perhaps give a caged feel to the hero, long before he is committed. Wire mesh fences are ubiquitous in Mulligan, and often in scenes that have nothing to do with imprisonment, such as the garden in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The hero's job at the gas station keeps him isolated in a cage-like room. This is one of the most depressing work environments ever seen, aside from sweat-shops.

Near the end of the hero's stay at the asylum, he works out in a sports batting cage. This too has a mesh-work fence. This combines two kinds of imagery that run through the film:

Gender Roles

The hero is shown as most comfortable performing tasks associated with women in 1950's USA: The hero is always shown as happy when he hangs out with his girlfriend (soon, she becomes his wife). He also seems happy and calm when they have a baby.

By contrast, the hero's mental problems stem from the relentless pressure from his father to be a success. This is in one of the most male-associated professions of the era, sports. The film seems to be exploring the often nightmarish stress that comes from male job pressures.


Mulligan told us in 1971 that he rehearsed Fear Strikes Out from beginning to end, just like a stage play. The actors performed a complete run-through of the entire film, in rehearsal. He did this out of ignorance of standard feature filmmaking practice. But it paid off in speed of shooting.

Mulligan was also proud of the performers in his films.

Come September

Robert Mulligan is famous for his dramas. But he sometimes did comedy, as a change of pace. Come September (1961) is a sweet, good natured comedy. Gina Lollobrigida is especially endearing, as Rock Hudson's longtime girlfriend, who can't get a proposal out of him. She virtually seems like the Life Force. The film is pure silliness, a bit like Man's Favorite Sport - although it is not a bit Hawksian. This genial work is guaranteed to make anyone feel better!

Come September was produced by "Raoul Walsh Enterprises, Inc." The article on Raoul Walsh lists Walsh motifs in the film.

Some users on the IMDB comment that the film was a big hit in India. Come September is indeed a bit like a Bollywood film, with romance, comedy, beautiful people, gorgeous scenery, brilliant color, a song, some dancing, an upbeat story and a happy ending.

Fantasy of the High Life

Previous Mulligans films like The Defender and The Great Impostor showed poor young men caught up in fantasies of wealth. The hero of Come September actually is wealthy. But as part of the farce plot, his majordomo convinces other people that the hero is a poor man indulging in delusions of wealth. It is a reversal and twist on the situation of earlier Mulligan films.

The majordomo also indulges in impersonation, passing himself off as the owner of the villa.

Finale at the Train Depot

The finale also has elements that recall The Defender. The huge crowds that are everywhere in the train depot recall the courtroom crowds surrounding the action in The Defender. Both films engage members of the crowd in vignettes.

The heroine's ruse is to falsely identify the hero as the deserting father of her baby. This is quite funny. It also recalls the main plot of The Defender, whose defendant is accused of a crime, perhaps truly, perhaps falsely. In both films, a dramatic moment occurs when a woman identifies the man, claiming he is the guilty party. In both films, the woman points the man out, with an arm gesture. Once again, what is serious drama in The Defender is played for comedy in Come September.

Earlier, at the end of the chase in the car full of birds, the majordomo makes false accusations framing the hero as a criminal. This is also comic, but echoes serious scenes elsewhere in Mulligan.

Energy and the Generations

A long central section of Come September shows Bobby Darin and his college age pals trying to exhaust "older man" Rock Hudson. This too is a comic echo of themes from The Defender, where exhausted older man attorney (Ralph Bellamy) is contrasted with the energy of his fresh out of law school son (William Shatner).

Earlier, the hero is shown sleeping, on a golden couch, no less. Such a luxurious setting is another of Mulligan's surrealistic images of sleep.

Hudson's character sometimes seems more interested in his relationship with Bobby Darin, than with the heroine. It attracts his energy and effort, to do the tasks their rivalry sets. He also learns from Darin.

Water and Summer

Come September is in that archetypal Mulligan setting, a lushly fertile summer landscape near water. And as in The Man in the Moon, there are masses of flowers in bloom: here the bougainvillea, mentioned in the dialogue.


Some objects show Mulligan's love of bright, light colors mixed with white: However, often these colors are mixed together in scenes, rather than being separated as in some later Mulligan films.

Some scenes in Come September are in the complementary colors of "red and green":

The hero (Rock Hudson) is often in that Mulligan favorite, white clothes. At the night club, his white sports jacket contrasts with the dark grey suits of the young men. Later, during the villa bar scene, his white dressing gown makes a similar contrast to the young men's suits. The film also shows him in white shirts (a sports shirt and later a dress shirt) and a sweater.

The Spiral Road

The Spiral Road (1962) is a drama about medical workers in the jungles of the Dutch East Indies in the 1930's. The first half is a medical soap opera, and often gripping; the second half is a horror thriller, and pretty grim.

Suspense: the Second Half of the Film

The second half shows the rural back-country of the Indies as under the reign of terror of an evil witch doctor. Robert Mulligan's next film, To Kill a Mockingbird, will show the rural South of the 1930's as under the reign of terror of racists. One will stalk the hero's children, the way the hero of The Spiral Road is stalked.

Heroes also get stalked in The Stalking Moon and The Nickel Ride. IMDb user commentator dbdumonteil pointed out the links to The Stalking Moon in his commentary on The Spiral Road.

The hero and other doctors who are stalked in The Spiral Road, barely understand the deliberately mysterious campaigns of terror against them. This echoes the "miasmic", bewildering events methodology of Mulligan's suspense films in general.

The hero has a full scale mental breakdown, and a briefly shown recovery. Both recall the final section of Fear Strikes Out, whose hero also has a breakdown. In both films, the hero becomes shell-shocked, numb and unresponsive. He cannot talk, and it is unclear if he even knows his name. Both films show his supportive, loyal wife standing by, and caring doctors.

Science and Technology

Sound communication through technology in Mulligan tends to be a one-way affair. Here, the hero talks into the radio during the suspense finale, but does not listen. This anticipates the paging at the union hall in Love With the Proper Stranger, and the heroine's use of the recording booth for her song at the start, and the dubbing at the end of Inside Daisy Clover. All of these technologies extend the human voice, and in one direction. enabling more people to hear the speaker, but not allowing the speaker to hear any response.

Moral Issues

Euthanasia is seriously discussed. While both sides are argued - the atheist hero is pro-euthanasia, the Christian doctor Burl Ives is against it - the film is clearly on Ives' anti-euthanasia side. Mulligan will give a grim look at the dark world of illegal abortion in Love With the Proper Stranger. Joseph H. Lewis will soon make an anti-euthanasia drama, in the Bonanza episode The Quality of Mercy (1963). Mulligan studied for the priesthood as a teenager; he is almost certainly aware of Catholic views on these subjects, although neither film discusses them from an explicitly Catholic viewpoint.

Hudson's hero is right to try to publish Ives' medical notes: they can serve the public good. The hero is also highly ethical in crediting Ives as author and himself as editor. Neither of these points in the hero's favor are really brought out in the film, although perhaps they are "obvious". Instead, what we mainly hear about is the hero's selfish desire to advance his career, by being editor of such an important book.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is Robert Mulligan's best known film.

Race and Civil Rights

Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) has major strengths and limitations as a work on race relations. On the positive side, it offers a blistering denunciation of the racial oppression of blacks. Its portrayal of Atticus Finch's stand against racism strongly urges other white people to work against racism.

But the book expunges Civil Rights organizations from American history. It only shows a white Southerner, Finch, opposing racism, and all on his own. One would never learn from To Kill a Mockingbird that Thurgood Marshall, a black attorney then working for the Civil Rights organization the NAACP, was arguing in court a similar 1933 real life case about trumped-up charges against black men. Or that he would achieve victory arguing the case in the Supreme Court: see Chambers v. Florida (1940). Marshall would go on to be one of the most important figures in the US Civil Rights movement.

To be fair to Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, its limitations have been greatly amplified by the reception of the novel, something over which she had no control. Not only did it become a best seller, one immediately filmed. But white schoolteachers in the United States have adopted it as a universally taught book, one that has introduced generations of white school children to race relations in the United States. Neither Lee nor film adapters Mulligan, Foote and Pakula have ever claimed that To Kill a Mockingbird was the whole story of US race relations. But it has been treated as such by white US literature teachers. This turns the book's avoidance of the Civil Rights movement into a full-scale educational distortion of American History.

Unfortunately, no literary or film work about the Civil Rights movement has ever gained full acceptance by white literary or film critics, white school literature teachers, or the white reading public. Several works have gained polite initial reviews, only to be immediately forgotten. The upshot is that Civil Rights is invisible as a subject in US culture. Major films on the subject, such as The Rosa Parks Story (Julie Dash, 2002), are ignored. After over fifty years of such boycotting of the subject, it seems likely that there is a systematic problem, that Civil Rights is being written out of history.

Most people today profess to be "against racism". But they also seem to have difficulty supporting or even talking about Civil Rights, which was the main real life practical destroyer of racism. On most subjects, Americans are famous for being practical people, and our country has achieved success by practical action. We know that if we want to do a job, run a business, raise children or cure a disease, we need to take practical action. It is more than time to see the similar linkage on race relations. If we want to be "against racism", we have to take practical action by supporting Civil Rights.

Is To Kill a Mockingbird more positive and worthwhile in its treatment of race relations, or more negative and harmful in its omissions and distortions of history? It is hard to say. A critic, such as myself, can point out strengths and limitations in a book or film. But it would take a sociologist or historian to assess their impact on society: something I am not. My biggest concern is not with the book or film of To Kill a Mockingbird, but with the current limited view of Civil Rights in modern culture.

Courtroom Drama

As a courtroom drama, To Kill a Mockingbird recalls The Defender. In both films: The statues Boo makes of the children, also recall a bit the sketching done by reporters in The Defender - although they differ in having nothing to do with the court case.

The above similarities raise the question of "authorship". All of the above elements are found in Harper Lee's novel. Mulligan didn't write them. He "merely" adapted them. But the consistent patterns between the two films are too extensive to dismiss.

Andrew Sarris wrote that consistent patterns in a director's work are sometimes achieved through "selection and emphasis". In this case, it is possible that Mulligan chose to direct To Kill a Mockingbird, in part because its closeness to his previous work, such as The Defender. We know that Mulligan had an intense desire to film To Kill a Mockingbird, ever since he read the novel, and that he struggled hard to launch a film adaptation.

It is also possible, although there is no evidence to support it, that Harper Lee was watching The Defender when it was broadcast on national television in early 1957, and that it influenced the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is also possible that both works reflect the common influence of earlier books, films and traditions.

Some commonalities also reflect society. In 1960, real life lawyers and judges were overwhelmingly male, although female ones did exist. So the male lawyers and judges are no surprise. Much odder is the way juries in both films are all-male.

Violent Men

Several Mulligan films offer ambiguous portraits of men who justify violent attacks on other men, in the name of protecting female relatives: These plots are all set up to express doubt about the men's actions. The men in The Defender and Love With the Proper Stranger seem perhaps "justified" by the facts - but the spectacle of actual violence is disturbing and exposes the actions as questionable or doubtful. By contrast, the father in To Kill a Mockingbird is depicted as totally rotten. The alleged events he is responding to are lies. And his motivations are strongly influenced by racism.


The courtroom is full of wood. There is wood everywhere: the walls, the furniture. Mulligan's films explore old buildings, in which wood decoration was the main style. It is like a trip into an American past.

The galleries at the top are an example of the repeated modules in Mulligan. In the courtroom, we also see the repeating jury chairs, the multiple benches for the public, the repeating fences and posts. This sort of multiple module is also everywhere in Mulligan. It gives his images a complex visual rhythm, like a beat in music.

Porches are ubiquitous in To Kill a Mockingbird. The swings and chairs on the family's porch, are perhaps more examples of repeated modules. Sp are the windows of the house, and the pillars of the porch.

The family has a detached garage. Its door has cut-off corners. These are echoed by the octagons on Jem's bedspread.

Both the family's yard and Boo's yard have gardens, surrounded by low wooden fences. The family garden also has wire mesh, a Mulligan favorite.

The building with the court has a giant staircase in a separate room-like well, a common feature of Mulligan buildings.

The early shot, showing tree branches overhead, then moving down to the houses, tries to establish that Mulligan favorite, a lush green summer landscape. But much of the actual film is surprisingly sparse with trees and vegetation, compared to other Mulligan works.


To Kill a Mockingbird shows us that Mulligan favorite, people eating breakfast. However, we get fewer close-ups of the actual food than in other Mulligan. The food does not quite form the "still lifes" prominent in much of Mulligan.

Like other Mulligan films, To Kill a Mockingbird has characters involved with food production:

Love With the Proper Stranger

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963) is a light drama about a woman's attempts to find grown up romance.

In all three of his Robert Mulligan films, Steve McQueen plays sympathetic men, but who have trouble making a living or being anything other than socially marginal.

Richard Mulligan's small role as Louie seems to be the only time he appeared in a film directed by his brother Robert Mulligan.

Links with Come September

Love With the Proper Stranger shares characters and plot with Come September, but is more "serious" in tone: There are humorous links between the two films, with the heroine of Love With the Proper Stranger mentioning Rock Hudson, the hero of Come September.

Love With the Proper Stranger shows exhaustion, like Come September and some other Mulligan: here after the couple run away from the heroine's brothers.


Steve McQueen plays a musician. In the 1950's and early 1960's, the mass media accepted and promoted many different kinds of music as legitimate: Jazz, folk, pop, rock, classical. All of these showed up on television and the movies, and were treated with respect. As best as one can determine, there was a broad respect among the public for different kinds of music, too. All this would change with the gradual dominance of rock. Rock fans tend to believe that they have the Sole Truth, and that anyone who likes other kinds of music is a nerd. This was a big step down for society.

McQueen wears suits, has ties with "normal" life, and talks articulately. He shows the social possibilities of people involved with non-rock music.


The Union Hall is held in a room with a balcony. In this it recalls the courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird. The building also has that Mulligan favorite, a massive staircase in its own stairwell. We see the building filling up with a crowd for a big event: just like the opening of The Defender.

The hero's reunion with his family is held in an outdoor, playground area. This is rich in the wire fencing Mulligan loves (here cyclone fences). The playground is one of the sports facilities that run through Mulligan, with people playing bocce, basketball, handball, field hockey. The sports site hosts a meeting between the hero and his father, and an old male friend, recalling a bit Fear Strikes Out, and its baseball linking father and son. It is far less stressful, though, and also involves the hero's mother and a woman friend.

The playground has water in the background: one of the rivers bordering New York City.

Food Production

Love With the Proper Stranger is full of kitchens, that favorite Mulligan locale.

The nice dull boyfriend was his own small restaurant, where he also works as a cook. People involved professionally in food production run through Mulligan.

The heroine's brothers drive a produce truck.

The deserted-on-Sunday warehouse-like building where the couple wait, has a big sign reading "Garlic" above. We never learn exactly what this building is, but the sign suggests it might be a food distribution center of some sort.

Camera Movement

Much of Love With the Proper Stranger consists of static, well-composed shots, with no camera movement. Aside from some occasional reframing and adjustments, major camera movements tend to show characters either entering or leaving a location.

People enter scenes, while the camera walks with them through a location:

These camera movements tend to be gentle and steady. They gain interest by showing new locations and backgrounds.

More dramatic are the movements when people leave a scene. These camera movements can be abrupt, energetic and dramatic, showing people's intense desire to flee a scene:

A few of these "exiting" camera movements are that Mulligan favorite, whip-like pans through 180 degrees. These tend to show characters moving down a street, as they leave.

The heroine's first encounter with her brothers and their truck doesn't belong obviously in either category, either of "entering" or "leaving". It might be described as the "heroine leaving Macy's" however. It shows the camera moving first to the left with the heroine, then back to the right. Later, when the couple hide in what looks like a church from her brothers, the camera moves back and forth in front of the fenced-in church yard, showing the folks involved in the chase.

Black Clothes

The hero's trench-coat in the film's mid-section is darker, but far from black. But we see other men briefly in black clothes:

Baby the Rain Must Fall

Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965) is one of a series of Robert Mulligan films with richly realized Southern settings, including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Man in the Moon.

Child Abuse - and its grown victims

A central theme of Baby the Rain Must Fall is child abuse, and its effect on grown men. In this it recalls Fear Strikes Out, Blood Brothers and The Man in the Moon. Unlike all these films about abusive fathers, here the bad parent is a woman, the hero's adoptive guardian Miss Kate. As in Blood Brothers, the hero here tries to adopt a profession that is disapproved of by his parent.


Miss Kate's house has architecture typical of one strand of Mulligan, resembling the house in The Man in the Moon: All of these features are Mulligan trademarks.

However, while the house in The Man in the Moon is depicted as the heroine's normal living environment, here all these features are part of a Gothic mode. The house is as spooky as the Bates mansion in Psycho, or the Addams Family home. And such stylized areas as the porch, Miss Kate's room with the shutters, or the stairway door, are the centerpiece of the film's spookiest and most sinister scenes. The visual richness of the repeated modules in the porch and shuttered room, or the polygonal door, becomes the essence of the mise-en-scène in these scenes.

As a building, the Wagon Wheel roadhouse is also in the shape of a rectangle with one corner cut off.

The staircase shots in Miss Kate's house somewhat recall the staircase near the hero's office in The Nickel Ride. Both are wide, and nearly complete rooms in themselves, existing in deep stairwells. Dramatic moments take place on the staircases.

Color Schemes - in a black-and-white film

The cowboy clothes worn by the hero, the members of the band, and the sheriff Slim all make the Wagon Wheel scene the most Western in feel of the film's episodes. Everything else seems far more Southern. Slim's snow white cowboy shirt links him to other Mulligan men in white clothes, although he is not the protagonist of the film. The windows of the light colored Wagon Wheel exterior are painted in some darker color trim. Even in this black and white film, one sees multi-colors straining to break through.

Outdoor Vistas and Landscapes

There are some deep perspective shots near the opening: the road seen through the front windows of the bus, and the downtown sidewalk with its awning. The crossroads shot from the bus is geometrically complex.

Many of the film's scenes take place outdoors. These tend to be on home lawns with vast vistas. There are often trees, and other buildings seen in the middle distance. Such stagings recall Mulligan's other Southern films, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Man in the Moon. They cast a uniquely Mulligan mood. Such settings allow complex visual patterns to be created. The varied views Mulligan presents also relate to the feelings of the characters, and the developments of the plot. The film opens this way, with the woman standing by the roadside, waiting for the bus.

However, there is a sinister touch in Baby the Rain Must Fall that is not present in these other Mulligan films. The outdoor vistas frequently include the town's courthouse, or its cemetery. Both are ominous controlling factors in the life of its hero. They are foreshadowings of the tragedies that dominate his existence.

By contrast, the hero and heroine's own home is in an isolated field. There are few buildings anywhere around, and the ground has no grass - very atypical of a Mulligan outdoor locale. At first, this looks spooky, perhaps too barren. But as the film progresses, it leads to a welcome sense of relief. It shows the family being free from sinister outside influences, and attempting to start a new life.

Other locales in the film anticipate The Man in the Moon. The exterior of the Western music bar, with its numerous cars parked out in front, is like the country club with its row of cars. And the downtown also is like the downtown in the later film. Both of these public locales offer the characters an all too brief respite from their problems at home.

Horton Foote

The screenplay here is by Horton Foote. The opening, with the heroine talking to an older woman on a bus, recalls the opening of Foote's most famous work, The Trip to Bountiful.

A digression: the rollicking TV spoof of Dirty Harry style cops, Hard Knocks (1987), had Bill Maher send his detective partner Tommy Hinckley out to the video store for a movie. No one was sure what the maniacally gung-ho tough guy Hinckley would bring back - everyone expected some ultra-macho action movie. It turned out to be his "favorite film", The Trip to Bountiful!

Inside Daisy Clover

Inside Daisy Clover (1965) is a strange drama about Hollywood in the 1930's. It eventually becomes grim, unpleasant and nightmarish. It is one of Robert Mulligan's least appealing films, not because it is poorly made, but because it is so depressing.

Inside Daisy Clover contains some films-within-the-film. One is a biography of heroine Daisy. It opens with a historical montage, anticipating the historical montage interludes in Same Time, Next Year.

Mental Problems

Inside Daisy Clover resembles other Robert Mulligan films in which climax with their protagonist's mental breakdown: Fear Strikes Out, The Spiral Road. All of these characters undergo a series of horrendous, stressful experiences. Eventually they collapse, and become silent, inert and pathologically withdrawn, unable to speak or respond to their loved ones.

Inside Daisy Clover is especially close to Fear Strikes Out. Both deal with young people under tremendous pressure from adults to succeed in the entertainment business: baseball in Fear Strikes Out, the movie industry in Inside Daisy Clover. Even after their collapse, both the hero of Fear Strikes Out and Daisy Clover are pressured by selfish authority figures to get up, ignore their emotional problems and go out and get back to work. These scenes are extremely creepy in both films.

Inside Daisy Clover shares imagery with Fear Strikes Out of their protagonist being caged. Daisy is isolated at the start in the recording booth, the pier stand where she works, and her family trailer. At the end, she is inside the dubbing booth.


Inside Daisy Clover continues Mulligan's stark contrasts of class. Daisy Clover is another desperately poor young person, with a dead father and a mother with no earning potential, like the defendant in The Defender. And like him, Daisy encounters well-to-do people in positions of social power.

Christopher Plummer's studio head has that Mulligan mark of wealth: really good suits. Plummer looks terrific throughout, in clothes that anticipate Dress for Success by a decade. While Mulligan heroes are often in white, Plummer's urbane villain is in the opposite: his dressy clothes are jet black.

Robert Redford's deeply flawed actor Wade Lewis oddly recalls a man painted as angelic: Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) in To Kill a Mockingbird. Both are blonds, and startlingly good-looking, in a way that seems almost supernatural. Both are first revealed lurking in architecture: Radley behind a door, Wade Lewis on a bed in a room to which the heroine wanders. There is something surreal or Absurd about their materializations. Wade Lewis' entrance scene is the best episode in Inside Daisy Clover. It takes place against the film's most surrealistic set. Wade Lewis on the bed recalls the bed imagery that runs through Mulligan, which often evokes Sleep or Illness in surreal ways.

In addition to their similar looks, both Duvall and Redford were around 30 years old when they appeared in these Mulligan films. Another surreal, blond 30 year old: Bo Hopkins in The Nickel Ride.


Plummer's office is made up relentlessly of arched windows and doorways. The rounded arch is a Mulligan motif; so is modular, repeating architecture.

The many buildings on the pier have something of the same multi-unit effect, as the private houses with outbuildings in other Mulligan films.

The mesh-work of the doors and windows at the rest home are a Mulligan image indicating imprisonment, like the chamber for the accused in The Defender, and the mental asylum in Fear Strikes Out, both of which are also full of mesh-work.

The flame at Swan's studio recalls something one would see outside a tomb or mausoleum. The whole architecture of the studio headquarters, a somber formal mansion, recalls that of a cemetery or tomb. This adds to the "buried alive" feel of Daisy and the other workers there.


Red and Green. The fortune teller's gaudy costume is mainly red-and-green. So is her shop. While she looks out of place outdoors on the pier in such bright clothes, her appearance in her shop is a nicely done red-and-green color harmony.

The Christmas choir is in red, and seen outside amidst much green foliage, also making red-and-green.

Red and White. Daisy is in a similar red chorus outfit, and meets Wade Lewis in the very strange all-white bedroom. This gives the scene a red-and-white design, making it that Mulligan favorite schema, bright-color-and-white. However, the strict separation in color between the heroine's red and the room's white is disturbing.

The Merry Go Round building on the pier is white with red trim.

The musical number near the end about the circus is in pink-and-white. The color scheme has a nightmarish quality.

Green and White. The studio headquarters is one of many white houses that run through Mulligan. Like some of the others, it is surrounded by green foliage.

Bands of Color. The strange flanged building at the studio is painted in two horizontal bands of color. This recalls the Garlic warehouse where the couple wait in Love With the Proper Stranger, which is also painted in horizontal bands.

Up the Down Staircase

Poverty and Class

Up the Down Staircase (1967) is a serious look at the problems of slum schools.

There is a serious, but brief, look at the evils of racial discrimination against black people. One of the best students in the class, tells his teacher about the job discrimination he and his brother face.

Up the Down Staircase is perhaps unusual in that it does NOT focus on crime or juvenile delinquency, unlike many films about poor urban youth. These students might be rowdy and demoralized, but they are not criminals, gang members or delinquents. No one carries a gun or is involved with drugs. We do briefly see some sinister street toughs on the sidewalk, indicating crime is a problem in this neighborhood, but these bad young men are not depicted as students at the school.

As Andrew Sarris pointed out in his review in Confessions of a Cultist, the actual subject of Up the Down Staircase is class. We are seeing poor people at the bottom of the class structure in Up the Down Staircase. They have a lot of problems that derive from this.

Book to Film

Up the Down Staircase is based on the best-selling 1965 novel by Bel Kaufman. I enjoyed the novel very much. It has features lacking in the film:

Restricted Locales

The film, like the book, sticks very close to the school. We see the school and the characters walking in the slum streets around it, but we never see anyone anywhere else.

While we meet many teachers, and see school functions such as Assembly, the heroine's classroom is the only one we see in the movie.


You can see examples of wood and modules in Sandy Dennis' classroom in Up the Down Staircase. Identical wooden desks repeat, over and over. And the blackboard is broken down into four identical units. The windows also repeat, as do lockers in the back of the room.

Summer of '42

Summer of '42 (1971) is a romantic drama.


Summer of '42 has almost archetypal Robert Mulligan settings: Many of Mulligan's small towns are down South. But Summer of '42 is set in an unnamed island, reportedly inspired by Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.


The hero's house is painted outside in yellow with white trim, also a standard Mulligan color combination.

Some early scenes are in a color scheme also found in other Mulligan films: red-and-green. This includes an outdoor scene with the heroes in red or pink clothes, and a scene in the heroine's house.

The hero is in colorful clothes throughout. He never becomes that figure in other Mulligan films, the "hero in white clothes". Instead, the heroine eventually wears white: also fairly untypical for Mulligan. We do briefly see the hero in a white dress shirt, near the end. The druggist also wears a white coat.

The hero buys a strawberry ice cream cone. The pink ice cream makes the most phallic looking ice cream cone ever seen.


At least on the surface, Summer of '42 appears to endorse a simple approach: young males seeking to get laid. It only looks at good aspects of such a quest, and few of the potential bad ones.

The young men do preserve some basic standards of decency. Their relations with women are completely consensual: something that does not always happen in real life, in the high-pressure, exploitative world of modern sex.

And the heroes worry about the possibility of pregnancy, and use condoms: something that also makes them more responsible than many real-life males. This issue is something discussed in the film, a good thing.

But most of the potential bad outcomes of teen sex are missing from Summer of '42. Are fifteen-year-olds ready to deal with the disasters than can result from sex, or with taking care of babies? Probably not. Are they emotionally prepared to deal with traumas? Also probably not.

The hero's "second-best friend" does not want to have sex with women, at least at his present age. The film presents him as a failure as a human being and as a male. He is a "nerd" or "geek" stereotype. This is a sinister caricature. It also endorses the dubious idea that sex for fifteen-year-olds is some sort of good goal.

Summer of '42 shows peer pressure, with the hero's best friend constantly pressuring the hero to have sex. The film shows how intense such pressure can get, and perhaps subtly suggests the dark side of such behavior. But basically, the film seems indulgent about peer pressure, depicting it as an acceptable part of growing up. Is this really true? Isn't peer pressure a major source of disaster for many young people? Doesn't conformity keep people operating at a low level, for people of all ages in our society?

Summer of '42 also seems to endorse the anti-gay remarks of the hero's friend. This is just plain bigotry.

Robin Wood, in his article in Richard Roud's Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (1980), thoroughly condemned both Mulligan and Summer of '42. Wood felt the film was superficial, and did not offer any sort of critique of relationships in modern society. Wood has a point: Summer of '42 endorses rather than critiques some dubious ideas. (By the way, Wood does not go into many specific details. It is likely, based on his other writings, that his detailed objections, had he given them, might have been different from my comments.)

The heroes of Summer of '42 are members of society's most powerful group, straight white males. Summer of '42 seems to endorse this group's sexual desires as the highest good - largely ignoring its cost to women. And also straight white men's oppressing gay people.

Success Fantasy

Several Mulligan films show young people's fantasies of wealth or success. The hero of Summer of '42 talks about studying flying in his high school, and has fantasies of being a pilot and helping his older brother out in the war. Later, we see aircraft diagrams on his bedroom walls, but learn nothing more about this.


The hero really has to strain to carry those groceries, and to put the boxes in the attic. This is played for mild comedy. It recalls the scenes in Come September, where the young men put Rock Hudson through a series of exhausting tasks.

The Nickel Ride

The Nickel Ride (1974) is a gangster movie, a genre one does not typically associate with Robert Mulligan. Several of Mulligan's films deal with "criminals who are really not such bad guys": The Great Impostor, Come September, Baby the Rain Must Fall and this movie.

Camera Movement

This film is full of remarkable compositions and camera movement. Mulligan is especially good at exploring urban landscapes. These include both exteriors, and traditional urban interiors such as warehouses, old office buildings, bars, etc. The slow, stop and start camera movements are remarkably vivid and atmospheric. Its visual beauty and inventiveness stand revealed.

Theater of the Absurd

After just the first viewing, I was unable to follow the gangster plot of the film. This does not matter. The characters and emotional mood of each scene come through loud and clear. I've never been able to understand the plot of Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki), either, although I love that film's color! The Nickel Ride has a cryptic, surreal quality. It seems as close to such avant-garde plays as Waiting for Godot or Tiny Alice as it does to traditional gangster movies as Howard Hawks' Scarface or The Public Enemy. There is little violence. Instead, we are loose in a strange, dream like world we do not understand, drifting from one emotionally compelling scene to another.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Baby the Rain Must Fall are also full of surreal touches, and a pervasive sense of strangeness.

White Suits

When Mulligan spoke after the preview of Summer of 42 (1971), he was wearing a dazzling Mod white suit, that was typical of the fashion of the era. At the time I thought, "So that's how a glamorous Hollywood director dresses!"

Jason Miller is sporting a somewhat similar off-white suit during the first third of The Nickel Ride. He looks very similar to how I remember Mulligan. One wonders if the protagonist is in some ways a stand-in for Mulligan, drifting through a surreal, dream like experience. The whole film is full of Mod fashions of the era. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck in Mockingbird) also wears a lot of white suits.

Color Schemes: White and Yellow, White and Red, White and Blue

Throughout the first half of The Nickel Ride, Mulligan employs color schemes of white, offset by swaths of some other bright color - yellow, red or blue. Usually only one bright color appears in a sequence. A section of the film will be all white and yellow, followed by another long stretch that is all white and red, followed by another sequence in turn that is all white and blue. This sort of color architecture a personal color pattern - it shows up again in The Man in the Moon, which has major sequences of white and green, and shorter sequences of white and red.

The early scenes of The Nickel Ride are designed in shades of white and yellow. White is perhaps a more predominant color, with big swaths of yellow, gold, or light beige tones. These scenes include hero Cooper at home, first in bed, then on the phone, then getting breakfast and getting dressed. The idea of opening a film with a character in bed, full of intense feeling and pondering about issues in his life, will recur in Same Time, Next Year and The Man in the Moon.

The still life on the cop's table, with phone, badge, book, etc. is a memorable composition. Much of it is in shades of yellow.

When the action switches to the street, with Cooper fully dressed in his suit, we have a new color scheme: white with swaths of red. The red includes Cooper's dark red tie, the red jacket worn by the street peddler, red frames and stools in the bar, the red and white shirt and tie worn by the man sleeping in the office, and the red cap of the man by the pool.

While in the middle of the pool scene, the colors suddenly shift. They now become blue and white, beginning with the boxer and the blue accents and trim on his clothes. This color scheme persists back at Cooper's office, with the black characters in the blue shirts, and in the birthday party bar scene. There are even blue candles on the chocolate cake. The bar scene occasionally has flashes of the other color schemes: the peddler in red shows up, the middle cake is slightly yellow, etc. But most of the color accents and clothes in the bar are blue, against a white background.

When Carl (John Hillerman) shows up, we shift to red and white again. Carl's car is a dark red, nearly as dark as Cooper's tie, and Carl's clothes are reddish in shade as well. We return to the warehouse, with its red brick. The shot where the car moves in parallel to the walking Cooper and Carl is a symphony of dark red and brick red tones.

The red and white persist in the shots at the concession stand at the boxing arena, and in the kitchen scene following it at the bar. Mulligan loves kitchens, and people getting food. The kitchen table in front of Cooper is another of Mulligan's carefully composed still lifes.

I suspect that Mulligan prefers color to black-and-white. When Mulligan talked after the screening of Summer of 42, he reminisced proudly about his television drama about Gauguin, The Moon and Sixpence (1960). Mulligan mentioned explicitly that this film was in color. (Color TV was something rare for the era.) Mulligan was so articulate and friendly to everyone.


The bar is rectangular, but with a corner cut off making an angle. Later, the garage door in The Man in the Moon will have similar cut-off angles; and the door under the stairs in Baby the Rain Must Fall has an angled top. Fritz Lang loved polygonal shapes, but the polygons in his film are often free form with lines connected at irregular angles. By contrast, all the Mulligan polygons seem to be rectangles with corners sheared off, a far more regular effect.

Mulligan's shapes tend to be bilaterally symmetric, as well: the bar has both corners cut off, as does the garage door; the stair door is paired with the hole it leaves when the door is open, making a pointed triangular top to the shape.

As the characters walk down the corridor adjacent to the indoor swimming pool, we see a series of valences along the upper left wall. Each valence has the "cut-off shape". This combines cut-off corners with the repeating modules Mulligan also loves. It is a key fusion of Mulligan visual ideas.

Repeating Structures

Mulligan uses many repeating architectural structures in the urban scenes in the first half of the film: the arches at the warehouse, the windows in both Cooper's home and office - each window with its own window shade - the facades of the downtown buildings. The wire fence along which Cooper walks in his first episode downtown anticipates the farm fence in The Man in the Moon. Such repeating structures make up a key aspect of Mulligan's visual style. The first shot of the countryside involves a series of repeating trees along the shore. These anticipate the repeating trees along the drive in The Man in the Moon.

Edgar G. Ulmer is also a director who favors repeating architectural modules in his settings. Ulmer's modules tend to be whole architectural units - the various cabins in the motel complex in Murder Is My Beat (1955), the different sections of the porch on different sides of the building in The Amazing Transparent Man (1960), the repeating doors and rooms at the opening of Isle of Forgotten Sins (1943). By contrast, Mulligan's modules of repetition are often individual windows, or arches, or storage bins in the barn in The Man in the Moon. Such windows or arches are large in an absolute sense, but still often considerably smaller and more "fine-grained" than Ulmer's architectural modules.

We are comparing Mulligan to German Expressionist directors such as Lang and Ulmer. This comparison seems a bit outré, at first. Mulligan's sunny Southern scenes and outdoor photography seems remote from the studio-based Expressionism of Ulmer and Lang. But they intersect in their shared interest in architecture and the geometric patterns it forms on screen. Mulligan's heroes are often as doomed as Lang's and Ulmer's.

Same Time, Next Year

Mulligan Subjects

Same Time, Next Year (1978) is an adaptation of a stage play, by Bernard Slade. Somewhat eerily, it has a similar premise as Robert Mulligan's Come September: in both, a couple meet on a yearly basis to carry on an affair, then retreat back to their regular, separate lives. In Come September, the couple are single and the situation is played for laughs; in Same Time, Next Year the couple are married to other people, and the treatment, while often comic, is realistic and with serious aspects.

The main opening is an elaborate scene of the couple waking up and getting dressed in the morning. This recalls the opening scenes in The Nickel Ride.

There is a pregnancy, as in The Man in the Moon. Both the man and the woman are highly fertile, with numerous children. Such fertility is a common characteristic of Mulligan characters. Although the couple's families and children are never seen - this is essentially a two character play - they are much discussed, and become important characters in the film. The difficulties young people have growing up, once again become a main theme of a Mulligan film. Both characters seem to be good parents, like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, but unlike the many abusive parents that run through Mulligan films.

The hero has aspects of the impersonators that run through Mulligan films. This is especially true of a phone sequence. It also is an aspect of some lies he tells about his children, near the film's start.

The hero eventually becomes a cocktail lounge pianist. This recalls the restaurant piano player in F.O.B. Vienna.


The historical montages often show stills of famous films of their era. One is of Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird! This is an inside joke. But it is also appropriate - it was a famous film of its time. Same Time, Next Year recalls this earlier Mulligan work, in that both deal with significant political issues.

There are deliberately startling changes between the various sections of the film. Oddly enough, the technique reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. While the gap between scenes in Same Time, Next Year is around five years, and the gaps in Rear Window are usually just an hour or so, in both films the film and its point of view are often re-thought in surprising ways in different sections. These gaps in Same Time, Next Year give a surreal feeling to the film, a Mulligan tradition.


Mulligan's love of cakes emerges again. The couple's theme song becomes "If I Knew You Were Comin', I'd've Baked a Cake". And there is an anniversary celebrated with cake and candles, like the birthday cakes in The Nickel Ride and the party cakes in The Man in the Moon.

Throughout the film, we see traditional Mulligan still lifes, of tables set with food and cutlery.

Settings and Architecture

Much of the film takes place in a motel suite. The opening, which sets the scene outside the hotel, is in a style recognizably Mulligan-like. There is a row of parked period cars, as in The Man in the Moon. The motel is in a lush, green, rural setting near water, the classic Mulligan exterior.

There are familiar Mulligan architectural features:


The wide passage from the living room to the bedroom of the suite, is framed by a large rectangular doorway. The upper corners of the doorway are filled by lintels. This gives the doorway the shape of a rectangle with cut-off corners: a shape that runs through Mulligan.


Several scenes are constructed along Mulligan's pattern of "white mixed with one bright color": Color schemes in Same Time, Next Year can suddenly shift, right in the middle of a scene. After all, everything in the film is somewhere around the motel, yard or its restaurant. So it is not practical to wait for a big change in scene to change colors: the story is anchored in mainly a few spots.

Late in the scene where the hero is in his pinstripe suit, after the yellow section and the orange section, Mulligan shifts to a different approach. First the hero takes off his suit jacket, revealing a pale blue shirt. Then the hero and heroine stand in front of the fireplace. A green painting above the fireplace is emphasized; so is the hero's red tie. This becomes a shot in "red and green". It is key shot in the film, one in which the hero makes a major plot statement. It gets a different sort of color treatment.

A still later scene has the hero and heroine mainly in beige. Neutrals are behind them on the walls, too. This scene largely lacks any bright color.

The Man in the Moon

Fertility and the Sacred

The family's house has prominent triangular gables, along its upper reaches. These are soon echoed by a similarly shaped triangular steeple at the church. Both the church and the gables are pure white, which adds to their echoing effect. The family house is seen as some sort of church. Just as the house is tied to nature through its colors, it is tied to religion through its shapes. There is a sense of the sacred here. Robert Mulligan's stories often have a surreal tone, lurking just under their surface realism.

The fact that the mother is pregnant here adds to the sense of religious fertility. Even the church is flanked by huge masses of blooming flowers of its shrubs.

The films' focus on sisters living in a lush natural environment, and its concern with themes of awakening first love, birth and death, recall Jean Renoir's The River (1951). So do a number of plot elements in the picture: a large country house filled with young women on the brink of adulthood; innocent but powerful crushes on a young man in the neighborhood, the final destiny of a young man at the end of the film.

As is often the case with Mulligan, the characters live near water, and water or dockside scenes play a prominent role in his films. The swimming area recalls the river in front of the cabin in The Nickel Ride. Both are views from overhead angles, involving a firm shore area bordering a still body of water. The food shots here also recall The Nickel Ride. Both films have scenes of eggs cooking for breakfast. And the shot of the chocolate cake here at the picnic recalls the birthday cakes in The Nickel Ride, two of which are also chocolate.


There are echoes here of earlier Mulligan protagonists.

The difficult, demanding father here recalls other hard to get along with fathers in Fear Strikes Out and Blood Brothers.

The young hero meets the same ultimate destiny as Cooper in The Nickel Ride.

And the father's refusal to take part in organized religion here recalls the noble but atheistic doctor in The Spiral Road. By contrast, the wives of both of these characters are practicing Evangelical Christians. Mulligan treats the religious beliefs of both husbands and wives in these pictures with respect, a somewhat rare attitude.


The Man in the Moon (1991) is designed in a mixture of green and white. The house and garage exteriors are painted these two colors. So is the car driven by the young man. When we get to the country club, there are over a dozen cars, all in shades of green and white. Many of the clothes worn by the characters also fall into the same scheme, although there are also some pale blues. The lush green scenery also blends into this same color pattern. In fact, one suspects that the green and white is intended to make the human buildings, vehicles and clothes match the colors of nature. The world is one big seamless mass of natural lushness and greenery in this film.

There are exceptions. The pickup truck is brown, and so is the dusty road and drive at the farm. These are used for a color harmony at one point. And downtown, we get a store front that is a dazzling mix of red and white. The shots tracking along this store front makes a brief exception and change of pace to the rest of the film.

Repeating Structures

Mulligan likes repeating architectural structures in the backgrounds of his shots. The back porch where the girls sleep at the opening is an example. It is made up of a series of vertical sections, each one with its own blinds. The repeating posts and blinds make a sequence of zones, stretching across the screen. This is an archetypal Mulligan location. Soon, we see the inside of the porch. It too consists of a number of regions. Mulligan often frames his shots so that the different regions, each with its own vertical dividing posts, are spread out from left to right along the screen.

Later outdoor shots sometimes involve similar repeating structures. Mulligan does much with a wire fence, which has a series of repeating posts. Even when Mulligan shows the giant trees in the family's driveway, he pans along a whole series of them, stretched along the drive.

The barn at Court's property has a series of repeating wooden regions in its interior. These are all closed up, and probably contain stuff. They remind one of the storage bins in The Nickel Ride, with their unseen contents.

Camera Movement

The film is full of Mulligan's languorous but powerful camera movements. These maintain a sense of propulsion, but also have a slow, contemplative feel.