What's The Matter With Helen?

  • 1971
  • Movie
  • GP
  • Crime

Another in a substantial series of vehicles for aging actresses who still possess some box-office drawing power, this film, while following the "which one is the psychotic killer?" formula, deviates from others scripted by Farrell, such as WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) and HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1965). It contains a number of Hollywood insider...read more

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Another in a substantial series of vehicles for aging actresses who still possess some box-office drawing power, this film, while following the "which one is the psychotic killer?" formula, deviates from others scripted by Farrell, such as WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) and HUSH,

HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1965). It contains a number of Hollywood insider jokes (one is the employment of Fatty Arbuckle's divorced wife in a small role) and it effectively recreates an interesting bygone era. Opening with a 1930s-newsreel style title sequence, the picture recounts the travails of

the mothers (Reynolds and Winters) of two Leopold-Loeb-like convicted killers. Chased from town by threatening telephone calls following the trial of their sons, the two travel to the Hollywood of early sound days and establish a dancing school for Shirley Temple clones. Reynolds is the dance

instructor, while Winters belts out the music--mostly "Goody-Goody" (Johnny Mercer, Matt Malneck) on the untuned upright. The curly-topped moppets go through their routines under the fond observance of their watchful studio moms. This idyllic new life is spoiled by reminders of the prior one: a

mysterious stranger wearing a raincoat who keeps the studio under silent observation and more strange telephone calls. Reynolds finds romance with wealthy westerner Weaver, but Winters finds adjustment difficult and turns to radio evangelist Moorehead (a thinly disguised Aimee Semple McPherson

characterization). Ham actor MacLiammoir joins the school as an elocution instructor (and a red herring for the subsequent events). The Mackintoshed mystery man invades the studio while Winters is alone there one evening; she pushes him down the staircase to his death. The two aging pedants then

drag the corpse through the rain to a hiding place. Winters discloses that her husband's "accidental" death under the blades of a farm harrow was no accident. The finale has the trussed, costumed, smiling corpse of Reynolds, complete with Jean Harlow hairdo, puppet-strung into a dancing pose in

the studio as the weird Winters tinkles out a mad rendition of "Goody-Goody" on the upright. The film is flawed by a predictable storyline following a fast start. Reynolds does well in her role; she reportedly invested $800,000 in the picture, so she had a high stake in its success. The

contrapuntal musical score is smashing, and the muted-color visuals evoke the era well. Oscar-nominated for Best Costume Design.

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  • Released: 1971
  • Rating: GP
  • Review: Another in a substantial series of vehicles for aging actresses who still possess some box-office drawing power, this film, while following the "which one is the psychotic killer?" formula, deviates from others scripted by Farrell, such as WHAT EVER HAPPEN… (more)

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