The Killing of Sister George (1968)

killing of sister george

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: TV character gets axed.

June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) is an aging actress playing the character of Sister George a scooter riding nun in a long running British TV soap opera. Her character no longer has the popularity that it once had and the producers have decided to kill her off by having her die in an ugly road crash with a truck. June is upset with this news as at her age parts are hard to come by and she takes her frustrations out on Childie (Susannah York) her much younger live-in lesbian lover, but she may lose her as well as one of the show’s producers Mercy (Coral Browne) has inklings to lure Childie away from June so she can have her all to herself.

After the immense box office success of The Dirty Dozen writer/director Robert Aldrich was given free rein to start up his own production company and he choose this as his first project. In many ways it is quite similar to his earlier and more well-known film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but with sexual undertones. The film is based on the Frank Marcus play of the same name that ran for 205 performances and was nominated for the 1967 Tony Award. For its time this was considered quite controversial and groundbreaking especially the final scene that features a highly explicit sex scene between two women. It also is the first film to have a character utter the word ‘bullshit’ and one of the first to say the word ‘fuck’. Although the word itself gets drowned out by a car horn you can still clearly tell by reading Reid’s lips what she is saying.

The three female leads and their snarky exchanges with each other are the film’s chief asset especially Reid who recreates the same character that she played in the stage version that netted her a Tony. Her emotional, angry outbursts are entertaining and the scene where she forces Childie to eat and swallow the butt of her cigarette as ‘punishment’ is still quite edgy. Browne is equally good specifically during her provocative love scene with York, which was made all the more daring since she was 30 years older than York at the time.

The film’s overall staginess is a drawback. Many scenes are too talky and should’ve been trimmed while York and Reid’s Laurel and Hardy routine could’ve been cut out completely. Flashbacks showing how they first met would’ve helped and there needed to be an explanation to the weird child-like manner of York’s character, which quite possibly was based on an age-old gay stereotype. I also didn’t like the foreboding quality of the music that gets played just before Browne and York have their lesbian love scene, which seemed to suggest that something ‘creepy’ and ‘unnatural’ was about to take place and convinced me that despite the daring and ahead-of-its-time nature of the subject that the filmmakers themselves still had some very dated ideas about gays much like the majority of people from that era.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1968

Runtime: 2Hours 18Minutes

Rated X (Reissued as R)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

One response to “The Killing of Sister George (1968)

  1. Joseph Kearny

    Good drama with excellent performances

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