YEAR:  1982

ROLE:  Harry York

DIRECTOR:  Graeme Clifford

US PREMIERE:  December 3, 1982

Plot Summary

Frances Farmer, a precocious Seattle teenager, takes unpopular social and political positions, to the mixed reactions of her parents. Frances becomes an actress and has some strong success in New York, but her refusal to bend her convictions and her outspoken (but sometimes naive) political expressiveness cause her difficulties, especially after she accepts a Hollywood contract. Torn between new-found success and intense feelings that she does not deserve the riches and fame she gains from the phoniness of Hollywood, Frances butts heads with studio executives and with her own mother, who revels in Frances's fame but provides Frances no emotional support. When drunken fights and arrests derail her career, Frances is sent to a psychiatric hospital with the acquiescence of her mother. What follows is a nightmare of poor treatment and psychological trauma, augmented by the increasing determination of Frances's mother to control her daughter's life.

Film Details


Jessica Lange - Frances Farmer
Kim Stanley - Lillian Farmer
Sam Shepard - Harry York
Bart Burns - Ernest Farmer
Jeffrey DeMunn - Clifford Odets

Written by Eric Bergren, Christopher De Vore
& Nicholas Kazan
Music by John Barry
Cinematography by László Kovács

Color Movie Stills
Black & White Movie Stills
Posters/DVD covers

Even back in the early 1970s, when Lange was waiting on tables, struggling to become a model, she somehow knew that one day she’d play this role.  Like Farmer, Lange had deserted home for travels, arrived in New York to study acting, and was then plucked from obscurity by a Paramount contract that brought her west to Hollywood and seething frustration (the disappointing remake of "King Kong"). Or perhaps it was Farmer’s frantic and doomed desire to be politically useful and artistically important, two goals shared by Lange that Hollywood did as little to serve for her as it had for Farmer.

Plus Lange’s resemblance to Farmer was uncanny. Producer Mel Brooks said, "It’s hard to find a beauty with big bones. Frances and Jessica are both girls with large frames." As a still relatively unknown actress, she also didn’t carry a high price tag - nor an identity that would overwhelm the part.

When Sam was asked why he favored the script,  he said, "Because it is like a Greek tragedy." Clifford cast him because of what he called Sam’s "enigmatic sexuality".  Of his co-star, Sam would only say at the time that she was "an intuitive actress. Every take is different." Commenting on Frances Farmer’s political activities, Sam remarked, "Are any stars really sincere in their politics? It comes from despair over the menialness of film. Being an actress creates desperation."