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The Killing of Sister George Movie Review

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When the industry makes gazillions of movies about nothing but straight characters, it can afford to show many of them in a negative light without upsetting anyone too much, because there are positive images to counterbalance all those Up Close and Personal portraits of Sexual Numbskulls. But in the few flicks made about uncoded gay characters through 1968, most of the on-screen images we saw seemed weird and strange. Gay folks had to pay rent and taxes, earn paychecks, and buy groceries just like everyone else, but what films told us was that the gay subculture was obsessed with sexuality, that it pervaded every activity, and that homosexuality often led to Misery, Death, and the Destruction of Society As We Know It. The Killing of Sister George is overblown and hypnotic as so many of Robert Aldrich's films are (Autumn Leaves, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte), but when the directorial gaze is on lesbians, viewers are stuck with his (and the writers') oddball visions of their marginalized lives. Beryl Reid, then 50 (whose performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination), plays soap opera star June Buckridge. Her character, Sister George, is being phased out of the show, and she knows it. Her private life is in no better shape, and she knows that, too. Her much younger longtime companion (Alice “Childie” McNaught, 32, played by Susannah York, 29) is losing interest in her. The disintegration of June's personal and professional life is set against the landscape of the Lesbian Community As Seen By Aldrich. (At one social function, June and Childie dress up as Laurel and Hardy.) Lurking in the wings and lusting after Childie is Coral Browne, 55, as Mercy Croft, who is finally left alone with the object of her desire in a then-explicit sequence that earned this picture an “X” certificate. Although both June and Mercy seem to prefer the same type in women (baby-faced blondes), “The child,” as June roars, “is 32! She's bloody near old enough to be a grandmother!” Childie appears to be a spiritual descendant of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, a full-grown woman who acts like a baby. June, a spiritual descendant of John Osborne's “Jimmy Porter” in Look Back in Anger, commands our attention and our understanding because she's so blunt and so real. The overall effect of the emotional game-playing in The Killing of Sister George is quite sad. The always elegant Patricia Medina is seen as Betty Thaxter, although, as she wistfully recalled in 1998, her best sequence was deleted from the final print, sniff….

1969 (R) 138m/C Beryl Reid, Susannah York, Coral Browne, Ronald Fraser, Patricia Medina, Hugh Paddick, Cyril Delevanti, Brandan Dillon, Sivi Aberg, William Beckley, Elaine Church, Mike Freeman, Maggie Paige, Jack Raine, Dolly Taylor; D: Robert Aldrich; W: Lukas Heller, Frank Marcus; C: Joseph Biroc; M: Gerald Fried. VHS

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