The Maids (1974) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film was part of the 2nd season of "American Film Theater", Ely Landau's series of productions in which he created filmed versions of important plays and showed them in stage theatres for a single weekend, with advance tickets and reserved seating like a concert. He hoped to turn these works of serious literature into "events" for the uptown intellectuals. I'm not sure how he planned to make a profit, but he made a lot of these films before the idea finally imploded in the second year.

They filmed plays by Eugene O'Neill, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Brecht, Maxwell Anderson, John Osborne, Ionesco, and other such intellectual luminaries of mid-20th century stagecraft. There were even some intellectual musicals, like "Lost in the Stars" and "Jacques Brel". There were some highly distinguished productions. Olivier directed and starred in a Chekhov play which co-starred such rising young talents as Derek Jacobi and Alan Bates. Ionesco's Rhinoceros starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, who also co-starred in the famed Mel Brooks comedy "The Producers". Some of the directors in the AFT series included John Frankenheimer, Arthur Hiller, and Tony Richardson.


Susannah York appeared in her bra, and it is possible that her nipple was visible briefly.

there is full-frontal male nudity from Mark Burns in the brief prologue

Before the new DVD releases, these films had virtually disappeared. I can't vouch for the others in the series, but this one has been beautifully restored by Kino Video, with quite a few extra features (see box below). If you are interested in any of the others, they are worth getting if they are done as well as this.

The renegade French playwright Jean Genet was a hero of the intellectual counter-culture in the period from WW2 to Vietnam. Genet, himself a thief and a male prostitute turned to literature, felt himself to be a champion of the downtrodden of the world: homosexuals, the third world, the criminal demimonde, the non-white world, the impoverished, the anti-corporate, the underdog. In fact, as late as 1968, Genet was involved in the anti-war protests at the Democratic convention. Most of his plays and novels were actually written in the forties. After Genet became a literary cause celebre for intellectuals like Sartre, his productivity dropped precipitously, and he wrote virtually nothing between 1960 and his death in 1986.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterboxed 1.85:1. It looks excellent.

  • various written essays on this play, Jean Genet, and the AFT

  • an interview with Edie Landau of the AFT

  • the AFT promotional reel

  • the trailers for most of the AFT films

This particular play, "The Maids" was inspired by the true story of two French maids who murdered their employer in 1933. The women were said to be lesbian lovers as well as sisters. A more literal adaptation of this event was made into a film called Murderous Maids in 2000. Genet was not interested in the literal truth, but in the workings of the maids' minds. Genet, of course, identified with the maids. In his version, the women play roles constantly, assuming false deferential poses with the mistress, then taking turns playing the part of the mistress when she is absent. They plot to murder her. Although they do not succeed in that particular plot, they do provide false evidence against the lover of their mistress, and are waiting for the police to catch up with them after their failure to murder Madame.

I haven't actually spoiled the plot. The gist of the play's meaning, as well as the important plot developments, really unfold after the Madame leaves and the two maids are left to resume their bickering and role-playing. The AFT adaptation stars Glenda Jackson and Susannah York, two of the great actresses of that day.

The Critics Vote

  • no major reviews online

The People Vote ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a C+ - a real treasure for people who thought these films to be lost forever, and for devotees of the great era of the serious playwrights in the 60s and 70s. For anyone else - well, it's all talk, folks.

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