Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?


WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971). Director: Curtis Harrington.

In the 1930's two women whose sons are convicted of murder move to Los Angeles to start new lives and open a school for budding Shirley Temples. Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) is a pretty dancer with high hopes for the future while Helen (Shelley Winters) is a religious type who's haunted by the gruesome death of her husband. As Adelle becomes romantically involved with the father (Dennis Weaver) of one of the moppets, Helen becomes increasingly unhinged, leading to violent complications. Written by Henry Farell (Baby Jane; Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte) Helen has an excellent premise that isn't developed as well as it could have been, and Harrington's uninspired direction is no help at all. The trouble is that the "horror" stuff has to happen to justify the film's existence (despite it's already interesting plot line) and it just isn't as convincing as, say, Hush ... Hush. The two lead actresses are fine, however, even if Reynolds falls a little short during the more dramatic moments. Weaver and Agnes Moorehead as a greedy evangelist are on the money. Micheal (sic) MacLiammoir seems to be doing a Sidney Greenstreet impersonation as Hamilton Starr, the school's vocal and dramatic teacher, but he's a lot of fun, and there's some humor generated in regards to the tykes -- one of whom is Pamelyn Ferdin -- and their mothers -- one of whom is Yvette Vickers (Mrs. Barker)! While much of the movie is predictable, Farrell still manages to stick in a minor twist or two. The little girl who does the "You Big Bad Man" number is terrific!

Verdict: Interesting failure. **1/2.

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