Thursday, September 14, 2017

MOOM PITCHER REVIEW! WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN starring Debbie Reynolds and Shelly Winters (1972)

If you wanna see some feel-bad mooms dealing with the 1930s (as seen through turd-stained rear view mirrors) there are a bunch to choose from, from THE DAY OF THE LOCUST to this particularly cool humdinger.

It's the mid-thirties, and Adele Bruckner and Helen Hill's sons have just been convicted for the grisly murder of the richest woman in some small forsaken podunk town. The trial gets national coverage, the kids get life, and the moms get these weird phone calls from some guy who thinks that their progeny got off lightly and that the mumzies should be executed because hey, they raised them murderers! Not only that but this mysterious man is willing to do the job himself, and knowing a good hint when it knocks 'em over the head the two not only change their names but skedaddle for Hollywood! Adele always thought herself the new Jean Harlow so she dyes her hair platinum blond and while waiting for the big break the two open a dancing and singing school for precocious little gals whose mothers want them to be the next Shirley Temple.

It gets even better, what with the now Adele Stuart hitching up with the millionaire father of a student and the extremely religious Helen Martin doing a slow motion flipout being haunted by the deaths not only at the hands of her son but of her husband seen in a particularly gruesome flashback (hold the pause button for maximum effect). Adele tries to put up with it but pretty soon things start coming to a head and the past starts catching up with the two until it all goes into a nice freaked out boil over that I gotta say I thought was gonna turn out differently but hey, I've been wrong before.

Great acting here from Debbie Reynolds eschewing that sickening wholesome gal image for once (actually looking kinda sexy in those thirties dance duds) to Shelley Winters as her friend who just can't shake the voice on the phone or recent happenings. Even a not always pleasing actor as Dennis Weaver shines as the slimy millionaire while Michael MacLiammoir as a cornballus diction teacher fits in even if I have no idea why he was stuck in this moom inna first place. The cameo appearances from the once-omnipresent Timothy Carey as a bum to Agnes Moorehead (in a drama-drenched scene that I'm glad she ended her career with) as an Aimee Semple McPherson type who Helen is particularly fond of add a little cheese on the top of this cinematic chili making it all the more tastier if I do say so myself. Kinda funny to think that Moorehead and Reynolds were in the same film considering that story that's been goin' 'round for years on end about the two, but if you've seen Rock Hudson on THE JIM NABORS SHOW you might get the idea that one close friend was doing a favor for another who coulda used a few extra bucks, ifyaknowaddamean...

And for all you Uncle Roys out there, you get to see a whole lotta single-digit gals doin' their dance routines from Shirley Temple swipes to a particularly potent Mae West impersonation...the next best thing to those dance numbers you used to see on THE LITTLE RASCALS you short eyes you!

That ending is catch you by surprise enough, but I for one would sure would like to see what director Curtis Harrington had in mind and what the heads at MGM nixed because they didn't want this film to head out into "R" territory! Bet that really woulda packed an even bigger punch into this film which already has a number of good 'uns innit, eh?!?!?!

1 comment:

Bill S. said...

Wow...I have not thought of this film since its short run (which I missed) at my local theater in 1972! And it was from the great Curtis Harrington too! Debbie Reynolds is high on my list for a number of reasons....one of them being that we saw her "one-woman show" about 20 years ago, and she was amazing. She also had a kind of "old Vegas" vibe about her, which made this as close as you could get to having seen Dean Martin in Vegas in his prime. Did I ever tell you about how we security guards (in Virginia) used to watch her on her patio in robe and curlers having coffee in the morning (she lived on the mountain behind the building where we were guards--one of the guards kept binoculars at our post just for that reason)? I'll have to work that into a future BTC comic book review. I wanted to wait until she passed away before telling that story in public...didn't want to get sued.