Tag Archives: Rachel Roberts

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where are the schoolgirls?

On Valentine’s Day in the year 1900 a group of Australian schoolgirls and two teachers (Vivean Gray, Helen Morse) set out to a rock formation known as Hanging Rock for a picnic. While there one of the girls named Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) decides to go exploring and three of the other girls follow. They proceed to climb the rocks, which frightens one of the girls (Christine Schuler) who runs back. By that evening the other three haven’t been located and a search party goes out by the local police to find them, which only leads to more questions than answers.

If one is in to mood pieces then this thing will be the perfect fit. The music and director Peter Weir’s ability to capture the rock formations in a way that makes them seem creepy and menacing is very well done. I found myself being strangely captivated most of the way while also impressed that the whole thing gets captured through a camera lens with a piece of bridal veil hung over it.

The story is based on the 1967 best-selling novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay. Despite many rumors to the effect and a follow-up novel called ‘The Murders at Hanging Rock’ this was not in any way based on a true story. Originally Lindsay wrote a resolution to the mystery that had the girls entering into some sort of time warp, but at the last minute that chapter was excised at the suggestion of her publisher, but then later published in 1987 as ‘The Secret of Hanging Rock’.

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The film on the other hand offers no resolution of any kind. Instead like in the book the main emphasis is on how the disappearance affects the people at the school and in the town. Rachel Roberts is a standout in this area playing the strict headmistress Mrs. Appleyard who initially comes off as quite composed and in control, but as the toll of the mystery continues her character unravels in increasingly more shocking ways, which is the film’s highlight.

Despite its cult following and the fact that it is included in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ I still came away frustrated and feeling like not enough happened to justify having to sit through two hours of viewing. On the technical end it is excellent and watching the different ways people cope and respond to the mystery is interesting, but this could’ve been played up a lot more.

Sometimes movies with vague endings are good as life doesn’t always give us nice and tidy wrap-ups, but this is one instance where it would’ve been better had there been more of a conclusion even if it had just thrown out some clues and then allowed the viewer to come to their own deductions. To some extent it does this as supernatural elements are introduced as well as the idea that it might’ve been a sexual crime, but even this is off-putting because it’s not connected to anything concrete or tangible and thus makes it all the more evasive.

Had this been based on an actual mystery, which for years is what a lot of people thought, then it would’ve been more acceptable and even fascinating, but the fact that it’s all made up hurts it and tears away the mystique that for a long time it relished under.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Commission

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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This is a 2014 pic of Anne-Louise Lambert, who played Miranda in the film, sitting at the location of where the movie was filmed.

Doctors’ Wives (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife sleeps around.

Several wives of prominent surgeons at a prestigious hospital get together for a game of cards, but one of the women, the oversexed Lorrie Dellman (Dyan Cannon), gives them a shocking proposition. Seeing that they are not satisfied with their sex lives, she tells them that she will sleep with each of their husbands and then critique their ‘performances’, so as to enlightened them as to what they might be doing wrong. The women turn down her ‘friendly’ offer, but then panic when Lorrie tells them that she has slept with ’50 percent’ of them already.  They have no time to worry though because the next day Lorrie is shot dead by her brain surgeon husband (John Colicos) after she is found in bed with one of the physicians. Now the women must try to figure out which doctor it was while worrying if their husbands were also involved with Lorrie at some other point.

The film, which is based on a novel by Frank Slaughter, is just too trashy and soap opera-like to take seriously. The productions values are strong and director George Schaefer shows a flair for the visual, which makes it watchable, but the characters are one-dimensional and the dialogue seemingly stripped straight out of a potboiler paperback.

Cannon, who’s billed as being the star, is on-screen for less than five minutes, which has to set some sort of record. Who on earth would ever accept a part to be the film’s ‘star’ if they are going to only be in it for that short of a period, or why bill someone as being such if they ultimately will have that little to do? In some ways I wished the character had remained as she is so outwardly slutty that it becomes campy and her initial proposition would certainly have created a more interesting scenario than what ultimately gets played out. Besides any character whose first words out of their mouth is “God, I’m horny” can’t be all that bad.

The supporting cast, which is made up of many familiar faces, are essentially wasted especially Gene Hackman in what may be the dullest role of his otherwise illustrious career although the way he repeatedly slaps his wife (Rachel Roberts) across the face after she confides in him that she once had a lesbian affair does have a certain outrageous quality.

Colicos is competent as the heavy, but Anthony Costello steals it as a young intern who sleeps with the middle-aged wives of his superiors. In real-life he was gay and ended up dying of AIDS at the young age of 45, but here successfully comes off as a flaming heterosexual who brags of his conquests and acts like going to bed with married women is as common place as taking out the garbage. His best bit comes when he beds fellow intern Sybil (Kristina Holland) who is making a sex documentary and narrates a ‘play-by-play’ of her sexual intercourse with him as it happens.

The film’s most memorable moment, and it’s a doozy, is when it shows in incredibly graphic style the operation of taking a bullet out of a man’s heart. A real pumping human heart was used and the footage would rival that of any educational film. Not only do we see them tear off the organ’s outer membrane, but we also watch as the doctor sticks his finger into it and then in one truly ghoulish shot pop the bullet out of it. It’s all real and done in close-up making it far more explicit than any gore movie out there and one of the most stomach churning things ever to be put in a mainstream Hollywood movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Schaefer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

O Lucky Man! (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A young man’s journey.

Mick (Malcolm McDowell) is a wide-eyed young man entering into the adult world and full of Horatio Alger-like illusions of working real hard and becoming insanely rich while doing it. His first job is as a coffee salesman where he is told that ‘the-sky’s-the-limit’ in regards to his earning potential, so with the carrot-on-the-string firmly in place he dives into it, but ultimately finds little to show for it. He then meets up with a rich tycoon ( Ralph Richardson) and essentially becomes the man’s lapdog assistant only to learn that this doesn’t work either. After spending time in jail he comes back out into the world as a ‘reformed’ man extoling on the idealistic virtues of humbleness only to again meet with aversion and failure.

The film, which is based on an original idea by McDowell, is essentially a broad look at society’s many socio-economic class levels and how easy it is to fall down it, but hard to move up. Some consider Glengarry Glen Ross to be the bleakest indictment on the sales profession, but having worked in the business when I was like the character here first getting out into the working world I can say that this one is even more searing and accurate.

On a wider scope the film successfully works as a critical statement on capitalism, which due to the purveying political climate of the day most American audiences are just now ready to catch up to. Mick’s journey is more his eventual disillusionment as he slowly realizes that being a ‘go-getter’ and having a ‘good attitude’ isn’t going to be enough as the system is rigged so that the individual is more likely to lose than win and can’t really function otherwise. His efforts then become exploited while helping to make someone else richer as he tolls in the bottom rung doing lateral moves into areas that have potential promise, but only produce the same results.

Although the character’s perpetual delusions of grandeur become a bit annoying McDowell plays the part well. The intent was for him to play against type from the one that he did just previously in A Clockwork Orange by portraying someone who is clean-cut, respectful and obedient, but with all the transitions that the character goes through and at one point even having him strapped to a chair in much the same way that he was in the Kubrick film it eventually comes off more like a continuation of that part than a completely different one.

The fun of watching the film is seeing the supporting cast playing dual roles. Arthur Lowe is great especially in the part where he gets put into heavy black make-up to play the leader of a fictitious foreign nation. Rachel Roberts is good too with the erotic scene where she transfers coffee from her mouth into McDowell’s and then later as a poor woman who commits suicide, which has a foreboding quality to it since Roberts ended up doing the same thing five years later in real-life.

Fans of Helen Mirren will enjoy seeing her when she was much younger and playing the part of a rebellious daughter. I also liked the way Alan Price and his band fits into the film. They do the movie’s soundtrack, which is quite good, but instead of having their music played over the action the movie cuts away and captures them doing their renditions inside a sound studio, which in any other case would be considered distracting, but here helps accentuate the film’s  already cerebral tone. It’s also amusing how the band ends up becoming a part of the story as the McDowell character almost gets hit by their van, which allows the opportunity for Price to say the film’s best line “Are we suing you, or are you suing us?”

The film is full of many surreal and original moments and is so consistently inventive that you hardly notice its three hour runtime. However, to me the best part about it is the way it attacks and criticizes the status quo, which is something that no Hollywood movie ever does.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1973

Runtime: 2Hours 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lindsay Anderson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube