Old Hollywood stars who were still working by the 1980’s where usually appearing in films dealing with old age (On Golden Pond, Tough Guys, The Whales of August). Grace Quigley was one such film and would be Katharine Hepburn’s last starring role in a theatrical film. The movie’s alternative title is ‘The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley’ although I’m assuming that title is less commonly used since it echoes a certain 20th-century atrocity.
Starring alongside Nick Nolte, Grace Quigley has a Harold and Maude element of a young man and an old woman becoming an unlikely team but the Hal Ashby comparison doesn’t end there as I’ve read several sources stating he was originally set to direct the project. The plot of the film involves retired widow Grace Quigley and hitman Seymour Flint getting together through a series of events (and eventfully he adorably starts calling her mom) and starting their own assisted suicide enterprise. Yes, that’s the plot. Grace Quigley is one of my favourite dark comedies with much of the film’s humour coming from the characters talking so casually about killing themselves as if it’s something they do every day as well as the inclusion of possibly the happiest funeral ever.
The film has a pro-assisted suicide message with one scene involving Grace’s neighbour played by William Duell telling Seymour about dying with dignity and her unwillingness to go to a retirement home as well as “dying in front of a TV set”. In one of the more serious moments of the film, Grace takes Seymour to a retirement home to show him the horrors. I applaud the film for having the courage to make these unapologetic statements about one’s right to take their own life and society’s treatment of the elderly. As Grace Quigley was a pet project for Katharine Hepburn she must have strongly believed in the issues raised in the film (and a sequel was even planned!).
I also recommend looking up Grace Quigley’s UK VHS cover art. The film I not actually that action-packed (although there is one brief car chase) but I still say it is the single greatest piece of home video artwork ever created.