Troubled teen David Clemens (Keir Dullea) has been taken by his mother (Neva Patterson) to a special home where he can receive treatment with others of his own age in a small community where his needs will be catered for. Though he has a keen intellect, his big problem is that he hates to be touched, as one of the patients discovers when he tries to help him by taking his suitcase: David immediately starts to panic and yell, alarming the boy and seeing his mother and his new doctor, Swinford (Howard Da Silva) rushing out of the office to find out what is going on, though his parent can well guess. David has a standoffish personality all the better to keep people away from him, and Swinford knows from the start he will be a tough nut to crack…
Especially as David seems to be capable of diagnosing himself, not to mention every other patient there. “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow” is what Noel Coward once said about the up and coming actor, one of the promising faces of the nineteen-sixties who never quite made it into the stardom he appeared to be set for, maybe it was the psychologically unknowable or unrelatable aspect he sought out in his characterisations but come the end of the decade, Coward looked to have been proved correct. Dullea had the last laugh, however, as he concentrated on the stage and was a big success in that arena, so it wasn’t as if he was left in the wilderness and indeed was acting well into old age.
The Lisa of the title was Janet Margolin, another promising performer of the sixties who never made it either; she worked regularly but rarely in movies that offered her a chance to make the impression this did, and she died far too young at fifty at the point when a second wind in character actress roles would have suited her to a tee. Nevertheless, for fans of this effort, her work was enough to justify the film’s cult, though that would be more likely to stem from those attracted to a quirky romance than anyone really seeking out an accurate depiction of mental illness. That was a problem watching this now: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest looked like a documentary compared to the depiction of the patients here.
Therefore you could acknowledge director Frank Perry (pop star Katy Perry’s uncle) and his wife and collaborator Eleanor Perry (who wrote the script) absolutely had their hearts in the right place without really depicting the conditions the patients were meant to have with any great accuracy. Take Lisa: there are far more labels psychiatrists can put on those they treat now than there were back in 1962, but David’s opinion that she’s schizophrenic isn’t anything that any doctor would say now, it’s just too vague, and the way she talked in rhyme (very basically, not like The Cat in the Hat) came across as such a writer’s conceit that you didn’t particularly trust the filmmakers’ regard of precisely how whatever was wrong with her would exhibit itself. She wasn’t hallucinating, she wasn’t delusional, she was suffering some made up split personality.
It was the Muriel side of her that dominated and she didn’t recognise her actual, Lisa side, which was about as convincing as the too literal nightmares involving a large clock face that David endured, so it was best to concentrate on the tentative romance blossoming between the two, though even then the only reason the script could bring them together for was that they were both mentally ill, as if that was a great leveller when it came to love affairs. They certainly didn’t appear compatible otherwise, and though this was based on a book by an actual psychiatrist, it was more part of the dramas emerging around this point which purported to take a serious, or sincere anyway, take on the problem of maladjusted psychology which at times didn’t feel that much different in their approach than the burgeoning horror movie craze in the wake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. At least those who watched David and Lisa would emerge from it sympathetic to its leads and these conditions in general, it was nicely judged as far as that went, but as the years go by it grows more artificial than it ever was. Music by Mark Lawrence.
American director who worked closely with his wife Eleanor Perry to create some curious work throughout the sixties: David and Lisa, Ladybug Ladybug, The Swimmer, Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife.