Posted on 3/06/13 03:34 PM
Not the Version With the Warrior of the Lost World
I was vaguely aware of the existence of the TV show when I was growing up, though I never watched it. Mom might have, though you couldn't prove it by me. There's not a lot that she watched that was for adults when I was little that I remember her watching, because mostly, that happened when I wasn't around or after I was asleep. This meant that I knew the show existed, and I might have known there was a movie first, though I'm not even sure of that. I knew that John Houseman did those commercials where he told us that a company had made its money the old-fashioned way . . . they earned it. (Which puts a broad spin on the concept of earning money, I think, but never mind.) And then, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 did the episode featuring Warrior of the Lost World, where they referred to one of the characters as "The Paper Chase Guy." And I think that was about the total of what I knew about this until today.
What I did not know was that this movie is the story of James T. Hart (Timothy Bottoms), a first-year student at Harvard Law School. Unlike many of his classmates, his undergraduate degree isn't Ivy League; he graduated from the University of Minnesota. Still, Hart believes that he can make it at Harvard Law. He joins a study group. He gets on well enough with several of his classmates. One night, as he is out picking up a pizza, he meets Susan Fields (Lindsay Wagner), who asks for his protection, as she thinks she is being followed. He walks her home, and they develop a relationship. Whether this has a good or bad effect on his studies is the subject of much debate among his friends. The real crisis for him is when he discovers that Susan is in fact the married-but-separated daughter of Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. (Houseman), his crusty old contracts professor. She hadn't told Hart, because she knew what the result would be--and she is right.
I mean, yes, it would be weird to discover that some girl you met while walking home from a pizza place late at night was your professor's daughter, especially a month or more after you had settled into a relationship with her. However, I don't blame her for wanting to put off that moment of realization for as long as possible. She must have realized quite quickly that Hart has a weird attitude toward her father. It isn't just that he's one of her father's students. It's that Hart seems obsessed with him. He both wants to impress Kingsfield and hates him. He fears him and admires him. It's worth noting that, while we do know that the students are taking more than one class, we also never see any of the other professors. As far as the movie is concerned, the only professor at Harvard Law is Kingsfield, and Susan has the mixed blessing of being his daughter. Maybe Hart talks about another professor the same way, but if so, we never see it.
It's also worth noting that there are six speaking roles for women in the entire film, and two of them are hotel maids. There is also one wife (Regina Baff), Susan, a single law school student (Blair Brown), and I'm not sure who the last one was. That includes the fact that there are no women in the study group. There are a handful of students in the class who get speaking parts, and only one is a woman--and she never gets a first name. (In class, all the students are referred to by last name.) It's possible that the TV series was a bit more co-ed, but there still is every assumption in 1973 that most people in law school are male. Certainly the ones who are worth paying attention to because they're going to go farther. It would be some ten years later that George Will rejected the idea of a female Supreme Court justice because limiting yourself to a female eliminated "ninety percent of qualified applicants." I wanted Susan to turn out to be a law school student just because of Hart's causal assumption that she wasn't.
None of the issues of privilege that really would have been interesting to me are developed in this movie. It is completely to be expected that Kingsfield would live in a positively enormous house, that his daughter would be able to gallivant about Europe with her husband--that they could both afford to do that. However, the first person Hart meets in the dorms, so far as I can tell, is a legacy--Franklin Ford III (Graham Beckel), I'm pretty sure. Several characters scoff at him because he attended a school that wasn't Harvard or because he doesn't dress in a button-down shirt and tie for classes. No one in the whole movie seems to have money problems, probably in no small part so we can focus on their nervous breakdowns instead. The (really bad) trailer points out how many members of Congress and Supreme Court justices attended Harvard Law, and several characters expect to rule Wall Street some day. Naturally, no one talks about being a civil rights attorney or doing pro bono work.