Dear Mr. Brody is a documentary about Spreading the Wealth Doesn’t Go Smoothly

In January 1970, Michael Brody Jr. announced he’d share his $25 million inheritance. All people had to do was ask — and ask they did. Archival news footage in “Dear Mr. Brody,” a documentary directed by Keith Maitland, shows a line of hopefuls outside and inside 1650 Broadway where Brody, 21, the groovy scion of the Jelke margarine empire, opened an office.

Journalists were drawn to his peace-love-and-understanding worldview. Filmmakers, too, among them the movie producer Ed Pressman, who had hoped to make a fiction film. People also wrote letters: tens of thousands of them.

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“Dear Mr. Brody” nods to and teases the era’s psychedelic tendencies. (“Brody Says Drugs Inspired Giveaway,” reads a New York Times headline.) Interviewees who had been on the journey — among them, wife, Renee Brody, and friend Michael Aronin — share some of its vexing details. Brody died in 1973. But the film’s exquisite pathos comes as Melissa Robyn Glassman, a producer, discovers a cache of unopened letters in Pressman’s storage unit. Her sleuthing leads to letter writers — or their children — and those interviews are quietly stunning. It might be hard to upstage Brody, yet they do.

“Dear Mr. Brody” invites timely thoughts about the wealthy and income disparity. While Brody leverages his stunningly brief moment in the limelight — appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” securing a record deal, finding quite the platform for his messages — a scene of him tossing cash out a window to a crowd below hints at an underlying ugliness. “Food. Shelter. Love,” he snappishly tells a reporter later. “They don’t need money.”

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