Wanda (1971) from Tuna

Wanda was the only directorial effort from Barbara Loden, who also wrote and starred in the title role, making her perhaps the first woman to perform all three functions in a significant film. For those not familiar with her, she was also known as Mrs. Elia Kazan, and appeared in Splendor in the Grass, as well as some early TV shows. She died from cancer in 1980, at age 48.

As the film opens, Wanda is being divorced by her coal miner husband, and agrees in court with kind of a whimper. From the courtroom, she goes directly into a bar where a traveling salesman buys her a drink. Cut to him trying to sneak out of a motel room without waking her.

Wanda clearly is vegetating her way through life, not worried about anything except her next drink, and with no ambitions or dreams, until she meets an armed robber who enlists her aid. Even though the robber is twisted and not very pleasant to her, he introduces her to something she can finally feel good about doing.

Obviously, this can't result in a happy ending.

This is sort of a road movie, but really more of a study of its focal character, and it was shot on grainy 16mm film, giving it a documentary feel. Assuming Loden's intent was to present a realistic newsreel-style portrait of her Wanda, she accomplished her goal. Unfortunately, this woman would not be on many people's party invitation list, which may explain why theatergoers avoided this film in droves.



Barbara Loden shows buns and the side of her right breast getting out of bed to leave with the salesman.

The Critics Vote ...

  • There are no major print reviews online. The few obscure reviews available at IMDb use phrases like "forgotten masterpiece" and "landmark example of independent cinema."


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, or a C- from our system. 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 a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our 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. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. 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-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • 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.


Given the reviews and our description above, the genre must be "art house films," and our proper grade must therefore be C+, but be advised that only lovers of art house cinema will appreciate it.

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