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The Paper Chase

The Paper Chase (1973)

tomatometer

60

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 5
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 2

No consensus yet.

audience

72

liked it
Average Rating: 3.5/5
User Ratings: 4,334

My Rating

Movie Info

This filmization of John Jay Osborn Jr.'s novel Paper Chase ended up one of the surprise hits of the 1973-74 movie season. Timothy Bottoms stars as the Minnesotan Hart, a brilliant but naive first-year student at the Harvard Law School. Like most of his fellow aspiring attorneys, Hart is in fearful awe of his demanding, ego-deflating instructor, Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman). He is not so much intimidated by Kingsfield, however, as to resist falling in love with the professor's pretty

PG,

Drama, Classics

James Bridges

Jun 3, 2003

20th Century Fox

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All Critics (25) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (22) | Rotten (3) | DVD (3)

The Paper Chase has some great performances, literate screenwriting, sensitive direction and handsome production.

July 24, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A muddled and slick 'youth' film.

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

By the end it has melted into a blob of clichés.

May 9, 2005 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Houseman is able to project subtleties of character even while appearing stiff and unrelenting; it's a performance of Academy Award quality, and resulted in an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

James Bridges manages to do a fair job with the semihokey material.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The love of learning is tops in classic law school tale.

July 2, 2013 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Essentially, this is a military school plot with a change of venue.

August 24, 2010 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Houseman owns you whenever he's on camera.

September 24, 2005 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

Solid (if dated) college-years drama.

April 2, 2005
eFilmCritic.com

Frightening drama of life in law school. Houseman is terrific.

October 16, 2004
Kansas City Kansan

The Paper Chase is sort of charmless.

June 17, 2003 Full Review Source: Film Freak Central
Film Freak Central

John Houseman takes center stage with his near-perfect depiction of an imposing law school professor.

June 7, 2003 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

It's intelligent, entertaining and ultimately uplifting, but never really gets to the heart of the class struggle (academic and social) that's taking place.

May 24, 2003 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

Simply an intelligent film about intelligent people.

December 16, 2001 Full Review Source: Film Written Magazine
Film Written Magazine

Audience Reviews for The Paper Chase

A Harvard law student dates his imperious professor's daughter.
I've thought about The Paper Chase a lot. One of my colleagues did his dissertation on educators in film, and his construct suggests that teachers are always portrayed as being exemplars of either "tough love" or "nurturing love." He contends that Kingsfield is an example of a "tough love" prof, but I argue that Kingsfield, in fact, defies his construct and is "no love." This is refreshing because I don't love my students; that means they won't make a movie about me.
We argued about this for the past couple days, but it's the only interesting aspect of the film. There is a romantic story here, but the lead may be the shittiest female character ever written in film. I have no idea why she sleeps with Hart; their meeting scene is the definition of banal. I have no idea why she gets back together with him. I have no idea why she hides her identity from him; the scene in which she explains herself makes no sense. I have no idea why she does anything. She seems to pop up whenever Hart needs someone to whine to or whenever the filmmakers remember that they're paying an actress. I don't see her as a real character. Instead, she's a flat character, and you shouldn't make "Romantic Lead A" a flat character; maybe "Romantic Leads B" can be, but not A.
There is also some truly banal connective tissue. There is one scene composed only of Hart getting unremarkable breakfast at an unremarkable cafeteria with an unremarkable look on his face, and this lasts for a remarkably long minute before he sits with another character and starts the story again.
Overall, there is no doubt John Houseman gives a fantastic performance as the imperious Kingsfield and the characterization of the professor is good fodder for debate, but everything about the film's story construction and the banality of the characters makes this film a chore to watch.
August 27, 2011
hunterjt13
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Great little film about being a first year law student at Harvard. Great Gordon Willis cinematography to boot!
January 25, 2011
kenstachnik

Super Reviewer

Better than I remembered it to be (perhaps that's because I was 11 years old the first time?). Dated only by its score and its sense of fashion, The Paper Chase is still identifiably relevant to anyone who has ever sat in a college classroom or crammed for a final exam. Just watching it gave me test anxiety. :)
November 26, 2010
flixsterman
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

    1. Kingsfield: Nobody inhibits you from expressing yourself.
    – Submitted by Tejas S (22 months ago)
    1. Kingsfield: You come in here with a skull full of mush... and you leave thinking like a lawyer.
    – Submitted by Tejas S (22 months ago)
    1. Kingsfield: You teach yourselves the law... but I train your mind.
    – Submitted by Tejas S (22 months ago)
    1. Kingsfield: Through this method of questioning, answering... questioning, answering... we seek to develop in you the ability to analyze... that vast complex of facts that constitute... the relationships of members within a given society.
    – Submitted by Tejas S (22 months ago)
    1. Hart: It was the genius who told me about Kingsfield. First guy to tell me all about Kingsfield. He read an article about him in Life or Time. Something about a book he wrote. It was called Contracts in Our Daily Lives.
    – Submitted by Tejas S (22 months ago)
    1. Hart: Maybe I better start studying then.
    – Submitted by Tejas S (22 months ago)
View all quotes (7)

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