REVIEW: ‘Harold and Lillian’ is a delightful ‘Hollywood Love Story’

Lillian and Harold Michelson are the subjects of Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, written and directed by David Raim. Photo courtesy of Adama Films / Zeitgeist Films.

La La Land may be fictional, but it doesn’t mean Hollywood love stories don’t come true. Just look at Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, the delightful documentary about the delightful married couple of Harold and Lillian Michelson. He was a storyboard artist for memorable movies like The Ten Commandments and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, while she ran one of the most sought-after film libraries in Los Angeles. Together they changed each other’s lives and changed the scope of cinematic history.

Daniel Raim, who wrote and directed Harold and Lillian, tells the couple’s story with intimate interviews, archival footage and plenty of tie-ins to the movies they helped produce over the years. The topics covered include when they first met in Florida, their eventual move to California, how Harold got his start in movies and how Lillian began amassing an enormous library that helped directors, writers and production designers re-create time periods accurately.

They shared many ups and downs, including setbacks both professionally and personally. They persevered because of an enduring love that centered them on their children, their relationship with each other and their shared love of being creative in this glitzy profession.

Harold’s mastery of storyboards is something to behold. He helped craft some of the most iconic and memorable shots in Hollywood history. He had a part to play in Charlton Heston’s Moses splitting the Red Sea, Tippi Hedrin running from malevolent birds, Dustin Hoffman being seduced by Anne Bancroft in The Graduate and the look and feel of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

Lillian would often work with Harold and supplied historical accuracy for his storyboards, but her library services were employed by many other directors and caught the interest of Francis Ford Coppola and executives with DreamWorks. She was a meticulous researcher who developed her own filing system based on topic and intuition rather than title or author’s last name.

Raim is able to find a lot of footage of both Lillian and Harold throughout the years, and he uses a collection of cards that Harold wrote Lillian as the film’s main structure. These wonderful notes, always accompanied by poems and drawings, showcase the couple’s love for each other and the many hurdles they overcame.

The movie discusses Lillian’s young life as an orphan, the couple’s early struggles with an autistic son, Harold’s debilitating injury and subsequent alcohol use, the constant moving around of Lillian’s library and their eventual obstacle of facing retirement. Raim takes on each of these topics with dignity and respect for the couple, letting their words shine throughout the documentary. There are also some excellent interviews from friends and colleagues who knew the couple and were influenced by them professionally.

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story is correctly billed. This one is all about Hollywood, and it’s all about love.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2017), written and directed by Daniel Raim, features Harold and Lillian Michelson. Running time: 94 minutes. Rating: ★★★½

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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