From a tag line like ‘She said no and she meant it’ you would probably guess where a film is heading? Exploitation, titillation perhaps lots of nasty graphic rape scenes and maybe at its conclusion a gory revenge carried out by a scanty clad female, for example the dreadful I Spit on Your Grave (2010) and probable many more similar movies that I have had the pleasure of not seeing! But this is not so with British born Tony Garnett’s second directorial outing Handgun (1982), the first being Prostitute (1980) a docu-drama that raised social concerns about the harassment of working girls by the police and the courts.
With Handgun Garnett continues with his normal social commentary, exhibited in his production work for both the television and film media alongside Britain’s greatest living director Ken Loach, tackling rape and America’s feeble gun laws especially in Texas where the film was based.
Kathleen Sullivan is a 24-year-old Boston teacher and when the opportunity arises leaves her devout Catholic parents, family home and a broken romance behind to except a post teaching history at a High School in Dallas. Kathleen gradually start’s a new life getting to know other members of staff at the school and it’s when fellow teacher Nancy invites her to a barbecue that she meets Larry Kelly who works in the same practice as Nancy’s husband. Outwardly Larry is a respectable young lawyer although he collects guns and is obsessed with hunting. When he makes it obvious that he is attracted to Kathleen she does her best to keep him at arms length but eventually weakening she starts to go on dates with him. One evening, very much against her better judgement, she accepts an invitation to join him for drinks at his flat. This he sees’ as an opportunity to take advantage of this rather naïve young woman, insisting at gunpoint in having sexual intercourse with her! She makes her escape when he falls a sleep. Reporting the incident to the police who tell her she they can not charge Kelly with rape as there is no evidence that the sex was not consensual, she approaches her Church who also fob her off. Then this meek young girl makes a life changing decision - she joins one of the many gun clubs in Dallas, eventually purchasing her own handgun!
It’s to Garnett’s credit, he also wrote and produced the movie, that he makes the rape seem both routine and horrific at the same time and the purchase of an object that has been designed to kill people seem completely natural! The ease of purchase, if you are a resident of Dallas, is hard to believe. Karen Young, in her debut feature film, makes the character of Kathleen Sullivan seem totally authentic and believable, as does Clayton Day’s Larry Kelly who it’s so easy to dislike and is somebody you hope will eventually get his just deserts. This is actually quite a powerful and thought provoking movie that exposes a male society that debases women and seeks to protect its integrity through violence and firearms. Released last year as part of Network’s series The British Film.