Testament (1983)

PG | 90 mins | Drama | 4 November 1983

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HISTORY

As noted in a 23 Sep 1983 HR article, director-producer Lynne Littman was inspired by Carol Amen’s short story, The Last Testament, which was first published in the Sep 1980 edition of St. Anthony's Messenger (Cincinnati, OH), and later reprinted in the Aug 1981 Ms. Magazine. At that time, Littman was best known as a television reporter and producer at KCET, a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station in Los Angeles, CA, and as the Academy Award-winning documentarian of the short film Number Our Days (1977). With a budget of $500,000 supplied by the PBS “American Playhouse” series, Littman began the project as an hour-long television film, as stated in a 5 Dec 1983 LAHExam article. However, the final script added thirty minutes to the running time, and increased the budget to $750,000. Hoping to begin production as scheduled, Littman’s LDL Films secured a deal with the British production company, Entertainment Events Ltd. (EEL), exchanging distribution rights for $278,000 in completion funds. Although Testament was planned as an “American Playhouse” release, EEL was eager to distribute the film theatrically, and LDL agreed to postpone the PBS telecast if Entertainment Events struck a deal with a distributor.
       Principal photography took place between Jan and Jun 1983 in the Southern California town of Sierra Madre, which stood in for the fictional city of “Hamelin.”
       On 23 Sep 1983, HR announced that Paramount Pictures acquired international distribution rights after a premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. At that time, nuclear energy and warfare were popular subjects for ... More Less

As noted in a 23 Sep 1983 HR article, director-producer Lynne Littman was inspired by Carol Amen’s short story, The Last Testament, which was first published in the Sep 1980 edition of St. Anthony's Messenger (Cincinnati, OH), and later reprinted in the Aug 1981 Ms. Magazine. At that time, Littman was best known as a television reporter and producer at KCET, a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station in Los Angeles, CA, and as the Academy Award-winning documentarian of the short film Number Our Days (1977). With a budget of $500,000 supplied by the PBS “American Playhouse” series, Littman began the project as an hour-long television film, as stated in a 5 Dec 1983 LAHExam article. However, the final script added thirty minutes to the running time, and increased the budget to $750,000. Hoping to begin production as scheduled, Littman’s LDL Films secured a deal with the British production company, Entertainment Events Ltd. (EEL), exchanging distribution rights for $278,000 in completion funds. Although Testament was planned as an “American Playhouse” release, EEL was eager to distribute the film theatrically, and LDL agreed to postpone the PBS telecast if Entertainment Events struck a deal with a distributor.
       Principal photography took place between Jan and Jun 1983 in the Southern California town of Sierra Madre, which stood in for the fictional city of “Hamelin.”
       On 23 Sep 1983, HR announced that Paramount Pictures acquired international distribution rights after a premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. At that time, nuclear energy and warfare were popular subjects for Hollywood movies, with Orion Pictures set to open Under Fire (1983, see entry) in Oct 1983 and Twentieth Century-Fox preparing Silkwood (1984, see entry) for release. Paramount reportedly saw Testament as an opportunity to capitalize on the cultural momentum, and give the picture a greater audience.
       However, Paramount’s acquisition of Testament prompted protests from actors and other contributors, who worked for little or no compensation because they believed the film was a non-profit venture. The 5 Dec 1983 LAHExam article explained that actors agreed to work for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) scale for a PBS series, which was lower than average television rates, because they supported the film’s call for nuclear disarmament. When the production became a commercial, theatrical release, the actors were denied the opportunity to renegotiate their contracts, and SAG defended their demand for higher pay. In addition, a 5 Dec 1983 DV column announced a $10 million lawsuit filed against Paramount, EEL, and LDL Productions by residents of Sierra Madre, including the Sierra Madre Veterans of Foreign Wars, who felt they had been deceived into volunteering their services. The plaintiffs alleged that the film was presented as an educational, non-commercial PBS project, and they were exploited by the production when Paramount took over.
       While the outcome of the Sierra Madre case remains undetermined, the actors’ contract dispute continued to gain momentum. On 15 Dec 1983, DV reported that EEL proposed a settlement in which the company would donate thirty percent of the film’s box-office gross “to a recognized antinuclear arms organization on behalf of the actors” as compensation for the lost wages. The proposal was contingent on the actors’ acceptance of a “minimum residual payments” clause in their SAG contracts, giving them a cut of the film’s earnings instead of upgrading their pay rates. By 10 Feb 1984, most of the actors had rejected the EEL settlement, according to a DV article published that day. Just over one month later, the 17 Apr 1984 DV announced that negotiations were underway, with SAG representing the actors. However, young actor Ross Harris, who performed the role of “Brad,” opted out of the group settlement to file a separate, $500,000 lawsuit.
       The film received critical acclaim, generally characterized by Sheila Benson in her 3 Nov 1983 LAT review: “It’s easy to write that this is a film that deserves the widest possible audience, and to praise a major studio for distributing it. But what words do you use to persuade an audience to share an experience this wrenching, and one that may well change its perception of the immediate world?” The Jan 1984 Box reported that despite its limited release on less than fifty screens, the film made over $691,000 during its first two weeks.
       Lukas Haas made his feature film debut in Testament.
       Testament was nominated for an Academy Award for Actress in a Leading Role (Jane Alexander).
       End credits state: “This film is dedicated to my family.” Acknowledgements include: “Special thanks to: Lindsay Law; Heather Sheets; Stuart Benjamin; Teresa Carr; Robert Goldston; the McBride School; Leslie Linder; the People of Sierra Madre; Jerry Vernig; Norman Fleishman; Truman Van Dyke; Geralyn Miller; Buzz Knudsen; Rita Riggs; Jean Hill; Timothy J. Hayes; Ron Ward; Ben Bennett,” and, “The producers wish to acknowledge the following organizations in the making of this picture: Klein Bicycles; Dan River, Inc.; Masi Bicycles; Center Theatre Group Costume Shop; Ray-O-Vac; Gary’s Men’s and Women’s Fashions, Tri-Ex Tower Corp.; Alta Marea Productions.” In addition, the following television and video sources are credited: “’Sesame Street,’ courtesy of Children’s Television Workshop; ‘Jane Fonda’s Workout,’ courtesy of The Workout, Inc.” The picture was: “Filmed entirely on location in Sierra Madre, California.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Jan 1984.
---
Daily Variety
30 Nov 1983
p. 6.
Daily Variety
5 Dec 1983
p. 6.
Daily Variety
10 Feb 1984
p. 10, 43.
Daily Variety
17 Apr 1984
p. 1, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Sep 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1983
p. 3, 14.
LAHExam
5 Dec 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Nov 1983
Calendar, p. 1, 7, 8.
New York Times
4 Nov 1983
p. 8.
Variety
19 Oct 1983
p. 20, 22.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Paramount Pictures presents
An Entertainment Events production
in association with American Playhouse
A Lynne Littman film
Produced in association with American Playhouse
with funds from Public Television Stations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
The National Endowment for the Arts and Entertainment Events, Inc.
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Addl photog
Cam op
Addl op
1st asst cam
Addl 1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Key grip
Best boy
Gaffer
Best boy
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Cam car driver
Lightflex consultant
Principal photog filmed with Moviecam cams from
Lightflex system by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Prop master
Asst props
COSTUMES
Cost des
Women's costumer
Men's costumer
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus supv
Mus rec eng
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Sd eff
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals
Title des
Titles by
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Project consultant
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Extras casting
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod office coord
Prod accountant
Teacher
Labor rep
Post prod services by
Post-prod services by
Loc equip supplied by
Catering by
Mobile dressing rooms supplied by
STAND INS
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stunt coord
ANIMATION
Illustrator
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story The Last Testament by Carol Amen in The St. Anthony Messenger (Sep, 1980).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"All My Loving," by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, courtesy of Mac Len Music, produced by Andrew Dorfman, performed by Mitch Weissman.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
4 November 1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 4 November 1983
Production Date:
January -- June 1983
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
6 March 1984
Copyright Number:
PA204491
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
90
Length(in feet):
8,057
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27203
SYNOPSIS

In the Northern California town of Hamelin, housewife Carol Wetherly prepares her family for their day ahead while her husband, Tom, goes for a morning bicycle ride with their older son, Brad. Although Carol resents Tom’s failure to help with domestic chores, their relationship continues to thrive despite frequent quarrels. As Tom commutes to San Francisco for work, Carol oversees rehearsals for a school play adaptation of The Pied Piper, with her younger son, Scottie, in a leading role. The Wetherly’s teenage daughter, Mary Liz, is a devoted pianist and accompanies the production with live music. In the evening, Carol and the children gather at home to watch television, but the show is interrupted by an urgent message by a newscaster, who announces that the U.S. has been attacked by nuclear weapons. Just then, the telephone rings and Carol jumps to pick up the receiver, hoping to hear reassurances from Tom. However, the connection is lost as a blinding light from a nuclear explosion fills the living room, and the family ducks for cover. The town remains seemingly unscathed in the aftermath, and neighbors congregate at the home of an elderly couple named Henry and Rosemary Abhart. There, Henry reports that he cannot contact any major city on his ham radio, and Carol fears Tom was still in San Francisco when the bombs landed. When Henry declares he has received communications from other small towns, Carol retains hope that her husband will return safely. Despite Henry’s sporadic ham radio messages, Hamelin is isolated from the rest of ... +


In the Northern California town of Hamelin, housewife Carol Wetherly prepares her family for their day ahead while her husband, Tom, goes for a morning bicycle ride with their older son, Brad. Although Carol resents Tom’s failure to help with domestic chores, their relationship continues to thrive despite frequent quarrels. As Tom commutes to San Francisco for work, Carol oversees rehearsals for a school play adaptation of The Pied Piper, with her younger son, Scottie, in a leading role. The Wetherly’s teenage daughter, Mary Liz, is a devoted pianist and accompanies the production with live music. In the evening, Carol and the children gather at home to watch television, but the show is interrupted by an urgent message by a newscaster, who announces that the U.S. has been attacked by nuclear weapons. Just then, the telephone rings and Carol jumps to pick up the receiver, hoping to hear reassurances from Tom. However, the connection is lost as a blinding light from a nuclear explosion fills the living room, and the family ducks for cover. The town remains seemingly unscathed in the aftermath, and neighbors congregate at the home of an elderly couple named Henry and Rosemary Abhart. There, Henry reports that he cannot contact any major city on his ham radio, and Carol fears Tom was still in San Francisco when the bombs landed. When Henry declares he has received communications from other small towns, Carol retains hope that her husband will return safely. Despite Henry’s sporadic ham radio messages, Hamelin is isolated from the rest of the world. Hoping to restore a sense of normality, Carol oversees a bittersweet performance of The Pied Piper, but the community’s solidarity begins to falter. As time passes, the town’s resources become depleted. People are forced to stand in line for rations and become hostile toward their neighbors. Soon, residents start dying from radiation poisoning, including Carol’s son Scottie and daughter Mary Liz. All the while, Carol’s older son, Brad, makes regular visits to Henry Abhart’s home, convinced they will find help through his ham radio, but messages stop coming. Although many townspeople leave Hamelin, Carol insists on staying in case Tom returns. One day, however, she discovers a telephone message from Tom that was recorded on the day of the bombings and realizes he stayed late at work in San Francisco. Even though Carol knows her husband is dead, she perseveres, and she and Brad become the caretakers of a disabled orphan named Hiroshi. When Henry Abhart dies, the three decide to commit suicide, and Carol turns over her car engine to fill the garage with carbon monoxide. However, she is unable to go through with the plan, and they return to the house to solemnly celebrate Brad’s birthday. With all hope lost, Brad wonders what to wish for as he blows out the candles, and Carol proposes a wish for remembrance. They should never forget the good times in their lives, but always remember the terrible consequences of nuclear holocaust. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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