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Delicate but unflinching character study of an unhappy woman. 4 Stars

Rachel, Rachel offers a splendid directorial debut for Paul Newman and one of the outstanding roles of her career for Joanne Woodward in a story of a pitiably unhappy spinster facing some hard truths about her life as middle age approaches.

Rachel, Rachel (1968)
Released: 26 Aug 1968
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 min
Director: Paul Newman
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Joanne Woodward, James Olson, Kate Harrington
Writer(s): Stewart Stern, Margaret Laurence
Plot: Rachel is a lonely school teacher who lives with her mother. When a man from the big city asks her out, she starts thinking about where she wants her life to go.
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 41 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 09/06/2022
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4/5

Paul Newman’s directorial debut was with Rachel, Rachel, a delicate 1968 character study that shuns elaborate plot for personal introspection. The title character, of course, is the film’s focus, but there are other folks in the mix making for a story that’s alternately tender, tragic, and truthful. Newman’s efforts behind the camera show his inexperience in places, but overall, it’s a fine cinematic debut for the talented actor in his maiden directorial effort.

Thirty-five-year-old schoolteacher Rachel Cameron (Joanne Woodward) is living the life of a virginal spinster tending to her demanding mother (Kate Harrington) after work and wondering if her small town, desperately lonely existence is all that life is going to offer her. Then childhood acquaintance Nick Kazlik (James Olson), also a teacher, returns to town for the summer, and they begin a tentative round of dating. Woefully inexperienced with men but hungry to experience sex, Rachel must overcome her shyness and crippling insecurity in the hopes that Nick might be the one to rescue her from her unfulfilling existence, but life isn’t always accommodating, and Rachel has some cruel lessons to learn before her summer vacation comes to an end.

Stewart Stern’s screenplay is based on the novel A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence, and it captures well the humdrum tedium of Rachel’s daily life. In addition to a constantly moving camera even during static dialogue exchanges, director Newman also drops into the narrative both Rachel’s childhood memories (the young Rachel played by Newman and Woodward’s daughter Nell Potts, and these are sometimes disturbing reminiscences) and dollops of fantasies Rachel dreams up at moments of emotional pique. The slightness of the tale is magnified by an unnecessary psychological sojourn to an evangelical church meeting in which the reluctant Rachel gets swept up in revivalist ecstasy with the mere loving touch of a visiting pastor (Terry Kiser in a memorable speaking-in-tongues cameo) sending her into a swoon, though the episode does allow Rachel’s best friend/fellow educator Calla Mackie (Estelle Parsons) the chance to finally display her true feelings for her chum. The faltering lovemaking scenes between Rachel and Nick are handled quite discreetly, and Rachel’s desperation for Nick to be “the one” stings in its pathetic obviousness. But unless one has read the story, the resolution is unquestionably unexpected and surprisingly upbeat for a tale that seems from the start to be mired in tragic finalities.

Joanne Woodward won both the Golden Globe and the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress award for her work in the movie (ironically, hubby Paul Newman won those same two prizes for his direction though she earned an Oscar nomination for her performance, and he shockingly was snubbed for a Best Director nod, the cause célèbre of the 1968 Oscar nominations). It’s beautiful, intricate work creating this insecure, overly cautious woman whose life has been so sheltered and stunted that ordinary human interaction is a herculean task to be avoided at all costs. James Olson displays some unexpected star power as the outgoing Nick though we might have understood him a bit better with some additional backstory. Estelle Parsons likewise earned an Oscar nomination for her work as the cheerfully resigned Calla Mackie (the year after taking the prize for her work in Bonnie and Clyde), a role that might have deserved a film of its own. Kate Harrington is nightmarishly demanding and emotionally greedy as Rachel’s mother while Donald Moffat plays with determination Rachel’s father in the dreamy remembrances she conjures up from time to time. Geraldine Fitzgerald is also present as a reverend in that evangelical sequence, and Frank Corsaro has a lovely couple of scenes as the town undertaker who bought the business from Rachel’s father.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully delivered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The image is pristine despite its age with nary a speck or slice to disrupt one’s attention. Newman has used both soft focus and grainy zoomed close-ups on occasion for effect, but, on the whole, the images are sharp and detailed with excellent and realistic color. Black levels are very nice in the evening scenes.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is typical of its era of sound recording, but some nice echo effects representing Rachel’s audible memories give the track some heft. Jerome Moross’ background score and the varied sound effects have been combined with the dialogue most professionally, and there are no problems at all with age-related hiss, pops, flutter, or crackle.

Special Features: 1.5/5

A Jest of God (2:16, HD): a promotional trailer (missing its audio) showing behind-the-scenes work on the film.

Theatrical Trailer (2:53, HD)

Overall: 4/5

Rachel, Rachel offers a splendid directorial debut for Paul Newman and one of the outstanding roles of her career for Joanne Woodward in a story of a pitiably unhappy spinster facing some hard truths about her life as middle age approaches. The Warner Archive Blu-ray disc delivers excellent picture and sound representation of the film, one that comes with a strong recommendation.

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Published by

Matt Hough

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