Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

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Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan Rudolph
Written byAlan Rudolph
Randy Sue Coburn
Produced byRobert Altman
Music byMark Isham
Distributed byFine Line Features
Release date
  • September 7, 1994 (1994-09-07)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,144,667[1]

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle is a 1994 American biographical drama film directed by Alan Rudolph from a screenplay written by Rudolph and Randy Sue Coburn. The film stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as writer Dorothy Parker and depicts the members of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers, actors and critics who met almost every weekday from 1919 to 1929 at Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel.

The film was an Official Selection at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. The film was a critical but not a commercial success. Leigh won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress.

Peter Benchley, who plays editor Frank Crowninshield, was the grandson of humorist Robert Benchley, who once worked underneath Crowninshield. Actor Wallace Shawn is the son of William Shawn, the longtime editor of The New Yorker.


Given the historical impact of many of the people portrayed in the film, the ensemble nature of the cast led to opening credits displaying all 30 actors listed above. Other historical characters, in brief appearances, included portrayals by Keith Carradine as Will Rogers, Jon Favreau as Elmer Rice, lead character Robert Benchley's grandson – Jaws author Peter Benchley – as Frank Crowninshield, Malcolm Gets as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gisele Rousseau as Polly Adler.


Director Alan Rudolph was fascinated with the Algonquin Round Table as a child when he discovered Gluyas Williams' illustrations in a collection of Robert Benchley's essays.[2] Speaking in 1995, he said "the Algonquin Hotel round table, what it symbolised, and the ripple effect that went out from it, was probably up there in the 50 most significant events of the century".[3] After making The Moderns, a film about American expatriates in 1920s Paris, Rudolph wanted to tackle a fact-based drama set in the same era. He began work on a screenplay with novelist and former Washington Star journalist Randy Sue Coburn about legendary writer Dorothy Parker. In 1992, Rudolph attended a Fourth of July party hosted by filmmaker Robert Altman who introduced him to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. Rudolph was surprised by her physical resemblance to Parker and was impressed by her knowledge of the Jazz Age. Leigh was so committed to doing the film that she agreed to make it for "a tenth of what I normally get for a film".[2]

The screenplay originally focused on the platonic relationship between Parker and Robert Benchley, but this did not appeal to any financial backers.[2] There still was no interest even when Altman came on board as producer. The emphasis on Parker was the next change to the script, but Rudolph still had no luck finding financing for "a period biography of a literate woman."[2] Altman used his clout to persuade Fine Line Features and Miramax—two studios he was making films for—to team, with the former releasing Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle domestically and the latter handling foreign distribution.[2] Altman claimed that he forced the film to be made by putting his own money into it and "I put other projects of mine hostage to it. I did a lot of lying".[4]

Rudolph shot the film in Montreal because the building facades in its old city most closely resembled period New York City.[2] Full financing was not acquired until four weeks into principal photography.[5]

The film's large cast followed Leigh's lead and agreed to work for much lower than their usual salaries. Rudolph invited them to write their own dialogue, which resulted in a chaotic first couple of days of principal photography. Actor Campbell Scott remembered "Everyone hung on to what they knew about their characters and just sort of threw it out there."[2] Actress Jennifer Beals discussed this in her appearance on the Jon Favreau documentary program Dinner for Five, where she stated that much dialogue was improvised in the style of the real-life characters actors were playing, but that many of those characters were not integral to the plot. As such, many of the actors had much larger parts that were edited to nearly nothing. The cast trusted their director during the 40-day shoot. They stayed in a run-down hotel dubbed Camp Rudolph and engaged in all-night poker games. Leigh chose not to participate in these activities, preferring to stay in character on and off camera. She did a great amount of research for the role and said "I wanted to be as close to her as I possibly could."[2] To this end, Leigh stayed for a week at the Algonquin Hotel and read Parker's entire body of work. In addition, the actress listened repeatedly to the two existing audio recordings of Parker in order to perfect the writer's distinctive voice. Leigh found that Parker "had a sensibility that I understand very, very well. A sadness. A depression."[2]


A rough cut of Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle was screened at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival where it divided film critics. It was rumored afterwards that Leigh re-recorded several scenes that were too difficult to understand because of her accent but she denied that this happened.[5] The film was an Official Selection at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d'Or.[6]

For her performance in the film, Leigh was nominated for both the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead.

Year-end lists[edit]


  1. ^ Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Carpenter, Tessa (August 29, 1993). "Back to the Round Table With Dorothy Parker and Pals..." The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  3. ^ Johnston, Trevor (March 10, 1995). "Living by her wits". The List. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  4. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (July 29, 1993). "Robert Altman, Very Much A Player Again". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Appelo, Tim (December 23, 1994). "Finding Dorothy Parker's Voice". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle". Retrieved August 30, 2009.
  7. ^ Mills, Michael (December 30, 1994). "It's a Fact: 'Pulp Fiction' Year's Best". The Palm Beach Post (Final ed.). p. 7.
  8. ^ Howe, Desson (December 30, 1994), "The Envelope Please: Reel Winners and Losers of 1994", The Washington Post, retrieved July 19, 2020
  9. ^ Schuldt, Scott (January 1, 1995). "Oklahoman Movie Critics Rank Their Favorites for the Year Without a Doubt, Blue Ribbon Goes to "Pulp Fiction," Scott Says". The Oklahoman. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  10. ^ Zoller Seitz, Matt (January 12, 1995). "Personal best From a year full of startling and memorable movies, here are our favorites". Dallas Observer.
  11. ^ Pickle, Betsy (December 30, 1994). "Searching for the Top 10... Whenever They May Be". Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 3.
  12. ^ Simon, Jeff (January 1, 1995). "Movies: Once More, with Feeling". The Buffalo News. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  13. ^ Lovell, Glenn (December 25, 1994). "The Past Picture Show the Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- a Year Worth's of Movie Memories". San Jose Mercury News (Morning Final ed.). p. 3.
  14. ^ MacCambridge, Michael (December 22, 1994). "it's a LOVE-HATE thing". Austin American-Statesman (Final ed.). p. 38.

External links[edit]