"Head Over Heels" was a box-office bust when first released in 1979. It had a fairytale ending that didn't help. Now, with the happy climax snipped off, the film has been re-released as "Chilly Scenes of Winter."
Director Joan Micklin Silver, who wrote the screenplay from a novel by Ann Beattie, is delighted with the change. She feels the new version is more in keeping with Beattie's intended ambiguity: Do the lovers -- John Heard ("Cutters Way") and Mary Beth Hurt ("The World According to Garp") -- stay together or don't they? Despite this version's claims of ambiguity, it sure seems that the lovers' stars cross.
"Chilly Scenes," whatever its ending, remains a literate exploration of one man's obsession with an indecisive female caught between raised consciousness and negative self-image. It's reminiscent of Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" in plot, construction, even use of soliloquy, but it lacks that film's abrasive soul and bawdy good humor. This is painful comedy, if it's really comedy. It sits on the histrionic fence, leaning toward the bittersweet.
Heard stars as Charles, a Utah civil servant, a self-deprecating loner whose only friend is an unemployed jacket salesman (Peter Riegert). All film long, Charles tries to win back former lover Laura (Hurt), who left him to return to her husband, an A-frame salesman. Hurt's Laura is a sort of pert Diane Keaton down to the wrinkled hair, but not so daffy. She's subtler.
All the actors are so smooth, in fact, that it feels more like voyeurism than film-going. Heard and Hurt are wonderfully natural, with the zanier stuff left to the supportive Gloria Grahame (in her last major role before her death) and Kenneth McMillan as Charles's mother and stepfather. Mom is mad and given to sitting in the tub in glamorous gowns like the ones Carole Lombard used to wear. Yet the older couple's strong bond contrasts with the frazzled one that had held Laura to Charles.
There are all kinds of wonderful little touches in the film -- like the blind candy vendor, an oracle who always asks Charles what he really wants. It's unruffled film- making, perhaps too easy-going. It could use a dramatic peak or two; otherwise it's quiet and intimate, a pleasing study of a segment of middle-class society that learned to be afraid of being out of love.
But questions still remain: Does a new ending make a new film? If Rhett had stuck beside Scarlett, would "Gone with the Wind" be the classic it is today? CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER -- Key Theater.