Sweet Liberty

Director: Alan Alda
Screenwriter: Alan Alda
Starring: Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Michelle Pfieffer, Bob Hoskins, Lise Hilboldt
Release details: Universal Pictures, USA 1986, 102mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Comedy
Rating: 6 out of 10

In Sweet Liberty, Alan Alda plays a college history professor whose factually-based historical novel has been bought by Hollywood and is being turned into a bodice-ripper starring two huge stars: the egotistical lothario Elliot James (Caine) and the seemingly airheaded and flirtatious, Faith Healy (Pfieffer).

The film is actually a gently satirical look at Hollywood excesses, told from Alda's perspective. Given that he's the writer-director-star, it's his vision in every sense. His character becomes increasingly exasperated as his source novel gets mauled beyond all recognition by the scriptwriter (Bob Hoskins) and the director (Saul Rubineck). Meanwhile, both stars are still whining for more screen time for their own characters.

The whole cast seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, not least of whom is Sir Michael, chewing the scenery as the ageing lothario who tries to bed every woman in the cast, crew and the small New England town where Alda lives. His performance is a sheer delight - oozing greasy charm from every pore.

There are quite a few stand-out moments in the film - mostly involving Elliot and none funnier than the rollercoaster scene - but Alda gives us too many plots to cope with all at once and not enough of Mike, who, along with Pfieffer, is the real stand-out in this movie. In comparison, it's hard to feel sympathy for Alda's college tutor girlfriend (Hilboldt) as she sees her man being smitten by Pfieffer, given that the girlfriend role is so drab and uninvolving it amounts to little more than a cameo. Much the same can be said for quite a few of the characters.

Poking gentle fun at Hollywood is pleasant enough, but Alda's aiming for such easy targets that it's like shooting fish in a barrell. Tighter editing and a bit more bite in the satire would have made for a better film.


Elliot's wife, Grace, was played by Linda Thorson, who was Kathy Gale in The Avengers (1968-69). She was also in Marblehead Manor, which brought us a pre-Kramer Michael Richards.

Alda's mother is played by Lillian Gish, legendary star of the silent era.

This was the film debut of firm CitizenCaine favourite John C. McGinley whose Dr Cox is the undoubted star of NBC's Scrubs. He got the job by lying to Alda about his talents as a pole-vaulter. He figured he'd be able to wing it once he got the job, because "I've been to enough track meets and I've seen Jesse Owens in Leni Riefenstahl's film about the 1936 Olympics". By the way, if you like Scrubs, you'll also want to check out the under-rated Article 99, starring McGinley, Ray Liotta, Kiefer Sutherland and Kathy Baker.

External Reviews

Roger Ebert: I especially wanted to see more of that excellent comic actor, Caine. His character, a shameless philanderer with a streak of poetry in his soul, is so promising that it's a shame he's on screen so infrequently... [read more]


John C. McGinley has an unofficial site at

Alan Alda is now the host of Scientific American Frontiers on PBS and there's quite an extensive biography on the PBS site, although he is most famous for playing Hawkeye Pierce in the TV version of M*A*S*H.

Michelle Pfeiffer fansites are legion, but try for a more well-rounded look at her career, family and charitable work.

Lillian Gish has an official site, run by the Gish estate. For more on silent movie stars, try Silents Era.