Tag Archives: Juanita Nielsen

The Killing of Angel Street (1981)

killing of angel street

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their homes get demolished.

Jessica (Elizabeth Alexander) is a quiet woman who suddenly finds herself embroiled in a heated battle between homeowners and developers who want to build beachfront property on their land and tearing down their homes in the process. Jessica’s father (Alexander Archdale) is one of the homeowners whose place will be destroyed if the developers have their way. Since she has no experience in fighting these matters she employs the assistance of local union leader Elliot (John Hargreaves) to help her in her fight and the two quickly start-up a relationship, but just as they feel they are making some headway Jessica begins to get harassed by complete strangers who break into her home and threaten her life unless she agrees to back-off.

This film is based on the same real-life incident that was also the inspiration for Heatwave, which came out a year after this one. What I found so interesting is how both films took the same incident, but managed to veer into two very diametrically opposite directions with it. Heatwave viewed the situation from all different perspectives including that of the antagonist while this one only looks at the viewpoint of the lead character and uses the premise as a catalyst to what surmounts to being a basic thriller.

While I felt Heatwave was the superior film I did feel this movie was better at creating an emotional impact with the viewer. You get to know the residents better here and are more sympathetic to their cause as well as witnessing the human side and its impact. The shots of houses getting torn down is especially strong as well as the shot near the end where you see the crumbling skeletons of the buildings all in a row and looking like remnants of some sort of war zone.

The film suffers from the weak presence of its lead actress whose performance comes off as being much too rehearsed and lacks any type of spontaneity. Hargreaves, who became one of Australia’s best known lead actors, is wasted in a benign supporting role and is not seen very much. Archdale practically steals it in a touching portrait of an old man clinging to the only thing he has left, but the pronounced bags under his eyes almost becomes a distraction.

The film’s final 20 minutes are the best. This is where Jessica finds herself kidnapped and hung upside down over the side of a tall building, which is quite intense, as well as a myriad of almost surreal events where she runs into evil people and ugly situations wherever she turns including that of a humiliating and unnecessary full body search while inside the seemingly safe confines of a police station.

The story though veers way off from what actually happened making this an almost fictional account and barely related to the real Juanita Nielsen whose true-life story inspired this one. The real event had far more interesting twists and I’m not sure why neither film chose to stick to the facts and it almost begs for a talented filmmaker to come in and create a film that examines the events and people as it actually occurred.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Donald Crombie

Studio: Forest Hill Films

Available: VHS

Heatwave (1982)

heatwave 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting to save homes.

Stephen (Richard Moir) is an English architect employed by Robert (Bill Hunter) to construct a massive high-rise building in downtown Sydney that will be financed by Peter (Chris Haywood). However, the construction will require the demolition of several row houses and the eviction of those living in them. Kate (Judy Davis) takes up the cause by protesting the development and along with Mary Ford (Carole Skinner) are able to get a temporary block on the building project by getting the local builder’s union to instill a green ban. Stephen tries to fight this by attending the group’s meetings and airing out his side of the issue, but in the process finds himself more and more sympathetic to the residence especially when he finds out that Peter isn’t a completely honorable businessman and has no plans to use Stephen’s building design at all. When Mary mysteriously disappears he joins forces with Kate to try and find her only to unearth even more troubling and dark revelations along the way.

This film is based on a true-life incident and one of two movies made about it with the other one being The Killing of Angel Street, which will be reviewed here next month. The real-life event centers on Juanita Nielsen (1937-1975) who took up the anti-development cause when it was found that her home was pegged to be demolished in order to make way for three high-rise buildings in the Victoria Street neighborhood of Sydney. Her efforts managed to delay the project for three years, but the developer eventually became impatient and hired men to harass the residents who were trying to stop it and in the process kidnapped Nielsen even though her body has never been found and no one has ever been convicted of her murder.

The film here depicts Nielsen through the fictional character of Mary Ford, but what surprised me was that Ford is not the central person. Instead we only see her briefly at the beginning before she disappears and is generally forgotten while writer/director Phillip Noyce adds other fictional characters and story lines around her, which wasn’t as interesting as the actual case and I’m not sure why they didn’t just stick with the facts.

However, this still a highly intriguing thoroughly riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the beginning. Part of what I liked about it is the way it shows things from the different perspective of the various characters while bringing out the myriad of complexities where nothing is black-and-white and no one is completely right or completely wrong. The viewer gets torn about whose side to be on, but fascinated with each new rapid-fire twist that comes about.

There are definite shades of L’Avventura here where a main character disappears and is essentially forgotten until it seems almost like she had never existed in the first place. The script offers no easy answers and instead shows in vivid and almost brutal detail how taxing and frustrating fighting for social change can be and the hopelessness one feels when they realize that all of their efforts may have made little or no difference.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD (PAL, Region 0)