Barbara Loden wrote, directed and played the lead in this simply plotted, contemporary-American slice of low life.
Wanda, living on sufferance in her coalminer brother’s house, having wandered off from her husband and two children, borrows money from her aged father to get into town. Late for her divorce hearing, she tells the judge, “If he wants a divorce, let him have it”.
At the female sweatshop shirt factory on the edge of town, she asks about the $9.35 she received out of the $24 she earned for two days’ work and is told she’s “too slow” to work there anymore.
From a solacing beer in a nearby bar, she drifts into a motel bed with a travelling salesman (Arnold Kanig), who dumps her at the first Tasti-Freez and heads off for the city. Seeking a few minutes’ rest and cleanup in another bar, she again drifts into a hotel bed with a smalltime holdup man robbing the bar (she doesn’t know he’s cleaning out the place).
Heading for Scranton, Pennsylvania, in a series of stolen cars, Wanda experiences a left-handed sense of being needed for the first time in her life – doing errands and driving. “Mr Dennis” (Michael Higgins), however, decides to pull his big caper – kidnapping the president of a Scranton bank and emptying out the vaults.
When Dennis is shot by the police in the bank lobby, Wanda drifts back to her hometown, into a bar, into and out of another seduction attempt by a drunk soldier (Frank Jourdano), and finally into a Saturday night drink-out with miners and their gals.
Barbara Loden plays a woman Hollywood never stooped to conquer. When the small-time hood, Dennis, asks why she always wears pants and dumb clothes, she stares into the middle distance and replies, “I never had anything an’ I never will have anything, ’cause I’m stupid“.
Some of the camera work and editing is amateur-verging-on-cinema verite; ragged cuts, bouncy pan shots, mismatched colour stock, but this very special film won several prizes at international film festivals, including Best Picture at Cannes.
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