Cinderella Liberty (1973) from Tuna

Introduction by Scoopy:

Happy 100,000th Anniversary to Tuna.

He has now completed 100,000 collages, all of which are housed in the members' section at

As you all undoubtedly know, the 100,000th is traditionally known as the Ytterbium Anniversary, named after the most chronically underrated element, and so Tuna earns an anniversary card postmarked in Ytterby and signed by many locals with heartfelt messages in their native Ytterbian dialect. Unfortunately, we have no idea what those messages mean, and the website is no help. While offering a quaint postcard picture of their apparently deserted town during its one annual snow-free day (I suppose they migrate farther north to get in their daily skiing), it also offers the admonition that "this site is not yet active."

But remember, kids, the National Safety Council reminds you that playing with Ytterbium can irritate the skin and eyes, so always wear your gloves and goggles when you lace your snowballs with it or any other rare earth element.

In order to help us and the quaint denizens of Ytterby celebrate this occasion, Tuna has selected one of his favorite films. Here is his advance look at the Cinderella Liberty DVD (Available March 6, 2007), starring Marsha Mason and Sonny Corleone.





  • Marsha Mason shows her breasts in several scenes
  • Three unidentified women show breasts in a strip club.

Cinderella Liberty

Cinderella Liberty (1973) is a comic love story about a career sailor who falls in love with a hooker and becomes a surrogate father to her son. The source material is the eponymous novel by Darryl Ponicsan about red tape and bureaucracy in the Navy. When director Mark Rydell was approached by the studio to make a film of the book, he read it and offered to make a film based not on the entire book, but on one particular chapter. They took him up on it and the novelist was hired to do his own adapted screenplay. Cinderella Liberty's lonely sailor was played by James Caan opposite a then unknown Marsha Mason.

1973 was the year of Darryl Ponicsan. In a strange twist of fate, he had not one but two Navy-themed novels made into movies in that very same year: his own adaptation of Cinderella Liberty and Robert Towne's adaptation of The Last Detail. Each was nominated for three Oscars (no winners):

Cinderella Liberty The Last Detail
Best Actress (Marsha Mason) Best Actor (The Joker)
Best Musical Score (John Williams) Best Supporting Actor (Cousin Eddie)
Best Original Song (John William, Paul Williams) Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Towne)


Caan arrives in Seattle, and is transferred to the local Naval hospital for a pilonidal cyst. It turns out that the cyst doesn't need medical treatment, but red tape prevents him from getting back to his ship in time to leave with it. To add insult to injury, a frustrated Caan is given a Cinderella Liberty card. For those who have never been in the Navy, Cinderella Liberty means that you must be back before midnight lest you turn into a pumpkin, like Cinderella. It is usually imposed on low level personnel, certainly not a first class bosun's mate with over 12 years of service. He does what any good sailor would do: heads to a bar, and tries to get lucky. He ends up hustling Marsha Mason at pool -- $50 against her body. Caan wins. At her poverty-level apartment, he discovers that she has an 11 year old black son, and is a terrible mother. This is not a situation he relishes.

Back on the base, he finds out that his pay records have been lost, and is sent to transit barracks. To make matters worse, he still doesn't get liberty, but is stuck on shore patrol, also known as SP duty (often called Short Peters). Of course when he finally does get a night off, he has no money because of the payroll mix-up. Hanging out an amusement park, he finds Marsha Mason's son on a roller coaster, drinking beer and swearing. Caan decides to take the kid under his wing, and this leads to Caan and Mason getting back together. Things do not proceed smoothly. She is pregnant, the Navy won't recognize their marriage, they lose their welfare, and Caan's pay records are still missing.

He has only one stroke of luck. In an important sub-plot, he is continually searching for his boot camp company commander to get even with him. He finally finds his nemesis, who is in transit being discharged against his will. After punching him in the jaw, Caan discovers that he shares a lot of memories and more than a little affection with this company commander, played by Eli Wallach.

IMDb readers say 6.5. Roger Ebert wasn't impressed and only awarded two stars. His complaint was that the story was simply not believable. Obviously, Roger was never in the Navy. There were some small problems caused by the fact that the US government didn't approve of the project and refused to help. For example, the director had to rent a Canadian Navy ship and repaint it. And there were some very minor technical errors. For example, Caan's rank is called "first class bosun's mate." A real sailor would say "BM 1," or "deck ape first" in colloquial speech. Officially, it would be "bosun's mate first class," not "first class bosun's mate."

Those are small matters. Apart from such minutiae, the film had almost everything both correct and credible.

Some might doubt that a sailor would marry a pregnant hooker with an illegitimate kid. There was a woman in Oakland, and not a very attractive one at that, who was known as Seventh Fleet Sally. Sailors, not the most PC people in the world at the time, used to say that kissing her was like blowing the whole Seventh Fleet by proxy. She had been married to many sailors. Also, a friend of mine met a pregnant girl at a party, humped her on the stairs, and ended up marrying her. They had to hide this fact from the Navy, because sailors holding a rank of E3 or lower were not allowed to marry without permission from the Navy.

Again, to someone who has never been in the service, the idea of missing pay records being a problem sounds strange. In fact, it was not uncommon. In the Navy there are three groups of enlisted men you try to stay friends with. Cooks, corpsmen and personnelmen.

  • Cooks, because they can see to it that your food is not palatable, and also because they can do you special favors.
  • Corpsmen, because they can give you assistance in getting medical care. I once traded a canned ham for an appointment for oral surgery to have my wisdom teeth removed. They film also incorporated a friendly corpsman, who arranged dental work for Mason's son.
  • Personnelmen, because they have the most power over you of all. They can lose your personal and pay records, often by dropping them behind file cabinets. At that point, you cease to exist and receive no pay for months. There is no hint in this film that it was intentional, but such things were not at all uncommon.

The basic idea of a poor woman hanging around a Navy town hoping to marry a sailor and gain dependent status for her and her kids is also very true-to-life, because that means commissary privileges, medical care and an allotment. When their husbands were at sea, they often became "seventh fleet widows," which meant they screwed around with whoever was in port. Lest you feel sorry for the husbands, they had no shortage of female companionship on R&R in places like Subic Bay, Yokosuka and Hong Kong.

In other words, this script is very authentic, obviously written by someone who has been there.

Darryl Ponicsan also did an amazing job on the dialogue, which included lines like:

Base commander Lynn Forshay, when asked if he had ever been in love: "I tell you Baggs, I don't believe I have. That's because I happen to be one of those incurable romantics. Every time I meet a girl, I expect to hear a clap of thunder. I never heard the thunder, but I occasionally did get the clap."

Bosun's mate John Baggs Jr.: "Would you call yourself a "Champagne cocktail-sippin', cock-teasin', downtown barroom whore?"

Maggie Paul: "Second generation"


The script was supported by outstanding execution as well. The acting was amazing. Marsha Mason garnered her first of four Oscar nominations for this performance, and won the first of two Golden Globes. Caan and Wallach were also fantastic, but that is no surprise. Newcomer Kirk Calloway was brilliant as the hardened young son with deep feelings just beneath the surface. The cinematography was done by none other than Vilmos Zsigmond, and was typical of his outstanding work. Music was composed by John Williams, and the song's lyrics were written by Paul Williams. It is no surprise that Mark Rydell produced and directed this fine film. It is not the only one of his that I have admired. He was responsible for The Rose, For the Boys, and On Golden Pond. I love all three, and On Golden Pond would be in my list of the top 100 of all time.

Although The Last Detail has emerged over time as Darryl Ponicsan's most highly regarded film project, and beats Cinderella Liberty 7.5 to 6.5 at IMDb, there is reason to believe that Cinderella Liberty was actually considered the better film in 1973. Although they fought to an Oscar stand-still with three nominations and no wins, Cinderella Liberty was the overwhelming favorite at the Golden Globes. While The Last Detail received only the two acting nominations for Nicholson and Quaid (with no wins), Cinderella Liberty received five nominations including best screenplay, and the Big Kahuna itself, best picture - drama. Four of its nominations were also-rans, but Marsha Mason won outright for her performance.

Obviously, this is exactly my kind of film. It talks about things I have personal experience with, and does so very believably. The entire film was shot in Seattle, a place where I spent a lot of time during my Navy years.  If it is your kind of film, as it is mine, they don't get much better.  

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 2/4.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+. At least.

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