Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Women of 1975: Marilyn Hassett

Marilyn Hassett in “The Other Side of the Mountain”

Grade: ***

1975’s equivalent of “The Blind Side,” “The Other Side of the Mountain” was the film with the six-figure budget which produced over $35m at the U.S. box office ($140m+ in today’s climate), giving a leg-up to the already baity Marilyn Hassett in its principal role. The story of Jill Kinmont, a world-class skier paralysed in an accident, the film is incredibly dated, positively oozing with fromage, but nevertheless exhibits the biopic hallmarks associated with nominated films and performers. The cheap production values of this tearjerking venture perhaps crippled (if you excuse the term) the credibility of Hassett, whose own reviews were far more handsome than that of the film itself, leading to the sort of scepticism which led Vincent Canby of the New York Times to advise, “Load up on handkerchiefs and leave your wits at home.” Despite the derision, it didn't prevent the paper from proclaiming Hassett the frontrunner for the Oscar.

From a film in which we’re supposed to find a woman picking up a potato chip emotionally wrenching, Hassett predictably can’t allay the heavy-handedness of the script or direction, but her natural presence certainly helps to strengthen the emotional centre of this overtly tragic tale. She engenders herself to the audience through an ease of compassion towards others (even as she is often the figure most deserving of it), and furrows identification without feeling too much of a victimised pawn of the proceedings. When Jill loses physical capabilities, Hassett presents her mental strength as a façade without suggesting this woman is broken. She’s insecure and uncertain at pursuing career and romance goals post-accident, but in possession of the inclination to confront them, rather than retreat or hide. 

While it's easy to scoff at everything "The Other Side of the Mountain" has to offer, Hassett’s is a far more nuanced performance than you’d expect from such a staunchly biographical drama, limited in gears but, at its heart, well devised.

Accolades: Golden Globe Nomination (Best Actress in a Leading Role - Drama)

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