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‘Harold and Lillian’ a delightful Hollywood love story

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Harold and Lillian Michelson, whose contributions to many famous films went uncredited, are the subject of an excellent documentary by Daniel Raim screening at the Roxie. (Courtesy Zeitgeist Films)

A joy ride for movie lovers, “Harold and Lillian” profiles Harold Michelson and Lillian Michelson, the storyboard artist and film researcher who, for about half a century, were responsible for some of the most memorable shots in movies.

Directed by Daniel Raim, the documentary, screening at the Roxie, reveals decades of film-industry wizardry performed by the Michelsons, much of which went uncredited.

Harold (1920-2007) and Lillian (delightfully informative in recent interviews) married in 1947, and, in the mid-1950s, Harold began creating storyboards for “The Ten Commandments.” Director Cecil B. DeMille relied heavily on the shot-by-shot drawings made by Harold, whose eye seemed to see like a camera.

Harold’s career, which included work as a production designer, flourished.

The shape of the goofy helmets in “Spaceballs” was Harold’s idea, recalls Mel Brooks, one of Raim’s interviewees (others include Danny DeVito and Francis Ford Coppola).

The same goes for the most memorable images in “The Graduate.” Harold’s additional credits included “Ben-Hur,” “Spartacus,” “Dick Tracy” and “The Birds.”

Lillian began volunteering at a studio library and became an ace researcher. She investigated bird behavior for Alfred Hitchcock’s avian thriller. She consulted customers at Canter’s deli to learn what ladies’ bloomers looked like in 1890s Russia for “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Subtitled “A Hollywood Love Story,” the film also depicts the couple’s marriage. It survived dark patches caused by unemployment, injury and the pressures of raising three kids, including a son with autism in times when the condition was blamed on “refrigerator” (chilly) mothers.

Storyboards of the couple by animator Patrick Mate enhance Raim’s portrayal of the relationship.

This conventionally presented documentary isn’t groundbreaking. But like the art-collector portrait “Herb and Dorothy,” it contains two terrific subjects and, with contagious affection, presents their exceptional contributions to an arts sphere they loved.


Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
Three stars
Starring Lillian Michelson, Harold Michelson, Mel Brooks, Danny DeVito
Written and directed by Daniel Raim
Not rated
Running time 1 hour, 34 minutes

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