American Dreamer (1984 film)

American Dreamer is a 1984 American romantic comedy-thriller film directed by Rick Rosenthal from a script by Ann Biderman, David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf. It stars JoBeth Williams and Tom Conti.

American Dreamer
The theatrical release poster for
American Dreamer.
The ad copy reads:
"She was an ordinary housewife
until her trip to Paris turned into
an extraordinary adventure."
Directed byRick Rosenthal
Screenplay byDavid Greenwalt
Jim Kouf
Story byAnn Biderman
Produced byDoug Chapin
CinematographyJan de Bont
Giuseppe Rotunno
Edited byAnne Goursaud
Music byLewis Furey
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 26, 1984 (1984-10-26)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5,021,751 (US)[1]

It follows an American housewife (Williams) who wins a trip to Paris in a mystery-writing contest. She loses her memory when she is hit by a car, and begins acting as if she were the female detective in her story.


A voice over says, "No, that's not right." The scenario is repeated with adjustments until the voice is eventually satisfied. The screen fades to Cathy Palmer (JoBeth Williams) sitting at a typewriter, finishing up the story. She seals it in an envelope and sends it off. When Kevin (James Staley), her conventional, self-centered husband, comes home, she tells him about entering a contest to write a short story following the "Rebecca Ryan" series of novels. Kevin is patronizing, telling her, "The important thing, kid, is that you're doing something you like to do."

Cathy is notified by mail that she has won the contest, including an all-expense-paid trip to Paris for two, an Award ceremony and a meeting with the author of the "Rebecca Ryan" novels. Kevin tries to persuade her to decline, but she goes on the trip alone. While sightseeing in Paris, her purse is snatched. Chasing the thief, she runs into a street where she is knocked down by a car.

The accident leaves Cathy with amnesia; she thinks she is the detective, Rebecca Ryan. She escapes from the hospital and assumes Rebecca's dashing persona, lavish wardrobe, and residence at the Hôtel de Crillon. The hotel staff are so in awe of the novels that they go along with her demands. When she enters "Rebecca's" apartment, she is greeted by Alan McMann (Tom Conti), who thinks she is a clerical assistant he has requested from an agency. Alan is the actual author of the "Rebecca Ryan" novels. Cathy ignores all of the tasks he assigns her, instead believing that Alan is Rebecca's gay sidekick, Dimitri.

Cathy as Rebecca is convinced that she must save Victor Marchand (Giancarlo Giannini), the leader of the opposition party, from an assassination plot. Rebecca and Alan chase Victor around Paris in an attempt to protect him from the (fictitious) murder plot, with Victor instead getting injured several times from Rebecca's rescues. They are also running from a shadowy figure. Rebecca and Alan flee to Alan's mother's house. While there, Alan and Rebecca consummate their relationship.

Kevin, who has been following them, enters the house and meets Rebecca & Alan coming down the stairs. He punches Alan, but Rebecca doesn't see him. She and Alan run off to save Victor, who is on a train. Victor jumps from the train.

Rebecca and Alan come face to face with Kevin. Cathy gets her memory back. She wakes in the hospital. Alan and his literary agent announce that Cathy's writing is so good that she could get a lucrative book deal.

While recovering at a hospital, Cathy apologizes to Alan for her delusions and bids him goodbye. At the airport, she realizes that she does not want to go home with Kevin. She leaves Kevin at the airport, and returns to the hotel to find Alan. They embrace, and are soon kidnapped.

Cathy and Alan learn their kidnapper is Victor, the man they'd been trying to "protect" all along. Victor has been seriously injured from Rebecca's repeated rescue attempts, and is clad in neck brace and arm sling, and walks with a cane. Victor reveals that he is running a drug-smuggling operation, and he believes that Cathy and Alan know about his secret criminal dealings. Alan tries to tell Victor the truth about Cathy's accidental amnesia and series of lucky coincidences, but Victor doesn't believe them. Cathy and Alan manage to escape from their bonds and, in a leap of faith, jump into the moat surrounding Victor's chateau, eluding Victor and his henchmen.

The scene shifts to a living room. Cathy and Alan (now a couple and writing partners) are reading the manuscript of the most recent Rebecca Ryan novel to Cathy's two children. They get to the end of the chapter, and pack the kids off to bed, in spite of the children's demands to know "what happens next". The film ends with some banter and cuddling where Alan and Cathy tease that the next part of the Rebecca Ryan story (i.e. their story) is too sexy to be written down.



Jobeth Williams was coming off a string of successful films at the time including Stir Crazy and Poltergeist. She had also shot (but not yet been seen in) The Big Chill and The Day After. Williams accepted the part over supporting Robert Redford in The Natural because she wanted to make a film like Charade. "I think audiences are ready for a film with a romantic background," she said.[2]

"I loved the Katharine Hepburn comedies, the Ernest Lubitsch and Frank Capra films," said Williams. "There's nothing like a good screwball comedy, but I can't tell you how few scripts there are in that field. I wish I could do more."[3]


American Dreamer was not a critical or box-office success.

Vincent Canby opened the review in The New York Times as follows:

Beginning with a sequence that, by an unlucky coincidence, duplicates the jokey opening of Romancing the Stone, American Dreamer goes on to become an even less funny comedy about a writer of trashily romantic suspense novels.[4]


  1. ^ American Dreamer at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Thrills, chills & spills Godfrey, Stephen. The Globe and Mail 20 Oct 1984: E.1.
  4. ^ Canby, Vincent. "FILM:A VISIT TO PARIS IN 'AMERICAN DREAMER'". New York Times. Retrieved 30 November 2018.

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