The quotidian purgatory of New England dullness, l'amour et la mort but mainly la mort, the nervous schoolteacher takes you through it. She rises in the morning as if from a crypt and imagines herself dropping dead on the way to class, and to the very end there's Joanne Woodward offering an open face glinting with desperation and desire. Jump-rope rhymes from childhood ("slaughter slaughter, undertaker's daughter") still ring in her ears, life with mother (Kate Harrington) above the family mortuary is all sandwich crumbs and "a lot of housekeeping." The thirtysomething maiden gets her first kiss from the colleague with repression issues of her own (Estelle Parsons) before getting devirginized near the cemetery by the old acquaintance (James Olson), by the end of the season she's lost the taste for vanilla. (A fade to black separates the heroine alone in bed trying not to touch herself and a pale parakeet being released from its birdcage.) Everyone has their armatures and flights, at the local tabernacle a sermon led by the hepcat preacher triggers an orgy of delirious yearning. "Well, I don't know if you're talking about God or LSD!" So it goes in the "last ascending summer," surveyed with notable sensitivity by Paul Newman's quick and close camera—a fervid inner life simmering through embalmed surfaces as memories and daydreams and abrupt shifts in film stock. Whitman's "untold want" or perhaps Kafka's Josephine the Singer, definitely Fellini's Giulietta degli Spiriti out in rural Connecticut. "The grave's a fine and private place..." An imagined pregnancy and the lingering scent of formaldehyde are just some of the elements woven delicately by Newman and Woodward on the way to the Greyhound bus; Loden's caustic analysis in Wanda is right around the corner. With Donald Moffat, Terry Kiser, Frank Corsaro, Bernard Barrow, and Geraldine Fitzgerald.
--- Fernando F. Croce