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USA , 104 min

Shown in 1981


Herbert Kline
Herbert Kline
Herbert Kline
Philip Schultz

A documentary film about the world-famous American actors’ school and showcase, the Actors Studio in New York, concentrating upon the life and work of Lee Strasberg. This celebrated teacher and actor has been the controversial head of the Actors Studio since its inception in the postwar period of the 1940s, and the style of acting he formulated, known popularly as “Method Acting,” has produced some of the greatest theater and cinema talents of our time. Herbert Kline has approached his subject with both awe and enthusiasm, hoping to document the work and ideas of Strasberg as if he were filming such lost giants of the theater as Chekhov and Stanislavsky. The film traces Strasberg’s early work with the New York Yiddish Theater, where he acted with Paul Muni, Jacob Adler and Edward G. Robinson. His later work with the famous Group Theater in the Depression years, when the explosive talents of playwright Clifford Odets (Awake and Sing!, Golden Boy, Waiting for Lefty) changed the course of modern American drama, is also explored. The members of the Group Theater included John Garfield, Lee J. Cobb, Franchot Tone and J. Edward Bromberg, who were among those who were later to become famous Hollywood stars. In recent years, the Actors Studio has become a creative bridge between New York and Hollywood, and the film delves into this phenomenon in great detail. We see Lee Strasberg as both teacher and actor, working with such students as Ellen Burstyn and others; monitoring class scenes from Othello and Uncle Vanya; reminiscing about Marilyn Monroe, Garfield and Odets; with his daughter Susan Strasberg, discussing her debut in The Diary of Anne Frank and in sequences from films in which he has appeared as actor, notably The Godfather, Part Two and Going in Style. The finale, the presentation of the Eleonora Duse Awards, shows Strasberg honoring Actors Studio notables Julie Harris, Patricia Neal, Mildred Dunnock, Sally Fields, etc. All in all, the film is an absorbing insight into Lee Strasberg’s creative life and the dedication of a strongly opinionated, unpredictable and inspiring man of American drama.

—Albert Johnson