MAY 16, 1986 / MONTROSE VOICE 19
By Steve Warren
Montrose Voice film critic
Transsexualism is television's new frontier for this spring. It was played for laughs
on The Last Precinct and now seriously in
Like most Vanessa Redgrave vehicles,
this true story of Richard Radley's transition to Dr. Renee Richards was of more
interest for her performance than anything else. And like most groundbreaking
telefilms, it was burdened with exposition,
having to answer the most basic questions
for the least informed viewer.
Redgrave was sensational in handling
the physical and emotional demands of
the role of a person who felt more than
he/she showed. As a man for more than
half of the film she looked rather like John
Hurt, with her own hair cut short in 50's
style. Fresh out of Yale, Dick was dating—
and having intercourse with—Alice Krige,
who got pregnant to try to force him into
marriage. He held back because of his
compulsion to dress in women's clothes.
The first person he confided in was his
mother, Louise Fletcher. Although she's a
professional psychiatrist, her first
response was "Maybe it's my fault."
She sent him to a colleague, Martin Balsam, who tried to talk him out of it:
"You've got to fight it." Dick listened to
this incompentent—who probably "cures"
homosexuals too—for years. His suggestion that Dick grow a beard was temporarily effective in curbing his female feelings
until, ironically, the Navy made him
shave it off.
At first, Dick's "problem" made him
sound more like a transvestite than a tran-
sexual, perhaps to ease the audience along
one step at a time. The viewer was represented by Dick's best friend Josh (William
Russ), to whom he stupidly came out by
showing up at his door in full drag.
Eventually realizing that he was a
woman and wanting to make the physical
change, Dick found a sympathetic psychiatrist who told him, "When the spirit
refuses to fit the body, why not make the
body fit the spirit?"
Locating a surgeon was more difficult.
They don't mind operating on people in
other fields, but he told Dick, "No transsexual has ever been a practicing physician."
He headed for Casablanca to have
surgery and was beaten by two Spanish
soldiers for dancing (in women's clothes)
with a man who was trying to pick "her"
up. This was one ofthe scenes (including
unpleasant childhood experiences in his
sister's clothes—how he came to like it was
never explained) that flashed through his
mind and made him decide against
Things happened rapidly after that. A
few slides covered his marriage and child;
the breakup took only a moment. Next
thing we knew Dick went into surgery and
Renee came out. She told her young son, "I
love you very much. That's one thing that
will never change."
Renee moved to California and had an
affair with a pool cleaner who got her back
into playing tennis. Her "killer instinct"
attracted a tournament organizer and her
success inspired a bitchy TV reporter to
investigate and expose her past. The court
battle to be allowed to play women's tennis passed as quickly as the rest of the
post-op segments, giving us credit forhav-
ing followed it in the media at the time.
A final title brought us up to date,
including the fact that Richards coached
As persuasive as Redgrave's perfor
mance was, her voice was a problem. The
pitch was perfect, apprising us at all times
where he/she is on the gender scale, but
her accent was spotty—never English but
never quite American either.
The film moved slowly for the first hour
or so, and Redgrave's low-key approach
generally avoided dramatic fireworks.
She was worth watching, but it wasn't a
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