By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: She gets an abortion.
Abby (Pamela Sue Martin) and Muffy (Betsy Slade) are two teen girls and the best of friends that are attending a New England all-girls school during the 50’s. Abby is in love with Michael (Parker Stevenson) and the two sneak off one weekend and consummate their relationship, which makes Muffy jealous. She is not as pretty as Abby and has a hard time getting boyfriends, but decides one night during a Christmas party to have sex with Malcolm (George O’Hanlon Jr.) in the backseat of a car simply to feel what it is like. Their experience isn’t as enjoyable, but Muffy becomes pregnant anyways and the four then spend the rest of the time looking for an underground abortionist to terminate her pregnancy.
On the technical end the film is slick. I particularly liked the opening tracking shot that takes place in a church. The camera starts at the front of the church showing a close-up of the headmaster singing with the choir and then pulls back down the side aisle to show Abby sneaking in late and then goes back up the middle aisle as she looks for a seat. In fact just about every scene features some form of a tracking shot, which may get a little overdone, but helps give the film a certain visual liveliness. Unlike Leonard Maltin who in his book described the color photography as being ‘bad’, I found it to be quite vivid with a nice soft focus lens that gives it a nostalgic-like appeal.
The story itself is predictable, but I enjoyed the sometimes humorous takes of the sexual repressive, stifling attitude of the era and how the students were made to feel like they were being watched and monitored at every second. Abby’s and Michael’s sexual encounter inside a hotel room is quite amusing, but the one done later on between Muffy and Malcolm is painful to watch and not very realistic, looking more like two clothed bodies on top of each other without much effort to simulate the sexual motions.
Martin is excellent in the lead and ironically starred just two years earlier in a similar film about a young unwed woman looking for an abortionist entitled To Find a Man. Stevenson, who later co-starred with Martin in ‘The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries’ TV-show looks like he is barely past puberty. Jerry Hardin, Cliff Emmich, Robert Walden and Debralee Scott can all be seen in brief bits. This is also the only other film appearance of Karen Balkin, who played the bratty student in The Children’s Hour and plays a similar type of character here.
The only issue I had with the film is with the abortion segment. Overall, from a purely dramatic level I felt these scenes were compelling and the best moments in the movie, but it seemed unrealistic especially from a 1950’s perspective that none of the four would try to convince Muffy to keep the baby. It almost comes off like these are 70’s teens with more modern sensibilities that were transplanted into a different time period than actual characters from a bygone era. The plot also becomes more like a political statement than a story and seems to lean too heavily on a liberal point-of-view.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: April 10, 1974
Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes
Director: Peter Hyams
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD (Warner Archive)
Posted in 70's Movies, Adolescence/High School, Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies, Drama, Dry Humor
Tagged Betsy Slade, Debralee Scott, Entertainment, Karen Balkin, Movies, Pamela Sue Martin, Parker Stevenson, Peter Hyams, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Ruined by a lie.
Martha and Karen (Shirley Maclaine, Audrey Hepburn) are two single young women running an all-girl’s school. They have the respect of the community and the parents, but that suddenly changes when one of the students named Mary (Karen Balkin) decides to spread a rumor that Martha and Karen are lovers. This sends everything into an uproar. All the students are moved out and the two women find themselves fighting desperately for their reputations and livelihoods. Karen’s boyfriend Joe (James Garner) remains their staunch supporter, but eventually even he begins to have his suspicions.
The film is based on the landmark play written by Lillian Hellman which ran for 691 performances in 1934 and was based on a true incident that happened in Scotland in 1810. The original film version of the play was made in 1936 and entitled These Three that was also directed by William Wyler and starred Miriam Hopkins as Martha who in this film plays Martha’s Aunt Lily. That film was heavily watered down with the lesbian element completely taken out and instead has the rumor revolve around the two teachers being in love with the same man.
This second film version was supposed to be more like the play, but hardly seems worth the effort. Although Wyler makes some attempts to make it seem more cinematic it still comes off very much like a filmed stage play and a static one at that. Lots and lots of talk with a narrative that is quite plodding and predictable. Having the story work more in a fragmented style might have helped, but either way it is never very engrossing or compelling. It also completely skips over the libel trial, which I thought could’ve given some added drama and it never completely explains why the Aunt Lily character avoided testifying. She comes up with the lame excuse that she was touring with her show, but I felt it was more because she secretly knew Martha was a closet lesbian and didn’t want to have to confront that and the film should’ve made this more clear.
It is also unintentionally funny at times especially the part where actress Fay Bainter’s eyes get bigger and bigger as Mary whispers her ‘shocking’ secret into her ear. Balkin also overdoes the facial expressions, which was probably due to too much coaching on the part of Wyler, but with that said her presence in the film is fun and gives the proceedings a liveliness that is otherwise stagnant.
The film really isn’t all that groundbreaking either and handles the delicate issue in too much of a timid way. For instance there is a scene where Martha admits to her homosexual feelings and states that she feels ‘ashamed’ for having them and Karen counsels her by stating that ‘you did nothing wrong’ because ‘nothing happened’, but what if it had then would it have been wrong? I tend to lean towards the latter making the production seem as stale and prejudicial as the public at the time. I was also confused as to how the two women could remain living at the school when all the students had moved out and they no longer had any income, or how they were still able to have groceries delivered to them.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: December 19, 1961
Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes
Director: William Wyler
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video
Posted in 60's Movies, Black & White, Drama, Gay/Lesbian, Movies Based on Actual Events, Movies Based on Stageplays, Movies with a rural setting
Tagged Audrey Hepburn, Entertainment, Fay Bainter, Karen Balkin, Movies, Review, Shirley MacLaine, William Wyler