Forgotten Films: The Whole Wide World (1996)
This is the 20th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
This week’s film might be a surprise to many. It has no aliens, explosions, monsters, vampires, evil sorcerers, ghosts, or the other inhabitants of many science fiction fantasy or horror films. It is a love story of sorts – a chick flick with a slight difference. The male lead is pulp writer Robert E. Howard, one of my personal heroes.
The other day (June 9 – 11) I made a trip I had always told myself I would make. I went to Cross Plains, TX to see the home of Robert E. Howard, the greatest pulp writer in the whole wide world. There were a lot of reasons to go – it was Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains when many Howard fans and scholars show up to see each other and discuss the works of the great man; it was the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cross Plains, the 75th anniversary of Howard’s death, the 50th anniversary of Glenn Lord’s THE HOWARD COLLECTOR, the 40th anniversary of the CONAN comic book, the 25th anniversary of the first “unofficial” Robert E. Howard Days, the 5th anniversary of the Robert E. Howard Foundation, and the 5th anniversary of CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE (the tribute volume I edited with Joe R. Lansdale. I lot of significant numbers there.
Since I had the time available, I went to Cross Plains and, on the way home; I decided it was time to pull out THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD for another viewing. For those who have not seen it (99% of the entire world) this period drama tells the story of Novalyne Price (Renée Zellweger in an amazing role she did just before catching big fame in JERRY MAGUIRE) a young school teacher in Cross Plains in the mid 1930’s who becomes acquainted with (and dates) Robert E. Howard (Vincent D’Onofrio). Price wants to write for the pulp magazines but has been unsuccessful. Howard is very successful and she initially wants to meet him (perhaps) to get some advice but also because the stories he writes seem to scandalize the locals (though most admit they have not read them). Howard writes loudly, often enacting the scenes as he writes or reciting the words vividly and excitedly. He is unusual, charming, quirky, and sometimes clueless about their relationship.
The filmmakers did not have access to the Howard characters so while Conan is discussed he is not portrayed in the film. Rather you hear Howard reciting the tale, complete the clanging of swords and the sounds of horses and armor clashing.
The film is replete with scenes of the Texas countryside with scenes set near Bastrop rather than the further west Cross Plains. I love the look of small town Texas, having grown up in a town slightly larger than Cross Plains before moving to San Antonio in 1967.
The film is based on Novalyne Price Ellis’ memoir ONE WHO WALKS ALONE which was taken from her journals she wrote at the time. It is one of the very few remembrances with contemporary notes. Other remembrances are based on older memories but for Price, these were written as they happened.
The supporting cast is amazing. Anne Wedgewood (from EVENING SHADE) plays Howard’s terminally ill mother Hester to whom he was primary caretaker. Harve Presnell (THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN) plays Robert’s father Isaac.
Financially the film was a disaster recovering barely 10% of the production cost (according to IMDB). Fortunately it is available on DVD for a reasonable price. And it is well worth your two hours.
All in all I really enjoyed this film, even knowing the ending was coming. Such a waste.
In a side note to continue my rant from last week’s forgotten book; why has Glenn Lord not been given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention for his 50 years of service to the field in promoting Robert E. Howard’s legacy? Way past overdue.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.