Color, 1975, 94 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Christopher Miles
Starring Glenda Jackson, Susannah York, Viven Merchant, Mark Burns
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R1/RA HD/NTSC), Fremantle (DVD) (UK RB PAL), Umbrella (DVD (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

In The Maidsthe mid-1970s, producer Ely Landau The Maidsconcocted an experience called the American Film Theatre, which translated important plays into feature films with top-rung talent and exhibited in the style of theater, with tickets sold in advance for a limited number of shows complete with programs. The conceit ran for two "seasons" and included some significant achievements, most notably John Frankenheimer's all-star, four-hour rendition of The Iceman Cometh and Ionesco's Rhinoceros, which reteamed The Producers' Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. One of the most fascinating films in the series is an intense adaptation of The Maids, a controversial work by notorious novelist-poet-thief Jean Genet (Querelle, Un chant d'amour).

Over the opening credits, "Monsieur" (Juggernaut's Burns) is roused from bed by the police and hauled off to prison, where he's indicted for an unspecified crime. Meanwhile in a lavish house, the sneering Solange (Women in Love's Jackson) serves as a maid for the haughty Claire (Images' York), who prances around in her elegant gowns and makes degrading demands of her servant. Soon Solange has had enough and finally wraps her hands around her mistress' throat, until a clock alarm suddenly goes off. As it turns out, both women are really the maids for cheerfully oblivious "Madame" (Frenzy's Merchant), and Solange and Claire pass the time by indulging in sadomasochistic dramas of dominance and servitude climaxing in the ritualistic murder of the tyrannical lady of the house. As it turns out, Monsieur may have witnessed the maids' play-acting, which in turn led to his false imprisonment; even worse, the maids' dementia might be heading on a direct course to murder...The MaidsThe Maids

Written in 1945 and first staged in 1947, The Maids was based on the 1933 case of the Papin sisters, maids who brutally killed their mother and daughter employers. The story became the French equivalent to the Leopold and Loeb saga, inspiring a number of novels and films including Sister My Sister, Murderous Maids, The Duke of Burgundy, and less directly, the Ruth Rendell novel A Judgment in Stone which was filmed as The Housekeeper and, most memorably, Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie. The Maids is less a straightforward historical depiction than a forum for Genet's typically outrageous writing style, with characters spouting venomous, purple-prosed insults at each other throughout the running time. (No wonder it was a favorite of horror cult favorite Andy Milligan, who staged it throughout his theatrical career.) Jackson is perfectly cast as Solange, her cat-like eyes constantly betraying the insidious thoughts brewing in her head, while Susannah York essentially expands her treacherous, sex-object lesbian role from The Killing of Sister George with a few new wrinkles. After the opening sequence, the film stays largely confined to the house where the three leads embark upon extended psychological warfare; while the layers of play-acting don't have quite the same impact on film as they do on the stage, director Christopher Miles (The Virgin and the Gypsy) keeps the proceedings intriguing and ambiguous thanks some dazzling, colorful production design worthy of Fassbinder and fluid cinematography by seasoned pro Douglas Slocombe (The Fearless Vampire Killers). Laurie Johnson The Maids(The Avengers, Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter) also contributes an appropriately sparse, nerve-jangling score. The Maids

Unseen for decades, The Maids made a welcome resurgance in 2004 with a much-needed DVD release from Kino Lorber (or just Kino at the time), complete with all the saturated color and fine textured film grain inherent in the original production. Extras are mostly centered around the AFT, with Edie Landau contributing a new interview (26m16s) and Ely Landau hosting an archival promotional reel 6m30s) about the series, along with an AFT scrapbook, stills gallery, and "Cinebill." Also included are the film's original theatrical trailer, a bonus trailer for Murderous Maids, and an insert containing an essay, "Jean Genet and The Maids," by The Village Voice's Michael Feingold.

In 2018, Kino Lorber brought the film to Blu-ray as part of its ongoing line of upgraded AFT productions, and as expcted it looks even better with fine detail and no attempts to scrub out the original, somewhat gritty texture of the film itself. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio also sounds clear and satifactory. The Landau vintage promo piece (6m30s) and Edie Landau interview are carried over, and new to the Blu-ray is an interview with Miles (29m14s) about his history with the play and his ideas about translating its spare visual approach into something more cinematic. In addition to this film's trailer, bonus ones for twelve other titles in the series are included for such titles as Three Sisters, Rhinoceros, The Man in the Glass Booth, Luther, and Butley.

Updated review on June 21, 2018.