Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Grand Guignol quartet ...

Let us now turn our attention to some prime ham examples of those grand guignol bloody comedy thrillers dished up by Hollywood in the 1960s and '70s, featuring those older actresses who were determined to go on working. It all started of course with Robert Aldrich and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? followed by HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE and Bette's British efforts THE NANNY and THE ANNIVERSARY, while Joan went on to STRAITJACKET and BERSERK! while Tallulah went with DIE DIE MY DARLING!. Olivia may have been the best with LADY IN A CAGE in 1964, still very effective and shocking, in the best way. The late '60s though gave us campy thrills with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? followed by WHATS THE MATTER WITH HELEN? and WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? with juicy roles for Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters, Agnes Moorehead et al. Then in 1973 a French film went even further - TRIO INFERNAL, another Romy Schneider-Michel Piccoli starrer .... roll them:

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? is delicioius fun now, with Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon going head to head, produced by Aldrich and directed by Lee H Katzin.
As Aunt Alice, Ruth Gordon applies for the job of housekeeper in the Tucson, Arizona home of widow Claire Marrable in order to find out what happened to a missing widowed friend, Edna Tilsney. The crazed Page, left only a stamp album by her husband, takes money from her housekeepers, kills them, and buries the bodies in her garden. 
We discovered Geraldine Page's great screen roles here last year: her Alexandra Del Lago in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH and Alma Winehouse in SUMMER AND SMOKE, both by Tennessee Williams. Gordon has long been a favourite from HAROLD AND MAUDE, LORD LOVE A DUCK, ROSEMARY'S BABY, and The Dealer, Natalie Wood's mother, in INSIDE DAISY CLOVER .... Both ladies are in their element here, along with Mildred Dunnock as the previous housekeeper that Gordon comes searching for as she is hired as the new housekeeper. It starts like a black comedy with widow Page finding out she is penniless after her husband's will is read. Page plays crazy perfectly, with her airs and graces, as her madness takes over. Rosemary Forsyth and Robert Fuller are the attractive couple next door ... and there is that dog sniffing at the contents of Mrs Marrable's garden ...  I loved every minute of it.

Even better is Curtis Harrington's 1971  WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? with its perfect 1930s period feel. 
Two middle-aged women move to Hollywood, California after their sons are convicted of a notorious murder and open a dance school for children eager to tap their way to stardom.
Debbie Reynolds is dynamite as Adelle, the glamorous one who soon lands nice rich guy Dennis Weaver - its one of her best roles and she gives it her all. Shelley Winters is Helen, the frumpy one who too is going demented. Irish actor Micheal MacLiammoir has a juicy role as Hamilton Starr - though we do not find out what happens to him after he follows Helen upstairs .... 
Agnes Moorehead, an old friend of Debbie's,  also has a great scene as Sister Alma - a Aimee Semple McPherson type evangalist. Then there are the tots with their Shirley Temple and Mae West routines. Its a shame the poster gives away the climax, but its a marvellous roller-coaster ride along the way. Scripted by Henry Farrell who created the genre with the BABY JANE script back in 1962. Harrington also directed the odd 1967 thriller GAMES with Simone Signoret and James Caan and Katharine Ross (see 1967 label for review) and also the 1972 follow-up WHOEVER SLEW AUNT ROO?. Shame about the bunny rabbits though ...

This was filmed in England with some good thespians having fun here: Sir Ralph Richardson,  Liionel Jeffries,  Hugh Griffith, Rosalie Crutchley, Pat Heywood, Michael Gothard, and young Mark Lester, after his hit in OLIVER!
This is a retelling of the old tale of Hansel and Gretel, but set in England in the 1920s. To the children and staff at the orphanage, Auntie Roo is a kindly American widow who gives them a lavish Christmas party each year in her mansion, Forrest Grange. In reality, she is a severely disturbed woman, who keeps the mummified remains of her little daughter in a nursery in the attic. One Christmas, her eye falls upon a little girl who reminds her of her daughter and she imprisons her in her attic. Nobody believes her brother, Christopher, when he tells them what has happened, so he goes to rescue her ... 
Its an American-International replete with a creepy old mansion, and lots of spooky thrills. A Trash Classic then, like the others here. Shelley of course is over the top as usual, though not as much as in the Italian grand guignol by Bolognini: GRAN BOLLITO (review at Winters label).  Now over to France:

LE TRIO INFERNAL, 1974. Like the equally grim THE HONEYMOON KILLERS this is based on an actual story, Georges "Sarret" Sarrejani, a lawyer in Marseilles, and his two lovers, German sisters Philomene and Catherine Schmidt, started their "work" in the 20's. They used to sign life insurances for dying people and keep the money. Sarret shot M.Chambon, another swindler, and Chambon's lover, NoĆ©mie, to steal their money... 
But, in order to get rid of the bodies, he placed them in a bathtub and cover with sulfuric acid - when the corpses were just a black kind of glue, Sarret and sisters Schmidt put the glue on buckets and pour the content on the garden. After another murder all three of them were arrested in 1930 and in 1934, April 10th, Sarret was guillotined, the sisters were released after the War. 
This gruesome tale - no camp histrionics here - makes for a gruesome film as directed by Francis Girod ... Romy once again shows how compelling she was, and is another great teaming with Piccoli.  A bit sick though for popular tastes.

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