Review: Sammie’s Bicycle

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

A young girl with a boy’s name is about to have a birthday party that is, to her, emblematic of the beginnings of womanhood, while two old friends are planning their gift to her, a bicycle. Not only is it not the appropriate gift for a girl about to become a lady but, what’s worse, it’s a boy’s bike. This little storm builds, and at moments threatens heartbreaking consequences; but, as in Shakespearean comedy, impending disaster is headed off by the lightest of devices and the day is won by the creator’s gentle understanding of his characters. Jon Purdy evinces a remarkable grasp of personality in this short film, creating at least four characters more human, believable, and fully realized than the personae of many a film five times as long. Though Sammie is the central figure, there is never any side-taking, and no one is completely right or wrong. We fear as much for the impending disappointment of Sammie with her present as we do for the disappointment we expect Martin and Phinney to feel if Sammie doesn’t like the bike they have lovingly reconditioned for her.

Purdy places emphasis on the literary and thespian aspects of film, but he also has a firm command of composition and montage that rarely calls attention to itself but is often telling. The intercutting of a conversation between Martin and Phinney as they work on the bike violates conventional conversation-scene editing, in that the men are looking away from each other, each more interested in the wheel he is working on. The conversation is cut in close shots, with the two men not sharing the frame until the last shot of the scene, a medium-shot. Their looking away from each other reflects the lighthearted verbal sparring that underscores their relationship; but it also directs the viewer’s attention toward the bicycle, which is, after all, the key image of the film, and ultimately far more important to the two men than to the girl for whom it is intended.

Purdy finds room for a lot of the world in his little film: Comparative scenes of mother and daughter putting on makeup draw our attention to the two different directions in which the ladies of the film are moving. References to a game of charades reflect the making-up image, adding emphasis to Sammie’s pretended pleasure with the gift. Sammie’s excusable scorn for her divorced mother’s boyfriend is balanced by his likeable acceptance of her. Everything is taken seriously, but everything and everyone in this rich, tender, human comedy is loved.

© 1979 Robert C. Cumbow

SAMMIE’S BICYCLE
Screenplay, production, and direction: Jon Purdy. Cinematography: Bill Jensen. Art direction: Dan Bollinger. Editing: David Altschul. Music: Martin Lund.
The players: Chieko Araki, B. Adrienne Regard, Don Hibbard, Murray Lieberman, Michael Skubal, Megan Dean.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.