Sunday Matinee: Wanda

This week’s Criterion Collection streaming film is the 1970 film from writer/director/star Barbara Loden, Wanda.

Loden was an actress who worked in TV and film in the 1950s and 1960s. She was a cast regular on The Ernie Kovacs Show in 1956 and she starred in director Elia Kazan’s 1960 film Wild River and 1961’s Splendor in the Grass. She married Kazan in 1967 and while on vacation a mutual friend, Harry Schuster, offered Loden $100,000 to make her own movie. She wrote the script and couldn’t find a director including her own husband so she directed the film herself as well as starring in it. She made the film for $115,000 and while the movie did receive praise and it won Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival in 1970, it was never given a wide theatrical release in North America.

Loden stars as Wanda, a disillusioned housewife who has left her husband in the coal mining country of Pennsylvania. Wanda leaves her sister’s and arrives late to divorce court, losing her right to her children and gets a divorce from her husband. From there things go down hill for her. She can’t find work and she gets robbed in a movie theatre. At a bar she ends up with a robber named Mr. Dennis (Michael Higgins) who takes her along with him but is rude to her and wants to her to help him with a robbery. Things get worse for Wanda from there.

This is a quiet movie about a woman who wants something better for herself but just can’t find a way out of her crappy life. Loden passed away in 1980 from cancer and she never got the chance to direct another feature film although she did make a couple of short films. Wanda has never been released on home video in North America but The Criterion Collection is fixing that this year by releasing it on Blu-ray in a couple of weeks. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.