The movie is not extremely demanding, more like a Classic Comics version of Sanger's career. But it's not badly done either. Sanger is capable of being politely sarcastic towards her likeable and well-meaning Irish father. And her nemesis, Anthony Comstock, stops a mob of old-fashioned members of New York's finest from clobbering some poor guy who has been printing Sanger's birth-control pamphlets. Dana Delaney is an entrancing actress, combining as she does a sort of nurturant, almost motherly quality with a good deal of sex appeal, and doing this without being staggeringly beautiful, and despite the beastly wardrobe. Her delivery is understated, as it was in "China Beach." And it seems appropriate that she should be cast opposite Rod Steiger as Comstock who brings the kind of technique and personality to his role as moral gatekeeper that seems designed to pop the safety valve on every pressure cooker in turn-of-the-century New York. Poor Comstock was fighting a losing battle. There has rarely been the kind of florescence in pornography that there was in the Victorian world. Not since Rome. Perhaps it takes that degree of sexual repression to produce such sublimely erotic art. You can't have a community of Dr. Jeyklls without a few Mr. Hydes popping out now and then. Incidentally Comstock achieved his own peculiar brand of fame. When Freudianism was in flower he was frequently used as an example of an ego defense mechanism called "reaction formation." (The notion was actually put together by Freud's daughter, Anna, a psychoanalyst in her own right.) Someone using "reaction formation" as a defense mechanism is compelled to seek out by socially approved means the very thing he loathes and lusts after. For Sam Spade, it was danger. For Comstock it was sex. Imagine all the filthy photographs and books and paintings he needed to plow through in order to judge them unfit for public display. Nice work if you can get it.
This movie is fairly accurate historically, and period New York is nicely rendered out of its Canadian locations. You know what would be interesting? Showing this film in a high school or college class.