ANNE HEYWOOD.....Evelyn Wyckoff
DONALD PLEASENCE.....Dr. Steiner
ROBERT VAUGHN.....Dr. Neal
EARL HOLLIMAN.....Ed Eckles
DANA ELCAR.....Mr. Havermeyer
JOHN LAFAYETTE.....Rafe Collins
JOCELYN BRANDO.....Lisa Hemmings
Directed by MARVIN J. CHOMSKY
Written by POLLY PLATT
Produced by RAYMOND STROSS
REVIEW BY CHRISTOPHER WEEDMAN
I must admit something.....I don't get much out of most flashy special effects pictures. You won't see me at the local multiplex waiting in line to see the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster. Sure, they look spectacular, but effects aren't very hard to accomplish these days--all you need is $70 or 80 million and Industrial Light and Magic will set you up with the works. When I watch a movie, I want to be totally engulfed by the characters on the screen. Anything else is just added tensile on the Christmas tree. On one cold and dreary January afternoon, I found myself totally transfixed by the lead character in a small 1979 production that most of you probably haven't even heard of.....let alone seen. The film was Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff.
Based on the 1970 novel by Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist William Inge (the playwright of Come Back, Little Sheba and Picnic), Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff is a sad, sometimes utterly depressing tale of the loneliness and despair experienced by a thirty-five year old school teacher named Evelyn Wyckoff. Evelyn is coming to the troubling conclusion that her life is without meaning. She doesn't have a husband, boyfriend, or children to love and grow old with. Her life revolves entirely around her classroom duties, which no longer fulfill her wants and desires. Evelyn is longing for love.....any kind of love. After the Christmas holiday, it comes from an unlikely source.
One day after school, a young black student/janitor, Rafe Collins, enters her classroom. Evelyn thinks nothing of it, because he always comes in, after the students head home, to clean her classroom. On this particular occasion, there is something different about him--Evelyn can see a sly look in his eyes. He begins to talk suggestively towards her, and it makes her feel uncomfortable. Evelyn's anxiety begins to heighten, when he slowly begins to unzip his pants. Scared for her well-being, she grabs her things and runs out of the room in a mad panic. This excites Rafe and prompts him to carry his depraved thoughts one step further.
Evelyn chooses to tell no one, because she doesn't think it will happen again and wouldn't want to see Rafe lose his scholarship. The following day, after school, he again appears at Miss Wyckoff's door. Evelyn tries to walk past him and get out of the room, but he has no intention of letting her leave. Rafe tears her blouse and forces her on top of her desk, where he proceeds to rape her. Now, it is 1956 and any kind of intercourse with a black man--especially rape--would make her a social outcast, so, understandably, she opts to tell no one.
This humiliating experience is followed by continual forced sexual liaisons with Rafe everyday after school. After the first few times, Evelyn begins to look forward to their daily meetings. Her mind is so warped by her loneliness and unfulfillment that she begins to mistake his lust for love, but it is nothing of the kind. Evelyn's disillusionment and need for attention allows Rafe to keep his hold over her and eventually results in the total destruction of the few things she actually has left in the world.
Evelyn Wyckoff is played with great compassion and sympathy by the charming Anne Heywood, a British actress whose film credits don't measure up to her acting abilities. This part is not an easy one to pull off. If the character of Evelyn Wyckoff is not taken in and embraced by the audience, her motivation to stay with her repugnant attacker would be unclear and might turn off some viewers. Heywood, however, brings a vivid feeling of warmth and gentility to her characterization, and I personally found it impossible not to empathize with her plight. I sat in my chair hoping that this woman would someday find happiness, but the closer the film came to its conclusion, I realized that it was not in her destiny.
Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff boasts a great supporting cast of familiar faces, including Carolyn Jones (nominated for an Academy Award for The Bachelor Party--not the raunchy Tom Hanks sex comedy--but best known as the heroine in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and as Morticia Addams on the classic TV series The Addams Family), Robert Vaughn (TV's The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Earl Holliman (The Sons of Katie Elder), Dorothy Malone (Academy Award winner for Written on the Wind), and Donald Pleasence as Evelyn's sympathetic psychiatrist Dr. Steiner--one of the few men that truly loved her as a person.
This film will most definitely offend many viewers, because of the portrayal of a woman that gets satisfaction out of being raped. While this subject sounds repugnant on the surface, it is treated with a great deal of care by director Marvin J. Chomsky and his screenwriter Polly Platt, who don't cheapen the film with scenes of graphic sex--instead, the scenes make us realize how deeply sad and pathetic this woman and her life really is. We want her to realize that this is not love, but she can't, because she has never experienced true love. She doesn't know what it feels like. Even at the film's end, Evelyn wishes nothing bad on the creep Rafe, because she accepts that part of the balme falls on her child-like naiveness.
Unfotunately, the film is not without its flaws. The patient-psychiatrist dialogue between Heywood and Pleasence could have been much sharper and revealed more ebout Evelyn's inner torment. Also, I felt the film was much too short and many scenes could have and needed to be fleshed out. The video I found (which was under the generic renamed title The Shaming) clocked in at 80 minutes, but some reference books list it at as long as 105 minutes. I would have to believe that I have seen a cut print, because many of the scenes end so abruptly. I would be delighted to see a longer version, which more than likely would rectify some of the qualms I had with the picture.
While not a great picture, which it definitely could have been, it does possess a memorable character that I won't soon forget. Since the film never found a proper distributor at the time of its release and was a critical disaster, it is unlikely that Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff will ever receive the attention it deserves. But, you can rest assure that every once in a while, I will remember that cold and dreary afternoon in January, when a lost and disillusioned soul touched my heart. Thank you, Miss Wyckoff.
UPDATE (7/16/98)---I recently bought a previously viewed copy of GOOD LUCK, MISS WYCKOFF (under the title THE SHAMING). My copy was released on video by HAL ROACH STUDIOS FILM CLASSICS in 1986. I was excited to see it was the complete 105 minute film. This version is far superior! It rectifies most of the problems I had with the 80 minute version. I am now forced to re-rate this picture.