Max Dugan Returns

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Max Dugan Returns Movie Poster Image
Comic, clever, and satisfying fairy tale of redemption.
  • PG
  • 1983
  • 98 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Most of the leading characters are responsible, ethical, exhibiting good values and good citizenship. The police officer, in particular, is shown to be compassionate, honest, and reliable. The exception is Max Dugan, himself, who has been a neglectful father, con artist, and lawbreaker. Max arrives to make amends for his past deeds, admitting wrongdoing and attempting to atone for his lifelong bad behavior.


Brief scene in which convenience store is held up at gunpoint, policeman chases robber, and a short scuffle ensues as he is taken into custody. Single mother is frightened when shadowy figure appears in window. She gets out a well-hidden gun as protection. No real danger as figure proves to be harmless.


Two gently affectionate kisses between adults beginning a relationship.


Some mild, infrequent cursing as a result of frustration and anger: "Goddamit," "dirty bastards," "s--t," "hell."


Lots of products seen and/or mentioned as the plot revolves around a struggling family being given gifts of all kinds: Mercedes, GE, Westinghouse, Yamaha, Gelataio. Among other visible products: Dove, Skippy, Hungry Jack.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen boy sneaks a cigarette on two occasions; reference to and quick glimpse of a teen drug transaction on school grounds; principal character smokes cigars throughout. Wine seen at dinner table and adults share shots of brandy.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there is some mild swearing as the heroine reacts with frustration and anger to several vehicles being stolen from her. A short scene shows a convenience store robbery at gunpoint and the subsequent arrest of the suspect, with a brief scuffle. Finally, underneath the warm comic tone of this film, there is a weighty situation.Max Dugan has been given only a short time to live in order to redeem himself after a life as a liar, con artist, and neglectful father. He speaks of his impending death on a number of occasions, accepting his fate (if the audience is to believe him) gracefully and with humor.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Written byAnonymous May 27, 2013

Shocked by the language!

In the first scene the high school kid is smoking a cigarette in the kitchen and then hides it from his mom.
The words "g** d***" are used a lot throu... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

High school teacher Norah McPhee (Marsha Mason) is struggling with the frustrations and financial realities of being a single mom to her son Michael (Matthew Broderick). When her dilapidated car is stolen, it seems to be the last straw. But things begin to look up as she meets Police Detective Brian Costello (Donald Sutherland) and her long-lost father Max Dugan (Jason Robards, Jr.) appears in her doorway late one night. Max has come for forgiveness and to meet the grandson he's never seen. Given only a short time to live, he has money, seemingly endless resources, and a passionate desire to make things right, if only Norah will forgive him and accept his efforts to pay her back. Unfortunately, people from Max's past (including the law) are after the clever con artist, and Detective Costello's unexpected presence in Norah's life complicates everything.

Is it any good?

MAX DUGAN RETURNS a delightful, warm-hearted comedy for families to share. Neil Simon's bright dialogue, a true-to-life and endearing mother-son relationship, as well as wonderful performances by all the principles (including Matthew Broderick in his very first role) make for an enjoyable experience. There's nothing new here; It's an old story comically retold. Cinderella turns into a princess and meets Prince Charming, only this time she has a son and a fairy godfather with a case filled with cash, instead of a fairy godmother with a magic wand. It's a funny, clever, and satisfying story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the nature of the fairy tale. How does Max Dugan, the movie's "fairy godfather," make Norah's and Mike's wishes come true? What important gifts besides the fancy cars, furniture, etc., does he give them? After Max explains how he got the money, do you agree that Norah and Mike should accept his presents?

Movie details

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