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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // December 26, 2005
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted February 7, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

One might be tempted to dismiss 1977's I Never Promised You a Rose Garden as a gender-reversed retread of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but the movies share very little aside from its setting and a few thematic ideas. Plus the film was based on a rather popular book by Hannah Green, an autobiographical tale of attempted suicide, horrific schizophrenia, and frequent trips to a rather unpleasant mental hospital.

A very young (and already very talented) Kathleen Quinlan stars as Deborah, a psychologically haunted girl who, after tearing a huge gash through her wrist, winds up in the safe (but not very friendly) confines of a looney bin. It's there that Deborah must contend with alienation, isolation, a few fairly freaky new neighbors, and an ever-continuing series of amazingly bizarre "visions," all of which involve large groups of screaming men who brandish clubs and spears and such. (The way in which Deborah's delusions crash right through the sets is a fairly fascinating approach; generally this sort of narrative shard is presented via "straight" dream sequence.)

We're basically flies on the wall as Deborah gets accustomed to her new surroundings, slowly learns to trust her caregivers, and make the first tentative steps toward recovery -- but Rose Garden is not so much "plot-driven" as it is a character piece / breakout role for Ms. Quinlan. She's a great actress nowadays, and this flick works as proof that she started out pretty darn excellent to begin with.

Eagle-eyed movie geeks should have a good time sifting through the Rose Garden background, because it's there you'll find familiar faces like Susan Tyrrell, Lorraine Gary, Reni Santoni, and several others. Look closely during the final few minutes and you'll find Dennis Quaid and Clint Howard, too. Fun stuff.

A notable deviation from Roger Corman's normal exploitation fare, Rose Garden certainly isn't the most electric or exciting look at the inner workings of a mental health facility, but it's still a sincere and serious-minded movie that seems to possess an actual interest and insight regarding the horrors of extreme schizophrenia. Sure the movie's a little outdated and just a tad on the dry side, but not dated or dry enough to spoil the show -- especially if you're a fan revisiting the Rose Garden for the first time in 20-some years.

The DVD

Video: It's another fairly grungy full-frame transfer from the schlock arrangement between Roger Corman's back catalog and Buena Vista (Disney) distribution.

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which sounds a little tinny and hollow on occasion, but overall the audio quality is just adequate enough.

Extras

Fans of the flick will be pleased to note the inclusion of a 38-minute Kathleen Quinlan interview segment in which the veteran actor talks about her first big break, her arrival at the Rose Garden, and the impact this flick had on her burgeoning career. Many of Ms. Quinlan's comments come as part of a selected-scene audio commentary presentation, which is a pretty nice touch for one of these quickie-type Corman platters.

You'll also find some cast & crew biographies and a handful of trailers for Love Letters, Suburbia, and Battle Beyond the Stars.

Final Thoughts

As an early vehicle for an admirable actress, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a fairly worthwhile Corman curiosity. Those who remember seeing it back in the mid-70s (especially those who are of the female persuasion) should consider the new DVD worthy of a casual rental ... but I really do wish Disney would show a little more quality control when it comes to the flicks they've recently shoveled out of Mr. Corman's vault.

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