Tag Archives: Black Comedy

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (1967)

oh dad poor dad

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overprotective mother dominates son.

This is an awful, awful film based on the Arthur Kopit stage play of the same name. Overly domineering mother Madame Rosepettle (Rosalind Russell) keeps her son Jonathan (Robert Morse), who is 25, in a near infantile state. She also travels around with her dead husband in a coffin. Problems ensue when they arrive at a resort and meet up with nubile Rosalie (Barbra Harris) who tempts Jonathan and threatens to break him away from his mother’s clutches.

If done right this film could have, I suppose, gained some sort of cult following. Yet it is so poorly realized and so thoroughly botched that it is impossible to know where one could begin to improve it as it deserves to be in the top ten of worst movies of all time.

One of the problems is the setting itself. For some reason it was filmed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This certainly does provide for sunny and exotic scenery, but it does not at all work with its twisted, dark subject matter. The music score is also really bad. It was done by Neal Hefti the same man who did the music for the “Batman” TV-show and the soundtrack here sounds just like that one. He also has the theme song sung by children which is as irritating as nails scratching on a blackboard. The color schemes are garish and ugly. The humor is flat and the story itself is threadbare. When you get past the weird fringes all you have left is a stale, plodding coming-of- age tale.

Morse seems a natural for the part as the ‘man-child’ since he has always had a very boyish face. Yet, in an attempt to show that he is never let outside, he is made to look extremely pale and the effect is a bit sickening to look at. His infantile state is played too much to the extreme and comes off as pathetic. It is not at all funny even in an absurd, or dark way.

Russell’s presence makes it somewhat interesting. She was a legendary actress and this was certainly a very unique career move. Maybe she wanted to prove herself versatile after her Mother Superior part in The Trouble with Angels, which she had done just a year before doing this, yet in hindsight it was bad judgment. Seeing her in the strange part is fun for a few seconds, but eventually it gets over-the-top. She ends up looking like Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. You do however get to see her wear a variety of wigs and even do a wild water ski stunt at the end.

Harris has always been one terrific actress and she is good even here and the only reason I’m giving this film one point. She made a career out of playing neurotic women, but here plays a more normal one and it is interesting to compare this performance with her others.

Jonathan Winters (no relation) adds some amusing bits doing voice-over as the dead father. He was brought in after the film was completed and some of his lines have nothing to do with the plot.

The message of the story is nebulous. The video box cover states that it is a study of “human confusion”. Yet the characters seem too extreme to be relatable on any human level. They also don’t evolve and act the same idiotic way at the end as they did at the beginning so neither they nor the viewer come to any better understanding of anything. It is a complete waste of time.This film deserves its near extinct status and isn’t fun even as a curio.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Re-Animator (1985)

re animator

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The dead come back.

Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott) is a student at a nearby medical college who decides to take in as a roommate a foreign student named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs). West seems a bit anti-social and very intense about his work. He sets up a lab in Cain’s basement where he does experiments to bring back the dead by injecting them with his specially formulated serum. He starts with animals, which makes it intriguing enough for Cain to get in on it, but when they start to move onto cadavers at the school’s medical lab things spiral out of control.

Compared to most low-budget horror films of the 80’s, and I have seen many, this thing is nicely compact and well-paced. There is none of that extraneous dialogue and needlessly slow, drawn out scenes before you can get to any type of action, or horror. It grabs your attention right away with a clever, whimsical opening sequence and a musical score that although does sound similar to the one used in Psycho is still quite effective.

The gory special effects are excellent even when compared by today’s standards. Normally I have no problem watching these things no matter how high the gore factor is, but the scene where the instructor peels the skin off the head of one his cadavers during a class lecture and then cuts through the bone of the skull and takes out his brain had me feeling a bit queasy. The best part comes when Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) gets his head chopped off at the end of a shovel, which is again well-done, and then has both his body and head injected with the serum. The scenes involving the headless body walking around while carrying this talking head are creepy, hilarious, and highly effective. It is realistically enough looking during a couple of sequences that it had me sitting there wondering how they pulled it off. My only quibble in this area would be the part where West reincarnates a cat that comes back to life and turns homicidal.  It is very clear that this ‘killer cat’ is nothing more than a stuffed animal as its fur looks fake and the body is unrealistically thin.

The film is directed by first-timer Stuart Gordon whose only claim to fame before this was when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin in 1969 and he brought in an audience into an auditorium to watch a play he had written and then locked the doors so they couldn’t get out. He intentionally made the play as boring and annoying as possible just to see how long it would take them to rise from their seats and clamor to be let out. Although this was enough to get him expelled I still admire the guy’s panache. That same type of snarky humor is evident here and woven in, in a way that nicely balances the horror. My favorite scene here, and one that I remember most distinctly from when I first saw it back in the 80’s, is when Dan meets his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) in the school’s hallway. He starts to kiss her passionately and she feels embarrassed and tells him ‘no, no, no’ and then it quickly cuts to show them in bed where she is saying ‘yes, yes, yes’.

Another thing that differentiates this from other low-budget horror films is the fact that the lead characters are not as bland as usual. I liked the way Dan has a moral quandary and teams up with West on some of his experiments. Both Dan and Megan are better fleshed out as characters and believable. Crampton also looks gorgeous and has a good nude sequence at the end.

Kudos must also go to Robert Sampson an actor who has worked steadily since the 1950’s, but has never become a household name. He plays Dean Halsey father of Meagan and his part takes off after he is accidently killed and brought back to life with Herbert’s serum where he turns into a mumbling, crazed lunatic. This isn’t as easy to pull off as you may think and his catatonic stares are fabulous.

David Gale deserves mention as well playing the evil doctor. His pale skin and sullen face make him look like he is dead from the very beginning and he has the perfect look for a horror film. He clearly relishes his role and hams it up nicely. He started to garner a large cult following after his performance here and offers to play similar roles in other horror films began to pour in when he unexpectedly died in 1991.

The only performance I really didn’t like was that of Jeffrey Combs. I know he has pretty much become the face of the Re-Animator franchise, but this guy seemed hammy without ever being amusing, or funny with it. I didn’t like the square, metal rim glasses that he wore as they were much too typical.  An eccentric character should wear eccentric looking glasses and attire to help accentuate his off-beat personality. I also didn’t dig his accent that seemed to waver between Bavarian, German, Russian, and some weird variant in between.

If you are looking for something different this Halloween then I suggest checking this one out. It has just the right amount of ingredients to be both entertaining and scary at the same time and it can still easily hold-up with today’s jaded viewers.

My Rating 7 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Gordon

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first gay marriage.

Based on the Joe Orton play of the same name, this film deals with a handsome young stranger named Sloane (Peter McEnery) who becomes a lodger at an isolated household in the English countryside. He is on the run from a murder he committed and feels this will be a safe haven due to the only other inhabitants being a quirky old lady name Katherine (Beryl Reid) and her equally quirky father Kemp (Alan Webb).  Katherine, or Kath, takes a sexual interest in Sloane despite their wide age difference, which Sloane doesn’t mind as he uses this to manipulate her. When Kath’s brother Ed (Harry Andrews) arrives and takes an amorous interest in Sloane as well, he does the same thing to him. Then Kemp recognizes Sloane as the killer and Sloane is forced to kill him, which culminates with ironic results.

Playwright Orton was years ahead of his time. His plays always had a dark, sexual, even explicit nature to them and his characters were always perverse and amoral in a darkly hilarious way. It is unfortunate that he was bludgeoned to death in 1967 by his jealous gay lover and his career was cut short. However, this adaptation done by screenwriter Clive Exton seems to miss the mark. The dialogue is endless with very little action. The other adaptation of Orton’s work that was made into a film, Loot, was much more lively and full of a lot of campy, zany humor as well as quick edits and imaginative camerawork. This film is visually dull and all the action is jammed into a cramped, dark house with bland decorations. It never really gets going until the final 15 minutes when you get to see the world’s very first gay marriage performed, but by then it is much too late.

For 1970 this film does seem edgy and even controversial in certain parts. The gay erotic subtext is quite strong especially the way the camera scans Sloane’s tan, half naked body. There is also Ed’s pink Cadillac that he drives around, which I got a real kick out of. I liked the way it squeaked as he drove it and was constantly bouncing up and down.  There is also his very provocative hood ornament of a naked man that the camera hones in on. The best part comes when Ed washes his car and is more focused on the ornament, which he lovingly caresses with his towel, than the rest of the vehicle.

However, 40 years later this stuff seems pretty tame and there are too many segments where nothing happens and is handled too conventionally.  It seemed like director Douglas Hickox really didn’t get, or appreciate the material enough, or interpret it in some interesting way because the final result is nothing more than a filmed stage play. The music that is used is terrible and almost enough to get you to turn off the film. It also gets overused and played over scenes when it isn’t needed and hurts the film’s mood in the process.

The biggest problem with the film may actually be with actress Reid herself. Don’t get me wrong this is a wonderfully unique actress who has done some memorable work. I especially liked her in The Killing of Sister George, and she is quite good here as well. However, I do have two issues. The first is a small one. It involves the fact that the character wears dentures. In one scene Sloane supposedly knocks them out and breaks them, but then Reid turns around and screams and you can see that she still has teeth in her mouth.  The other, much more serious issue is the fact that near the beginning of the film she is seen walking through a cemetery in broad daylight wearing a see through blouse. Now with some woman this can be quite sexy and I certainly wouldn’t complain, but when they are 60 and looking more like 70 this is a bad idea, even for perversely comical purposes as it is here it is still a bad idea. What is even worse is when she turns around and a gust of wind blows up her skirt and you can see her entire bare backside, which might be enough to make some viewers sick.

Now, before anyone accuses me of ageism let me relate an interesting experience that happened to me. Back in 2003 I was home from work and decided to take in a movie. I was living in Chicago at the time and I went to the neighborhood theater to see the interesting French mystery Swimming Pool starring Ludivine Sagnier and Charlotte Rampling.  It was a Tuesday and little did I know that it was senior discount day and the place was packed, literally, with people all looking well over the age of 70. The lady that sat beside me looked to be at least 80 and came in using a walker. The film featured an abundance of nudity from the young and attractive Sagnier, which I thought might shock and offend the seniors, but no one reacted to it and everyone went on enjoying the film. Then, towards the end of the movie, 58 year-old actress Rampling starts to take off her clothes and this indeed elicited a nervous response from the crowd. The lady next to me even said ‘oh dear’. In all fairness Rampling didn’t look all that bad naked, but it still hits home the point that even old people don’t want to see other old people naked.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: Continental Distributing

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married to a jerk.

Director Frank Perry may not be a name one throws out when mentioning some of the top directors, but a lot of his early work that he did with his screenwriter wife Eleanor were definite forerunners of the independent film movement and ahead of their time. David and Lisa was their first and it dealt with the budding romance between two patients at a mental hospital. Ladybug Ladybug was their follow-up and it was the true story of what happens when an errant nuclear warning siren goes off and the staff and students of a small rural school think it is for real. There was also the critically acclaimed film Last Summer dealing with the brutal gang rape of a teen girl by her so called ‘friends’.  They also did the revisionist western Doc starring Stacy Keach as well as the brilliantly quirky Rancho Deluxe.  However, it is Diary of a Mad Housewife that I find to be their very best.

It is the story based on the best-selling novel by Sue Kaufman dealing with the character of Tina Balser.  On the outside she seems to be living the American dream. She is married to a up and coming lawyer, living in a swank Manhattan apartment, and the mother of two beautiful girls.  Unfortunately the husband is an obnoxious bore, the girls are spoiled and mouthy, and she feels lonely and depressed.  She decides to have an affair with a novelist, but he ends up treating her just as poorly and when she tells her troubles to a support group, they end up doing the same.

I have seen this film many times over the past twenty years and am always impressed at the fluid way it goes between satire and drama as well as the fact that it doesn’t seem dated at all. The scenes with Richard Benjamin as the jerk husband are hilariously over-the-top.  Yet the scenes involving Frank Langella as the lover who is bitter about his lagging writing career and repressed homosexuality and takes these frustrations out on Tina, are just as interesting, but in a much more subtle way.  In fact these scenes feature some great dialogue and character development and I find them more intriguing with each viewing.  Langella, in his film debut, makes a lasting impression.

The cinematography, editing, and color schemes are also first-rate. Perry does a great job in infusing the counter-culture movement of the time with the old values of marriage and family. The mod party that they go to is well staged with scantily clad mannequins in a provocative poses placed throughout.  The pretentious attitudes of the party goers is nicely captured.  This scene also features the Alice Cooper Band as well as giant pillow fight.

Carrie Snodgrass performance is what really makes this work.  She was nominated for the Academy Award and she should have won it. Her ability to display her characters feelings through such subtle methods as facial expressions, body gestures, and reactions is impressive.  The viewer can easily relate to the character and feel her pain.  Rock singer Neil Young was so impressed with her that he wrote her a fan letter and the two ended up getting into a relationship. Unfortunately because of this she dropped out of Hollywood and didn’t do another movie until almost nine years later.  When she returned all the top roles were no longer accessible and she was relegated to ‘B’ movies and small supporting roles until finally succumbing to cancer in 2004. This was a real shame because her talents were never fully utilized, but at least this was a perfect vehicle for her and one that movie fans today can really appreciate.

In the end though what makes this film so very good is that it makes a great statement on the fact that isolation is a part of modern day living and at some point everyone will have to deal with.  Getting married, having kids, even having a lover or a support group will not necessarily be an effective buffer and may actually only exacerbate it. The whole film kind of reminded me of a statement made by a character on the old ‘Ally McBeal’ TV-show “My loneliest times in life are when someone is lying in bed next to me.”

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes (Theater Version) 1Hour 35Minutes (TV Version)

Rated R

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

Tetsuo, The Iron Man (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man turns into metal.

This is one of the most bizarre and fascinating films ever made. It reminded me a lot of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but with a little more linear storyline and engaging tongue and cheek humor.  It all depends on one’s tolerance as to how much they will enjoy it. Some will find it weird and alienating while others will insist it’s brilliant.

The story centers on a very strange man, played by the film’s director Shinya Tsukamoto, who has a freakish compulsion to stick scraps of metal inside his body.  He cuts his leg open and crams a metal pipe inside of it, which causes him excruciating pain.  He runs through the streets screaming and is hit by a car driven by a man (Tomorowo Taguchi) who is never given any name.  The driver and his girlfriend think that they have killed him and decide to dump the body along a riverbank and then make love in front of it. The next day the man notices while shaving that a metal nail is protruding out of his cheek. Soon metal parts start to grow from every part of his body until he is completely unrecognizable.

Despite being made over twenty years ago I found the special effects to be awesome and able to stand-up to today’s standards. The opening part where the man stuffs a metal pipe into his cut open leg appears so real that it made me cringe. The amount of metal growing out of the main character’s body becomes almost mind boggling and has to be seen to be believed.  The immense metal suit that the actor ends up wearing and having to walk around in is massive and I wasn’t sure how he could even move in it as it looked incredibly heavy.  The stop-action photography is fluid and watching the metal metamorphose in different and imaginative ways is fun. I found the grainy black and white photography to be highly effective and it helps accentuate the nightmarish vision of the story.

The story also features dreamlike segments while although not always making sense and sometimes jarring to the story, still are memorable. The scene where the main character is chased through the catacombs of an isolated train station by a woman who has turned into a robotic mass of metal is cool.  There are a few kinky elements that are shocking, tasteless, and hilarious all at the same time. They include the man’s girlfriend with a mesmerizing stare who becomes a zombie during one of these visions and rapes him with a metal pipe that has sprouted out of her vagina.  Then, a few scenes later, he turns around and rapes her with his penis that has turned into a giant whirring drill.

Although I applauded the film’s no-holds-barred creativity that seemed years ahead of its time, I did feel that it was confusing and disconcerting.  There are too many jump cuts and wild images thrown at the viewer without any explanation. It does finally come together at the end, which is good, but I would have liked a better set-up. I wanted to see more character development, which basically is none and some explanation for why all of this was happening.  A little more conventional narrative could have gone a long way. I also felt that it became too one-dimensional. Metal grows into more metal that grows into yet even more metal until it becomes almost boring. Although the running time for the picture is only 64 minutes I felt that this was actually too long and I would have wanted it shortened even more as the story seems to play itself out and have nowhere to go.

(Spoiler Alert)

Fortunately it is saved by a very satisfying over-the-top ending that nicely brings it all together.  The strange man inexplicably comes back to life and the two duel things out in the vacant city streets. The apocalyptic over-tones here are terrific and the last sequence where the two fuse together to form one giant metal mountain has to be one of the most extraordinary images ever to be put on celluloid.  Their final conversation is insanely funny.

(End of Spoiler Alert)

Again, as I stated before, this is not going to be for everyone. There is a real underground look and feel here that is going to offend some while amaze others. Nonetheless it has justifiably acquired a large cult following that seems to never stop growing and it has spawned several sequels that have all been done by the same director. This one though is still the best of the series. I recommend it to those with perverse, offbeat tastes and an extremely dark sense of humor.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 7Minutes

Rated NR (Intense Imagery, Rape, Graphic Violence, Language)

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Studio: K2 Spirit

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition)

Eating Raoul (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Get rid of perverts.

Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov) are a very conservative couple that do not approve of open sexuality. They live in an apartment that is filled with swingers and spend most of the time trying to avoid them while abhorring their behavior.  Their dream is to purchase a large house in the countryside and convert it into a restaurant.  The problem is they have bad credit and are unable to secure any type of loan, so they decide to run an ad in the newspaper promising to fulfill and play-out people’s sexual fantasies. They insist everyone must pay in cash and then lure them to their apartment where Paul hits them over the head with a frying pan and kills them. That way they are able to collect the money they need while ridding the world of all the ‘perverts’.  However, a local con-man by the name of Raoul finds out about their act.  He is a young, good looking, self-described ‘hot-blooded Chicano’ who has the hots for Mary.  He allows them to continue with their scheme as long as he can have the dead bodies afterwards, which he then sells to a company who uses them to make dog food. Things go well for a while, but then complications ensue and that’s when it really starts to get crazy.

Paul Bartel’s hilarious script was initially rejected by all the studios and he spent six futile years trying to get it financed. It was only after his parent’s sold their house and gave him the money that he was able to get the film produced. It definitely has a very low budget look with a grainy film stock that gives it almost a home movie feel. However, this is a perfect example where a creative script can help overcome the film’s other shortcomings.  There are some genuinely funny moments the best is probably the swinger’s party and the infamous hot tub scene. This is the one thing that I remember most vividly about the film when I first saw it decades ago. I knew it was coming and still found myself laughing out loud when it did.  The swingers themselves are an obnoxious riot and you actually find yourself looking forward to seeing them get killed.

Writer, director, and star Bartel continues with his theme that perversion is a normal part of the human makeup.  Everyone has their own private sexual fetishes and fantasies that is unique only to them and may not be understood by others. He started this philosophy with his short film Naughty Nurse in 1969 where an otherwise respectable doctor and nurse would spend their lunch hour playing weird sex games. He continued it with his initial feature film Private Parts in 1972 that had a handsome young man who enjoyed having sex with a doll that he could fill up with water over real women and the weird relationship that transpired with the teen girl who lived next door and got-off watching him do it.  Here it continues with the sexual fantasies of Paul and Mary’s customers that become increasingly more outrageous (and hilarious) as they go on. Even the very strait-laced Paul and Mary have their own perversions. They dislike the actual act of sex and never do it. Instead they sleep in separate beds and cuddle with stuffed animals instead of each other, which is just as funny in the other way.

When I initially saw the film I thought Bartel was having a major ego trip by casting himself as being married to a very attractive lady like Woronov. He was a pudgy and bald man who in real-life would most likely not be able to attain such a woman. Upon second viewing I ended up liking the odd casting and felt it helped make the film stronger.  Usually beautiful women are shown as simmering with sexuality and even sex symbols, so I appreciated the way it went against type. It also helped to define how Paul and Mary had a very special understanding with each other that did not conform to conventional wisdom, which sometimes happens. I also enjoyed the way Mary stays true to Paul even when she ends up being severely tested.

I admired Woronov’s performance the second time around as well. She was majoring in sculpting in 1963 at Cambridge University when her class decided to take a field to the Andy Warhol factory. She became so impressed with the place that she stayed while the rest of the students went back.  She starred in some of his experimental films and now 80 independent/underground films later she has become a major cult icon.  I was only 18 when I first viewed this and at the time my hormones where more fixated on her sleek body as she does have a few good, but brief nude scenes. Her acting though indeed helps carry the film.

Successful Latino actor Robert Beltran is good in his part as Raoul, which also marked his film debut. I enjoyed the contrast of his aggressive, streetwise character against the stifled Blands. There is also shades from Roman Polanski’s classic Cul-de-sac where a coarse stranger disrupts the unique chemistry of an otherwise isolated couple.

Susan Saiger is fun as Doris the Dominatrix. I felt it was nice how the film starts out with her as a kinky woman with a whip at a party, but then turns around with a scene showing her as an everyday housewife and raising a kid during her off hours. I liked how Paul and her managed to get past their differences and form an interesting friendship.

Famous character actors pop-up in amusing cameos. Ed Begley Jr. is an over-the-top hippie sex freak. Edie Mclurg appears near the end of the film as one of the swingers. Famous dwarf actor Billy Curtis is one of the customers and has a pet Doberman that is bigger than he is! The best cameo goes to Buck Henry who plays an amorous bank manager who makes advances towards Mary and then the funny way he tries to back-track when he gets caught.

This film has acquired a major cult-following that seems to grow by the year.  Yes, there are some flaws. The beginning is a bit cheesy and awkward and it took me about 20 minutes before I could get into it. I also wondered, with so many people being killed, why the suspicions of the police, or anyone else, was never aroused. There is also the fact that not everyone would get killed by being hit over the head with a frying pan, some might just get knocked unconscious. Still, I found myself laughing at a lot of places. I think people who are fans of black humor will enjoy this especially since it doesn’t sell itself out and stays true to form the whole way.

Sadly Paul Bartel died in 2000 from cancer and I felt his full potential was never fully realized. This became is most popular work and although he did several films afterward, none of them were as good.  Mary Woronov continues to be quite busy even at the age of 68. A documentary about her life and career is set to be released later this year and I look forward to seeing it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: Films Incorporated

Available: VHS, DVD

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in the past.

This is a classic horror film that managed to resurrect the sagging careers of acting legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It also spawned a whole new ‘psychobiddy’ genre of films. The movie is based on the 1960 bestselling novel by Henry Farrell.

The story takes place almost exclusively in an old, rundown Hollywood mansion where two aging, feuding sisters live. Baby Jane Hudson (Davis) was at one time a big child star, but never managed to cross-over to adult roles. She lives in a fantasy world, refusing to move on with her life, and takes out her frustrations on her crippled sister Blanche (Crawford), who at one time was a big movie star until a horrible car accident left her bound to a wheelchair.

The real-life feud and animosity that the two stars had for each other is now legendary. Some of the things the two said about the other is hilariously over-the-top and too many to quote here, but well worth checking out. When you hear of all the incredible things that the two did to each other behind the scenes you almost become amazed that the film was ever able to get made. I wished that a documentary had been filmed examining the movie’s production as that could have been almost more entertaining than the film itself.

All things considered, Davis is nothing short of fabulous here. She should have won the Oscar hands down and she pretty much steals the film. She also wore gaudy make-up that gives her an almost ghost like appearance. Crawford is very good as well, but her role is not as flashy. Sadly for her this was her last hurrah as her alcoholism took its toll and her roles after this were in B-movies while Davis went on strong for the next twenty years.

Of course some may argue that the real star was director Robert Aldrich. I liked the bird’s-eye shot of Blanche spinning around in her wheel chair in frustration and terror. It is brief, but gives the viewer a very unnerving feeling. The scene where Baby Jane does an old rendition of one of her routines that she did as a child in front of a mirror that she has set-up in her living room that is also surrounded by stage lights is a nice directorial touch. The campy opening that takes place in 1917 that shows Baby Jane at her peak is memorable as is the very offbeat climatic sequence on a crowded beach. I also got a real kick out of all the Baby Jane toy dolls.

Victor Buono deserves mention as he was nominated for the supporting Oscar for his role as Edwin Flagg, the fledgling composer who Baby Jane hires to help resurrect her stage show. Although best remembered for his comedic skills he was also quite good in his serious parts and his immense girth always made his presence known. I enjoyed how they form this weird quasi-relationship that is based solely on each other’s lies and delusions.

I did have a few complaints to what seemed to me to be some serious logistical flaws. One is the fact that Blanche is stuck in her upstairs bedroom with no way to get downstairs. You would think that with all the money that they once made that they would’ve been able to afford building either an elevator, or a chair lift. It also seemed implausible to believe that Blanche had been stuck in her bedroom since 1935 when she had her accident, until present day 1962, which is what the film seems to imply. As much as I liked the African-American housekeeper Elvira Stitt (Maidie Norman), who is well aware of Baby Jane’s psychosis and has no trouble standing up to her, I thought it was awfully dumb the way she set down a hammer that she was holding right in front of Baby Jane and then turned her back to her, which allowed her to be attacked that anyone else could have predicted would happen. I also felt there was a little too much background music that at times got a bit melodramatic.

Still, this is a great film that his highly entertaining from beginning to end. With the exception of some of Baby Jane’s ‘dinner surprises’ the film is devoid of any real scares and there is no gore, which may disappoint today’s younger, more jaded viewers. However, the film has a very strong, dark psychological undercurrent, which proves to be immensely fascinating and will be appreciated by those who are more sophisticated. The film’s theme, which is that of Hollywood’s fickle, vicious cycle of fame, is universal and as strong today as it was back then.

It is interesting to note that the director’s 18 year old son William, who appears at the end as a lunch attendant at the beach, produced  29 years later the made –for-TV remake of this film that starred the Redgrave sisters, but was not as good. Also director Aldrich later made two variations of this same story. One was Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice which he produced and starred Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon and also the British classic The Killing of Sister George which he also directed.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1962

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video