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Rape At A Rest Stop

Madelyn Ellison portrays the unnamed victim of the title with the fearlessness from which timeless movie icons are born – her stubbornness rivals Vivien Leigh, her expressiveness surpasses Renee Falconetti, her fervor trumps Joan Crawford (or even Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford). If only she’d had her Selznick or her Dreyer, she may have seen her astonishing performance enshrined with a top ranking in lists of “Greatest Performances Of All Time.”

Alas, Ellison was in the hands – in more ways than one — of Bruno Montoro and the notorious thugs and slimeballs of Cleveland Street Releasing. While the full truth of what really happened between Ellison and then-husband Montoro will likely never be known – accounts differ — there appears to be at least some truth to Ellison’s post-career accusations of physical and mental abuse throughout the period, at least judging by her demeanor in the film. Were she not subjected to extreme maltreatment off-camera – if her performance is, in other words, pure performance – then she is certainly the greatest actress of all time, ranked or otherwise. Even in the single brief scene preceding the pulverizing nineteen-minute rape sequence, Ellison’s face looks drained, haunted, and brutalized. The minimal artistry on display in all other filmmaking departments does not inspire confidence that her appearance resulted from creative decisions.

The off-camera stories, coupled with the necessarily ideologically incoherent gender politics of the film itself, are what make the film resonate so deeply for women today. We see the actress, as brutalized as the character she portrays, taking deeply justified vengeance against the men who degraded her, if only against character stand-ins. The nihilistic conclusion, seemingly a wail of hopeless despair, becomes paradoxically transcendent when Ellison’s real-life survival and flourishing – at least for a while – is considered.

Molly Haskell. Rape At A Rest Stop: A Reconsideration. 2009.

Rape At A Rest Stop poster and Creepshow flier copyright 2011 by Jake Kelly, Rape At A Rest Stop review copyright 2011 by Todd Whitten

Clipping from The Plain Dealer, Friday, July 14th, 1978.

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