I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (film)

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is an Academy Award nominated, 1977 American fantasy drama film based on Joanne Greenberg's 1964 novel of the same name.[3] Mel Gibson makes his film debut in a small uncredited role as a baseball player, and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo appear as residents of Deborah's secret kingdom.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Film Poster for I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnthony Page
Written byNovel:
Joanne Greenberg
Gavin Lambert
Lewis John Carlino
Produced byDaniel H. Blatt
Roger Corman
StarringKathleen Quinlan
Bibi Andersson
CinematographyBruce Logan
Edited byGarth Craven
Music byPaul Chihara
Distributed byNew World Pictures
Release date
  • July 14, 1977 (1977-07-14) (New York)[1]
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million[2]
Box office$3.2 million[2]


Pretty and privileged Deborah is, at the age of 16, a borderline schizophrenic who spends most of her waking hours in a bizarre fantasy realm. After a suicide attempt, she lands in a mental institution, where the hostile environment threatens to destabilize her condition even further. It's only through the focused attention of the sympathetic Dr. Fried that Deborah is gradually able to distinguish between dreams and reality again.



A screen adaptation of the book had been in development off and on since 1967, with Natalie Wood, Liza Minnelli, Mia Farrow and Charlotte Rampling all set to star at various times.[1]

In the wake of the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Roger Corman was able to get funding for a movie version of Rose Garden. Bibi Andersson played Dr. Fried, while Kathleen Quinlan played Deborah. All references to Judaism were removed, including the storyline of the vicious cruelty Deborah suffered from anti-Semitic peers, so that her childhood bout with urethral cancer becomes the sole reason for Deborah's "retreat from reality".

In an interview, Greenberg stated that the references to Judaism were removed because the producers were "terrified." The author added that the characterizations of mental illness in the film "stank on ice."[4]

Deborah's name is changed from Blau (which means "blue" in German, and parallels the author's pseudonym "Green") to Blake. Another major theme of the book, Deborah's artistic talent which flourished in spite of her illness, was reduced to a scene in which she scribbles childishly on a drawing pad. The Kingdom Of Yr is portrayed on-screen, as are some of its gods, but never seen in its original ethereal beauty, only the wasteland that it became much later.

The background music for the Yr sequences is a recording of a Balinese Kecak, the ceremonial chant of the sacred monkeys from the Ramayana. The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, headed by Danny Elfman, appear as extras in the Yr sequences.

In a 2006 interview, Greenberg recalled that she was not consulted on any aspect of the film, and was contacted only by Bibi Andersson. She recalled Andersson telling her that the producers had said Greenberg could not be consulted as she was "hopelessly insane".[5]

The studio is listed as "Imorh" Productions, imorh (variously meaning "sleep", "death" or "insanity") being an Yri word from the novel.

The movie was one of the most expensive ever made from New World Pictures.[6]


I Never Promised you a Rose Garden was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 50th Academy Awards. The film received two Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress for Kathleen Quinlann.

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and wrote, "This is difficult material to bring to life, but a young actress named Kathleen Quinlan does it with heart and sensitivity. There were opportunities here for climbing the walls and chewing the scenery, I suppose, but her performance always finds the correct and convincing human note. And it's the skill with which Miss Quinlan (and Bibi Andersson) follow that thread of characterization that makes the movie work. Otherwise, those desert fantasies and all those feathers and fur might have been fatally distracting."[7] Vincent Canby of The New York Times stated, "How Deborah, with the help of one remarkable doctor, is eventually able to recognize her own pain and thus come to some kind of terms with her demons is the moving substance of this film that leaves one almost as exhausted as the heroine." He also praised Kathleen Quinlan for "a remarkably fine, contained performance as Deborah. There are no mannerisms, no tricks, only a sense of panic barely contained, of intelligence and feeling struggling to break free."[8] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote that Kathleen Quinlan was "smashing" in her first major role, but the plot "spends a lot of time—too much time—telling us about the troubled world of mental hospitals," and the fantasy sequences "run on too long and look phony."[9] Variety said in a negative review, "Good intentions resolve into high-minded tedium and pic's sensationalistic aspects come off as confusing or repulsive, sometimes both."[10] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "a thrilling account of the struggle to save an attractive young girl from her self-destructive delusions," with Quinlan giving "a spectacular performance."[11] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "Unfortunately, the movie places a premium on shock effects and mawkish reassurances at the price of the authenticity and hard-earned inspirational resolution that distinguished the novel ... When the movie Deborah recovers, it seems an inexplicable and even ludicrous miracle, a happy ending for slipshod filmmakers."[12] Geoff Brown of The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "simplistic and sentimental ... It is largely left to the cast, particularly the excellent Kathleen Quinlan, to invest the proceedings with any emotional truth."[13]


  1. ^ a b "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden - History". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Christopher T Koetting, Mind Warp!: The Fantastic True Story of Roger Corman's New World Pictures, Hemlock Books. 2009 p 100-102
  3. ^ I Never Promised You A Rose Garden at IMDb
  4. ^ Author can't shed legacy of 1964 novel 'Rose Garden' Archived 2009-11-14 at the Wayback Machine, Colorado Springs Gazette, October 15, 2007.
  5. ^ Interview with Claudia Cragg, A Conversation with Joanne Greenberg. Page dated 2009-03-08, website with podcast found 2010-07-06.
  6. ^ Ed. J. Philip di Franco, The Movie World of Roger Corman, Chelsea House Publishers, 1979 p 227
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 15, 1977). "'Rose Garden' Limns Dark Borders of Reality". The New York Times. 53.
  9. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 16, 1977). "Fine actress blooms in 'Garden'". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
  10. ^ "Film Reviews: I Never Promised You A Rose Garden". Variety. July 20, 1977. 18.
  11. ^ Champlin, Charles (August 14, 1977). "One Flew Over the Rose Garden". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 13.
  12. ^ Arnold, Gary (August 20, 1977). "A Rose Garden". The Washington Post. B1, B7.
  13. ^ Brown, Geoff (March 1979). "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 46 (542): 46.

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