The Film (4/5)
Francesca Kinsolving (Patty Duke) is a very pregnant woman, sitting on a bus making her way through a snowstorm to meet her late husband’s mother for the first time. There’s a little hesitation when locals hear the family name, but nobody wants to say why. It’s not a mystery that lasts long though, because after a bus trip, a little bit of hitchhiking and some good old-fashioned hoofin’ it (the estate is at the end of a long private road and there’s still that snowstorm to consider), she finally meets the elder Ms. Kinsolving (Murphy). Who, as it turns out, is a cold, uncaring, almost cruel woman who makes it clear that she has no intention of welcoming Francesca – or her baby – into the family at all, let alone with open arms.
But she also meets Kathleen (Allen) – a very sweet but non-verbal, developmentally disabled woman who’s apparently her husband’s sister. Except, her husband never mentioned having a sister. It’s the first in what becomes a fairly tangled web of inconsistencies and outright lies told by Ms. Kinsolving, and all Francesca wants is to get the hell out of there and go home. The storm has other ideas, however, and she finds herself snowed in, increasingly feeling (and being treated) more and more like a captive.
It’s a pretty solid set up to what turns out to be a really solid film. There are a few surprises and turns along the way that I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it yet, but it’s the way they’re handled – as second-act reveals instead of third-act twists – that put this one firmly in the “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like This Anymore” camp. And for the most part they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. There’s no misdirection, no sleight-of-hand, no jump scares or gratuitous nudity, sex, or violence - just straightforward storytelling that’s solid and intimate and puts all of its eggs in the performers’ baskets. Because genre trappings aside, it’s still very much a character drama.
And it’s those characters (and the performances behind them) that elevate it. Murphy does an excellent job of wearing a pleasant smile that doesn’t even try to hide the contempt she feels for Francesca. Allen did such a good job of walking the line between playing an active role in helping Francesca while struggling with her own impediments that she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her efforts. Duke found Francesca’s strong, proud center and never lost it even as she walked her character through increasingly stressful, dangerous, and terrifying situations. And then there’s Richard Thomas (whose character details we won’t cover here) who hit that balance between childlike innocence and calculated menace. All four of these characters have been turned into broad archetypes over the years by lesser writers, directors, and performers, but here they’re very much real people wrapped up in a very real, scary situation.
It’ll probably never be considered an all-time classic, but it’s a really good little movie that definitely deserves more attention than it’s ever gotten.
Scream Factory gives up their standard 1.85:1 1080p transfer with a DTS Mono track. There’s a certain aesthetic to 1970s films that makes them look amazing with a diligent transfer, and this is no exception. The sound leaves a little to be desired – it’ll sound as good as whatever system you’re running it through, but there wasn’t a whole lot put into the sound design to begin with. The dialogue is crisp, the score is full, it works.
Other than a trailer and a photo gallery, there’s a featurette with interviews from Thomas and Allen, who both remember the film fondly and talk about their experiences on the film (and the results that came from it) with a palpable appreciation. It’s not anything you’ll feel particularly compelled to watch more than once, but it’s definitely a worthy addition.
Solid. Is it worth a watch? Absolutely. Is it worth purchasing? Well I suppose that depends; I don’t know that it’s the kind of movie that will compel several rewatches, so if that’s your Buy It criteria then probably not, but it makes a nice home for itself in any collector’s library.