Sunday, 27 September 2015

Review: The Whole Wide World (1996)

Robert E. Howard was a troubled author and many have heard of how he shot himself soon after his mother died - stopping only to write a final poem on the way to his car and the gun he kept there. Scholars have long tried to understand what kind of a man Howard really was, but one point of view comes from the woman who knew him close to the end of his career. In late 1980's, fifty years after Robert E. Howard's death, Novalyne Price wrote a memoir based on her diary, One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard, The Final Years. Based on this, Michael Scott Myers wrote a screenplay and Dan Ireland directed the film, The Whole Wide World.

Price moved to Cross Plains to work as a school teacher. She was interested in writing and sought out Howard for advice in around 1933. They became friends and remained close until Howard's suicide in 1936. During those final years of Howard's short life, Price witnessed his relationship with his mother and his social reclusiveness, but also his enthusiasm and confidence as a writer. The film brings forth all of these aspects wonderfully, although it is clear that the makers were working with a very tight budget. The story relies mainly on the interaction of the few characters, rather than big crowd scenes or special effects. However, this is quite enough to tell the story and the soundtrack supports it all the way with peaceful, beautiful music to underscore the emotions in the scenes.

One great (and funny) scene in the movie is a bit where Novalyne spies Robert E. Howard writing on his typewriter and shouting out the dialogue at the same time. Another fun scene, available on Youtube, shows Howard (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) describing his literary hero, Conan, to Novalyne (played by Renée Zellweger):

Overall, I liked the film very much, although I regret that it could not tell the story from the beginning of Howard's career, when he was first finding the audience for his stories and became the greatest pulp writer in history. It is also a shame that Howard's communication with H.P. Lovecraft - another great writer of the time - was given but a single mention. There's actually a deleted scene out there, in which Novalyne reads an excerpt from Lovecraft's letter to Howard that would have fixed this shortcoming. Check it out here:

If you have read any of Howard's stories, or if you are interested in the nature of writers in general, this film is very much recommended.