A few words about…™ The Killing of Sister George — in Blu-ray

It's definitely an odd one, but has always found a place in my library. 4 Stars

I’ve always thought of Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George (1968) as the love child of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Mr. Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

It’s definitely an odd one, but has always found a place in my library.

Kino Lorber’s release, while welcome, is based upon a defectively produced film element – in this case an IP with a bit of surface wear, occasional plus and minus density hits, and color lites that were printed out of sync. You’ll note that at most cuts color will not go to the next timing for several frames.

Annoying, but not a deal killer, for those who desire to own the film in Blu-ray format.

It should be noted, that although there is an X Rated tag at the head end of the film, ratings have changed over the decades and this is now an R.

An interesting film, not for all tastes.

Image – 3.25

Audio – 4.5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – yes

RAH

Published by

Robert Harris

editor,member

25 Comments

  1. Dear Robert:

    For me, it is very disconcerting that a lot of Kino Lorber product gets a pass with less than stellar work being done by the owners of the copyright before Kino simply green-lights a disc to add to their mammoth library of ever-expanding classics. Exactly, how much money would it take to actually get things right in the first place. The ABC deal for the Selznick properties, as an example, has yielded pretty abysmal results on virtually all of that deep catalog on Blu. I was really disappointed with Since You Went Away which, as a B&W release, ought to have been given a new scan to improve its fine detail and contrast.

    I understand, Technicolor releases take more time, effort and money to get right, but honestly, I've watched my copies of Duel in the Sun and Nothing Sacred once. It was a painful experience and a colossal disappointment. Now I read this about 'Sister George' – which has always been quirky 'good' viewing. Can't the custodians of these great flicks see what a disservice they do to the cultural heritage of cinema in general when they release flawed stuff like this to the public? Again, I know…time and money. But I would see fewer quality releases coming down the pike than a slew of so-so to downright unacceptable product just being fed through the grinder for basic consumption. Just my thoughts. As always, I digress to yours.

    PS – Is it just me or do the U.K. third-party distributors like BFI, and, Eureka! MoC seem to have 'higher standards' when it comes to what classics they choose to release? Owning quite a few, it just seems more care gets taken on that side of the pond than over here.

  2. Nick*Z

    Dear Robert:

    For me, it is very disconcerting that a lot of Kino Lorber product gets a pass with less than stellar work being done by the owners of the copyright before Kino simply green-lights a disc to add to their mammoth library of ever-expanding classics. Exactly, how much money would it take to actually get things right in the first place. The ABC deal for the Selznick properties, as an example, has yielded pretty abysmal results on virtually all of that deep catalog on Blu. I was really disappointed with Since You Went Away which, as a B&W release, ought to have been given a new scan to improve its fine detail and contrast.

    I understand, Technicolor releases take more time, effort and money to get right, but honestly, I've watched my copies of Duel in the Sun and Nothing Sacred once. It was a painful experience and a colossal disappointment. Now I read this about 'Sister George' – which has always been quirky 'good' viewing. Can't the custodians of these great flicks see what a disservice they do to the cultural heritage of cinema in general when they release flawed stuff like this to the public? Again, I know…time and money. But I would see fewer quality releases coming down the pike than a slew of so-so to downright unacceptable product just being fed through the grinder for basic consumption. Just my thoughts. As always, I digress to yours.

    PS – Is it just me or do the U.K. third-party distributors like BFI, and, Eureka! MoC seem to have 'higher standards' when it comes to what classics they choose to release? Owning quite a few, it just seems more care gets taken on that side of the pond than over here.

    The alternative, is of course, not to have the films available on Blu-ray.

    I don't see Disney bank-rolling restorations of the ABC library. Life Among the Ruins, anyone?

    I'm not giving a "pass," with a 3.25. What I'm reporting is that the disc barely meets acceptable levels.

    And unfortunately, I don't have an answer. I'd simply like to save The Alamo over at MGM.

  3. It's a no win situation it seems. People constantly ask why isn't this on blu ray or why isn't that on blu ray yet? Well, the answers are fairly obvious. Either the elements aren't there or it's a low profile title of little interest outside the film geek community. The question should be why would Disney bankroll a restoration of The Killing Of Sister George? The film was poorly received by the critics and it didn't exactly set the box office on fire. The fact that it is being released on blu ray at all is a wonderful surprise! Sure, it would be dandy if all films released in HD would get spiffed up and get gorgeous new transfers but it's the real world and as you say, the alternative is not getting them out at all which is not acceptable. Still, the DVD of The Killing Of Sister George was not anamorphic (at least the old Anchor Bay wasn't) so this automatically makes the new blu a must have.

    The fact is that this is about as good some of these films are ever going to look. Deal with it!

  4. Robert Harris

    The alternative, is of course, not to have the films available on Blu-ray.

    I don't see Disney bank-rolling restorations of the ABC library. Life Among the Ruins, anyone?

    I'm not giving a "pass," with a 3.25. What I'm reporting is that the disc barely meets acceptable levels.

    And unfortunately, I don't have an answer. I'd simply like to save The Alamo over at MGM.

    Agreed, Robert. I never said you were giving it a pass. Oh, I see how you could have read that from my post. Honestly, Robert – I didn't mean you. Truly. I meant Kino is giving their third-party distributors a pass on less than acceptable HD transfers, simply to fatten their back catalog of titles. Again, sorry for the misinterpretation. It was not my intent to suggest you were giving anything a pass. You've always been clear, concise and honest about video/audio quality in your reviews. Much appreciated.

    And yes again, The Alamo – a dream project. I sincerely hope you succeed in working a miracle here. Please keep us posted.

  5. It's Disney who should have double-checked the master before they sent it to Kino Lorber.

    And as for its critics 50 years ago, how many of them disliked it merely because of the subject matter and not just the execution of it? Wikipedia, citing Variety and Robert Aldrich's biography, claims it made about twice what it cost, which would make it one of very few ABC Pictures films to recoup its budget.

    I find it interesting how between this and The Boys in the Band, which CBS's Cinema Center Films released through National General (ABC let Cinerama handle their films IIRC), it was the theatrical divisions of TV networks* who made two of the most seminal gay-themed films of the era and managed to be less condescending than some of the ones the major studios made. And some studios couldn't even bring themselves to handle it at all, including, sadly, the one that now owns this film.

    Hopefully, the color shift is a mistake and not an indication of something wrong with the film elements themselves, and they can issue a corrected version. Disney proper has been surprisingly good about fixing problems with their in-house discs.

    *NBC never bothered with one because the other two were money-losing ventures that ended with the Great Recession. Now the line between networks and studios is so blurred that it makes you wonder what early 1950s television-phobia was all about.

  6. MatthewA

    It's Disney who should have double-checked the master before they sent it to Kino Lorber.

    And as for its critics 50 years ago, how many of them disliked it merely because of the subject matter and not just the execution of it? Wikipedia, citing Variety and Robert Aldrich's biography, claims it made about twice what it cost, which would make it one of very few ABC Pictures films to recoup its budget.

    I find it interesting how between this and The Boys in the Band, which CBS's Cinema Center Films released through National General (ABC let Cinerama handle their films IIRC), it was the theatrical divisions of TV networks* who made two of the most seminal gay-themed films of the era and managed to be less condescending than some of the ones the major studios made. And some studios couldn't even bring themselves to handle it at all, including, sadly, the one that now owns this film.

    Hopefully, the color shift is a mistake and not an indication of something wrong with the film elements themselves, and they can issue a corrected version. Disney proper has been surprisingly good about fixing problems with their in-house discs.

    *NBC never bothered with one because the other two were money-losing ventures that ended with the Great Recession. Now the line between networks and studios is so blurred that it makes you wonder what early 1950s television-phobia was all about.

    The error is in the IP.

  7. A probable glimpse into the future of the Fox catalogue when in Disney’s hands. I’m so grateful for the remarkable work that Fox put into their catalogue transfers the last several years. But I fear the Mouse will put a stop to that.

  8. Thomas T

    It's a no win situation it seems. People constantly ask why isn't this on blu ray or why isn't that on blu ray yet? Well, the answers are fairly obvious. Either the elements aren't there or it's a low profile title of little interest outside the film geek community. The question should be why would Disney bankroll a restoration of The Killing Of Sister George? The film was poorly received by the critics and it didn't exactly set the box office on fire. The fact that it is being released on blu ray at all is a wonderful surprise! Sure, it would be dandy if all films released in HD would get spiffed up and get gorgeous new transfers but it's the real world and as you say, the alternative is not getting them out at all which is not acceptable. Still, the DVD of The Killing Of Sister George was not anamorphic (at least the old Anchor Bay wasn't) so this automatically makes the new blu a must have.

    The fact is that this is about as good some of these films are ever going to look. Deal with it!

    A brilliant film and one of the best of it's type. Very funny and Beryl Reid ( Dolly in HELLO DOLLY in the West End) gives one of the year's best performances by a female. Truly awesome. It was a much censored film when originally released. but got raves reviews from the press.

  9. cinemiracle

    A brilliant film and one of the best of it's type. Very funny and Beryl Reid ( Dolly in HELLO DOLLY in the West End) gives one of the year's best performances by a female. Truly awesome. It was a much censored film when originally released. but got raves reviews from the press

    Rave reviews? C'mon let's not rewrite history!

    Renata Adler, New York Times: All the speeches are slow, chirping and screamish; even Beryl Reid, as George, seems to have become, since the play, just a whinnying, hissing granny on a single unconvincing note. Susannah York, as Childie, is disturbing, but seems, devoutly and understandably, to be wishing herself in some heterosexual part. Childie and George, for some reason, are not so much made up as oiled, as for a Channel swim. The prolonged, simultaneously serious and mocking treatment of homosexuals, I suppose, inevitably turns vicious and silly—as homosexuality itself inevitably has a degree of parody in it. But there is a scene between Coral Browne (the gossip columnist in "Lylah Clare"), playing a villainous lesbian studio executive, and Miss York's left breast, which sets a special kind of low in the treatment of sex—any kind of sex—in the movies now. Miss York, whenever her face is in view, looks embarrassed. Miss Browne approaches the breast with a kind of scholarly interest, like an icthyologist finding something ambivalent that has drifted up on the beach. The scene goes on for ages (Mr. Aldrich's attempt, I suppose, to gather some of the refugees from "Therese and Isabelle"). It is the longest most unerotic, cash-conscious scene between a person and a breast there has ever been on screen, and outside a surgeon's office. Not much of a first."

    Pauline Kael, The New Yorker: "Robert Aldrich's Killing Of Sister George has low intentions all right but it's as fresh as Joan Crawford's smile. This clumpingly archaic piece of movie making is forties emotional stuff. Aldrich starts out in that overwrought style of his and keeps pounding away at us. It's best to clear the streets because he's frightening the horses."

    John Simon, New York Magazine: "A far cry from a happy adaptation. Aldrich has turned this material into a crawling tear jerker. Susannah York is unconvincing at everything: lesbianism, childishness, acting."

    Andrew Sarris, Village Voice: "I found most of the film monotonous in its flip flops between satire and sensationalism. There is a theme there somewhere about the implications of camp sensibility and in hack culture but the play and film prefer to exploit our preconceptions about both subjects rather than establish any meaningful connections of their own. Beryl Reid is too boring an actress to create enough sympathy."

    And those are from four of the major critics of their day. I'm not saying I agree with them and I'm certainly buying the blu ray but let's keep it real. 🙂

  10. If they ever made a movie about John Simon, it sure wouldn't have the word "love" in it.

    And if it's Pauline Kael you're citing, then by all means let's rewrite history. Ray Carney, film professor at Boston University, once said of her "she wasn't interested in art; she was a connoisseur of kitsch."

  11. MatthewA

    And if it's Pauline Kael you're citing, then by all means let's rewrite history. Ray Carney, film professor at Boston University, once said of her "she wasn't interested in art; she was a connoisseur of kitsch."

    Love her or hate her, there's no denying she was the most influential critic of her generation. Without her championing films like Bonnie And Clyde, Nashville and Last Tango In Paris, the fate of those modern masterpieces would have been very different indeed.

  12. Renata Adler panned almost every film she reviewed while she was chief movie critic for the NYTimes, except THE TWO OF US (hey, it's French) & possibly BELLE DE JOUR (also French.). In fact, she panned so many acclaimed films that after she panned HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH, United Artists took out a full page ad in Friday's NYTimes that said the following: (I'm quoting this from memory, so some words might be slightly erroneous, but this is the gist of it.) "Renata Adler of the "New York Times" has given negative reviews to BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GRADUATE, THE PRODUCERS, PLANET OF THE APES AND 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. All of these films have been acclaimed by other critics as well as by audiences. Now Ms. Adler has given a negative review to HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH. What a recommendation!"

  13. John Simon also panned almost every film he reviewed, except for PARDON MY AFFAIRE (which also happened to be French). I'll never forget that I went to the opening at MOMA of the King Vidor retrospective, where they showed THE PASTY, with Marion Davies. The film was given a standing ovation. Afterwards, King Vidor came on stage to take questions. John Simon popped up and said, "I'm John Simon of "New York Magazine" and I want to know how could you have possible made such tripe?" King Vidor roared with laughter, but so many people in the audience booed at John Simon that he was forced to leave.

  14. They offered Beryl Reid's role to Angela Lansbury, but she turned it down because after The Manchurian Candidate she'd gotten tired of playing unsympathetic characters.

    As for Renata Adler, this quote from her review of this film says it all:

    The prolonged, simultaneously serious and mocking treatment of homosexuals, I suppose, inevitably turns vicious and silly—as homosexuality itself inevitably has a degree of parody in it.

    Excuse me? Not liking 2001: A Space Odyssey was one thing; even Rock Hudson screamed "would someone tell me what the Hell this is about?" after he saw it. But this comment is small-minded even for 1969.

    For the record, Larry Kramer was a co-writer of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, a film I'd never even heard of until right now.

  15. I don’t think anyone is arguing the qualities or non-qualities of a reviewer. I believe these were posted in response to a poster that earlier said Sister George received rave reviews. It apparently did not. I was working in theatres when the movie was released and it played one week to empty showings.

    I however, do see the the interest in the film and have a copy of the Blu-Ray. I cant wait to show it to friends that have never seen it.

    On another note: Sister George played the bottom feature of a drive-in double bill with Clockwork Orange in New Orleans.

  16. ahollis

    I don’t think anyone is arguing the qualities or non-qualities of a reviewer. I believe these were posted in response to a poster that earlier said Sister George received rave reviews. It apparently did not. I was working in theatres when the movie was released and it played one week to empty showings.

    Thank you, Allen and quite right. My aim was certainly not to derail this thread into a discussion of film criticism. As you point out, my aim was merely to point out that the film did not receive "rave" reviews from the press and I used four major critics of the day. I agree Renata Adler was a misguided critic but hey, she was writing for The New York Times which carried a lot of weight in 1968. Whether those reviews were fair or accurate is irrelevant since we're looking at it from a 2018 perspective when I was discussing contemporary reviews of TKOSG.

  17. lark144

    John Simon also panned almost every film he reviewed, except for PARDON MY AFFAIRE (which also happened to be French).

    Once again cutting down on the hyperpole, Simon did, in fact, give favorable (he rarely gave out and out "raves") reviews to American Graffiti, Yellow Submarine, China Syndrome, Bergman's Shame, Badlands, Oliver!, Chinatown, Klute, Sounder, Nashville, Charley Varrick, Straw Dogs, The Candidate, MASH, Sleuth, Melvin And Howard, Visconti's The Stranger, Young Frankenstein, Rocky, Pretty Poison, The Man Who Would Be King, Virgin And The Gypsy, True Grit, Persona, Bullitt, Friends Of Eddie Coyle, They Shoot Horses Don't They?, The Spy Who Loved Me, Murder On The Orient Express, Rachel Rachel, Sleeper, All The President's Men, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, The Onion Field.

  18. I remember reading that Renata Adler walked out of the New York Film Critics Circle voting when The Lion in Winter won Best Picture of 1968. She was outraged and refused to participate any further. I believe she was fired shortly after that.

  19. Matt Hough

    I remember reading that Renata Adler walked out of the New York Film Critics Circle voting when The Lion in Winter won Best Picture of 1968. She was outraged and refused to participate any further. I believe she was fired shortly after that.

    I'd have walked out too! 🙂 Yes to 2001 A Space Odyssey, Rosemary's Baby, Oliver!, Petulia, Planet Of The Apes, Pretty Poison, Shame, The Swimmer but The Lion In Winter? Really?

  20. Thomas T

    I'd have walked out too (or at least kicked a chair over :))! Yes to 2001 A Space Odyssey, Rosemary's Baby, Oliver!, Petulia, Planet Of The Apes, Pretty Poison, Shame, The Swimmer but The Lion In Winter? Really?

    Wasn't Adler a huge backer of Cassavettes' "Faces" during the NYFCC voting that year ?

  21. SeanSKA

    Wasn't Adler a huge backer of Cassavettes' "Faces" during the NYFCC voting that year ?

    I thought I recalled she was pushing for Shame, but to storm out because your choice isn't the winner is the epitome of sour grapes/sore loser in my view. Seems like Shame did win the National Society of Film Critics' vote.

  22. I watched "Sister George" last expecting the worst image wise. The PQ was a quantum leap over the DVD. For me it looked great .
    I saw it opening day ( A Christmas release ) in a 1200 seat theater.( sold out) It was my first X rated film.
    I enjoyed watching it with a better understanding than I did at 16.
    Susannah York was a great actress.

  23. Matt Hough

    I thought I recalled she was pushing for Shame, but to storm out because your choice isn't the winner is the epitome of sour grapes/sore loser in my view. Seems like Shame did win the National Society of Film Critics' vote.

    Now you know why she was senior film critic at the NY Times for only one year !

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