The Paper Chase (1973)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

The Paper Chase Photos

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 daughter (Lindsay Wagner). An eminent theatrical and film producer, John Houseman won an Oscar for his first important film role (no, it wasn't his first film role ever; he'd played an unbilled cameo in 1964's Seven Days in May), launching Houseman on a latter-day acting career wherein he spent most of his time playing variations of Kingsfield. Houseman also recreated the role for a Paper Chase TV series, which first ran on CBS, then on public television, then on the Showtime pay cable service. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Classics , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
20th Century Fox

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Timothy Bottoms
as James T. Hart
John Houseman
as Prof. Kingsfield
Edward Herrmann
as Thomas Craig Anderson
Bob Lydiard
as O'Connor
Regina Baff
as Asheley
Regina Batt
as Asheley
David Clennon
as Toombs
Blair Brown
as Miss Farranti
Jan Campbell
as 1st Hotel Maid
Dora Dainton
as 2nd Hotel Maid
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Critic Reviews for The Paper Chase

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (5)

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

Full Review… | July 23, 2008
Top Critic

A muddled and slick 'youth' film.

Full Review… | February 8, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | May 8, 2005
New York Times
Top 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.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

...a fairly routine drama that never feels as though it's building to anything significant or even interesting...

Full Review… | January 24, 2015
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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.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


Great little film about being a first year law student at Harvard. Great Gordon Willis cinematography to boot!

Ken Stachnik
Ken Stachnik

Super Reviewer

A funny & very odd movie. This movie had a really odd ending.

Cassie Hill
Cassie Hill

Super Reviewer

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