Tag Archives: Black & White

Lord Love a Duck (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She wants it all.

If you ever wondered where political correctness got its start it was probably southern California in the mid 60’s. Here everything is neutralized and modified so as to ‘keep up with the times’. There’s even a drive-in church where the minister proudly exclaims that the Lord answers every prayer because “whatever happens is the answer”.

Tuesday Weld plays teenager Barbara Ann Greene who can’t be happy unless she has it all. She meets fellow high-schooler Allan Musgrave (Roddy McDowell) who because of his super intelligence is able to figure out ways for her to get what she wants. Yet the more she gets it the more unhappy she becomes.

It’s a satire on our consumer driven society, but it is too restrained and soft. A supposedly cutting edge film looking at our modernized world should have been filmed in color and not black and white. It also should have been faster paced with a heavier emphasis on the zany and outrageous. Instead we only get hints of this with a lot of slow segments and even some clumsy drama. The funny offbeat bits are spread out to thin and do not make up for the other parts that are boring and contrived.

There are some technical problems too including a lot of ‘outdoor’ shots that were really filmed indoors on a soundstage. They fortunately don’t do this anymore, but when they did it looked tacky. There is also a boom mike that is very obvious to see in several shots.

McDowell is not eccentric, nor unique enough for such an offbeat character. Although perpetually boyish looking he was way, way too old to be playing a high school student as he was 37 when this was filmed. Out of all the performers Harvey Korman comes off as the most amusing playing the overtly congenial school principal.

This film does feature an attractive cast. Of course Weld is always alluring, but she has competition from Jo Collins who was Playboy Playmate of 1965. There is also Lynn Carey daughter of the late actor MacDonald Carey from ‘Days of Our Lives’ fame. She is exceptionally good looking and watching here gyrate in a bikini to the latest dance craze is damn near pornographic. For her age Lola Albright, who plays Weld’s mother, is an absolute knockout and she can officially be crowned as a ‘milf’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: George Axelrod

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

The Nanny (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid doesn’t like nanny.

            Bette Davis plays a nanny to an upper-class British family whose oldest son Joey (William Dix) is accused of accidently killing his younger sister. Joey, who is only 10, is sent away to a home for disturbed children. When he returns he accuses the nanny as the one who did the killing and a psychological game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Davis is sensational. She plays a type of character that she has never done before and the results are fascinating. She is much more subdued and evasive than usual and she falls into the role of the unassuming nanny in a seamless fashion. The different setting works well for her and I commend her tenacity for taking on a project that was not glamorous. She even puts on some thick eyebrows for her part and at times, especially at the beginning, she starts to resemble her most hated rival Joan Crawford.

Dix is amazingly good as the kid and it is a shame that he did only one other picture after this one. I liked the independent nature of the character and he plays off Davis quite well and showed no signs of being intimated by her. Making the adversaries have such extreme age difference and personalities gives the story an interesting edge that helps carry the picture.

The evocative black and white photography helps accentuate the dark-tone. The British setting along with the expected formalities of that culture, particularly that from the father character Bill (James Villers) give the film some distinction.

The first act though goes on way too long. We are given the general premise right up front and then have to spend the whole first hour going through the scenario that Joey doesn’t like his nanny and is suspicious of her again and again until it becomes derivative. When the second act does finally come about it seems too late. The revelation isn’t all that clever or creative and the climactic sequence desperately needed more action and punch. The final result is unsatisfying. The viewer is given an intriguing premise that it can’t sustain to the end ultimately making this a misfire despite the outstanding presence of Davis and some high production values.

There is also the issue of the three-year-old girl who is adorable and an absolute scene stealer and yet right up front you are made aware that she is killed, which makes the proceedings rather depressing. Having to then watch her actual death is disturbing and, for its time period, rather vivid and startling.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Seth Holt

Studio: Hammer Productions

Available: DVD

The Notorious Landlady (1962)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Landlady could be killer.

            William Gridley (Jack Lemmon) is an American who has arrived in London and looking for a place to stay. He rents a room from a home owned by Carly Hardwicke (Kim Novak) a gorgeous woman who Bill immediately becomes smitten with. The problem is that many people think Carly has killed in her husband even though his body has not been found. When Bill gets word of this he becomes determined to investigate the case and prove her innocence.

You would think a script written by Larry Gelbart and Blake Edwards would be funnier and full of zany scenarios and slapstick, but instead it gets grounded in a lot of dialogue for much of the first hour and forty-five minutes and only starts to get interesting during the final fifteen. The conversations lack any wit, or sharp one-liners, and the premise plods along at a much too leisurely pace. There is a segment where Bill accidentally sets fire to the patio, but I think this was simply thrown in for some action as there is very little else of it. The plot is formulaic and fails to add any new twist or perspective and once it is over it is easily forgettable. Lemmon’s character is bland and transparent and more than a little naïve since he falls in love with her immediately and is then convinced that she is innocent even though he has only known her for a day.

The best part comes at the very end where the two find themselves at a recital for a group of senior citizens that are all sitting in covered wheelchairs. This scene gets drawn out amusingly and includes a bit where an old lady named Mrs. Dunhill (Estelle Winwood) is pushed down the side of a hill, which is nicely captured in a silhouette style with Bill chasing after her. Winwood, who was already seventy-nine at the time, hams it up perfectly as the daffy old woman.  Of course all this comes much too late to really help the picture, or story, but at least it saves the film from being a complete bore, which it otherwise would have been.

Novak gives a surprisingly strong performance and a convincing British accent that I wish she had spoken in for the entire duration.  She was always a stunner, but here she may look her all-time best. One scene taken with her in the bathtub was highly risqué at the time and doesn’t leave much to the imagination. British character actor Lionel Jeffries is engaging as the inspector, but Fred Astaire is essentially wasted as Bill’s boss. The production values are decent, but the results are middling.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1962

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Richard Quine

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2)

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

seance on a wet afternoon

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic is a phoney.

Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) is an emotionally unbalanced woman and failed psychic who comes up with an idea that she hopes will revive her career. The plan is for her husband Billy (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap Amanda Clayton (Judith Donner) who is the young daughter of a rich businessman. They will then place her at a strategic location and hold a public séance at which time Myra will ‘miraculously’ predict her whereabouts. This will then, they hope, make her famous and world renowned, but of course things don’t work out as expected.

This is indeed a unique and unusual film that taps into some rare qualities. First and foremost is the black and white cinematography. Every camera shot and angle has a certain evocative flair that is well captured and vivid. The on-location shots pick up just the right amount of ambiance and lighting with each setting. The music score is great and helps create excellent tension. You also will love the little girl that they kidnap. She is adorable without it being forced. Her matter-of-fact sensibilities are a great contrast to Attenborough and Stanley whose characters are child-like and pathetic.

Yet the film doesn’t completely work. The story is handled in a plodding and methodical way without any twists or surprises. There is very little action, some definite slow spots and the conclusion is limp.

If you watch it for the performances then you will be more intrigued. Stage actress Stanley gives a rare film appearance here. It is easy to see why she took the role even though she was known to dislike doing films. The takes are long and give almost unlimited possibilities in creating a character, which is what all stage actors enjoy. She does well and at times may remind one of another legendary actress Geraldine Page who would have also been perfect for the part. Attenborough proves almost her equal. His expressions of shock and worry are memorable. The interplay between the two is fun especially towards the end when this otherwise passive man stands up to the domineering woman.

Overall there are some unique moments, but it is just not suspenseful enough and results in being only slightly above average.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Artixo Productions

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2)

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)

Movie Movie (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two movies in one.

Initially, the unique concept for this film seems intriguing.  The idea was to recreate the movie viewing experience of the 30’s and 40’s by having a double bill feature along with theatrical trailers in between. The stories would have all the clichés, storylines, and characters from films of that era, but done with a tongue and cheek approach. The same core performers including: George C. Scott, his actress wife Trish Van Devere, Red Buttons, Art Carney, and Eli Wallach would play different characters in all the stories much like doing skits on a variety show. Legendary director Stanley Donen, famous for such films as Singing in the Rain, Royal Wedding, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, would direct and the screenplay would be written by Larry Gelbert best known for writing Oh God! and Tootsie.

Unfortunately, it never really takes off. Part of the reason is that the parody is too restrained. There are a few funny lines here and there, but that is about it. This was released two years before the Zucker brother’s groundbreaking hit Airplane that redefined parody and still stands as the standard today. This film doesn’t even come close to that. In fact certain audiences that saw this movie in other countries didn’t get the wry, gentle humor at all and took it seriously. I got the feeling that Gelbert and Donen had gone to the theaters as kids and watched these same types of films. Their affection and nostalgia for this stuff is clearly evident and prevented them from unleashing the over-the-top, in your face farce that would have really made this hilarious and is what most audiences of today expect.

The first feature is entitled ‘Dynamite Hands’ and is a story about a young boxer from the 30’s named Joey Popchik (Harry Hamlin, in his film debut) who becomes a prizefighter in order to pay for his kid sister’s (Kathleen Quinlan) eye operation. This segment features all the expected clichés, but the subtle humor that is injected fails to make it seem fresh or interesting. It was shot in color, but I felt black and white would have been better. The one thing I did like was Hamlin who these days seems pretty washed-up as he appears almost exclusively in direct to video fare, or dumb reality shows with his fat-lipped wife. Yet here he is right on target with his portrayal of the naïve, wet-behind-the-ears, All-American kid and I enjoyed it. Wallach is also fun as the heavy.

The middle segment is a mock theatrical trailer called “Zero Hour” that features Wallach, Scott, and Buttons as WWI flying aces. This was shot in black and white, but is brief and unexceptional. I was disappointed that there wasn’t any silly newsreel footage as this was also a mainstay in theaters during the time and could’ve been a riot.

The third part is a send-up of all the old Busby Berkley musicals and is entitled “Baxter’s Beauties of 1933”.  Scott, who is nicely hammy, plays a famous Broadway producer named Spats Baxter that finds out he is dying from a very rare illness and has only a month to live. He decides to go out on top by putting on the most lavish musical show that he can. Again, like with the others, this segment is a disappointment. The musical numbers, which were choreographed by Michael Kidd, are poorly photographed and with the exception of one routine done on a giant roulette wheel fail to match the spectacular and extravagant quality of Berkley’s. Van Devere’s kitschy performance as an alcoholic, tyrannical leading lady is the only thing that saves it. Gifted actress Barbra Harris is completely wasted in a thankless role of one of the chorus girls that doesn’t take any advantage of her talents.

George Burns, who is credited as the film’s ‘host’, appears only briefly at the beginning, but I would have liked to have seen more of him.

The cast and crew clearly had more fun making this than the viewer had in watching it. The formula is followed too closely and the result is tedium.  Even if you are a fan of films from that period I would still not suggest this as the originals are far better.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: ITC Entertainment

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Closely Watched Trains (1966)

closely watched trains

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.

This is an engaging, amiable Czechoslovakian import that won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1966. The story pertains to a young man named Milos (Vaclav Neckar) who follows in his father’s footsteps and gets a job at the local railway company during World War II. He almost immediately becomes bored with it and gets preoccupied with a beautiful young train conductor named Messa (Jitka Scoffin). The two have a sexual tryst, but Milos is unable to ‘rise to the occasion’.  He becomes despondent and even tries to commit suicide, but is saved at the last minute. While he is recuperating in the hospital the Dr. informs him that he suffers from premature ejaculation.  Milos then spends the rest of the time scouring the village for some prostitutes that he can ‘practice on’ so that he can learn to control his condition and become a ‘real man’.  A subplot involves plans to blow-up a German train carrying some high level ammunition.

Despite the fact that it is very leisurely paced and everything happens at one not very exciting location I still found the film to be immensely enjoyable. I had the feeling that director Jiri Menzel spoke straight from the heart with this one. The bleakness of the characters situation and the poor, hopeless conditions of their country is vivid and yet the ingenuity and perseverance of the human spirit never fades. Anyone who has dealt with an oppressive situation will most assuredly relate. The fact that this film stays so highly amusing and touching despite the depressing elements is what makes this a winner.

In a lot of ways this was years ahead of its time. The very liberal sexual attitudes and provocative scenes were stuff not yet seen in most movies and didn’t really become the norm, even for European films, until the 70’s and 80’s. Although not extreme there is indeed some lingering eroticism and even nudity. One segment involves Milos’s very amorous co-worker Hubicka (Josef Somr) rubber stamping the naked rear of Zdenka (Jitka Zelenohorska) who works as the station’s secretary. When her shocked mother finds out about this she parades her daughter all around town, exposing her rear to everyone, so that they can witness the ‘outrageous crime’ while the amused Zdenka finds it a turn-on.  There is also another scene, which another reviewer considered to be the most unique scene ever put on film that involves an old woman and a goose. I’ll agree it is very different, but I am not exactly sure what she was doing with it, or if I want to know, or if it is even legal, but it does indeed catch your attention.

Of course the drawback to this is the fact that the character’s attitudes seem far too modernistic for the era. At no time did I feel like I was really being transported back into the 1940’s.  There was also a little too much preoccupation with the sex angle and I felt there needed to be a little more balance with the actual war.

The Milos character is a bit too wide-eyed. He looks literally like a ‘deer-in-headlights’ through the entire progression of the movie. He seems overtly naïve for someone of 18. I know it was done for comical purposes, but having his mother dress him for his first day of work was going over the top. For the first half of the film he has hardly any dialogue and it is difficult for the viewer to relate to him, or get inside his head. Things do even out at the end when he ‘transforms into a man’, which I liked, but the opening half paints him too much as a caricature.

If there was one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way it would be the downbeat ending. I didn’t think it was necessary and tended to go against the film’s theme, which was human survival and coping. Still, it’s a good film with a great message. The budget was clearly very low, but it’s entertainment value high.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jiri Menzel

Studio: Filmove

Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection)

The Innocents (1961)

innocents 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children frighten their governess.

Legendary British actress Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, the governess hired to care for two children at a sprawling English estate. However, the children are not exactly as they seem. Strange occurrences and behaviors begin to manifest as well as several ghostly sightings, which leads Miss Giddens into believing that the children may actually be possessed.

The film is based on the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. I have not read the book, but those that have feel this is a pretty satisfying adaptation. I did like the slow, methodical pacing. It helps to build the tension as well as enhance the mystery. Things are revealed in deliberate layers, which kept me intrigued throughout.

Director Jack Clayton shows a marvelous handle on the material.  The estate that they chose for the setting is perfect and captured well in glorious black and white by famed cinematographer Freddie Francis.  There is a lot of spooky imagery throughout including a creepy nightmare sequence in the middle.  The garden with its hulking, strange statues is used quite effectively especially in the haunting finale.  The music also grabs your attention right from the start with a very eerie song that is played before you see a single image on the screen. The song is similar to the one used in Rosemary’s Baby.  In fact there are several things here that reminded me of that film as well as The Shining.

Kerr was a good choice for the increasingly frightened governess.  I loved that scared expression on her face, which becomes progressively more frequent. Yet she is also effective when the character decides to become proactive by taking matters into her own hands and singlehandedly trying to ‘cure’ the children herself.  This also helps make both the character and the story a more multifaceted because you are never sure if this stuff is really happening or all just inside her head.

What really impressed me the most though was the performances of the two children especially Martin Stephens who plays Miles the young boy. His character shifts through many different moods, playing an innocuous child one minute and then a menacing, volatile one the next. He does each one flawlessly and becomes practically mesmerizing in the process.  Pamela Franklin is also fine in the role of Flora. This was her film debut. Eight years later her career would peak playing her signature role as Maggie Smith’s nemesis in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Another thing that I liked about the children is that they are initially portrayed as being normal and even engaging.  This is unlike other films with a similar theme like Children of the Damned or Children of the Corn where the kids are given creepy features right from the start. Here it works better and is more chilling to the viewer because the children’s dark side is unsuspected.

Unfortunately, despite the film’s impeccable technical quality, I still went away feeling unsatisfied. Part of the problem is that nothing really happens.  The ghosts appear but then do nothing but just stand there, which quickly becomes tiresome. One scene in particular has the camera constantly cutting back to the lady ghost standing across the lake until she starts to look like a mannequin, which I suspect she was.  The buildup is good, but I would have liked more of a payoff.  The ending is much too vague and gives no explanation as to why this was happening, if it was happening, or whatever became of the main character.

I couldn’t help but feel that this story would have worked better as an episode from one of the old horror anthology series like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour or even The Twilight Zone where it could have all been compacted into an hour. A hundred minutes seems like much too long for such little to happen. It is also interesting to note that in 1972 a film came out entitled The Nightcomers starring Marlon Brando that attempts to speculate what happened to the children before the main character of the governess arrives and before James’s original story begins.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1961

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jack Clayton

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Lady in a Cage (1964)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lady trapped in elevator.

Olivia de Havilland, who as of this writing is the last surviving cast member from the film Gone With the Wind, plays a upper-middle class woman by the name of Cornelia Hilyard who gets stuck in her household elevator when the power goes out. A homeless man (Jeff Corey) becomes aware of her predicament and with the help of his sleazy girlfriend (Ann Southern) tries to rob the place. When they sell some of her items at a pawn shop a trio of juvenile delinquents (James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos) follow the two back to the place where they spend the rest of the film terrorizing Ms. Hilyard and ransacking her house further.

As a concept the film has some interesting ideas and imagery. The stark black and white photography looks great and helps accentuate the plot’s grim reality. The opening sequence is pretty good with an announcer reading off various startling news reports that are coupled with troubling images like a young girl on roller skates kicking at a homeless person lying in the street. There is also the fact that this all occurs within a large home amidst an upscale neighborhood that is right next to a busy street, which makes for some intriguing symbolism.

However, as a thriller it ends up being quite dull.  There is very little action and much too much talking that seems to go nowhere. There are no twists of any kind and the climax is forced, unimaginative, and unexciting.  Any violence that does happen is conveniently done out of view. The bad guys are portrayed as being dumb, careless, and just waiting to screw up. It is probably due to the period it was made in, but this potentially brutal subject matter seems way too restrained to the point that there is never much tension. There is also the issue of the elevator, which isn’t all that high up. Cornelia could have dropped herself out of it, which she eventually does, but had she done it earlier none of this would have needed to happen.

De Havilland does a good job here, but at times comes close to over-acting especially with her scared facial expressions, which some might find unintentionally funny. This marked James Caan’s film debut.  He is a great actor with an impressive career, but his performance here is lacking.  He seems uncomfortable in the role as the antagonist and he never manages to reach the level of being menacing. The final shot of his demise though is very graphic especially for the time. Jennifer Billingsley is probably the best thing about the film. She is attractive and gives a solid performance as the most jaded member of the gang.

Normally I always say these one-note thrillers that get stretched too thin at feature length would work better in one of those old horror anthology series like “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”, however even there this story would be pushing it. Basically, in this instance, if you have read the synopsis then you have essentially ‘seen’ the film.

The trailer for the film and movie poster as seen above is actually much more entertaining than the film itself.  An announcer sends dire warnings that this film is ‘extremely shocking subject matter’ and ‘should not be viewed alone’.  It is pretty funny and even funnier when you see how lame the movie actually is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Walter Grauman

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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