Tag Archives: Debbie Reynolds

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

whats-the-matter-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Religious lady goes crazy.

Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen (Shelley Winters) are two mothers whose sons commit a gruesome murder. Once the two men are convicted the women decide to move across the country, change their names and open up a dance studio. Adelle meets a handsome bachelor (Dennis Weaver) who is full of money, but Helen’s fortunes don’t improve. Instead she wallows in depression while receiving threatening phone calls, which gets her paranoid that someone is out to get them. She tries to seek solace through her religion, but eventually the stress becomes too much and her psychic begins to crack.

The screenplay was written by Henry Farrell famous for penning the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which later became a big screen success. Unlike that one this was written directly for the screen and misses the textured richness of a backstory specifically how the two women first met or how their friendship blossomed.

On the visual level it starts out well and I enjoyed the use of old news reel footage to help introduce the story, but after that it goes into a lull with long, talky takes that fail to generate much excitement. The recreation of the 1930’s setting looks cheap and stagy and the film lacks a cinematic flair to help compliment it’s campy storyline. Originally director Curtis Harrington had implemented visual effects to be used in the transitions between the scenes, which would’ve helped immensely, but the producer hated them and forced them to be taken out.

On the acting end I felt Reynolds was rather boring and stuck playing a character that isn’t very interesting, which made me surprised that she put up $800,000 of her own money just to get it produced. The showy role is clearly Helen’s and Winters plays the part quite well and becomes the film’s main attraction. Usually she would take-on flamboyant-type characters, but this one required her to be more subdued and repressed and she is able to do it magnificently, which only proves what a gifted and versatile performer she was.

There are a few edgy but brief bits including the shot of a dead body that has been run over by a farm plow, which has some pretty good bloody effects. However, the shot showing a close-up of the women’s body who was the victim of the two sons isn’t effective because it supposedly gets posted in a newspaper as a lead in to the article about the crime, but no mainstream publication either then or now would print such a gruesome picture of a victim.

There were also several provocative scenes that got excised in an effort to the attain the GP rating, which included a shot of Winters kissing Reynolds on the lips as well as a murder scene that was originally intended to be much more drawn out than what it ends up being. The film’s final shot though is still well done and probably the only thing that makes sitting through this worth it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD