Carol Sobieski was a screenwriter active in the late 1960’s through the 1980’s. She died in 1990, at only 51, but the work she left behind is consistently remarkable. She had a great ability for scripting dramas involving youth. I’ve previously written about two of her movie of the week scripts on this blog: Unwed Father and The Neon Ceiling. These are my two favorite films, so of course I’ve sought out other work penned by this unique author. She also worked as a writer on the shows Peyton Place and Family, my two most beloved tv shows.
According to the IMDB, she penned at least five teleplays for the tv series Insight. Would love to see these programs, and hope to eventually make it to UCLA to view them (they maintain an archive of this program, by appointment only).
Sobieski is best remembered for her scripts to popular movies in the 1980’s including The Toy and Annie - that fit thematically with her previous scripts of kids, mature for their age, taking on more than they can handle. She also adapted several novels and short stories, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, The Bourne Identity (tv miniseries) and the critically acclaimed Fried Green Tomatoes.
Her two original scripts for television that have the biggest cult following are Sunshine and Sunshine Christmas. Both were later adapted into popular novels by one of the best selling young adult authors of the 1970’s, Norma Klein. John Denver’s music was used in the film. Sobieski also wrote the screenplay for Honeysuckle Rose that starred another country singer, popular at the time, Willie Nelson.
Two other often overlooked gems by Sobieski are the two horse films, Casey’s Shadow and Sylvester. Both are beautifully filmed movies that never quite found a huge audience. Like The Neon Ceiling, both take place in rural settings and feature an older single man, somewhat cranky and unhappy, who is placed into a situation where his love for a younger person changes his hard attitude towards life. These films are a must for any fan of Sobieski’s work because she was paired with excellent directors who faithfully adapted her dramas. Both are often billed as family films, but as in all of Sobieski’s work, there is nothing saccharine here. She writes her adults as cold and harsh and her kids as tough and mature. She never sways away from talking about sex and death. Her characters are never “cute” and Disney films, these are not:
Casey’s Shadow (1978), directed by Martin Ritt. Set in Louisiana and stars Walter Matthau.
The story is about an impoverished family of three boys and their single father who work as horse trainers. Their race horse is named after the youngest son, Casey. Casey is a tough kid - he never really knew his mother, he works hard on the farm and he gambles when he has to. His father, played by Matthau is rough on him. When Matthau’s character sees a chance to be a winner with his new horse, his drive for success may be at the sacrifice for the trust he’s built with his struggling family.
Sylvester (1985), directed by Tim Hunter. Set in Marfa Texas and stars Melissa Gilbert. Around this time, Tim Hunter also wrote the classic coming of age drama Over The Edge and directed an adaptation of SE Hinton’s TEX. If you like those two films as much as I do, then Sylvester should also be a must watch on your viewing list. Melissa Gilbert plays the part of a tough tomboy perfectly. Similar to the character in Unwed Father, she has decided to take on the responsibility as a single parent (raising her two younger brothers) at an early age. Her relationship with an older man, Foster - played by Richard Farnsworth, is also reminiscent of the relationship of Jones and Paula in The Neon Ceiling. The story centers around Charlie (played by Gilbert), a 16 year old orphan who is intent on turning a rogue horse named Sylvester into a champion despite difficult odds. It is the most lavishly shot of all Sobieski’s screenplays and all the actors are perfectly cast. For me, it’s one of her greatest films as it combines many of the thematic elements of her 1970’s movies. It’s sort of a combination of Unwed Father, The Neon Ceiling and Casey’s Shadow.
Here are some more Sobieski scripts that I am eager to watch: