Tell Me a Riddle
Directed By: Lee Grant
Starring: Melvyn Douglas, Lila Kedrova, Brooke Adams
In Tell Me a Riddle Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova play elderly couple David and Eva. They have been married for decades, and their advancing years find David coming to grips with his inability to maintain his house and Eva increasingly retreating into her favorite books and her youthful memories of Russia. When David suggests that they sell the house and move to an assisted living facility, Eva is strongly, even irrationally opposed to the idea. When Eva is diagnosed with terminal cancer, David and their children conceal the fact from the fragile matriarch. Instead, David arranges for a cross-country trip to visit their children and grandchildren. The last stop on this trip is San Francisco, where they stay in the flat of their granddaughter, Jeannie (Adams), a nurse who runs in bohemian circles. At the film's outset David and Eva seem to have grown apart, and are communicating on a purely functional level. As the film progresses, the presence of Jeannie and Eva's health issues prove to be a catalyst for more open conversations during which they discover that even after decades together, there are still things they have to learn about each other.
Tell Me a Riddle is a rare dramatic depiction of a satisfyingly complex, realistic, and moving relationship between two married seniors. While the film does not shy away from the inherent heartbreaking sentimentality of David and Eva's situation, it does not wallow in it either. They are just as often prickly, resentful, and obstinate with each other as they are loving, concerned, and romantic. Lee Grant, in her big screen debut as a director, impressively balances the tone of the film so that the final result is powerfully emotional without being cloying.
This convergence of Oscar-winning heavyweights (Douglas, Kedrova, and director Grant had all won for supporting performances), proves to be the expected actors showcase, but not in any negative sense. Kedrova and Douglas so effectively embody their characters within the boundaries of the film's intimate setting that the viewer almost feels like they are eavesdropping on the lives of real people. Even Brooke Adams' granddaughter proves to be a more nuanced and complex character than the kooky free spirit straight out of central casting that her bohemian trappings and affinity for roller-skates suggest on their surface.
Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize future soft-core erotica specialist Zalman King in a small role as well as actor Peter Coyote as a younger version of Douglas' character in Eva's flashbacks.
The transfer fills the full 16:9 enhanced frame. The film element is a bit soft and grainy, no doubt belying some combination of its early 1980s and modestly budgeted origins. Other than some mild compression artifacts which should not be noticeable from a reasonable viewing distance, the presentation is free from video-related artifacts.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track faithfully reproduces the film's original soundtrack with decent fidelity and very little noise.
The only available extra is the film's theatrical trailer which is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound.
The film is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no inserts. The cover art is derived from original theatrical promotional materials.
Tell Me a Riddle is a rare sensitive, intelligent, and unapologetically emotional portrayal of the relationship between an elderly couple featuring outstanding performances from Lila Kedrova and Melvyn Douglas. It is presented on DVD with a video transfer limited only by the softness of its source element, an audio track that faithfully reproduces the modest and unambitious theatrical mix, and the film's theatrical trailer as its only special feature.