Sunday, 22 December 2013

Blu-ray review: Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1978) Donald Pleasence, Anne Heywood

Note: this is a difficult film to discuss without including some spoilers, so proceed with caution.
Set in 1956 in the ironically named Freedom, Kansas, where race relations and Communism are very much on the agenda, even at the school Miss Evie Wyckoff (Anne Heywood, L'assassino... รจ al telefono, 1972) works. She has campaigned for the rights of the black students, and stands up for a teacher threatened with the sack for teaching Karl Marx in his modern history class. She is also deeply depressed, not sleeping and breaking down in tears all the time. Her doctor (Robert Vaughn) informs her, that she is suffering early menopause. Being only 35, this comes as a shock, even more so in that she has never been with a man. He recommends her to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Steiner (the ever wonderful Donald Pleasence) in Wichita, which she does, but also that she should take a lover; "nature wants us to use our bodies, if we don't, they dry out"
good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff anne heywood
Her long journey to see him involves a bus ride, and the driver Ed (Earl Holliman) takes a shine to her, and the pair eventually have a coffee together. Despite being married with a child, he wants to have an affair with her. She is reticent, but tells the psychiatrist all about it. Her sessions are going well, and her life seems to be getting back on track. She treats herself to some fancy lingerie, and decides to take Ed up on his offer, only to find he has quit, left his wife and left the town. Rather than being set back by this, she takes it well, much to Dr. Steiner's joy "maybe you're liking yourself a little more".
good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff
After successfully changing the minds of the school board on the issue of the teaching of Marx, she is feeling content and relaxed for once. It is at this point one of the black students, Rafe (John Lafayette, The Terror Within, 1989)  - on a scholarship at the junior college but made to work as at the school as a janitor) begins to act inappropriately while cleaning her room. This makes her uncomfortable, but she doesn't make a big deal out of it, until the next time, when he goes too far and rapes her. It's a brutal, shocking scene coming as it does after the majority of the film has been moderately sedate. While she tries to avoid him for the next day or so, he eventually finds her alone again, and once again forces himself on her. However, despite his forcefulness she succumbs and enjoys their second encounter. Her body giving in to what she had 'been missing' for so long. This is fine for a while, but then he begins to be abusive as well as demanding. Degrading her, and finally maiming her. Eventually, the rest of the school finds out and her world falls apart greater than it ever had before.
good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff robert vaughngood luck, miss wyckoff donald pleasencegood luck, miss wyckoff
Based on the novel by William Inge (Bus Stop, Splendor in the Grass) and ably directed by  Marvin J. Chomsky (Evil Knievel, 1971) this is a storming, emotional tale of small town bigotry and emotional abuse. The main cast, Heywood especially, are superb and the rest of the cast includes Carolyn Jones (Mortica Addams herself), Dorothy Malone (Peyton Place) and Jocelyn Brando (Marlon's sister, and Bubba's mother in Dark Night of the Scarecrow, 1981), who are all exemplary. Pleasence is perfect as the psychiatrist, whose methods border on the seductive, seemingly to relish the virginal teacher's sexual awakening. Yet, like the rest of those around her is no-where to be seen when she needs him the most. The handling of the subject matter, despite it being marketed as an exploitation film in some markets, is actually very sensitive, despite the use of some words which are unacceptable now (well, unless you're a rapper or Quentin Tarantino, of course). The rape scene is powerful and upsetting, especially since we've just spent the best part of an hour getting to know the lovely Miss Wyckoff, but it's the abuse she allows herself to endure which is more shocking and distressing. Rafe is clearly an angry young man, using the vulnerable teacher to get back at a society which has downgraded his kind for far too long. However, the shame the teacher feels when she is abused by this young man is enough to make her keep quiet about the incident. She was raped, after all. A crime which should go punished. Yet rather than have the world know, she puts up with it, eventually becoming compliant, even - dare we say - enjoy the physical contact she has denied herself for so long. It is only when the truth comes out that her world really falls apart. And the double standards of the system really come into play. The boy would be missed from his high school football team if he was expelled, so it is the innocent Miss Wyckoff who must shoulder the blame and shame of it all.
 good luck, miss wyckoffgood luck, miss wyckoff
good luck, miss wyckoff
 Vinegar Syndrome have once again come up trumps with this release. The main Blu-ray disc looks great, with just a hint of crackle and hiss, but does show up the suspect re-dubbing in some scenes (no fault of the disc, obviously). The accompanying DVD also includes the heavily-cut, but more exploitative version, The Sin, which runs just under 80mins compared to the main feature's 116min. Cut are a large chunk of the first rape, the following scenes of degradation and an important scene in which Miss Wyckoff is maimed and then found out by some passing kids who hear her screams. There are also trailers and TV spots and a short interview with Shirley Knight, about the author Inge. Topping the set off is a separate soundtrack CD of the evocative Ernest Gold (Cross of Iron, 1977) score . A top-notch package for a difficult film, but that's what Vinegar Syndrome seem to do best. Their previous Blu-ray releases; a superb set of rare HG Lewis sexploitation flicks, Massage Parlor Murders! and The Telephone Book are all worth checking out. I aim to purchase their release of Russ Meyer's Fanny Hill asap and have their Night Train To Terror disc in my "to view" pile
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 good luck, miss wyckoff carolyn jones
A troubling, disturbing film but very thought provoking which handles the material so well it'll stay with you for some time.Highly recommended.
8 out of 10

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