Lipstick (1976) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


The few people who have seen Lipstick remember it vividly, even though they probably saw it many decades ago. It's a story about the rape of a supermodel, and the trial of the rapist. Although the realism of the rape can't be compared to some more recent films like Irreversible, it was all too realistic by 1976 standards, and it triggered a debate over whether the graphic portrayal of the rape scene was necessary to create revulsion for the rapist, or was simply melodramatic exploitation designed to fulfill the dominance fantasies of male members of the audience. Was it a turn-on or a turn-off?

Women, even feminist women, were divided on the question. Many female intellectuals felt that the movie was pure cheesy exploitation, while others felt that the film accurately and importantly portrayed two ancillary aspects of the rape:

  • The marketing of sex in our society that makes men think of women as sexual objects.
  • The process by which a rape trial may humiliate the victim as much or more than the rape itself.

The supermodel was raped by her little sister's unstable music teacher. At the request of the student/sister, he had come to their apartment to play them some of his unique synthesized compositions, which were basically eerie sounds combining abstract modern music with ambient noise. The phone rang while he was playing his music for the supermodel, and she used the phone call as an excuse to get away from the cacophony. He took that departure as a grave insult, and his burning anger turned to brutality.

The woman reported the crime, went to trial, experienced all the attendant humiliation, then heard the jury say "not guilty". Back out on the streets and not satisfied to lie low after his lucky break, the rapist took the first available opportunity to rape the supermodel's 13 year old sister. When that second rape happened during a photo shoot, the supermodel, still wearing an elegant ball gown, went out to her car, got a big game rifle, and avenged her sister by gunning the rapist down like an animal in the streets of L.A. In a postscript, the audience was told that she was found "not guilty" in her own trial.


  • Margaux Hemingway exposes her breasts and buns repeatedly, first in a photo shoot, then before the rape, then during the rape . There are very brief flashes of her pubic area as well.
  • Chris Sarandon exposes his bum.

That sounds improbable and melodramatic, but probably not totally foolish, right?


It was totally foolish, for several reasons:

  • The supermodel was played by a genuine supermodel, Margaux Hemingway, the face of Babe perfume. The critics excoriated her performance. Looking back on it now and trying to remain objective, I don't think that she did a bad acting job, certainly not by supermodel standards, but Margaux seemed worthy of ridicule because she had a hilarious cartoon voice that sounded quite a bit like quacking, and she also had a pronounced speech impediment. She did have some weak line readings, but in some other scenes she seemed quite convincing, especially in the scenes with her sister. That didn't really matter, given her voice. Imagine a brutal, realistic rape drama in which the beautiful victim talks like Donald Duck, and you'll see why the critics had a field day with Margaux. Even with the extreme gravity of the subject matter, it is not easy to suppress laughter when Margaux is speaking. Her voice, the film's melodrama, and the turgid dialogue could be viewed as ultra-high camp if it were about some subject other than rape.
  • Some scenes just came out of nowhere. Before the last day of the trial, Margaux was at home asleep. She picked up her phone, and heard some of the music teacher's weird, discordant compositions. The camera then cut to the other side of the call, revealing the naked music teacher, holding the receiver to a speaker. I suppose that could have been worked into the plot somehow, but it wasn't. The scene existed in complete isolation. The next scene took place in court the next day, and nobody spoke of the phone call again.
  • A big game rifle? She was "the hottest model in the world". I suppose some L.A. supermodels at that level might keep a loaded big game rifle in their car, but I'd have to figure the percentage is pretty low. Of course, they were heading to the mountains and Margaux's last name was Hemingway, so I suppose it was a family tradition.
  • What could have been her legal defense when she killed the guy? I know that the scriptwriter wanted to see her get off, but the film should have ended with her standing over the body in her ball gown, still pointing her rifle. (Ending it there would have been more cinematic as well.) Her slaying of the rapist was premeditated, calculated murder, and to make it more egregious, she was firing off round after round in a parking lot and then on a major thoroughfare in downtown L.A., oblivious to passers-by. It was only by sheer chance that she didn't kill fifty people, because Mr Rapist was driving a car. After she fired the first two shots, the rapist's car went out of control into a city street and flipped over. Yes, of course the guy deserved what he got, but that's no legal defense.

I did learn something from this movie. The D.A. played a sample of the rapist's music for the jury. Everyone in the courtroom was instantly able to conclude that a man is capable of murder if he can create sounds consisting of a synthesizer and ocean noises. I hadn't thought of that before, but it's hard to disagree. The police should go to all the candle shops in America, pick up those "noises of nature" tapes, and add the authors to their database of usual suspects.

The two stars of the film were virtually destroyed by it.

  • Margaux took such a critical lambasting that she was offered only two roles in the next seven years, and one of those was a minor part in a bad movie of legendary status (They Call Me Bruce?). Despondent over her failing career fortunes and two bad marriages, she suffered through a mammoth weight gain, substance abuse, and bankruptcy. She was living in a small apartment over a garage in Santa Monica, when she was found dead in 1996 at the age of 41. As reported by CNN, the L.A. Coroner ruled that she committed suicide. Suicide is another Hemingway tradition. Ernest Hemingway himself committed suicide, as did his brother, sister and father. Margaux's sister Mariel disputes the suicide conclusion in Margaux's case, arguing that Margaux seems to have suffered an epileptic seizure exacerbated by her substance abuse. Mariel's position is that Margaux was a drama queen who would have left a suicide note, and that she was found with her legs propped on a pillow and a book in her lap, a condition not indicative of suicide.
  • The rapist, Chris Sarandon (Susan's ex), had been in only one movie before Lipstick, and had been nominated for an Oscar. By virtue of that fact, he had to have been considered one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood before this movie. The tawdry Lipstick was not a good choice for his follow-up project.

DVD info from Amazon

widescreen anamorphic, 1.85

There was one success story in Lipstick. Margaux's younger sister Mariel played her younger sister in the film, and did such a good job that she launched a highly successful acting career. Her very next role was a major part in one of the best films in history (Manhattan).

Mariel is a remarkably normal person, considering her family's tragic history. The suicides only scratch the surface of the pain and despondency which run through her family, and Mariel has endured enough sorrow for twenty lifetimes.


Lipstick (1976) is not a great movie. In point of fact, it could easily have been an afternoon special, other than the nudity of star Margaux Hemingway. Those who read Scoop's review above already know the plot about the rising model who is raped by her kid sister's music teacher. I would like to weigh in on some of the controversial questions concerning this film.

First, was the length of the rape scene, and the nudity necessary? My answer is an emphatic yes. The entire point of the film was that Hemingway was violated by her rapist, then by the courts, then by the jury. For us to see that, we needed to know beyond any doubt that she was the victim of a vicious rape. As to her voice, and uneven line delivery, I am not so sure it was a mistake in casting, but rather a choice. Her character was actually two women, one, a rising professional supermodel, supposed to be every woman's ideal of what they would like to be. The other was a rather quiet, naive, and trusting Catholic girl, dedicated to her baby sister. There was a point to this duality in her character. The jury believed the femme fatal supermodel persona, even though that was just an act.

As for the ending, I can only think of it as fantasy. In the real world, Hemingway would be doing time, and her sister would be the object of a wrongful death suit. The fantasy ending did show the writer's idea of justice. So how good is the movie? Just mediocre. Mariel Hemingway, as the little sister, was outstanding, the messages of the film were well-intentioned, and it does give some insight into the mind of the rape victim. To those who always claim that a graphic rape scene is misogynistic, nonsense. Rape scenes that show it for the violent violation of women that it is are pro-woman. Any attempt to show a rape as possibly justified because she was asking for it, or as just an over-eager consensual sex act is misogynistic. This film generated way more controversy than it deserved, partly because it was a story that had not been told before as graphically. That was then. I have to question the sincerity of those who have recently commented that the rape scene is very disturbing.

The Critics Vote

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, Scopp says, "this is a C-. One of the hardest films to rate accurately. As bad as the script is, and as silly as Margaux's voice is, the film is directed with a certain flair that makes it watchable. Unfortunately, it cannot be viewed either as a bad movie you can laugh at (because of the subject matter), or a powerful melodrama (because of the cheese), but it is rather fascinating, and it stays with people for decades". Tuna says, "I think it is worth watching for any fan of either Hemingway sister, otherwise, there are many better choices for the same story. C-."

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