SHAME (1988)
Director: Steve Jodrell
Scorpion Releasing

A motorcycling female barrister seeks justice in the wild outback in the Aussie thriller SHAME, out on DVD from Scorpion Releasing.

When biking barrister Asta Cadell (Deborra-Lee Furness, A CRY IN THE DARK) breaks down in an unfriendly outback town, she can handle some leering blokes and juvenile come-ons despite the patronizing warnings of police sergeant Cuddy (Peter Aanensen, ALVIN PURPLE) that the town is not a safe place for a lady. She takes her Suzuki bike to strangely numb mechanic Tim Curtis (Tony Barry, THE COCA-COLA KID) who tells her that it will be a couple days to get parts and allows her to sleep in an outbuilding despite the brusque attitude of his mother Norma (Margaret Ford). When Tim's traumatized teenage daughter Lizzie (Simone Buchanan, the PATRICK remake) is brought home from the hospital, it doesn't take much guessing to figure out what happened. She also learns what happened the former social butterfly wife of truck driver Russ (Bill McCluskey, THE CHAIN REACTION) as well as young Lorna (Karen Hobson) – as well as a little exposition from Curtis family friend Tina (Gillian Jones, OSCAR AND LUCINDA) – and realizes that a local gang of youths lead by Danny (David Franklin, MY BRILLIANT CAREER) have been allowed to get away with a number of rapes thanks to the influence and intimidation of their parents, particularly the Thatcher-like head of the local pet food canning company Mrs. Rudolph (Pat Skevington, SUMMER SHADOWS) as well as the local mens' attitudes about lads acting like nature intended (and, of course, "these things happen"). Thanks to local gossip, further perpetuated by the mothers of these boys and other busybodies, even the girls who have not tried to report their attacks have been denigrated as having loose morals.

Asta herself withstands an attack from some of the underage boys and is angered at Cuddy's unwillingness to act as well as his threat that he could charge her for the damage she did to the boys. When Lizzie – emboldened by Asta's toughness – overhears herself branded a slut by the boys and their mothers, she decides to lay charges against the boys. Cuddy grudgingly follows the letter of the law but does very little to stop the acts of intimidation carried out on the Curtis' and those who try to help them (including refusing to file an injunction to keep the bailed out boys from coming near Lizzie). The locals – including Tim's fired assistant Gary (Phil Dean, X-15) – chip in to bail out the boys, but they find that some of the local girls have wised up and shunned them. Getting wasted, the boys and their buddies decide to go after Asta and the Curtises, who may not stand a chance against their numbers and impaired judgment.

Feeling a bit like an R-rated Lifetime movie – it's the only theatrical feature of the otherwise prolific TV movie and episodic television director Steve Jodrell – SHAME is nevertheless a well-made and affecting Australian drama that does not exoticizes the outback as some sort of no man's land where men act like beasts. The people are normal and the attitudes and corruption are as prevalent in urban areas, but more blatant because everyone knows who's who in the smaller population (as well as for dramatic effect). It is more realistic that the siege on the Curtis household is carried out haphazardly by a bunch of drunken idiots rather than some tactical assault by a bunch of psychopathic caricatures; as such, rather than cool setpieces where villains get grand comeuppances, they are just revealed to be nasty, brutish, and cowardly. If there is a weakness, it is the way in which the majority of the locals seem to move from one side to the other without much in the way of depicting the turning tide of public opinion (although it is interesting to see Cuddy waffle back and forth between sides, trying to take advantage of high emotions to take moral stances). Just four years later, the film was remade for Lifetime with Amanda Donohoe (LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM) as the lawyer (rechristened Diana), Fairuza Balk (THE CRAFT) as Lizzie, and Dean Stockwell (BLUE VELVET) as her father (in fact, I thought that this was that TV movie when I received it for review since the trailer for that version appears on the tape release of BODY MELT, which Scorpion Releasing released on DVD not too long ago), as well as most of the same character names. That TV remake from THIRTYSOMETHING director Dan Lerner was followed up by a sequel in which motorcycle riding lawyer Donohoe stops off in another town to save a mentally disabled man from Death Row.

Opening with a windowboxed Vestron Pictures logo, Scorpion Releasing's single-layer, progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer is colorful but softish since it was shot in Super 16mm (with scratches on the negative evident, some of which the commentary says required reshoots). The film was edited on video, but the negative was conformed and blown-up since the film had theatrical engagements in Australia and overseas (including here in the states from Skouras Pictures with positive write-ups in the New York Times, Parade, and Penthouse). It's grainy, but comparable to other Super 16-lensed films (or 35mm films using faster or older filmstocks). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is clean with only the roar of motorcycles, smashing glass, loud voices and the end title track making much of an impact (the film's US poster lists a soundtrack release of Mario Millo's [THE LIGHTHORSEMEN] score).

The film can be viewed with an audio commentary by director Jordell, co-star Buchanan, and co-writer Michael Brindley. Brindley says that co-writer Blankenship – who, like star Furness is now based in New York – was inspired by MAD MAX to write a film about a stranger who rides into town, and that it gradually started to evolve into more of a western than science fiction (with the John Wayne film SHANE becoming more of a model), and he points out the Western tropes that might have unnoticed. Jodrell mentions that many of the actors had stage experience, so there lack of familiarity with the audience added to the realism (although most of them have gone onto subsequent television careers). Brindley mentions how challenging he found writing dialogue between women, as well as the initial concern to establish that touch Asta is not a lesbian (including a dropped scene in which she writes to her boyfriend, although this unseen character does rate a mention when she and Lizzie go swimming at a pond). They also point out how the film was restructured in the shooting and editing.

Jodrell mentions getting flack about condoning Asta's violence while condemning that of the men (although female audiences seemed to side with him and the heroine). He also mentions how it was easier to convince the women in the cast than the men of the prevalence of sexual abuse and violence (including Barry who did not understand his character initially blaming his daughter). They also discuss how earlier producers attached to the film sent the script to America to be rewritten, and the disastrous results (the swimming scene was rewritten with the women nude, which is pretty unthinkable given that one of them is a recent rape victim). Buchanan doesn't appear until roughly ten minutes in when her character appears onscreen, and discusses throughout her preparation for the role (including hearing the real life stories of rape victims), and how the extensive rehearsal time granted by the producers allowed her to bond with the other actors. Like the commentary track for PICTURE SHOW MAN, it was recorded using a PAL master so the track runs progressively out of sync with the image by about three seconds. The disc also includes the film's trailer (1:31) as well as trailers for WINTER OF OUR DREAMS, THE LAST DAYS OF CHEZ NOUS, THE PICTURE SHOW MAN, PAPER TIGER, and BLOOD FEUD. (Eric Cotenas)