The Killing of Sister George (1968):

Dirtier than The Dirty Dozen, said the critics, blind to Robert Aldrich's beauties in either case, anyway. The battlefield is the living room, though the testosterone still flows, Susannah York in a pink nightie lounging in a London flat full of dolls while Beryl Reid bulldozes outside to the cramped, side-sliding credits. Sister George is Reid's beloved TV character on a BBC soap, whose dipping popularity gets credited to the actress' real-life truculence, if not her cyclonic relationship with York, the aspiring poetess and full-time baby dyke she lives with. Reid trades the studio for the pub, leaves soused to hop a cab and grope a couple of novice nuns in the backseat, before going home to sniff out infidelity from York's outings -- Reid forces her out of the bathroom by threatening to decapitate her favorite dolly, then brings York to her knees for faux-phallic punishment, munching on a cigar butt, spoiled by York's mock-ecstasy while chewing the stogie. The "lesbian film," originally X-rated and accused of sweaty-palmed leering, but the knives here are used less on uncloseted queer romping than on showbiz cruelty, a companion piece on TV for the acid poured over the cinematic industry the same year in The Legend of Lylah Clare. The Reid-York team, by contrast, is the central gag in Aldrich's subtle-vulgar comedy, the Laurel & Hardy contrast brought out, along with the duo's latent homo-potential, to "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" mimed by an all-girl quartet in the Gateways Club, where the camera seeks out glimpses of lesbo action circa '68. Along comes Coral Browne, corseted where Reid is obstreperous, and scoops Fox away with the promise of success, the young woman luing in bed with her top unbuttoned, fingers traveling below her waist, and out of the frame -- "That's life," Browne says, but Reid had already croaked "There is not enough kindness in the world" earlier on, in Sidney Greenstreet's tones. Sex is power, and Aldrich understands how replaceable people can be, in business and in relationships. Reid thrashes the empty studio, moos in the dark, and Fassbinder takes notes. Screenplay by Lukas Heller, from the Frank Marcus play. With Ronald Fraser, Patricia Medina, and Hugh Paddick.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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