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Play It as It Lays (1972)

During her career, Tuesday Weld was renowned for taking chances. She turned down films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) because she feared they would be too successful. “I do not ever want to be a huge star,” she once proclaimed. But she jumped at opportunities to try something different. That made her the perfect choice for the film version of Joan Didion’s acclaimed 1970 novel about alienation, a story that holds back little in its contempt for the shallowness of modern life.

Weld plays Maria Wyeth, an actress who’s been institutionalized after a mental breakdown. She thinks back on the events that led to her collapse: her mother’s death in her Nevada hometown, the end of her marriage to a self-important filmmaker (Adam Roarke); her attempts to build a life with a daughter suffering from a brain injury; and, most of all, her relationship to her best friend, an unhappy, closeted producer (Anthony Perkins).

Director Frank Perry had made his name with cutting-edge independent films like David and Lisa (1962) and Last Summer (1969). He brought that same sensibility to Play It as It Lays, working from a script by Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, that fragments time and refuses to provide easy solutions to Maria’s problems. Weld—cast on the recommendation of Dunne’s brother, writer Dominick—created the perfect embodiment of their lost central character, winning rave reviews and a Golden Globe nomination.

d. Frank Perry, 99 minutes, 35mm

Courtesy of Universal Pictures