John Badham's Whose Life Is It Anyway? is a tense, terse examination of the right to die, predating Jack Kevorkian by a good decade. The film strikes viewers from the start with its smart decisions, foregoing a drawn-out look at Harrison's idyllic pre-accident life, and instead setting the entire narrative in the hospital. The brilliant script (by Brian Clark, who adapted his own play with Reginald Rose) and the note-perfect performances carry the film from there. As Harrison, Richard Dreyfuss burns with the bitterness of his condition, but cuts that with his wicked sense of humor and genuine life-affirming thoughts toward the other patients and hospital workers. Though he may want to end his own life, he doesn't begrudge life to others. In one striking turn of events, he dismisses his doting girlfriend, ordering her to consider him dead -- and she respects him enough to honor his wishes. Director John Cassavetes plays the hospital's stubborn chief physician, whose adversarial position is noble in its own right. Christine Lahti touchingly portrays Harrison's doctor, and Thomas Carter plays the orderly who refuses to talk down to a man of Harrison's obvious intelligence, preferring to tickle the one place he can still feel: his funny bone. The paralysis of Christopher Reeve showed the world a fighter of great fortitude and courage; full of sublime wit and power, Whose Life Is It Anyway? convincingly suggests that another alternative is equally sane and brave.
Stepping into the role made famous on Broadway by Tom Conti, Richard Dreyfuss stars as a profoundly handicapped sculptor in Whose Life is it Anyway? Left a quadraplegic after an auto accident, the embittered Dreyfuss feels utterly useless, as both an artist and a human being. He doesn't want his family's love, or his doctor's care, or his nurse's ministrations. Dreyfuss simply wants to die-but this is impossible, given the legal state of things in the 1970s. Whose Life is It Anyway? may be the only film in which a person's right to self-destruction is regarded as a happy ending. Not as depressing as it sounds, Whose Life Is It Anyway is perversely hilarious at times, with Dreyfuss at his acerbic best. The film was scripted by Reginald Rose and Brian Clark from Clark's stage play.