"Born Free." "Old Yeller." All of MGM's "Lassie" movies. These can leave me depressed for weeks. So I avoid them. I made a rare exception with David Frankel's 2008 “Marley and Me,” an affecting film about the life of a dog, from puppyhood to death. Still, Marley died. Funny, I have no problems or qualms whatsoever watching any human die on screen.
Yes, however. I become equally depressed by films in which humans are bullied or abused without surcease or any purpose, simply for the sake of being cruel. There are three in particular that put me in a foul mood and all of them are about the careless, often sadistic treatment of women.
One is William Fruet's 1972 Canadian film, "Wedding in White," starring Donald Pleasence as the repellent, nasty-drunk father of downtrodden Carol Kane who has been raped - and subsequently impregnated - by his best friend, also a drunk. Kane is represented symbolically by the poor dog (unseen, thank goodness) that her father keeps chained in their cellar.
Another is actress-turned-filmmaker Joan Chen's "Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl" ("Tian yu") of 1998, about a teenage girl with dreams who is lied to and sent to a remote area where she is kept indefinitely and essentially finessed into prostitution (but without the pay). It's a well-made, ugly film.
But the worst, hands-down, is Guy Green's "A Patch of Blue" (1965), in which the lovely Elizabeth Hartman made her film debut as a young blind woman who is ruthlessly abused not only but her mother (Shelley Winters at her most strident and unlikable), but also by her sleazy grandfather (Wallace Ford), disconcertingly called "Ole Pa," and by the mother's awful best friend (Elisabeth Fraser). Saintly Sidney Poitier is also in this but his niceness is overshadowed by the vile Winters-Ford-Fraser triumvirate.
A recent screening of "A Patch of Blue" on Turner Classic Movies, where it has become a staple, reminded me of just how abhorrent this film is.
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~Shelley Winters routinely abusing poor Elizabeth Hartman, whose character is blind, in "A Patch of Blue."
~photography: MGM 1965©