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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Killing of Sister George (1971)

Mercy: I can hardly put through a report to the controller informing him of your allegation that you were bitten by two nuns.
George: Why not? For all we know, they might have had rabies.

- Coral Browne, Beryl Reid

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 20, 2006

Stars: Beryl Reid, Susannah York, Coral Browne
Other Stars: Ronald Fraser, Patricia Medina, Hugh Paddick, Cyril Delevanti
Director: Robert Aldrich

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific
MPAA Rating: R for (language, nudity, sensuality)
Run Time: 02h:19m:37s
Release Date: August 23, 2005
UPC: 027616927514
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-BB D-

DVD Review

One might say that identity is the most precious thing that a person has. Pity, then, the actor or actress who becomes so identified with a role that it is inseparable from him or her. It's not just a question of typecasting, but a blurring of the lines between the public and the private that can do damage to the psyche, while still providing a certain grounding, even if it is false. That conflict is at the bottom of this 1968 classic from director Robert Aldrich.

June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) has been portraying nurse "Sister George" on the soap opera Applehurst for years, and has become utterly identified with the character; even her lover Alice (Susannah York) calls her 'George,' as do her friends and colleagues. But when George starts getting hints that her character may be written out of the show, she reacts badly, dissolving into drink and furious rages. Things aren't any better when she also begins to suspect that Alice is the object of pursuit of several men and also Mercy Croft (Coral Browne), one of the BBC executives in charge of the program.

It's a great opportunity for an actress, and Reid seizes the part with both hands. She lets out all the stops from rage and pathos to childlike affection and sadistic cruelty. Aldrich had explored lesbianism before in such films as Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) and furiously berserk older actresses in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1964), but the combination of the two here is pretty powerful. The pairing with York works exceedingly well, as she portrays Alice (called 'Childie' by George) with an infantile air, selfish and willful, while also being somewhat pathetic herself, obsessing over her massive doll collection. Browne, the third leg of the stool, gives a hilariously arch performance that almost sounds like she's imitating future husband Vincent Price.

One can see Aldrich trying to broaden the subject matter of the cinema in his exceedingly frank depiction of lesbian culture and not flinching from the dark side of human relationships. George and Alice have a relationship based almost entirely on cruelties, though they also have trouble functioning apart from each other. It's twisted but certainly intriguing. George's booziness makes for some enjoyable sequences, such as a taxicab assault on two nuns that gets her in Dutch with the BBC. The raunchy and bitchy reality is in stark contrast to the sickeningly sweet character that she plays, making her public eruptions all the more horrifying to those around her.

At its heart, the film is about the dissolution of George's personality as her character is taken away from her; her relationship with Childie simultaneously starts to decay as Mrs. Croft takes advantage of the situation and George descends further into drink and beings committing outrage after outrage. The sequence in which George and Childie play Laurel and Hardy is key; not only did they also have a relationship based on cruelties, but they were also utterly identified with their characters. Notwithstanding her various issues, Reid makes George a sympathetic monster, and the finale is quite moving. It still holds up exceedingly well after nearly 40 years, thanks to the strength of the three leads.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite good, with only a bit of dirt and occasional speckling and no serious defects. There's an apparent touch of artificial sharpening but the grain is fairly well rendered and not sparkly. There was an earlier release in 2000 which was not available to us for comparison.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio sound reasonably good for its age. The music is a little shrill and lacking in presence and deep bass information. Dialogue is clear throughout, and hiss and noise are not noticeable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:20s

Extras Review: There are no extras. The chaptering is adequate if a little thin.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

One of the great showpieces for an actress, it's also a fascinating look at an era and a subculture. The transfer is fine but there are no extras.

 


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