It’s a Wonderful Life

The People vs. Larry Flynt

a film by Milos Forman

The People vs. Larry Flynt: The Shooting Script

by Scott Alexander, by Larry Karaszewski. with an afterword by Milos Forman
Newmarket Press, 192 pp., $15.95 (paper)

An Unseemly Man: My Life as Pornographer, Pundit, and Social Outcast

by Larry Flynt, with Kenneth Ross
Dove Books, 265 pp., $22.95

The People vs. Larry Flynt, which opened on Christmas Day, is the story of a free-spirited entrepreneur who dares to flout every canon of piety and taste. Though his irreverence is ratified by an enormous commercial success, he is persecuted incessantly by hypocritical bluenoses, convicted of absurd charges, imprisoned for contempt, and paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet. Confined to a wheelchair and in constant physical pain, he sinks into drugs, despair, and near-madness, but he never quits, and in the end his perseverance is rewarded by a unanimous Supreme Court victory in a suit brought against him by the most sanctimonious moralist of the day. Through it all, he is sustained by the great soul-love of his wife, a woman who has overcome poverty and abuse through indomitable spunk, but she dies tragically on the eve of his triumph, and his moment of vindication is made bittersweet by the memory of the more precious thing he has lost. Still, thanks to this man’s determination to stand on his rights when all around him, even his attorney, were ready to give him up, we live in a freer country today.

Well, this is certainly one way to tell the story of Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine and the victor in the famous Supreme Court case of Hustler v. Falwell. “It’s a Capra movie with porn!” is the reaction the movie’s screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, say they got when they first pitched the idea to Columbia Pictures, and they were able to attract an exceptional team of filmmakers who evidently shared the sentiment, including the director Milos Forman, who had not made a movie since 1989, and the producers Oliver Stone, Janet Yang (who produced The Joy Luck Club), and Michael Hausman (who produced Silkwood).

Larry Flynt is played by Woody Harrelson as a charismatic, “gotta be me” good ol’ boy who just happens to love the ladies, and who, no matter how much he is made to suffer for it, is incapable of inhibition or deceit. His wife, Althea, is played by the rock star Courtney Love—the personal choice for the part, Forman has let it be known, of Mr. and Mrs. Václav Havel. The emerging young actor Edward Norton is Alan Isaacman, Flynt’s straight-arrow attorney, and small parts are played by James Carville (against type) as Simon Leis, the Cincinnati prosecutor who got Flynt convicted, briefly, on pandering, obscenity, and organized crime charges, and Donna Hanover, the wife of Rudolph Giuliani, as Ruth Carter Stapleton, Jimmy Carter’s evangelical sister, who got Flynt converted, also briefly, to Christianity. The real Larry Flynt himself appears in the role of William Morrissey, a Cincinnati judge who once sentenced him to seven to twenty-five years in prison (he served six days). Falwell is convincingly impersonated by Richard Paul.

Everyone is in top form, the screenplay has adapted Flynt’s story beautifully to the standard three-act biopic format (he’s up, he’s …

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