Anchor Bay // 1968 // 140 Minutes // Rated X
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 20th, 2003
The story of three consenting adults in the privacy of their own home.
The first Hollywood film to deal honestly with lesbianism, The Killing of Sister George was ignored in 1968. Unfortunately, 35 years later, the film is still ignored by mainstream audiences. Anchor Bay has released this film on DVD in a good edition.
June Buckridge, an English actress and lesbian, is facing a mid-life crisis. Her role of "Sister George" is about to be written out of a popular TV soap opera. Her relationship with her lover, Alice, is starting to show signs of falling apart. Alice is child-like and sweet compared to the butch, sardonic June.
Little does June know that her boss, Mercy Croft, has designs on not only altering her professional life (June finds the only role she'll be able to get is voice-over work for a children's puppet show), but her personal life as well.
The Killing of Sister George was very controversial in 1968. Expanded from a Broadway play by Frank Marcus, Robert Aldrich's film was one of the first to get the X rating, mostly for a tame (by today's standards) sex scene in the final 15 minutes. The Catholic Church condemned the film as immoral trash. Audiences gave the final verdict, staying away in droves.
They missed out on an excellent film. It's one of the few films not only to address lesbianism but to present it in an honest, non-exploitative fashion. Many Hollywood films dealing with this subject think the end product has to be some kind of kinky turn-on. What Robert Aldrich proved (and as John Sayles would 15 years later with Lianna) is that it is possible to make a film that shows that lesbians are ordinary human beings who go through the same troubles that a heterosexual couple would. He limits any sexual activity to a small, tame scene towards the very end and whatever else happens is left to our imaginations. That's the way to do it.
The performances are exceptional. Beryl Reid was mainly known for being a comedienne in her native England. Producers took a chance on Reid by casting her in the original play, and she rewarded their gamble as she won the Tony Award for Best Actress. Despite reservations by Hollywood moneymen, Aldrich took a gamble and allowed Reid to recreate her role for the screen. Another gamble paid off, as Reid's performance is nothing short of terrific. Touching on many emotions, she creates a real human being and we find ourselves hoping everything works out even in the worst moments. It was another gamble casting Susannah York as the child-like Alice. York, at the time, was being groomed to be a major star and a film like this could have made or broken her career. It didn't break it, but it wasn't a hit either. Nevertheless, it is an excellent performance that could have become a caricature but isn't, thanks to York's considerable talents.
Anchor Bay presents The Killing of Sister George in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. There are some scratches in the print. Grain is present in a few of the lighter scenes. Compared to those muddy VHS releases, this is a fantastic looking transfer and I have no problems with it.
Anchor Bay presents the film in a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. An appropriate decision, since Aldrich used multi-channel sound to record the massive amount of dialogue. With a good surround sound system, the dialogue sounds crisp and clear and the score sings out as a great score should. Good work, Anchor Bay!
The only negative about this disc is that there are no extras. Not even a theatrical trailer. Surely a trailer must survive somewhere. The booklet has some good inside information about the film's production, but a documentary would have been better.
Despite that considerable negative, The Killing of Sister George is a disc well worth picking up. A rental won't suffice, since this is the kind of film that needs to be seen more than once. And at a retail price of $19.99 or less, it's a gamble worth taking.
Anchor Bay is given a warning for the lack of extras. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated X