Grace Quigley (1984) Dir: Anthony Harvey

Pictured is the 1980s UK video cover art of the film depicting a surly looking Nick Nolte riding a motorcycle wearing a vest with accentuated muscles. Behind him on teh bike is Katehrine Hepburn brandishing a gun and bag full of money. Behind them is a cityscape of skyscrapers and the illustration seems to express a madcap adventure.
Euthanasia/Serial Killing by Proxy: The derring do of a septuagenarian screen legend.

Grace Quigley is an altogether supreme breed. Grace Quigley is a bad movie, but one that so desperately wanted to soar, and presumably, had it not had so many deadweight hacks attached, really could have.

First of all you have bona fide Hollywood Goddess Katharine Hepburn, in a late-career turn, (also attached as producer), and Nick Nolte, so, Box Office draw, despite Hepburn’s presumably dwindling appeal at 80, then you have the premise…

Katherine Hepburn’s Grace lives widowed and alone. When informed by her landlord of his shyster intentions for her rent manipulation, and his displeasure at Parakeet room mate Oscar, Grace ponders how she is going to cope. Serendipity provides an answer, when oblivious instrument of Karmic dividend: Seymour, (Nick Nolte) pops-up and assassinates aforementioned landlord. Witnessing this, and understandably afraid when Nolte heads in her direction, Grace flees, and dives into the back of the nearest car to hide, which turns out to be Nolte’s (and the reason he was heading towards her). As a result of secreting herself away in the footwell, Grace learns his address and identity, and formulates a plan to literally end all her troubles.

Having Seymour over a barrel, Grace makes enquiries into the going rate for a ‘rub out’. After haggling, she reveals herself to be the target of the hit, disclosing that she’s tired of living and has attempted suicide a number of times before. When it comes time for Seymour to do the deed, Grace has spread the word to other friends, who are also tired of their lives, but can’t face suicide.

Realising the good she is doing for other people, Grace decides that she has found her purpose, and after haranguing, and mothering Seymour, even a surrogate son.

 

Seymour:

I never knew any old people before.

Grace:

Neither had I, until one day I looked round and discovered I was one.

Seymour:

I guess I can do a lot of people some good can’t I?

Grace:

I’ve told you Seymour, think of yourself as a doctor; a doctor saves the lives of those who want to live, you take the lives of those that want to die…Seymour listen to me…they need your help, and your talents to free them from their misery…I was a good mother, I never told my children to do anything wrong & I wouldn’t tell you. So be a good boy…Help them. KILL them.

‘Grace Quigley’’s most intriguing attribute, is sadly also it’s undoing. Between the limitations in public openness to youthanasia during the period it was released, and it’s backer’s presumable desire for a hefty turnover, the film is pulled between two extremes, and never really allowed to fully explore the risque subject-matter. Failure is also perhaps due to the second most fascinating thing the film has going for it: Katharine Hepburn.

On the one hand, her being star and producer, makes for some intriguing reading between her lines, (even if her own survival into the early 21st century doesn’t bear-out the most morbid of interpretations) but it may also account for why the film is so neutered. In the hands of a Hal Ashby, ‘Grace Quigley’ would have been all it should have been, and Katharine Hepburn’s crowning achievement, rather than the curious footnote it unfortunately is.

There is apparently a longer cut entitled: ‘The Ultimate Solution Of Grace Quigley’ which suggests this version is not the intended ‘vision’.

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