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Rachel, 35, lives with her mother in a small town, stifled by routine and her own repressed tendencies. During her summer break as a schoolteacher, a few upsetting things happen in short order: the attention of a fellow teacher (Estelle Parsons), an intense encounter at a church meeting, and especially the return of a high-school classmate (James Olson) who is looking for--as he frankly says--a little action. Based on the novel A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence, and scripted by the sensitive Stewart Stern (no coincidence that he also did the Rebel Without a Cause screenplay), Rachel, Rachel includes seamless flashbacks to the title character's childhood, neatly blending the adult experience to youthful traumas. Newman handles this with skill, but primarily he creates an open space for Woodward to shine: there's nothing trite or easy about her performance, nothing of the traditional Hollywood "spinster." Not surprisingly, she received one of the film's four Oscar nominations, along with nods for Parsons, Stern, and Best Picture; but Newman's direction was not nominated. Also notable: a lyrical score by Jerome Moross. Today the film has some traces of a Sixties artifact about it, but Woodward's performance, and the seriousness with which the picture approaches loneliness and inhibition, are still admirable.

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WA14475 Rachel, Rachel DVD (1968/Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward) $24.99