Color, 1988, 93 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Steve Jodrell
Starring Deborra-Lee Furness, Tony Barry, Bill McCluskey, Allison Taylor, Simone Buchanan
Umbrella Entertainment (Blu-ray) (US/Australia R0 HD0, DVD (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
, Scorpion Releasing (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Leave it to Australia to come up with a harrowing modernized western about a female attorney on a motorcycle in the outback. Of course this could only be Shame, a late '80s drama with drive-in overtones starring veteran actress Deborra-Lee Furness (probably best known to American audiences for Newsies and being married to Hugh Jackman) as Asta Cadell, who heads her hog into a dusty town called Ginborak and winds up staying there for a spell thanks to a mechanical failure. There she finds herself hobnobbing with weak-filled law enforcement, unemployed locals with more than a slight sexist streak, and a kindly mechanic whose daughter, Lizzie (Buchanan), comes home crying hysterically after being raped by some nasty adolescent boys. As it turns out, this isn't exactly uncommon behavior as all of the female populace is considered fair game for these dirt bags, who get a punch in the face when they try to same thing on Asta. Finally enough is enough and she encourages Lizzie to press charges, but the town doesn't seem too eager to have their bright young boys brought up on sexual assault charges. From there it's a downhill ride all the way as Asta has to take matters into her own hands, leading to a violent and very uncompromising finale.
Etching a very memorable figure even with her huge hairdo, Furness is really the main show here as she alternates grandstanding speeches with rough and tumble fight scenes. You never doubt Furness's potential to land a guy flat on his back for a single second, a sharp contrast to the violations of basic physics found in many Hollywood action films. The rest of the cast, largely plucked from local theater performers, is also grimily convincing with the amoral lads in particular seeming all too realistic.
Shame was given a very modest theatrical release in America from Skouras Pictures, with a made-for-TV remake popping up in 1992 with Amanda Donohoe, Dean Stockwell and Fairuza Balk. It wasn't difficult to find on VHS thanks to dual releases from Karl-Lorimar and Republic, but eventually it went out of circulation and remained unseen by at least a couple of generations. As with most major Aussie titles from the era, it eventually surfaced in its native country on DVD from Umbrella in 2008 but didn't hit American DVD until 2014 courtesy of Scorpion Releasing, which features a solid anamorphic transfer that captures the gritty, grungy aesthetic of the film about as well as NTSC video can. The Aussie disc's audio commentary with director Steve Jodrell (who mostly stuck to TV after this), Buchanan, and co-writer Michael Brindley is carried over here, and it's a good one as they talk about the high emotional pitch needed throughout, the western tropes in the script, and potential questions about Asta's sexual orientation, among many other topics. Also included are the VHS-sourced theatrical trailer and bonus ones for Winter of Our Dreams, The Last Days of Chez Nous, The Picture Show Man, Paper Tiger, and Blood Feud.
Eventually Umbrella revisited the film as part of its Sunburnt Screens Collection on Australian Blu-ray, soon followed by a U.S. edition with the same transfer and special fixtures mixing the old and the new. The presentation is a big leap ahead of the DVD across the board, featuring a huge amount of additional image info (especially on the top and right sides), less of a yellow tinge, or more detail throughout (especially the night scenes). The DTS-HD MA 1.0 English track is also in pristine shape and features optional English subtitles. The commentary is ported over here, plus the trailer (in HD and much better condition here), an ABC-TV Artspace interview with Furness (26m54s) covering her career and philanthropic causes (and how she got Michael Gambon aboard her short film), a 14m15s VHS-sourced look at the film's premiere (including live music), and a 22m43s excerpt about the film with Jodrell and Paul Harris about the film and influences like Wake in Fright. However, the biggest extra here is a new 77m22s conversation with Jordell, Brindley, Buchanan, co-writer Beverly Blankenship, and producer Paul Barron, moderated by Harris via Zoom, chock full of stories from the set, thoughts on westerns that filtered into the story like High Plains Drifter, the decision to avoid using firearms, the initial distribution challenges, and some current social attitudes that sadly haven't changed much (or in some ways have gotten worse) since the film's release.
Updated review on June 27, 2023.