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Nasty Habits Reviews

Based on a British novel by Muriel Spark, this film transposes the setting to a Philadelphia convent and parallels the tactics and backstabbing of the Watergate affair to make its point. It's a roman a clef, with women playing the roles of the real men who almost took the US under. True, it's only one joke, and they do it over and over, but Glenda Jackson, as a cloistered Nixon, and Dennis, who looks enough like John Dean to be his sister, play their parts to the hilt, and the lack of plot is more than made up for by the sharp dialog and excellent ensemble acting. The picture was either hated or loved by those who saw it, so you'll have to decide for yourself. Evans is the old abbess of the Pennsylvania convent and she is dying. She is ready to name Glenda Jackson, a rock-ribbed hardliner, to take over. Jackson and her aides, Page and Anne Jackson, have to get Evans to sign a document of intent. Along comes Penhaligon, a liberal breath of fresh air, who wants to change the nature of the institution. Her interruption keeps Evans from signing the document, and during this delay Evans dies. Now the leadership of the convent must be put to a vote of the members. Mercouri, a jet-setting missionary, arrives for the funeral services, but Glenda Jackson wants to get rid of her right away because she fears her popularity might upset matters. Jackson knows that Penhaligon is getting it on with Forrest, a Jesuit, and she intends to bring that to the light of day. Jackson has the entire convent wired for sound by men posing as plumbers (get it?), and the controls for the electronic eavesdropping are placed in a statue on the grounds. The plan is to purloin Forrest's love letters to Penhaligon and show them around. The missives are in the girl's sewing basket, but all the thieves come up with is a thimble. Penhaligon is alerted to the theft, catches the crooks, locks them in a room, and calls the cops. Page and Anne Jackson try to talk the cops out of it, but the news hits the media. Glenda Jackson begins a campaign among the nuns and wins the election, thereby causing Penhaligon to flee the convent and begin public demonstrations in downtown Philadelphia. She decries the convent's corruption, gives out tracts, and the papers and TV pounce on the story. Jackson and the others seek to keep it mum, but the two Jesuit thieves have their collars taken off and say they will spill the beans unless they get some monetary compensation. Jackson, Page, and Anne Jackson get hold of the addled Dennis and ask her to make a cash payment to the two men. Meanwhile, Penhaligon contacts Mike Douglas, does a TV appearance, and demands a federal probe. She knows there are tapes of what's been happening and wants them exposed. Page and Anne Jackson tell Jackson that she must destroy the evidence, but the abbess thinks she can edit them and use them for blackmail. Dennis, dressed in male drag, is arrested in a men's room as she makes another payment to the blackmailers. Jackson goes on TV and announces that she's had to fire her aides, Page, Anne Jackson, and Dennis, for some infractions and claims that she knew nothing of what was transpiring in the convent (insisting that she wants to make things "perfectly clear" all the while). There is still a demand for the tapes, although Jackson says that they are as sacrosanct as anything said in the confessional. Jackson is fired by the powers in Rome and replaced by Meara. As Jackson departs for the Vatican on a plane, she still maintains that she is not guilty of any wrongdoing and mentions that the assembled press "won't have her to kick around anymore." Sure it's belabored, and, yes, we know exactly what's going to happen, but screenwriter Enders has dipped his quill in acid and written a scathing denunciation that is as funny as it is vicious. We would have liked to have seen more of Evans, who, at 88, stole the scenes in which she appeared. There are cameo appearances by Douglas, Howard K. Smith, Jessica Savitch, and a local Philly newsman, Bill Jorgenson.