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In the early 1960s Shirley MacLaine was known as Hollywood's resident "kook" by virtue of the quirkily appealing image she established in her first dozen film roles, including her Oscar®-nominated turns in Some Came Running (1958) and The Apartment (1960). She surprised critics and audiences alike by taking on the role of a drab, repressed schoolteacher in Two Loves (1961), based on the novel Spinster by Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1908-84), the New Zealander educator, writer, novelist and poet. MacLaine plays Anna, a Pennsylvania-born schoolteacher who takes a job in rural New Zealand, where she applies innovative teaching methods to the special needs of Maori children just as Ashton-Warner did in real life.
With plain clothing, little makeup and her hair twisted into a severe bun, MacLaine underplays her sexually frustrated character, who succeeds as an educator but cannot become intimate with either of the two men in her life - supportive school administrator Jack Hawkins and lonely, tormented fellow teacher Laurence Harvey. Her situation reflects a quote by Ashton-Warner: "The truth is that I am enslaved in one vast love affair - with 70 children." Anna is continually shocked by the permissiveness of the Maori families, and the story reaches a dramatic climax after her 15-year-old aide (Nobu McCarthy) becomes pregnant.
Reviewers of the day did not react well to MacLaine's daring change of image. "Interesting" was the most positive word Variety could come up with in describing her performance, and Films in Review offered the opinion that "Director Charles Walters should have declined the assignment. So should Miss MacLaine." The movie was better received in Europe, and Walters was nominated for the prestigious "Golden Bear" award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Viewed today in the overall context of MacLaine's career, Two Loves is noteworthy as her first foray into character acting she would further develop in The Children's Hour (1962) and Desperate Characters (1971), and which would flower fully in such films as The Turning Point (1977), Terms of Endearment (1983) and Madame Souzatska (1988), in which she comes full circle by again playing a teacher.
Producer: Julian Blaustein
Director: Charles Walters
Screenplay: Ben Maddow (from the novel 'Spinster' by Sylvia Ashton-Warner)
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Urie McCleary
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editing: Fredric Steinkamp
Original music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Shirley MacLaine (Anna Vorontosov), Laurence Harvey (Paul Lathrope), Jack Hawkins (Abercrombie), Nobu McCarthy (Whareparita), Ronald Long (Headmaster Reardon), Norah Howard (Mrs. Cutter), Juano Hernandez (Rauhuia).
by Roger Fristoe