Based on Thomas Harris’s best-selling novel, Jonathan Demme’s suspenseful, gruesome, vastly entertaining thriller centers on the battle of nerves and wits between an FBI trainee named Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and a diabolical psychiatrist turned cannibal, who becomes Clarice’s sparring partner, in her efforts to hunt down a sicko serial killer.
The acting of the two stars is superb. Anthony Hopkins almost made a likable hero of out of Hannibal Lecter’s sadistic, unruly demon. As Clarice, Foster embodies the gentleness of an initially naive county girl who becomes susceptible to Hannibal’s advances.
For some viewers, the movie was too creepy and disconcerting in its hints of romantic attraction between Hannibal and Clarice. The country’s more conservative moviegoers were outraged by the picture. First Lady Barbara Bush stormed out of the theater, protesting, “I didn’t come to a movie to see people’s skin being taken off.” Then gay activists threatened to disrupt the Oscar show as a protest against Hollywood’s representations of homosexuals in The Silence of the Lambs, as well as in Oliver Stone’s JFK (also Best Picture nominee that year) and the Sharon Stone psycho-thriller, Basic Instinct, which was released during the 1992 nomination period.
Originally, Michelle Pfeiffer, who had worked with Jonathan Demme on “Married to the Mob,” was offered the role of Clarice, the FBI agent in “The Silence of the Lambs,” but she demanded a paycheck of 2 mil and Orion declined to pay. The more humble Jodie Foster got the part and a second Best Actress Oscar.
The first of 1991′s five nominees to be distributed theatrically, “The Silence of the Lambs” opened at an unusual time, in February. By Oscar time, the picture has grossed $130.7 million, which made it the last successful release by the then-recently bankrupt Orion Pictures, the company responsible for “Dances With Wolves,” the Oscar-winner of the previous year. This bizarre financial situation was not lost on director Demme, who remarked, “I know everyone feels the incredible irony of what’s happened to Orion.”
“The Silence of the Lambs” swept all five major Oscars: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. Only two other films in the Academy’s history have been recognized in all top five categories: “It Happened One Night,” in 1934, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in 1975.
With the exception of Jonahan Demme, no filmmaker has ever won a directorial Oscar for a thriller, including Hitchcock, the genre’s acknowledged master. Hitchcock was nominated five times: for “Rebecca” (1940), which won Best Picture, “Lifeboat” (1944), “Spellbound” (1945), “Rear Window” (1954), and “Psycho” (1960). Failing to give Hitchcock a legitimate Oscar, the Academy compensated Hitchcock with a 1968 Honorary Oscar.
Clarice Straling (Jodie Foster)
Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins)
Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn)
Jame Gumb (Ted Levine)
Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald)
Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith)
Sergeant Boyle (Charles Napier)
Senator Ruth Martin (Diane Baker)
Ardelia Mapp (Kasi Lemmons)
FBI Director Hayden Burke (Roger Corman)
Running time: 118 Minutes