Picks and Pans Review: Melvin and Howard

updated 11/24/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/24/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

That's Howard Hughes—the billionaire, pioneer of commercial aviation, lover of beautiful movie stars and ailing recluse who died in a plane whisking him from Mexico to Houston for surgery. Among the strange footnotes to the Hughes legend was the claim by a Nevada gas station attendant, Melvin Dummar, that he was an heir of Hughes. Hughes intended to reward him, Dummar insisted, for rescuing him on the road to Las Vegas one night. Director Jonathan (Citizen's Band) Demme has dramatized Dummar's tale with limited success. When Dummar, played effectively by Paul LeMat (the hot-rodder in American Graffiti), and Hughes are onscreen together, the movie soars. Jason Robards as Hughes should get an Oscar for best performance in a vital cameo role. But most of the film dissects Dummar's usually boring life. The women are fun: Mary Steenburgen proves a consummate comedienne as Dummar's on-again, off-again wife, and Pamela Reed as his second spouse sounds the right note of stridency. Overall, the movie is as outlandishly unconvincing as, say, Dummar's claim to the Hughes fortune. (R)

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