Monday, June 3, 2024

Shirley MacLaine’s ‘Turning Point’ 1977


Anne Bancroft & Shirley MacLaine, superb as long-time friends facing middle-age
 in 1977's "The Turning Point."

The Turning Point was not only Shirley MacLaine’s 1977 movie comeback but also an apt description of when actresses showed that they still could carry films, after a long dry spell.

Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft made a contrasting cinematic pair: MacLaine is the self-doubting ballet contender who settled for the role of wife and mother; Bancroft is the cool ballet diva whose personal life is practically non-existent. Many of the characters’ specifics were inspired by dancer Nora Kaye—director Herbert Ross’ wife—and her life in the ballet world. I found Arthur Laurents’ screenplay adult and smart, much like The Way We Were. Obviously, he was inspired by the Bette Davis/Miriam Hopkins “woman’s picture” Old Acquaintance in framing the story. That’s fine, as the Laurents/Ross/Kaye/ creative team bring enough of their own story to make it work. And The Turning Point is far better than the actual Old Acquaintance remake from 1980, Rich and Famous.

Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, & Tom Skerritt
in 1977's ballet drama, "The Turning Point."

Anne Bancroft plays the aging ballet star who visits the city that her friend now lives. 
MacLaine plays a housewife who envies the life of her long-time dance school friend,
in 1977's "The Turning Point."

I saw The Turning Point as a 1977 Upper Michigan high school graduate and I related to the middle class family life setting in Oklahoma City. It felt realistic then and now. I admire how the characters are not judged or punished for their occasional poor choices, as they would have been a generation before. The Turning Point is a hybrid of a smart soap opera with just enough ‘70s realism to make it engrossing entertainment.

Shirley MacLaine as DeeDee, a one-time ballet contender who settled for being a wife
 and mother. She watches her daughter's dance career take off under the wing
of friend and competitor, ballet diva Emma Jacklin (Anne Bancroft).

Shirley MacLaine was a top star from the late ‘50s thru the ‘60s. Many of Shirley’s movies showcased her sassy and brassy personality. Her career seemed to alternate between huge hits and equally big bombs, often the case for newer stars after the studio system glory days. I preferred Shirley with her restrained performances in The Apartment and The Children’s Hour rather than going big in Can-Can or What a Way to Go!

Love the sly look on Shirley MacLaine's face as DeeDee, when the kids ask her
if she could have been a great ballet star, in 1977's "The Turning Point."

By the time of 1969’s expensive flop Sweet Charity, Shirley’s appeal as the raucous pixie had waned with audiences, and MacLaine as a box office draw was over for the time being. MacLaine was in the same boat as contemporaries Liz, Audrey, Doris, Sophia, and Debbie. They were all 40-ish or over in the realistic ‘70s. MacLaine, like a lot of studio era stars, tried television in the early ‘70s and failed. Shirley made a few art movies to some good reviews but drew no audiences. MacLaine went back to performing live and writing, and her memoir Don’t Fall off the Mountain became a well-reviewed best-seller.

DeeDee's jealousy over Emma snaps in the bar scene of 1977's "The Turning Point."

Emma's about to give DeeDee her drink in 1977's "The Turning Point."

As the once promising dancer who opted for marriage and motherhood, DeeDee is one of Shirley MacLaine’s most restrained but heartfelt performances. She’s dialed down her from her previous cut up persona and later grumpy old women roles that started with Terms of Endearment. Not only is Shirley’s performance realistic in her attitudes but she is presented as an attractive but early middle-aged woman.  MacLaine walks a fine line of making us empathetic of her character’s second-guessing life choices, yet not judging DeeDee.

I love Shirley MacLaine's body language in this brawl with DeeDee's longtime
best friend Emma, played by Anne Bancroft, in 1977's "The Turning Point."

This all comes to a head when her former dance classmate and friend Emma (Anne Bancroft) comes to Oklahoma City to perform. Though Emma later confides to DeeDee that her best days are behind her, MacLaine’s housewife is still jealous of her life. What really ignites DeeDee’s envy is when Emma takes her talented dancer daughter under her wing. When DeeDee accompanies her daughter to Emma’s world in NYC, her memories and now fish out of water status makes everything bittersweet. The competition for the daughter’s attention comes to a head in a catfight showdown. While some today groan about how old-fashioned this spat plays, social media and reality TV proves that brawls and catfights are still alive and well.

Anne Bancroft as Emma Jacklin, the grand ballet star at a crossroads in her career,
in 1977's "The Turning Point." A few years later, Bancroft was offered the title role
as "Mommie Dearest," a career bullet Annie dodged!

Anne Bancroft was already in her “grand phase,” what with The Hindenburg and later The Elephant Man. No wonder she was offered the role of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest just a few years later. However, it’s most appropriate here, as Emma the ballet diva who’s always “on.” Bancroft does it beautifully. At other times, when the mask slips, Anne’s even better. MacLaine and Bancroft are totally believable as life-long frenemies. The women look great, but in a natural ‘70s way. Sure, this is a mainstream film, so they get some close-up beauty shots. But other times, when contemplating their aging lives, they are photographed realistically. To modern eyes, it’s a bit of a shock to see two actresses in their mid-40s photographed looking like women in—shudder!—their mid-40s! This probably looks like a time capsule to today’s audiences, now used to actresses 30 and over with puffed up cheeks and lips, without a line or expression on their faces.

Shirley MacLaine & Anne Bancroft were both 40-something, without plastic surgery, in 1977's "The Turning Point." This would be considered miraculous in 2024!

The Turning Point has a supporting cast of old pros who offer strong performances. Martha Scott is especially good as the pragmatic but acerbic Adelaide, who keeps her dance company afloat no matter what, and worthy of a supporting Oscar nomination. Tom Skerritt is very appealing as Shirley’s husband Wayne and perhaps worth of a supporting Oscar nod. Instead, the two ingénue performers, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne were nominated. Both are pleasant, attractive, great dancers—but hardly deserving of Oscar nominations.

I've never seen Martha Scott get to be so acerbic, as dance company director Adelaide,
 in 1977's "The Turning Point."

Tom Skerritt is a natural as Shirley MacLaine's husband Wayne, who teaches at
their small town dance studio, in 1977's "The Turning Point."

By the late ‘70s, Hollywood actresses were starting to get good roles again, after a late ‘60s and early ‘70s drought. As often happens, the Best Actress category with lead nominees MacLaine and Bancroft cancelled each other out. Shirley’s long-delayed Oscar came from a movie half a dozen years later, Terms of Endearment. But I really like Shirley here, in The Turning Point, a last hurrah for MacLaine at her most real and empathetic. Shirley MacLaine was at the height of her appeal and the beginning of her maturity, as a star character actress.

Here is my look at Shirley MacLaine, in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment:

A haunting, realistic shot of Shirley MacLaine as DeeDee, as her dancer daughter
is now the center of attention, while her best friend Emma is alone on the stage.
1977's ballet drama, "The Turning Point."


  1. As good as always, Rick, though I have a question. The Turning Point was for many viewers when they first noticed Tom Skerritt. Have you ever written a career retrospective about him? During the '80s and '90s, he seemed to be everywhere. Do you think he should have refused a few roles? Was he perhaps over exposed or over familiar? After Top Gun, I think he might have become more "above the title."

    1. Hi, Thanks! I never thought of Skerritt as overexposed, just more taken for granted to always be solid. I always thought he was cool, myself. He reminded me of more clean cut Kris Kristofferson, in looks and laid back appeal. Maybe he should have been more selective to make the top tier, or maybe he knew it was a longshot, and was okay with being a working actor... Cheers, Rick

    2. Thanks Rick. Yes, the word overexposed was wrong on my part. I've always liked him too. Not much is known about huis,

  2. I've never seen this movie, Rick, but your review makes me wish I had. In truth, I've missed a lot of the work done by MacLaine and Bancroft. I had no idea Miss Bancroft was offered Mommie Dearest!!! The mind boggles. Who knows? She may have brought in a more nuanced, or at least less campy, performance.

    1. Hi Mike, Mommie Dearest was touchy material to be sure. Franco Zeffirelli was supposed to direct Bancroft. You should check out The Turning Point, worth a watch for the acting...