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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
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by Scott Weinberg

"Quinlan Goes Cuckoo"
3 stars

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, I Never Promised You a 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 Sure the flick's a little outdated and just a tad on the dry side, but not dated or dry enough to spoil the show -- especially if you're a fan revisiting the Rose Garden for the first time in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.

( © Review reprinted from DVDTalk, with permission from the author (me) and the DVDT management. For the full DVD specs on this particular movie, please visit and get friendly with the search bar.)

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originally posted: 02/13/06 20:35:17
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4/24/07 David Pollastrini The song was better 2 stars
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  02-Apr-1977 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2005



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