By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Aging actress employs psycho.
Katharine Packard (Miriam Hopkins) was once a famous actress, but is now largely forgotten and lives like a recluse in her decaying Hollywood mansion. One day while drunk she falls down the stairs and breaks her hip. Vic (David Garfield) a unemployed vagabond who enjoys cutting off women’s hands after witnessing his mother (Sybelle Guardino) having sex with 5 different men at the same time when he was a child, gets hired as a nurse to help her get around while her hip recovers. Katharine enjoys having a young man around while Vic uses her lust for attention to manipulate her out of her money and live a more privilege lifestyle than he would otherwise. However, Leslie (Gale Sondergaard), who works as Katharine’s personal secretary, is onto what Vic is doing and becomes determined to put a stop to it.
This obscurity does at least offer the chance to see Hopkins, a one time big star of the 30’s and 40’s and at one point a rival to Bette Davies, in her last screen appearance and despite the tawdry material she really puts a lot of energy into it and her presence makes it more fun than it should. Sondergaard, who came out of a 20 year film hiatus to star in this, is quite good too and looks almost like a much scarier version of Morticia from ‘The Addams Family’, especially with her hair down.
David Garfield, who was the son of legendary actor John Garfield, is the only casting choice that doesn’t work. He lacks the same acting skill of his father and comes off like he was stoned and barely into his part at all. His one-dimensional character is dull and why anyone would hire him to take care of an old lady when there’s so many red flags about him right from the start makes the script seem very poorly thought out.
Donald Wolfe, who’s best known for writing a biography of Marilyn Monroe as well as an in depth look at the Black Dahlia murder, lends some interesting touches in his one and only directorial feature. His best bit comes right at the start where the camera captures the Hollywood sign real close-up, focusing on how rusted and tattered it was with no music and only a howling wind blowing while the opening credits appear onscreen.
The violence is more graphic and bloody than you’d expect for a film from that time period, so gorehounds may rejoice, but it also becomes quite redundant as the only thing you ever see are women’s hands getting caught off again and again. The story also lacks any interesting twists and plays itself out in a painfully predictable way with characters that are too dense to figure out what’s going on even after the viewer has already caught on to things way earlier. Shooting it on-location at the sprawling estate of former silent film actress Norman Talmadge is not effective as it doesn’t take full advantage of the large, majestic home by only managing to capture a few of the rooms and doing it with dark, dingy lighting, which despite a few flashes of flair here and there help to ultimately make this a very boring and thankless viewing experience.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: October 4, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Director: Donald Wolfe
Available: None at this time.