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Frances is a 1982 Universal drama film starring Jessica Lange, Kim Stanley, Sam Shepard. When it was released this film was advertised as a purportedly true account of actress Frances Farmer's life but the script was largely fictional and sensationalized. In particular, the film depicts Farmer as having been lobotomized; this never happened.

The film's tagline is: "Her story is shocking, disturbing, compelling... and true."

Directed by Graeme Clifford, the story was written for the screen by Eric Bergren, Christopher De Vore and Nicholas Kazan (son of Elia Kazan, who worked with the real Frances Farmer in several plays), based upon William Arnold's Shadowland, a fictional biography of Farmer. In pre-production, the producers reneged on their option to use the book as source material. Arnold filed an unsuccessful copyright infringement lawsuit but many of his fictional elements were incorporated into the final film. On the commentary of the latest DVD release, director Clifford stated, "We didn't want to nickel and dime people to death with facts." Mel Brooks was executive producer of the film, but received no credit for his participation.

Frances was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jessica Lange) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Kim Stanley). The original music score was composed by John Barry.

Plot summary

Born in Seattle, Washingtonmarker, Frances Elena Farmer is a rebel from a young age, winning a high school award by writing an essay called "God Dies". Later that decade, she becomes controversial again when she wins (and accepts) an all-expenses-paid trip to the USSRmarker. Determining to become an actress, Frances is equally determined not to play the Hollywoodmarker game: she refuses to acquiesce to publicity stunts, and insists upon appearing on screen without makeup. Her defiance attracts the attention of Broadwaymarker playwright Clifford Odets, who convinces Frances that her future rests with the Group Theatre.

But once she leaves Hollywood for New York Citymarker, Frances learns to her chagrin that the Group Theatre intends to exploit her fame in order to draw in customers. Her desperate attempts to restart her movie career, combined with her increasing dependence on alcohol and the pressures brought to bear by her mother, result in a complete nervous breakdown. While institutionalized, Frances is abused by the powers-that-be; she is forced to undergo a brain operation, is treated with cruelty, and periodically raped by the male orderlies and visiting soldiers. Finally, she in involuntarily lobotomized.

Frances is released in the custody of her mother in 1950, who persists in browbeating her daughter until Frances discovers the legal means to break away. The film comes to a climax when Frances is feted by the network program This Is Your Life; she spent 1958 to 1964 as host of a local TV program (Frances Farmer Presents) in Indianapolis, Indianamarker, dying of esophageal cancer on August 1, 1970 at age 56.

Main cast

Actor Role
Jessica Lange Frances Farmer
Kim Stanley Lillian Farmer
Sam Shepard Harry York


  1. Kauffman, Jeffrey. Shedding Light on Shadowland: The Truth about Frances Farmer. 1999, 2004.

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