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June 12, 2014

Pete Walker: A House and a Home


House of Mortal Sin
Peter Walker - 1975

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Home Before Midnight
Pete Walker - 1979

both Redemption / Kino Lorber BD Region A

Is love impossible, or is it just that the characters in these two new home video releases are in impossible situations? That impossible love is revealed near the end of House of Mortal Sin, between two priests and the women in their lives. In Home Before Midnight, even when the twenty-eight years old songwriter known that the object of his affection is underage, he continues, even though he is aware of the legal consequences of his actions. In terms of subject matter, while some may have a sigh of relief knowing that the priests in House of Mortal Sin are heterosexual, Walker's film takes place in a community where the institutions of medicine and law are unknowing collaborators in the cover-up of the crimes of Father Meldrum. There is audacity in having a priest commit murder with a communion wafer.

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I don't consider House of Mortal Sin to be anti-Catholic or even anti-church, but rather an attack on the institutional conditions that allow for a priest to abuse others. There is the assumption that a priest would not resort to blackmail or murder. Father Meldrum's actions are attributed to his sexual frustration, due in part to his now bedridden mother who steered him to the priesthood, and of course, the Church's rules of celibacy. The most interesting scenes are the ones between Father Meldrum, his geriatric mother, and the housekeeper with one dark lens on her glasses. It is the tension between the three, plus the severe settings of stone walls, that provides a gothic feel to the proceedings, both visually and in narrative terms. That the film stars two "scream queens" from the Seventies, Susan Penhaligon and Stephanie Beacham is enough to give House of Mortal Sin instant cult status.

Home before Midnight almost appears to be Pete Walker's most mainstream film, and might have been so had there not been the various soft core scenes. Even when the relationship between fourteen year old Ginny and musician Mike is presented as innocent to Ginny's parents, you have to wonder why the parents weren't curious enough to meet Mike much earlier. Alison Elliot, even with her baby face, still looks too old for passing as a teenager. One of Mike's pals and musical collaborators, is played by Chris Jagger, brother to the better known Sir Michael, giving the film a mild dash of rock and roll legitimacy. The music by Jigsaw is best described as soft rock, and as such, is no threat to the standing of the Little River Band.

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Richard Todd effortless adds gravitas and well-honed acting chops as the attorney who defends Mike, trying to salvage what he can so that his client is, if not innocent, at least less guilty. What works in the film's favor is that Ginny is not presented as a teen seductress, nor Mike as a lecher praying on underage girls.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 12, 2014 08:39 AM