The Killing of Sister George (1968) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

An aging British actress, a lesbian, fears getting sacked from her soap opera job. When she finally gets the axe, it turns out that the BBC executive who fired her is also a lesbian, and also picked up the actress's beautiful little submissive girlfriend.

And so forth.

"Sister George" is the name of the character played by the actress in the soap opera. In soaps, of course, the way they fire a main player is to kill off his or her character, hence the title of the film.

This film was considered to be too daring by half when it came out in 1968, because all of the central love stories are of the "girls only" variety, and there is some actual hot girl-on-girl contact on screen, like mouth-to-bare-nipple, for example. That may not sound too wild to you, but you must realize that the world was different in 1968, and very few homosexuals were out of the closet.

I did learn a lot about sexual behavior from this early effort at lesbian cinema. The lesbian socio-sexual dynamic differs greatly from the guy-girl thing. Let's illustrate by supposing for the moment that you are a person of indeterminate sex. You're fiftyish, overweight, shapeless, ugly and contentious. You drink like a fish, swear like a sailor, behave violently with your sexual partner, and grope novice nuns in public places. You're paranoid, totally disagreeable, hypocritical, and ugly as sin.

Now let's assign some gender to you, so we can compare the differences.

  • If you're a guy, there's no chance of your ever having a long-term relationship with a beautiful woman. You won't even get near a beautiful woman without a thick stack of twenty dollar bills. If you have any woman in your life at all, it is because she has no place else to go. After the nun thing, you may even be headed for the hoosegow.
  • On the other hand, if you're a lesbian diesel dyke, you're a babe magnet! There are beautiful submissive lesbians just waiting for your attention, and they are not the sensible shoes kind of lesbian, but the hot girly kind.

This should lead you to a logical conclusion if you are an unattractive middle-aged man who wants to pick up beautiful babes. Get a sex change, and pick up those women in your new lesbian avatar. What could be easier? You don't even have to buy new clothes.

Does that sound accurate to you? Well, it would to the authors of this script. In other words, the portrayal of the three main lesbians in this film is about as accurate as the portrayal of marijuana use in Reefer Madness.

There are other problems as well. It is quite evident that The Killing of Sister George was originally a talky, character-based stage drama which was adapted to film. There are basically only three sets: the apartment of the lesbians, the BBC studio, and a lesbian nightclub. The film is filled with stagy speeches, there is a limited amount of plot development, and the only real "action" is an occasional slap across the face. On the other hand, I did like a lot of what they did in this film.

  • The opening of the film is very clever because the audience is first led into thinking it is watching a murder mystery, when the actress enters her home and starts talking about how "they" are trying to kill her. It is only after some time that we realize she is a soap opera actress talking about her character.
  • The scenes on the soap opera set were often amusing. Sister George is a syrupy-sweet old country nurse with a cheerful disposition and an endless reserve of optimism, so the pointed difference between the personality of the actress and that of her character provided some welcome comic relief from the melodrama of her home life.
  • One scene takes place in a lesbian bar, and it was filmed in a real lesbian bar with the actual patrons, thus lending some authenticity.

As much as I dislike remakes, this film is probably a good candidate, under the general criterion of "once-good films which are now too dated to work effectively." The basic concept is still fine, but watching it today induces cringes at its stereotyped portrayal of lesbian relationships, and the existing version of the script is no longer capable of generating any shock or titillation simply by showing two women in a sexual relationship. Unlike the people of 1968, we have been there and done that, although it is still erotic to watch Susannah York's facial close-ups during an orgasm. On the other hand, the entire premise might work again if it were remade by lesbian women with an eye to a realistic portrayal of their personalities and their sexual dynamic. If the old diesel dyke actress were changed to a strong and attractive but bitterly fading actress, I could see Meryl Streep (for example) bringing some real depth to the character. I can already picture Streep switching instantaneously from a sweet, refined character to an acrimonious actress when the director yells "cut," all the while making the actress a real person. In the 1968 version, that same character seems to be a broad burlesque of a lesbian, at least to modern eyes.

It would not be possible to add much action for a remake, but the film's current slow pacing would probably seem fine with a running time of about 100 minutes rather than the existing 140. I'm thinkin' a remake of this film might make for a pretty good dramedy. The dated elements  could be fixed, the positive elements of the script could be retained, some of the speechifying could be eliminated altogether, and some of it converted to zippy dialogue. And it shouldn't be that hard to get the shock value up to modern standards!

As for the existing version? Oh, it was a good and daring movie in its day, but it's just too dated to enjoy. In fact, some of it is embarrassing to watch, and could even be considered high camp. Still and all, if you are still interested in it as a time capsule, the widescreen anamorphic transfer on the DVD is excellent, although there are no features of any kind.

On a side note, one must wonder, "Was director Bob Aldrich actually two different men?"  Here are two columns of Aldrich movies:

Aldrich A Aldrich B
The Longest Yard The Killing of Sister George
The Dirty Dozen Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte
4 For Texas Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Vera Cruz Autumn Leaves
Ulzana's Raid The Legend of Lylah Claire

Aldrich A could almost be mistaken for Sam Peckinpah, while Aldrich B might be a stand-in for Doug Sirk. Schizophrenic stuff! And this is not because Aldrich suddenly started to do a different kind of movie when he got older. He freely switched from list A to list B throughout his career. His previous film before The Killing of Sister George? The Dirty Dozen!



  • No features
  • Widescreen, anamorphically enhanced
  • Excellent transfer



Susannah York shows her breasts in a sex scene, and in another scene she wears a see-through nightie with only panties beneath

The Critics Vote ...

  • It was nominated for a Golden Globe (Best Actress: Beryl Reid)

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C, a respected film in its day, but slow pacing and sexual stereotyping make it a hard watch today, despite the fact that some strengths still shine through.

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