(director/writer: Robert Altman; cinematographer: Charles Rosher; editor: Dennis Hill; music: Gerald Busby; cast: Shelley Duvall (Millie Lammoreaux), Sissy Spacek (Pinky Rose), Janice Rule (Willie Hart), Robert Fortier (Edgar Hart), Ruth Nelson (Mrs. Rose), John Cromwel (Mr. Rose), Sierra Pecheur (Mrs. Bunweill), Beverly Ross (Deidre), Craig Richard Nelson (Dr. Maas); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Robert Altman; 20th Century-Fox; 1977)

“Absorbing until it crashes in a tiresome manner trying to be too inexplicably symbolic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Altman (“Nashville”/”MASH”/”Popeye”)is the writer-director of this unconventional thought-provoking psychodrama about the connection between three strange women, that is absorbing until it crashes in a tiresome manner trying to be too inexplicably symbolic. It was supposedly inspired by Altman’s own dreams after watching Ingmar Bergman‘s Personaon late night television. It was never fully scripted. Nevertheless, even when it misfires, Altman’s observations are keen and the strange multi-personality drama – somewhat a satire and somewhat a depressive tale on relationships – is rewarding as a personal pic and as a moody atmospheric piece, even if it’s not particularly entertaining at all times.

Newly arrived from Texas, the mousy Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) gets an attendant’s job in an old-age convalescent home in a resort town in the California desert. She instantly becomes attached to workplace colleague Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), a chatty gossip and socially active young woman, who fancies herself a big hit with the men when we see otherwise. Pinky becomes Millie’s roommate and follows her around, developing a sicko psychological dependency on the perky wannabe party gal. Millie takes Pinky to the Dodge City bar, a hang-out for cops, that has a gun-range on the premise and the TV set from the old Wyatt Earp show. The place is run by retired faux-cowboy stuntman Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier), who was a double for Hugh O’Brien when he played Wyatt, and his embittered taciturn mural painter wife Willie (Janice Rule), whose work expresses her fears and antagonistic attitude towards male aggression.

Millie acts bossy around the hayseed Pinky, and unfairly blames her for dinner guests being no shows. When Millie brings home that night a drunken Edgar and yells at Pinky to clear out so she can screw him, the anguished Pinky falls from her apartment balcony railing onto the swimming pool and goes into a coma (a possible attempt at suicide). When discharged from the hospital after her recovery, Pinky strangely reverses her timid personality and takes on Millie’s more aggressive outgoing personality. Pinky’s role reversal leads to several odd incidents and weird confrontations, bringing on a tragic third act whereby the three disconnected women conveniently come together in a new type of relationship (that’s more schematic than convincing).

It has the pretense of an Ingmar Bergman riff to soothe its self-conscious arty intent and dispenses comical social commentary that’s often refreshing, but it’s the stunning performance by Duvall as the live-wire clueless mentor of her naive co-worker which gives the film its metaphysical truth and the energy to cook up a rather tasty dish from such unappetizing ingredients.