The Killing of Sister George (1968)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) has spent so many years portraying a kind-hearted nurse on the BBC soap opera Applehurst that even in real life everyone has taken to calling her by her character’s name – Sister George. However, off screen George is nothing like her saintly fictional counterpart, appearing drunk in public and forcing her younger lover Alice “Childie” McNaught (Susannah York) into cruel and twisted games. When the fictional George is slated to be killed off due to low ratings, the real George also begins to come apart at the seams. With Childie becoming increasingly defiant and her boss Mrs. Croft (Coral Browne) encroaching on both her professional and personal territory, George fears her days as a beloved actress and parent-like provider to Childie are numbered.

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

I considered making this a one-word review, but “ick” doesn’t really come close to describing how uncomfortable this film made me. The lead character is a total monster with no redeeming qualities; she drinks constantly, she has no regard for what is and isn’t appropriate behavior, she’s sadistic and abusive – and none of it in a fun way. Her girlfriend Childie is pathetic and poorly written as a character, and Mrs. Croft is just your typical predatory-older-lesbian stereotype. This movie was directed by Robert Aldrich, who of course scored a hit six years prior with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and again in 1964 with Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. While he proved with these two previous endeavors that films which are somewhat exploitative and which appeal to baser sensibilities can still be enjoyable (and how!), here he doesn’t have the star power or the outright horror context that made those two films successful, and his directing brought into the light of day seems hokey and amateurish. While this film is somehow considered “historic” for its explicit portrayal of a lesbian relationship, in absolutely no way is this a healthy or positive portrayal, so what’s so special about it? I mean, I really don’t understand what’s so groundbreaking about making queer people look bad. I do give it points for the stellar performances by Beryl Reid and the recently-late Susannah York – even if I hated or didn’t understand their characters, I still think they did a great job at portraying them – and for the few scenes shot in the authentic 1960s underground lesbian bar the Gateways Club. But otherwise this was an utterly joyless film and, at two hours and twenty minutes, utterly torturous to sit through. Maybe I’m just not cut out for 1960s “black comedies” set in working-class Britain, since they seem intent on exploring themes that make me squirm. If you’re into that sort of thing, maybe you’ll like this one, but I certainly can’t recommend it from my perspective. Like its title character, The Killing of Sister George is just unrelentingly awful the whole way through.


The Killing of Sister George (1968) – 1.5/5 stars

Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Troubled youth Jim Stark (James Dean) is on the run from his past. His domineering mother (Ann Doran) and hen-pecked father (Jim Backus) have left Jim confused about how to be a man. Jim’s mother thinks all her son’s problems will be solved when they move to a new town and transfer Jim to a new high school. There Jim meets Judy (Natalie Wood), a nice girl who runs with a bad crowd and is aching for someone to love her for who she really is. He also meets Plato (Sal Mineo), a sensitive and unpopular boy with absentee parents who is yearning for guidance and acceptance. Unfortunately, Jim also meets Buzz (Corey Allen) and the gang, who do everything they can to provoke Jim into falling back into his old habits. Then something goes horribly wrong, and Jim must decide on his own how to handle it. Can doing the right thing ever be the wrong choice? If you can’t find a role model for manhood in your own father, where canyou find one?

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

This review was originally posted on my old blog, Movie Dames, in August of 2009. Since that blog is no longer in existence and there isn’t an archive of my posts there, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to use this opportunity to repost this review. I don’t discuss the film from strictly a queer perspective, but I do go into the queer aspects of it quite a bit. I’m leaving most of the original writing intact; this is just how it looked when it was published two years ago, so if the writing or analysis seems amateurish – just remember, this is coming from me two years ago. :) Please don’t judge me too harshly.

Warning: This is a Full Recap review, meaning it includes screencaps and commentary on the film in its entirety. Therefore, it is much longer than a regular review, and spoilers are pretty much guaranteed. (more…)

Maedchen in Uniform (1931)

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Synopsis: When sensitive Manuela (Hertha Thiele) is sent to a strict boarding school for officers’ daughters, she is thrilled to discover that her new classmates are anything but miniature versions of their fathers. Immediately she is informed by the rambunctious ringleader Ilse (Ellen Schwanneke) that Manuela is lucky to have been placed under the care of Fräulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck), the one instructor who elicits the budding passions of every girl in school. Manuela seems especially desperate for the affections of the young and beautiful teacher, who reciprocates by giving Manuela the nurturing she so obviously craves. However, the nasty Prussian headmistress (Emilia Unda) believes young girls are best formed into strong women by discipline and hunger, and does not support Fräulein von Bernburg’s soft hand.

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

Based on the novel and play Gestern und heute (Yesterday and Today) by lesbian author Christa Winsloe, Leontine Sagan‘s polemic against the strict Prussian education system was released in 1931 to enormous financial success. However, historically it seems this success is attributed less to the film’s strong anti-fascist message and more to the groundbreaking all-female cast and the fact that this was one of the first films produced to feature an explicitly pro-lesbian storyline. It is quite astonishing to see lesbianism portrayed as a de facto way of life here; it is almost immediately introduced and not viewed as strange or different at all by the boarding school students. It’s disapproved of by the school administrators, but not so much due to its Sapphic nature but rather because any sign or expression of emotion is frowned upon. There is never any mention of the notion that these girls might be “settling” for lesbian relationships due to the lack of males in their lives, at least not in the English subtitles. You can definitely see why this film was viewed as revolutionary for its time; hell, there are very few movies even today that treat queerness so matter-of-factly. (more…)

Salomé (1923)

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Synopsis: Young Salomé (Alla Nazimova) lives the pampered life of a princess under the rule of her uncle and stepfather Herod (Mitchell Lewis), who has killed his own brother to usurp his thrown and marry his wife Herodias (Rose Dione). However, Herod makes no effort to hide his lust for the lithe and youthful Salomé, who repeatedly rejects the king’s invitations to dance. Instead she longs for the love and affection of the mysterious prisoner Jokaanan (Nigel De Brulier), an ascetic prophet of God who spurns the princess’ advances and denounces her wicked family, screaming epithets from his underground cell. Salomé, not used to not getting what she wants, finally agrees to dance for Herod – but only if, in exchange, he agrees to carry out her revenge against Jokaanan.

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

No discussion of the history of LGBTQs in Hollywood would be complete without some acknowledgment of Alla Nazimova. Born in Russia in 1879, Nazimova was already a hugely successful Broadway star by the time she made her film debut in 1916’s War Brides. By 1917 she was earning an incredible $13,000 a week through her contract with Metro Pictures. In 1918 she made the big move to Hollywood, where the star was truly allowed to blossom. Her sprawling 3.5-acre estate, the Garden of Alla, included a swimming pool shaped like the Black Sea surrounded by twenty-five chic bungalows, where Hollywood’s finest, of all sexual persuasions and proclivities, came to enjoy and indulge themselves away from the prying eyes of the public and studio executives. Nazimova herself was a huge proponent of free (and frequent) love; her paramours included actress Eva Le Gallienne, director Dorothy Arzner, anarchist Emma Goldman, and writer and Garbo girlfriend Mercedes de Acosta. Not only did Nazimova coin the phrase “sewing circles” to describe the underground social and romantic network of lesbian and bisexual actresses in early Hollywood – she practically invented the practice. (more…)

Different from the Others (1919)

Image Source: Kino International

Synopsis: Brilliant concert violinist Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt) is only too happy to take on young music student Kurt Sivers (Fritz Schulz) as his pupil. The two men find they have more than a love of music in common, and are soon spending all their time together. However, behind Körner’s polished façade lies a terrible secret: according to the law of the land, he is nothing more than a lowly criminal, guilty of the crime of feeling love for his own sex. Will Körner allow himself to be continuously blackmailed by the sleazy Franz Bollek (Reinhold Schünzel) in order to keep his predilection hidden? Or will he openly accuse Bollek of extortion and take him to court – knowing that his own crime may be revealed in the process?

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

If we’re going to start from the very beginning (a very good place to start), let’s go ahead and state the obvious: depictions of gays, lesbians, or otherwise non-heterosexual, non-gender-binary folks were considered highly taboo in mainstream film until pretty recently. A lot of the time, if you’re looking for queer themes in classic film, you’re going to have to sift through a lot of subtext and coded images to find what you’re looking for – and even then, you may be accused of seeing something that may not really be there at all. This is not the case with Richard Oswald‘s Different from the Others (German title Anders als die Andern), which the director co-wrote with the brilliant German sexologist and gay rights advocate Magnus Hirschfeld. (Seriously, look up some of his work; he was truly a pioneer.) Produced during the Weimar Republic during the brief period after World War I when censorship was temporarily lifted in all German media, Different from the Others is noteworthy as one of the earliest, if not the first, unequivocally sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality in the history of cinema. Sadly, it comes as no surprise that it exists today only in a fragmented state, as many prints of the film – along with Magnus Hirschfeld’s entire library – were destroyed as examples of leftist “decadence” when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Fortunately, a collaboration between Kino International and Filmmuseum München has led to a beautiful restoration of the surviving segments and a bold reconstruction of the rest. The film is also given extra context in the intertitles, and any missing portions are described using notes gleaned from contemporary advertisements for the film. (more…)