Title: Rachel, Rachel
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Paul Newman
Music: Jerome Moross
Cinematography: Gayne Rescher
RACHEL, RACHEL marks the director debut of Paul Newman, and invites Woodward back to the Oscar race after a decade hiatus since her win in her multi-personalities showcase in THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957), “hubby knows the best, right?”. The film is also an interesting case in its award season, Woodward and Newman both won a Golden Globe (for LEADING ACTRESS in DRAMA and DIRECTOR) while the film missed a BEST MOTION PICTURE (DRAMA) nomination; then in the Oscars, it grabbed four nominations (for Woodward, Parsons and writer Stern) including a surprising one in BEST PICTURE while Newman is shut out. How unpredictable is that?
The film is based on Margaret Laurence’s novel A JEST OF GOD, it is all about Rachel (Woodward), an unassuming spinster in her 30s, living with her dependent widowed mother May (Harrington) in a rural town in Connecticut. Her diseased father Niall (Moffat) was an undertaker, and now they live in an apartment above the funeral home once owned by Niall. Rachel is a schoolteacher and her fellow unmarried college Calla (Parsons) is her best friend, who has recently found her strength in religion and insists Rachel should come with her to attend a service where a speak-in-tongues preacher (Kiser) urges Rachel to fully express her need of love. Then the film gallantly touches on the subject of lesbianism, quite a shock to watch but it is scintillatingly structured, but Rachel is not a lesbian, soon her repressed sexual urge finds a full vent from Nick (Olson), his childhood-schoolmate-turns-stud who lures her into steamy and sensual affairs, but a stable marriage? They are not on the same page.
“You’ll never leave anything, Rachel”, is the ongoing monologue recurring in Rachel’s head, also psychologically affected by the memories of morbid things she witnessed as a child due to her father’s uncanny vocation. Rachel has been intricately designed as a damaged good who can never alter her path into a normal girl, she is hobbled by May’s reliance and surveillance, who takes for granted that Rachel is the daughter for keeps, a child can take care of her in senility (while another daughter is married and their link grows distant), it is the usual love/hatred ambivalence an unmarried daughter feels for her over-protective mother, it is also the last barrier for Rachel’s decision of a fresh start.
Remarkably, the film takes a rather unbiased prospect towards all its characters, not just Rachel, even May, Nick and Calla, each has their defects but Newman injects humane realism into their behavior and mind patterns, never let the drama stand in the way of characterization, we might not agree with them, but we cannot blame them either. Particularly, as a labor-of-love, if it is not because of Newman’s clout in the industry, this sort of independent film with a radically innovative guideline could not have been made at all in its time, it sends the message of woman’s liberation with the brunt of its force, convincingly establishes Rachel as a specimen to encourage and enlighten.
Ms. Woodward is sheer amazing, even better than her Oscar-winning performance in my opinion, denuded of any star flair to give such an unalloyed tour-de-force as a woman trapped by the stagnancy of status quo and social pressure, who eventually takes the reign of her own life, which credits must also ascribed to Newman’s assiduous camera, relentlessly captures her most revealing moments for our pleasure. Parsons and Harrington – the former is fresh out of her Oscar-win for BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) – both are Oscar-worthy in their roles, while Olson deliciously parades with his rakish glamour and Kiser owns the screen with his scene-stealing expertise, it is also the screen debut for the latter.
Sitting in the director’s chair, Newman unstintingly conjures up camera tricks to embellish the movie with an artistic sheen -360 degree rotating shots, out-of-focus shaky angles and soft-focus frames, all tender the film a stimulating personality which differs from major studio work at then, simply a nonpareil should be embalmed and enshrined for admiration and reverence.