The Mad Genius (1931)

Emphasis on the Word Mad

2 July 2016 | by mmallon4 (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I feel like no other decade seems to have as many obscure gems lost to time as the 1930’s; case in point, The Mad Genius. Coming out in the same year as the iconic adaptations of Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde; but in my humble opinion, The Mad Genius is a better and more intriguing film than any of those.

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The opening of The Mad Genius does a superb job at setting a time and place; central Europe in the early 20th century. There is an impeccable level of detail in creating the world of a travelling performer; with the falling of the rain, the wind and the sound of horse and carriage taking full advantage of sound technology to create a world. Equally as impressive is Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov’s (John Barrymore) Berlin theatre and the large scale stage set with hints of German expressionism throughout and the wide spread use of music in the soundtrack, unlike other early talkies.

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John Barrymore is (unsurprisingly) mesmerising as Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov (quite a name), one of the most repulsive characters he ever played as he spends the movie spewing pompous and at times mad scientist like dialogue. He has a misogynistic attitude towards women and is even seen ogling up the skirts of his dancers, in one of the film’s very pre-code elements. He is even a drug dealer, although the word drug is never used in the film nor is it indentified what substances appear in the film. In one scene in which he refuses to deal drugs with the stage director played by Luis Alberni, I love his summary on drugs when he throws them into the fire; “If I drop this, you will be free, but you will suffer of course, but in the end, you will be happier than you could ever dream”. Likewise In one of the movie’s comic highlights there is an early use of profanity in film; “It’s unbelievable that there’s any human being living, who should be such a stupid ass”.

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One of the many interesting observations in The Mad Genius is the combination of elements from other movies. The plot itself is derivative of Barrymore’s previous horror outing Svengali, while Tsarakov’s desire to create a great ballet dancer out of a young boy is a variation on Dr Frankenstein (which the movie itself alludes to). When Tsarakov is wearing on overcoat he is bent over like Quasimodo; Barrymore’s facial appearance is very similar to that of Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, likewise his voice is reminiscent of Lugosi’s Dracula. The theatre setting has vibes of The Phantom of the Opera and perhaps most interestingly are the elements of The Red Shoes with the film’s inclusion of ballet and the themes of going to extremes for one’s art. Could Powell and Pressburger have taken inspiration from The Mad Genius?

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THE MAD GENIUS (Michael Curtiz, 1931) ***

7/10
Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
23 January 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Warner Brothers were clearly eager to give the 1931 public what it wanted and also consolidate the success of SVENGALI made earlier that year by instantly reuniting the leads from that film – John Barrymore and Marian Marsh – in a quickly rehashed potboiler on similar lines.

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Barrymore is an embittered puppeteer whose lameness had dashed his dreams of a dancing career but, as fate would have it, is provided with the opportunity of living that glory vicariously through the agile street urchin he saves one day from the clutches of his cruel father (a small role for a pre-fame Boris Karloff). Growing up to be a peerless dancer (played by an uncharismatic Donald Cook) through the ruthless patronage of his foster father, he is ready to give it all up for the love of an innocent girl in the show (Marsh) but, needless to say, Barrymore will not let anything stand in the way of art and his ambitious plans for the prized pupil.

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Amusing sidekick Charles Butterworth helplessly looks on as Barrymore sadistically convinces dope-addicted choreographer (Luis Alberni) to fire Marsh but Cook overhears their heinous scheme and this causes a rift between impresario and protégé. Years pass but more scheming on Barrymore’s part enables the estrangement of the lovers and the rekindling of the working relationship between father and son. Once again, however, fate intervenes with Barrymore eventually getting his just desserts at the hands of the distraught Alberni – on stage during the performance of what was to be Cook’s crowning achievement! Admittedly, the plot is much inferior to that of SVENGALI but an unhinged Barrymore is always worth watching, Marsh is typically lovely while Michael Curtiz’s expressionistic direction (his first of three notable forays in the genre) and Anton Grot’s stylish sets lend the production a touch of class that keeps one watching if not exactly enthralled.

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The Follow – Up To SVENGALI

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
29 January 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When Michael Curtiz directed this odd ballet and horror film he presumably had the recent success of the John Barrymore – Marian Marsh film SVENGALI (from George Du Maurier’s TRILBY) in mind. That story was based on a novel wherein a great singer is actually controlled (by hypnosis) by her impresario. Although Svengali’s character in the novel was quite obnoxious, the film version softened it to make one realize he was in control of Trilby but loved her and could not be certain if she loved him back. In the end it turned out she did.

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The story of THE MAD GENIUS was similar – Donald Cook is a brilliant ballet dancer who was trained by impresario Barrymore, and the latter is determined to get his protégé the career he deserves – by all means necessary. This means derailing anything or anyone who Barrymore concludes will prevent this. Marsh is a female member of the ballet company that Cook is falling for, and Barrymore is willing to push her out of the company, and even turn her into a wealthy nobleman’s mistress to keep Cook in line.

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The film actually works. In the background was a misunderstanding of the relationship between Diaghilev and Nijinski (who many thought was that impresario’s puppet). Here one realizes Barrymore is a man who is so hung up on the success of his adopted son that he does not stop even while he realizes he is doing harm to so many others. To perfect the boy’s dancing (and the company’s) he is willing to be the drug supplier to dance master Luis Alberni (one of the first examples of cocaine use in movies). When not pimping for his wealthy aristocratic backer, he runs a tight ship on all the dancers and his factotum associate Charles Butterworth.

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But he is human. One of the funniest aspects of the film is how Barrymore picks up his own sexual partners from starry eyed young woman coming in to join the ballet company. He always uses the same line with them, and even the same hour the next day to visit his office (three o’clock). Butterworth adds his bit too, as he tries constantly to interest Barrymore or anyone in a really bad ballet he’s written (Barrymore, who is happy and drunk when Butterworth finally corners him, slowly sobers up when hearing this idiotic story line, and ends up saying he never realized what an ass Butterworth really was).

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Finally there is a cameo that I find fascinating. This is the film wherein Boris Karloff (for about one minute) shares screen time with John Barrymore. They never did so again.

tasty ham, attractively served; side dishes not bad

Author: mukava991 from United States
1 February 2015

In “The Mad Genius” John Barrymore delivers one of his most enjoyable screen performances, playing a club-footed, alcoholic, womanizing Russian puppeteer who takes an abused youth under his wing and molds him into a great star with the Ballet Russe, an accomplishment he could never attain himself due to his deformity. Some may consider his performance hammy, but at least it’s Grade A.

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The film opens expressionistically somewhere in “Central Europe” on a rain-drenched night with Barrymore and his dim-witted sidekick (the deadpan Charles Butterworth) rehearsing a traveling puppet show when a barefoot youth (Frankie Darro), fleeing a beating from his insanely sadistic father (Boris Karloff), stumbles into their tent. Barrymore and Butterworth hide him and leave town in a horse-drawn wagon shot at a tilted angle as it creaks along a muddy road.

Zip to Berlin several years later. The youth is now a young man (Donald Cook) who is in love with a fellow dancer (Marian Marsh). Barrymore, still the puppeteer but of humans now, wants no one interfering with his controlling relationship and maneuvers Marsh out of the company while elevating a lesser dancer to her position. Meanwhile, Barrymore’s dance director (Luis Alberni) is slowly going mad from a cocaine addiction enabled by his employer. The two are locked together, feeding on each other’s weaknesses, paralleling the central relationship between teacher-mentor and star-protégé. Barrymore needs Alberni’s skills as a dance master; Alberni can’t function without the drugs Barrymore provides.

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The camera often shoots from low angles, with ceilings visible. Lots of chiaroscuro. Pre-Code subject matter includes extramarital cohabitation, prostitution, drug addiction, and (for the time) grisly violence. Suggestive dialogue abounds.

Barrymore feasts on the role. Luis Alberni plays the frenzied addict to the hilt. Marian Marsh and Donald Cook are sometimes mechanical and artificial but not to the extent that they undermine their roles and both have strong moments. Carmel Myers is excellent in a brief drunken scene with Barrymore.

Donald Cook looks so much like the Warners contract actress Kay Francis that they should have been cast in a movie together as siblings. Just sayin’.

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Svengali (1931)

Cinematography Barney McGill
Directed by Archie Mayo

Svengali is a 1931 American pre-Code supernatural drama/horror film produced and distributed by Warner Bros. The film stars John Barrymore and co-stars Marian Marsh. It was directed by Archie Mayo and the screenplay was written by J. Grubb Alexander. It is based on the gothic horror novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier. The film was originally released on May 22, 1931. Warner Brothers was so pleased by the box office on this film that the studio hurriedly reteamed Barrymore and Marsh for another horror film The Mad Genius, released on November 7, 1931.

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Svengali (1931)

3 April 2005 | by MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

I’ve only watched the film once – by way of Roan’s fine if not outstanding DVD – and this happened fairly recently. SVENGALI follows its source novel (“Trilby” by George Du Maurier) pretty closely, which is rare for horror film-adaptations of the 1930s. Apart from John Barrymore’s appropriately mesmerizing leading performance (here revisiting the genre after a whole decade), I recall one particularly amazing tracking shot demonstrating Svengali’s hypnotic powers over Trilby, and there are even brief flashes of nudity (remember this was a Pre-Code film, but also that our heroine is a model)! Barrymore followed SVENGALI with the thematically-similar THE MAD GENIUS (1931) but, unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch that one…

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Superb Barrymore-Delightful Marsh

10/10
Author: roxyroxy
9 March 2005

This is such a great early sound film from the Warner Brothers studio. The sets by Anton Grot are amazing (there is an eye-popping miniature set of the rooftops of Paris). The sentimental background music used in “Svengali” is Thomas Dunn English’s “Ben Bolt”, which is played effectively throughout the film and is partially sang twice. The great John Barrymore IS the one and only Svengali and is superb in the role. He captures Svengali’s wicked humor and cunningness perfectly.

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Marian Marsh is ideally cast and simply delightful as the artists model Trilby. She even looks like Trilby as drawn in George Du Maurier’s novel. She displays an infectious smile and high-spirited jolliness that other actresses who have played Trilby have failed to deliver (Clara Kimball Young was okay in the 1915 silent version (“Trilby”), but Hildagarde Neff and Jodie Foster weren’t at all appealing in the later sound remakes). Mostly everyone else in 1931’s “Svengali” give good performances (the exception being Carmel Myers, whose acting dates badly). This 1931 version of “Svengali” will always be a film worth seeing for Barrymore’s humorous villain, Marsh’s adorable heroine and those glorious expressionistic sets by Anton Grot on the early Warner Brothers sound stages.

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A Real Treat!

10/10
Author: MarcoAntonio1
5 August 2005

I just love this version of the classic tale “Trilby”. John Barrymore is excellent as Svengali and pretty Marian Marsh is utterly charming as Trilby. The film has a very bohemian look and feel to it which is one of the reasons why you should enjoy it. The expressionistic sets were by Anton Grot and there is the famous striking miniature set of the rooftops of Paris that the camera tracks over in the classic scene where Svengali wills Trilby from her apartment to his one stormy midnight. Warner Brothers paired Barrymore and Marsh once again in “The Mad Genius” which is a rather adult, pre-code story with Barrymore just as menacing as he is in “Svengali”, but not the demoniac that he is in this film. Note: The Roan Group (Roan Group.com) has the best DVD edition of “Svengali” available on the market.

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Fantastic design and Barrymore in his prime.

Author: Bobs-9 from Chicago, Illinois, USA
19 April 2004

The remark of an earlier commentator below caught my eye when he stated that the change in perspective from comedy to serious drama in this film didn’t work for him. I’ve found this to be a most striking feature of the film as well, but I always thought it very effective in giving the film, and the characters, more scope than the average uniform, by-the-book comedy, thriller, horror film, drama, etc. A bit like real life, no?

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Anyway, I’ve always been a fan of this film, and I don’t think the acting is at all hokey for its era or genre. The stylized acting of the time, which appears artificial by today’s standards, seems to me to go well with the weird expressionist set design in evoking a fantastic world where fantastic things can occur. Also, the chance to see Barrymore ham it up in grand style as Svengali is, in my view, a rare treat, like experiencing a bit of show biz history. I bristled a bit at the review of this film by Scott Weinberg of the Apollo Movie Guide (see “external reviews” link).

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He states that in 1931 you could entertain people by showing 75 minutes of an airport runway, and that his being born in the 70s may explain why this film put him to sleep. Maybe so. I myself was born in the 50s and also did not grow up with this style of filmmaking, though I probably saw more of it on TV than he did. That doesn’t preclude my appreciation of it, any more than it precludes my appreciation for films of the 70s, the 80s, or the 20s for that matter. Good film is good film, and having no appreciation for the first 3 decades of cinema and some of its greatest innovators seems a severe handicap for anyone who writes about film, but at least he was honest about it.

I’m not saying that this film is on a par with the work of Murnau or Eisenstein, but I do think it’s a fascinating and stylish look into a bygone era of cinema, and can be appreciated as such.

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“Himmell!! That Throat!!!”

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
9 October 2006

Historic note of interest: In the early 19th Century, there was a scandal involving the British General-in-Chief of the Armies (then fighting Napoleon) where his mistress was found to have been selling commissions to wealthy, but undeserving men, for high private fees. The General-in-Chief resigned in 1809 as a result of this scandal. He was Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, second oldest (and favorite) son of King George III. The mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, faced some legal problems, but triumphed over most of them (she actually had public opinion on her side).

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Ms Clarke would marry and have a family. Her grandson was George Du Maurier (more of later); Her great-grandson was Gerald Du Maurier, the leading stage actor of the first half of the 20th Century; Her great-great-granddaughter was Daphne Du Maurier, novelist (REBECCA, JAMAICA INN, FRENCHMAN’S CREEK, MY COUSIN RACHEL, THE SCAPEGOAT), and great-great-grandma’s sympathetic biographer (MARY ANNE). By the way, while Ms Clarke had quite a noteworthy progeny, the Duke of York never had any legitimate children, or illegitimate ones of note.

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But SVENGALI is not Daphne’s book. It is the chief novel of her grandfather George. By the way, the title of the novel is not SVENGALI, but TRILBY. Trilby O’Farrell is the heroine of the story, and Svengali is the villain (“Little Billee” is the hero). But in Svengali George Du Maurier created one of the most memorable villain figures in the 1880 and 1890s, with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula and Conan Doyle’s Professor James Moriarty, Anthony Hope’s Rupert of Hentzau and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Henry Jeckyll/Edward Hyde.

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Unfortunately there is an element in Svengali that is played down somewhat (but his appearance – based on the novel’s illustrations by Du Maurier (who was a successful cartoonist) emphasize without subtlety). Svengali is Jewish – and a real villain in the story. He is first seen as a hanger-on, and one who sneers at the attempts by Little Billee, Taffy, and the Laird to be artists. That is because he has his own powers, but he is looking for the right person to use them on. He finds that person in Trilby, a beautiful young girl, quite innocent, who works as a model. One day he examines Trilby’s throat somewhat bemusedly and discovers that it is perfectly formed for singing (hence the comment I put in the “Summary Box”).

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Up to that time she is falling for Billee, but soon Svengali is giving her all kinds of singing lessons. Billee and his friends note this with apprehension (they barely can tolerate Svengali). Then she becomes increasingly distant and cold to them, especially Billee. Soon she leaves with Svengali. Billee suffers a collapse as a result.

Billee recovers and in a few years learns that Trilby is the leading concert singer in Europe. But wherever she goes it is always with her impresario/husband Svengali. He “keeps an eye” on her and her activities. Billee can’t stand this, especially after an accidental meeting with her leads to a feeling she doesn’t even know who he is. He starts pursuing them, and finally drives to the fatal conclusion (which is quite different in the novel, but similar).

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I doubt if hypnotism really could do what Du Maurier suggested Svengali could do to Trilby. But this film certainly suggests it can. John Barrymore’s Svengali was the closest role (in his sound films; he had played Dr. Jeckyll in a silent film) to a horror part, but he manages to make the impresario/hypnotist/musician a sad and compelling figure: the tragedy for Barrymore’s Svengali is his success – he knows he controls Trilby (Marian Marsh), but that knowledge also brings doubt that she could ever love him or give herself to him on her own free will. It is a damning situation, and he does not know the answer until the last moment of the film. Svengali would be a hallmark role for Barrymore – he is a reference point in the role of Oscar Jaffe in the comedy TWENTIETH CENTURY, and a slightly watered down version is his unhappy impresario/husband to Jeanette MacDonald in MAYTIME.

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Return of the Fly (1959)

Director:

Edward Bernds (as Edward L. Bernds)

Cinematography by

Brydon Baker
Philippe Delambre, the now-adult son of “The Fly”, does some transportation experimentation of his own.

Return of the Fly is the first sequel to the 1958 horror film The Fly. It was released in 1959 on a double bill with The Alligator People. It was directed by Edward Bernds. Unlike the preceding film, Return of the Fly was shot in black and white. Vincent Price was the only returning cast member from the previous film. It was intended that Herbert Marshall reprise his role as the police inspector, but due to illness he was replaced by John Sutton.

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Vincent Price signed on after reading the first draft of the script. However, the studio demanded re-writes in order to reduce production costs. The re-writes reportedly removed much of what Price liked about the first draft.
The producers decided that Vincent Price was all they needed, so they hired no other actors from the first movie. Filming was completed in March 1959 for July release.
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Entertaining and Enjoyable

My words for this film are going to be less harsh than others for the simple fact that this film, in no way superior or even comparable to the original, is entertaining. The story has the little boy from the first Fly film, Phillipe, coming back to carry out the work of his father, against the express wishes of Vincent Price, his uncle. The plot is very predictable and the acting is nothing more than adequate(Vinnie notwithstanding). The film is in black and white, and in general very cheaply made. What then does it have going for it? Well, for one it has a nice performance by Vincent Price. Another thing is it has some bizarre scenes and murders, things lacking from the original. The guinea pig scene is reason enough to see the film.

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Enjoyable sequel, not on par with the original

Author: squeezebox from United States
31 December 2003

THE FLY was a fairly classy, atmospheric sci-fi movie with some horror overtones. It was fun and campy, but also somewhat disturbing in its depiction of a man losing his humanity, a theme which was explored more deeply in David Cronenberg’s astonishing remake.

RETURN OF THE FLY is basically a cheap follow-up which is better than it should be. This is mostly due to the always reliable Vincent Price, who returns as the brother of the scientist who became the fly-monster in the original. Here, he desperately tries to sway his nephew from following in his father’s footsteps.

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The movie concentrates on the son’s attempts to recreate his father’s teleportation equipment with a hesitant Price helping out, then shifts gears as his other partner, a British ex-con, is discovered to be attempting to steal the research.

This leads to a few misadventures with the teleportation machine resulting in a man becoming a human guinea pig (literally), and ultimately the son becoming a fly-monster himself.

 

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Shot in stark black and white (as opposed to the original’s lush Technicolor), RETURN OF THE FLY has a sleazy, grindhouse quality to it. Whereas the original explored the horror of losing one’s mind and physical being, this time it’s basically just a “monster roaming the countryside” scenario, with any psychological or philisophical aspects thrown out the window in favor of cheap thrills. And while the make-up effects are somewhat improved upon, the ridiculous optical effect of the son’s head on a fly’s body is unintentionally funny.

Overall, however, it’s entertaining enough, and above average for the B-horror movies of the era, though it may be disappointing for fans of the original.

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A quickie capitalizes on the popularity of the original…

5/10
Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
14 May 2005

BRETT HALSEY is one of those handsome young actors from the ’50s who never quite made it to stardom, and following the trend of other such actors, he fled to Europe where he found a niche for a decade or so in adventure films. He was certainly a competent enough actor and it’s a shame Fox never groomed him for major stardom.

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Nor did Fox have enough faith in this one to use technicolor (as they did for the original). As sequels go, it’s just a fair job on an obviously shoestring budget–and basically, without giving any of the storyline away, it’s a story of revenge.

It’s all suitably photographed in low key B&W lighting that gives it the proper atmosphere. The performers are capable enough–including Halsey, Vincent Price, John Sutton and Dan Seymour–but their material is scarcely worthy of their combined talents. Fans of this sort of science fiction will no doubt find it has a certain amount of interest.

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Anyone who enjoyed “The Fly” will want to see this and probably not be too critical of the shortcomings–although the special effects are not quite as harrowing as they could be.

Summing up: Okay for a viewing, but not likely to be the kind of horror flick anyone will want to revisit.

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Following in father’s footsteps.

6/10
Author: lost-in-limbo from the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
25 February 2006

Phillippe the son of the infamous Dr. Delambre, who still has an air of mystery around his death, is now a young man who has taken over his father’s work, which his uncle Francois wants him to forget about. Though he gets conned into backing the experiment and that’s only if he can supervise the project, so it doesn’t happen again. The experiment is going quite well, up until later on when Phillippe finds out his mischievous assistant has betrayed him, as he’s secretly selling the idea of the teleportation device to another backer. So, to stop the word getting out, his assistant provides him with the same fate that his father had fought.

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Now, it’s a race against time for Francois and Inspector Beecham to save Phillippe from the same aftermath of his father.

Right of the back of the original film, comes a rather quickie of a sequel that doesn’t push any limits. Firstly, no way does it come close to the superior original, but as an automatic b-grade monster feature, it’s provides enough rollicking fun. Well, when you got Price on show, how can you go wrong? What we get is a bland story structure that lacks an ounce of life and astuteness, though it does have a few inspired moments, but these are far and in between many inferior sequences that come off just plain ordinary with some confusing plot details.

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The original managed to work around the silly context, but here it tends accept it by working in laughable story turns and monster effects. Even the dialog seems more like schlock, without the savvy and witty dialog that made the first film naturally engaging. The performances are all but cold and lifeless, but with the obvious exception of Vincent Price. He just has a spellbinding presence that when the words roll of his tongue, it has a Shakespearean vibe, no matter how bad the lines were. Price’s performance is definitely this film’s anchor. The rest of the characters I didn’t care for, as they are rather unsympathetic and foolish.

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There was just more attention to fabricating unpleasant and cheap thrills, which are more out of control with a monster out for revenge hook-line. It’s more violent than its predecessor too. I give it credit that it’s more exciting in its basic dementia of its creation, but hell the treatment of the story and effects were laughable. That’s unintentionally, though. This one seems more serious, but it’s outlandishly executed in a drab fashion. But ironically everything works out in the long run with a happy ending for all… well for the good guys.

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Now the effects are decent, but when it came to the fly’s head on the human body. Why was it that huge!? It looks stupid! Sure, it looks even more hideous, but you got to be kidding, it was funny watching the guy running along while holding onto it, so it doesn’t fall off. You could easily tell the guy was having trouble with it, even so when walking! They really out did themselves on that one.

Another note was that the pacing is rather brisk, gladly. Also it does provide slight dose of suspense and atmosphere, but more so it’s preoccupied in its second-rate chills and mayhem instead. The flick is shot in black and white, and it does look rather sharp and crisp in detail.

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Plus there’s some showy photography and framework that adds a bit more creative eye to the wailing production. The story’s actions on this occasion were just too ridiculous to take seriously with it getting more risible the further it goes, but it seems pretty unaware to all of that.

It’s not all that bad, but the quality is replaced by big chunks of camp that’s more interested in wowing us with ludicrous action, rather then the strain it has on the characters and their relationships. Still, there’s b-grade fun to be had here.

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Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Directed by Jack Arnold

Cinematography by

William E. Snyder
A strange prehistoric beast lurks in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. A group of scientists try to capture the animal and bring it back to civilization for study.
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Nature supplies many mysteries.

27 October 2001 | by Michael O’Keefe (Muskogee OK) – See all my reviews

After finding a claw-like hand, scientists make a return trip to a lagoon off of the Amazon to search for relics. The major discovery is a ‘gill’ man with an eye for the female form. Julie Adams is most certainly an eye opener. Very interesting underwater and location shots. Run of the mill acting from Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Whit Bissell. This was scarier seen through the eyes of a very young boy on the third row; but still holds your attention. Is this a classic or what?

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Julie Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Producer William Alland was attending a 1941 dinner party during the filming of Citizen Kane (in which he played the reporter Thompson) when Mexicancinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures in the Amazon River. Alland wrote story notes titled “The Sea Monster” 10 years later. His inspiration was Beauty and the Beast. In December 1952 Maurice Zimm expanded this into a treatment, which Harry Essex and Arthur Ross rewrote as The Black Lagoon. Following the success of the 3D film House of Wax in 1953, Jack Arnold was hired to direct the film in the same format.

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The designer of the approved Gill-man was Disney animator Millicent Patrick, though her role was deliberately downplayed by make-up artist Bud Westmore, who for half a century would receive sole credit for the creature’s conception. Jack Kevan, who worked on The Wizard of Oz (1939) and made prosthetics for amputees during World War II, created the bodysuit, while Chris Mueller, Jr. sculpted the head.

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Ben Chapman portrayed the Gill-man for the majority of the film shot at Universal City, California. Many of the on-top of the water scenes were filmed at Rice Creek near Palatka, Florida. The costume made it impossible for Chapman to sit for the 14 hours of each day that he wore it, and it overheated easily, so he stayed in the back lot’s lake, often requesting to be hosed down. He also could not see very well while wearing the headpiece, which caused him to scrape Julie Adams’ head against the wall when carrying her in the grotto scenes. Ricou Browning played the Gill-Man in the underwater shots, which were filmed by the second unit in Wakulla Springs, Florida.

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Why we like the Creature.

Author: john mazzulla (gnosis7@juno.com) from united states
4 February 2003

Today, “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” is considered a classic. The film itself has become a cliche for the “man-in-a-rubber-suit” monster movie, and the “gillman” is now included in the pantheon of classic movie monsters -along with Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman.

I was a teenager when I first saw this Sci-Fi/Horror gem on television in 1965–the film was already ten years old by then–and I loved it. Surprisingly–even after a decade of watching technically sophisticated, state-of-the-art, unbelievably realistic prosthetic, animatronic, and computer-generated movie monsters–today’s teenagers still love the old “rubber” prototype of all swamp monsters -“The Creature From the Black Lagoon”. This is especially true of teenage boys.

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Why? Perhaps every adolescent male can relate to the film’s star: the Creature is horny, inarticulate, moody, misunderstood, not pleasant to look at, and is unbelievably awkward with girls -the ultimate teenage “geek”. We all remember this classic scene in the movie: the film’s beautiful heroine (Julie Adams) decides to take a dip, unaware that the Creature is swimming below her. The image is archetypal : the powerful “masculine”, and the overtly seductive “feminine”, beautifully juxtaposed in a stylized sexual union. Then, from the murky bottom of his lagoon, the Creature leeringly watches Adams as she performs an erotic underwater ballet, and he knows that, for the moment, he can only look, not touch. (Is the “scaly one” shy and insecure? Or does he simply have a Catholic upbringing?) Indeed, much of the film’s imagery lends itself to Freudian interpretation.

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OK, so it’s not exactly “Beauty and the Beast” -the Creature’s passion is purely primal and elemental. But still, the fact that he restrains himself, satisfying his carnal curiosity with a simple caressing of Julie’s ankles, and then retreats back to the gloomy bottom of his underwater sanctum to secretly watch her react in bewilderment, suggests he may be more human than he appears. But, alas, as any good Freudian will tell you, repression often leads to disfunction. And later in the film, in a brief, but beautifully filmed underwater scene, the Creature savagely drags the tantalizing “Playboy centerfold” down into the Freudian depths to his subterranean grotto -perhaps to hide her under his bed…where his mom can’t find her. (I apologize for the metaphor. It’s getting stale, I know.)

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“The Creature From the Black Lagoon” was directed by Jack Arnold (“The Incredible Shrinking Man”), who (from 1952 to 1960) directed a series of fantasy/horror films for Universal Studios, including “Revenge of the Creature” -this film’s sequel. Arnold would certainly object to us reading too much symbolism in his gillman, but the Creature may not have achieved such enduring status in monster-mythology if not for the fears and anxieties of the movie-going audience of the ’50s. Arnold’s dramatic use of the Creature succeeds, of course, by exploiting the human fear of the unseen threat lurking below -a very primal, deeply embedded in the human subconscious, and one that’s been ruthlessly exploited by filmmakers in countless horror films.

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But Arnold’s beast may also represent a more intellectualized fear. In the 1950s (and beyond), the threat of nuclear annihilation was very real, and like the creature in Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, Arnold’s lagoon creature represents an elemental force of nature that, once discovered and awakened by science (even well-intentioned science), cannot be controlled -perhaps like the newly tapped, but untamed, power of the atom. Or (and this may sound like apostasy in one of John’s pretentious, sophistical, over-intellectualized movie reviews, in which I’ve constantly and digressively wandered into the Freudian morass) perhaps the Creature is not a mataphor for teenage angst, forbidden knowledge, or cold-war anxiety. Perhaps the Creature is nothing more than a guy in a scary rubber suit chasing a pretty girl around a movie soundstage. But where’s the fun in that?

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“The Creature From the Black Lagoon” is still fun to watch. Actors Richard Carlson (the sophmoric, but noble-minded paleozoologist) and Richard Denning (the ambitious financier) play off each other well. And Julie Adams is simply gorgeous in her custom-made swimsuit. Also, the beautiful (albeit black & white) underwater photography by James C. Haven is appropriately surreal: as the men begin their search and descend into the black depths of the lagoon, they intermittently twirl and hover amidst penetrating shafts of sunlight from above; and as the camera pans the peaceful bottom-landscape of the lagoon, the gillman suddenly springs from clouds of disturbed sediment, thrashing through curtains of shimmering air bubbles and drifting weeds, determined and unstoppable in his persuit of the human intruders.

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But one of the best things about the movie is the music. Some of the themes–written by Henry Mancini and Herman Stein–are quite beautiful; for example, as the expedition slowly makes its way up the dark Amazon, an ensemble of gentle woodwinds can be heard -a soft, subliminal prelude that lets us know we are entering another world, a primeval world. And who can forget the Creature’s signature theme–the brassy, bombastic, three-note progression of DA DA DAAAAA!–whenever “Creech” appeared on the screen?

Of course, the best thing in the film is…the Creature. Jack Arnold suggested that the design of the gillman suit be based on the graceful form of the Motion Picture Academy’s “Oscar” statuette. (Really!) The suit was designed and brilliantly crafted by make-up artist Bud Westmore, and there were two versions -one suit for filming on land, and another for filming underwater. On land, the gillman was played by Ben Chapman.

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Olympic swimmer Ricou Browning wore the gillman suit in the underwater scenes. The “dry suit” that Chapman wore was beautifully colored with iridescent greens and blues, and mottled with many other marine hues. The “wet suit” worn by Browning was a bright yellow -the marine hues chosen for the “dry suit” photographed too dark when filming underwater.

Yeah, I really love this movie. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s just one geek relating to another. You see, in the final reel, neither of us got the girl.

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The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

Director:

John Sherwood

Cinematography by

Maury Gertsman

The Creature Walks Among Us, released in 1956, is the third and final installment of the Creature from the Black Lagoon horror film series from Universal Pictures, following 1955’s Revenge of the Creature. The film was directed by John Sherwood, the long-time Universal-International assistant director, in his directorial debut. Jack Arnold, who had directed the first two films in the series, had moved on to “A-list” films, and felt he had no more to contribute to the horror genre. He suggested that his assistant director, Sherwood, could move up to full director, which partly affected Universal’s decision to allow him to direct the film. The Creature Walks Among Us starred Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, and Leigh Snowden, and, like the original Creature from the Black Lagoon, had music composed by Henry Mancini, who at the time was under contract with Universal.

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Doctor Barton, Doctor Morgan, Doctor Johnson, Mister Grant!

1 March 2006 | by sol1218 (brooklyn NY) – See all my reviews

(There are Spoilers) Third of the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” trilogy but in this movie the Gill Man or Creature is by far the most sympathetic of all the other Creatures in the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” films that he was in. Being badly burned by a can of gasoline as he was captured in the Florida Evergaldes the Creature is nursed back to heath by those scientists who almost killed him. He ends up becoming more human then most humans are both in his physical and biological makeup, his lungs for swimming underwater are now completely useless, as well as his spiritual understanding of life and the difference between Good and Evil.

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Brought back to San Francisco to be studied by Dr. Barton, Jeff Morrow, and his staff of scientist the Creatue is like a Buddist Monk. Observing nature and not at all violent towards humans or the animals that are caged along with him.

The Creature looking like he grew a foot taller and gained an extra hundred pounds, all muscles, lost his ability to swim as graceful as an Olympic swimming and diving champion. He just lumbers around his cage like Tor Johnson’s Lobo in “Bride of the Monster”. As gentle as a kitten when not incited the Creature resorts to violence only when violence is directed towards him or anyone else. As we soon see when the peaceful Creature loses his cool and kills an attacking mountain lion; after the big cat attacked and killed a sheep and then tried to pounce on the Creature.

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We also have a sub plot in the movie “The Creature walks Among Us” that’s an attempted love affair with Dr. Barton’s beautiful young wife Marcia, Leigh Snowden, and one of her husbands staff the handsome Jed Grant, Gregg Plamer. Jed, who can’t take no for an answer from Marcia, actions leads Dr. Barton to lose his cool and later smash Grant’s head in killing him. The Creature watching all these goings on from the safety of his steel cage minds his own business , while meditating and enjoying the wonders of nature, is driven back to his roots the Law of the Jungle. That happens when Dr. Barton attempts to cover up Grant’s murder and dumps his body into the innocent Creature’s cage, trying to implicate the totally innocent Creature in Grant’s death.

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Outraged at not only Dr. Barton’s crime of taking a life but even more angry at him for trying to frame him for it the Creature goes completely bananas! Breaking out of his confinement the now mad as hell Creature tears the Barton house, and then Dr. Barton himself, apart as he lumbers towards the ocean where we last see him.

Standing by the shore and looking across the vast Pacific the Creature now knows that man is far too inhuman for his new found humanity. He decides to swim back home, the Black Lagoon?, with a new and better understanding of what life, as well as himself and his fellow living creatures, is all about.

P.S It seemed that the Creature must have re-learned, since when we last saw him, his ability to swim on top as well as underwater with his new found, instead of gills, lungs.

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Still pleases in spite of budgetary shortcomings

5/10
Author: Vornoff-3 from Vancouver, BC
7 July 2003

I remember seeing `The Creature Walks Among Us’ on TV as a kid. The local syndicated TV channel had worked out a deal with Burger King where you would buy one of their Happy Meal rip-offs (whatever they were called then) and get a pair of 3D glasses, so you could watch the movie with its `full effect.’ Brilliant. I don’t recall that the 3D worked very well (it rarely does on a TV screen), but I do remember how excited I was to stay up late and see the Creature from the Black Lagoon arise again in glory.

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Now this was the third film in the `Creature’ trilogy, and it’s clear that the budget was far smaller than on either of the previous films. I’m guessing that accounts for the recycled underwater footage (there is not one new shot of the Creature swimming – it’s all from the first film) and the limited use of the original Creature suit. In all probability, the suit was showing its wear and tear, we only see it from the waist up, in darkness, except for the brief scene in which they set it on fire (!). After the Gillman is captured, they explain his modified (cheaper) makeup by explaining that he is `mutating’ to adapt to air-breathing circumstances. Apparently his skin is now so `sensitive’ that he is required to wear a potato sack for `protection.’ This means that they only had to come up with hands and a head for the actor to wear, rather than a full-bodied suit.

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Still, there is something compelling about this picture, even after 20 years of growing up. Somehow the fact that the Creature is brought into our world and made to wear clothes reminds one of the Fall of Man, and our unexpected shame at our nakedness. This Creature still longs for that innocence, for a return to his primal water environment, even though his gills are damaged and his lungs would drown if submerged. The romantic subplot parallels this theme in its reversal of the original `Creature’ pattern. This time, instead of a lustful but rich scientist hitting on the Hero’s girl, the girl is married to the rich but jealous scientist while our Hero reminds her what love is meant to be like. This girl is already Fallen, and she begins the movie looking like a slut, but she slowly comes around to innocence, under the charms of Rex Reason.

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Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason have a fascinating chemistry, just as interesting here as in their better known picture, `This Island Earth.’ In that movie, again, Morrow plays the scientist who `has it all’ – unlimited funding, access to advanced alien technology, and Reason portrays the good guy who won’t sell his soul to get ahead. This version of the story has Reason a bit more subdued, and Morrow a bit more paranoid/manic. Comparing the two films makes it possible to appreciate the actors’ range, and makes me wish they had worked together more often.

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The Best of the Three For Me.

7/10
Author: gkrupa73
5 January 2005

I seem to differ from many of my fellow “monster movie” fans because I find this film the best of the series and in many ways one of the better horror flicks from this era. The reason for this preference on my part is because the human characters are rich, the actors do an excellent job, especially Jeff Morrow, and the focus is on the relationships between the characters against the backdrop of the adventure of again capturing the creature and then dealing with what to do with him when they get him. These relationships are as complex as my last sentence.

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The film opens with establishing a very strained relationship between Dr. Barton and his wife Marsha by inference of their nonverbal behavior. We soon find that Dr. Barton is not simply a very suspicious man afraid of being turned into a cock old by his young sexy wife. He is exploding with paranoia and she is repelled by him. This sets the underplay of all the remaining events in the film. Dr. Barton is a narcissistic, arrogant man besides paranoid. And, these are his more charming features.

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Jeff Morrow, who usually played a good natured hero, gets to show his muscles an actor by making himself totally repulsive in this role. Rex Reason is very good in his role and does so by using his good looks, great voice and easy charm to underplay his part. Thus, he makes himself a pleasant contrast to the splenetic Dr. Barton. Leigh Snowden as Dr. Barton’s wife Marsha is, well, very good and also underplays her sexuality so well that it becomes intense. For those who look at a “monster movie” and think the plot of the movie is the monster, which in a good monster film would never take place, this film is not for that person. For those who like a little gem of good acting and interesting characters- enjoy this film.

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The Tingler (1959)

Dr. Warren Chapin is a pathologist who regularly conducts autopsies on executed prisoners at the State prison. He has a theory that fear is the result of a creature that inhabits all of us. His theory is that the creature is suppressed by our ability to scream when fear strikes us. He gets a chance to test his theories when he meets Ollie and Martha Higgins, who own and operate a second-run movie theater. Martha is deaf and mute and if she is unable to scream, extreme fear should make the creature, which Chapin has called the Tingler, come to life and grow. Using LSD to induce nightmares, he begins his experiment.

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Price Is Right, But I Liked ‘Ollie’ Best!

22 February 2009 | by ccthemovieman-1 (United States) – See all my reviews

“Ollie” was my favorite person in this movie. What a strange dude! He was full of surprises, including reactions to things, comments he makes and, of course, deeds he commits.

Yeah, Vincent Price proves again what a fine actor we was, and is the star of the film, but I really enjoyed Philip Coolidge’s (Ollie) performance. As for Price, watching this other day made me scratch my head and wonder how such a good actor could play in so many cheesy films?

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Whatever, those two along with Patricia Cutts (the tramp wife), Judith Evelyn (Ollie’s deaf-mute wife), Darryl Hickman and Pamela Lincoln all did a pretty nice job, although Price’s acting talents stand out among the cast.

It also would have fun to see this in the theater 50 years ago when they rigged the seats to tingle during certain scenes! That really happened! Director William Castle really tried everything to get the audience. He even stopped the film and asked the audience to scream! It must have been hilarious. You have to give it to the man for his effort to promote his “horror” films.

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The movie begins slowly so one has to have patience with this story. Once it kicks in though, it’s very good with some shocking scenes (including a color scene or two) and some interesting twists. However, to be fair, there are a lot of holes in this story and really, really corny things……but that’s part of the fun. It’s like Ed Wood films – so bad, you have to laugh.

The DVD looks good. This is a nice transfer, which is important with all the lights and shadows. You can see some alternate scenes, too, which are interesting.

B Movie Heaven!

Author: Gafke from United States
16 April 2004

“The Tingler” is the name that Vincent Price’s likable scientist character gives to the creature that apparently is responsible for the sense of spine-tingling fear we all experience at some point in our lives. If we scream, The Tingler is rendered harmless. If we do not, The Tingler will get us!

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This is classic William Castle gimmick stuff. When this black and white masterpiece of schlock was originally shown in theaters, devices would be rigged up underneath theater seats which would “tingle” during a certain scene. The film would then seemingly stop, and the audience would be encouraged to scream! Scream for their LIVES! Of course, the audience was happy to oblige and the Tingler would be defeated. Man, how I regret having missed those days of cheesy ballyhoo.

This film has some really nifty stuff in it. Highlights include Vincent Price’s “acid” trip (reportedly the first acid trip ever seen on the silver screen), and a cool hallucinatory color sequence with a deaf mute woman menaced by a bathtub full of blood, among other things. The plot is clever and actually pretty well thought out for a B flick, and Vincent is superb, as he always is. This is an absolutely hysterical film that should not be missed. I can’t say enough good things about it – it simply has to be seen to be appreciated. It’s campy, seedy, bloody good fun!

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Brilliant campy fun from William Castle and Vincent Price

8/10
Author: The_Void from Beverley Hills, England
20 July 2005

The Tingler marks the second teaming for horror’s greatest actor – Vincent Price, and horror’s greatest showman – William Castle. This film was released later in the same year that their first venture – House on Haunted Hill – was unleashed upon audiences across the world, and the film sees the two men deliver more of what they did with their first feature. House on Haunted Hill was much loved then – and now – for it’s ludicrous plot line and hammy performances, and The Tingler marks another successful fusion of these elements.

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The plot line is even sillier this time round, and it follows Vincent Price’s scientist as he conducts his experiments into fear. He discovers that when we get frightened, a thing, which he called ‘the tingler’, manifests itself on the spinal column and the only way to rid oneself of this ‘tingler’ is to scream. Deaf mute’s cant scream, however, and soon after discovering that his friend’s wife suffers from that condition, and has an acute fear of blood, Price gets to work on attempting to isolate and remove the tingler.

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William Castle shows his flair and passion for entertaining his audience throughout this film, with the whole film being, basically, a metaphor for the horror genre on the whole. Castle uses several different methods of getting his audience to scream, and while this film isn’t very scary by today’s standards – watching this master of entertainment weave his magic is always delightful. Another thing that’s delightful about this film is the fact that Vincent Price is in it. Price has an amazing ability to command to the screen, and while this movie doesn’t feature his best performance – he’s always entertaining, and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen. Castle’s special effects are hokey, with the central monster – the tingler – looking rather silly, but that adds to the fun effect of the movie and if the effects had been terrific examples of how good special effects can be – the film wouldn’t have been nearly as fun as it is. The Tingler is silly throughout, and it gets really ridiculous towards the end, but if you watch knowing that this isn’t to be taken seriously, you’ll enjoy yourself just like Castle intended.

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Gimmicks

William Castle was famous for his movie gimmicks, and The Tingler featured one of his best: “Percepto!”. Previously, he had offered a $1,000 life insurance policy against “Death by Fright” for Macabre (1958) and sent a skeleton flying above the audiences’ heads in the auditorium in House on Haunted Hill (1959).

Percepto: “Scream for your lives!”

“Percepto!” was a gimmick where Castle attached electrical “buzzers” to the underside of some seats in theaters where The Tingler was screened.The buzzers were small surplus airplane wing deicing motors left from World War II. The cost of this equipment added $250,000 to the film’s budget. It was used predominantly in larger theaters.

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During the climax of the film, The Tingler was depicted escaping into a movie theater. On screen, the projected film appeared to break as the silhouette of the Tingler moved across the projection beam. The film went black, all lights in the auditorium (except fire exit signs) went off, and Vincent Price’s voice warned the audience “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!”This cued the theater projectionist to activate the buzzers, giving some audience members an unexpected jolt, followed by a highly visible physical reaction.

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An alternate warning was recorded for drive-in theaters; this warning advised the audience the Tingler was loose in the drive-in. Price’s voice was not used for the drive-in version.

William Castle’s autobiography Step Right Up!: I’m Gonna Scare the Pants off America erroneously stated that “Percepto!” delivered electric shocks to the theater seats

Two Joe Dante films contain scenes which reference the “Percepto!” gimmick: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) and Matinee (1993).

This gimmick was also lampooned in one of the films-within-a-film in the thriller movie Popcorn (1991), where the feature was called “shock-o-scope.”

Fainting customers and medical assistance

To enhance the climax even more, Castle hired fake “screamers and fainters” planted in the audience. There were fake nurses stationed in the foyer and an ambulance outside of the theater. The “fainters” would be carried out on a gurney and whisked away in the ambulance, to return for the next showing.

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The “Bloody Bathtub” scene

Although The Tingler was filmed in black-and-white, a short color sequence was spliced into the film. It showed a sink (in black-and-white) with bright red “blood” flowing from the taps and a black-and-white Judith Evelyn watching a bloody red hand rising from a bathtub filled with bright red “blood”. Castle used color film for the effect. The scene was accomplished by painting the set white, black, and gray and applying gray makeup to the actress to simulate monochrome.

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The Night Walker (1964)

Directed by William Castle

What’s the problem???

23 August 2002 | by Christopher Mercurio (United States) – See all my reviews

Really, what is the problem? This movie has a great script, a great score, great actors and a great director. There really is nothing to hate about this movie. The Night Walker is similar to William Castle’s other films; like House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler, and this movie is just as creepy. It’s basically about nightmares. Are they nightmares or are they more. Great story line. But there is also a great twist. I rented this movie, but I was at first going to buy it to add to my William Castle collection. I rented it and expected a terrible movie. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t a terrible, but a great horror movie or a great mystery. I especially like the part where Barbara Stanwyck is screaming, “I can’t wake up!” “I can’t wake up!” This is a great movie. See it and you won’t be disappointed.

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Castle Chiller Saved By Its Stars

7/10
Author: phillindholm
17 April 2007

Producer/Director William Castle, famed for his low-budget shockers complete with assorted gimmicks, had by now reached his “Star Stage.” He had featured Vincent Price in two of his films, and in 1964 really scored a coup when he signed Joan Crawford for “Strait- Jacket.” Thanks mostly to her drawing power (she would later do “I Saw What You Did” for Castle) the film was a hit – and her publicity appearances on behalf of it didn’t hurt, either. So, for his next project, Castle signed both Barbara Stanwyck and her initially reluctant ex-husband Robert Taylor to headline “The Night Walker” from a script written by “Strait-Jacket’s” Robert Bloch (who also penned the book “Psycho”).

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In this psychological mystery melodrama, Stanwyck plays the wife of a rich, blind scientist (Hayden Rorke) who suspects her of having an affair. He hires a detective (Lloyd Bochner) to determine whether his wife is only dreaming of a lover or actually has one. Shortly thereafter, he is killed in an explosion, and his now very rich widow is plagued with nightmares in which he is pursuing her (when she’s not dreaming of her mystery lover, that is). Taylor is her late husband’s lawyer whom she turns to for help when her dreams begin to drive her mad. And so goes the plot…

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Most critics saw this as another “Horror Hag” movie, in other words, a lurid yarn featuring a Golden Age star, a cycle which began with “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” (with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) and continued with “Strait-Jacket” (Crawford); “Lady In A Cage” (Olivia De havilland) and Ann Sothern) “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” (Davis, De havilland and Agnes Moorehead) etc. This time around though, the still- beautiful Stanwyck was cast as a victim, rather than a villainess (as most of the veteran actresses ended up playing in these films were) and she generated a good deal of sympathy-(besides being a terrific screamer).

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The supporting players (Bochner, Judi Meredith, Rochelle Hudson and Marjorie Bennett) are capable and game, the production is well photographed and features a truly creepy score from the great Vic Mizzy (“The Addams Family, “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”). Famed voice-over king Paul Frees (for some reason credited as ‘Ted Durant’) sets the scene beautifully with a short but effective prologue. What really makes this work, however, are the still-potent talents of Stanwyck and Taylor, both of whom are really better than the material, but give it their all nevertheless. Alas, though profit participant Stanwyck toured with Castle to promote it, “The Night Walker” was a box-office flop, and it would take “Rosemary’s Baby” which Castle only produced, to put him back on top. It’s still an above-average film of it’s type though, and pretty scary to watch alone at night.

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Hitchcock, it’s not. It’s better.

9/10
Author: Pete H. Kanter (KanterTheShark) from Los Osos, Ca–USA
6 October 2001

Without a shadow of a doubt, screenwriter/novelist Robert Bloch (1917 – 1994) will always be best remembered for the 1960 film that made Alfred Hitchcock a household name: “Psycho”; and young Janet Leigh played what small part she had, in The Bates Motel, to the hilton.

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But the four-years-after thriller, “The Night Walker”, which starred an actress who’d already been a star for more than a decade had a story line that haunted its lady in distress, rather than having her killed off after one scream.

Irene Trent (Barbara Stanwyck) was a troubled woman from the very start–having nightmares that seemed so real, she didn’t know the meaning of the word “reality”; and having a literally-blind, eccentric husband (Hayden Rorke)–who was so demanding of her, that we might as well have wished she got away with murder.

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Enter her lawyer and supposed friend, Barry Moreland (Robert Taylor) and a very overbearing “dream lover”, (Lloyd Bochner), and you’ve got the formula for a workable “B” grade drama which, however predictable it might seem, isn’t going to be very predictable at all. Throughout the entire story, there’s a very gradual, even-paced sort of building-up-of-the-plot.

Had Alfred Hitchcock been handed this script, he’d probably have put in a subtle common-thread of humor. And, too, he’d probably have put himself in a cameo shot, in one scene or other. (Which scene that would’ve been would be anyone’s guess: an observer at the wax figure wedding? Maybe he’d have himself under a hair dryer at Irene’s beauty salon.)

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But there was no room for that sort of thing, here. The story moved along on an even keel. Even by the time Irene had the final piece of her personal life’s puzzle in place, the way the very final scene was to pan out was anything but predictable.

William Castle did one royal job, here, for insomniacs everywhere, for many generations to come.

Strait-Jacket (1964)

Directed by William Castle
Cinematography Arthur E. Arling

After a twenty-year stay at an asylum for a double murder, a mother returns to her estranged daughter where suspicions arise about her behavior.

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Psycho in Strait-Jacket

6 April 2007 | by andrabem (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – See all my reviews

“Strait-Jacket” tells this story: Lucy Habin (Joan Crawford) surprises her husband with another woman. She falls into madness and kills them both, and her daughter sees everything. After spending 20 years in an asylum, she’s is considered recovered and released. She leaves the asylum and goes to live with her daughter. Very simply told this is just the introduction of the film. The rest you can guess but maybe you’ll guess wrong. I said maybe.

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This is an interesting film. It is deceivingly naive but those able to go beyond the story will make their own discoveries. For one thing: “Strait-Jacket” was filmed in 1963 when society was more conservative – social rules and divisions were much more rigid then. There were mainly two choices (especially in small towns and rural areas) – either adapt to society and its straight-jacket or else be an outcast. Why am writing this? Because this is one of my readings of the film.

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Anyway “Strait-Jacket” is a good thriller (not so much for the scares but rather for the atmosphere). Well, it hasn’t the sophistication of some film noirs of the 40s and 50s but its charm resides in its simplicity not deprived of sense of humor. Joan Crawfords acting is of course superb and the supporting cast does also a good job. The story is interesting and will keep your attention till the end.

I’ve seen 2 other Castle films (“The Tingler” and “House on Haunted Hill”) – both of them funny and entertaining, but I think that “Strait-Jacket” is the best one – it is not so amateurish and goes deeper than the other ones, but still preserves the light touch characteristic of William Castle. There are surprises in store. Go for it!

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William Castle Presents Joan Crawford In EMOTE-O-RAMA

7/10
Author: gftbiloxi (gftbiloxi@yahoo.com) from Biloxi, Mississippi
14 May 2005

Like all William Castle films, the story of STRAIT-JACKET is slight, full of holes, and often silly to the point of absurdity. Long ago Joan Crawford came home to find her husband in bed with a floozie and snatched up an ax. Adjudged insane, she is locked up in an asylum for twenty years, but now she’s home–and pretty soon some really weird things begin to happen around the old family farm. Could it be, oh, I don’t know… JOAN? Throughout his career, producer-director William Castle liked to build his movies around gimmicks: TINGLER had “Percepto,” 13 GHOSTS had “Illusion-O,” and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL had “Emergo.” But STRAIT-JACKET had something better: Joan Crawford herself, who plays in a style that can only be described as “Emote-O-Rama.

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” Say what you like about Crawford, she never gave any performance less than one hundred percent, and in STRAIT-JACKET she gives one hundred and fifty. In the opening scenes, 60-something Joan has the unmitigated gall to play Lucy in her 20s! Later, as Lucy in her 40s, Joan plays the role like a nice little old lady who occasionally drops acid: when she’s not busy with her nervous breakdown, she sucks down bourbon, attempts to seduce her daughter’s boyfriend (even to the point of putting her fingers in his mouth), knits like a fiend, lights a cigarette by striking a match on a record album, raises hell at a dinner party… and all of it about as subtle as a bulldozer.

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But they didn’t call her a star for nothing: not only does Crawford manage to carry it off with complete conviction, she actually manages to endow the character with considerable pathos along the way. And I have absolutely no doubt that THIS was the film Faye Dunaway studied the most when preparing to play Crawford in the infamous MOMMIE DEAREST; watch both back-to-back and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

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The rest of the cast is pretty interesting as well, featuring Diane Baker as daughter Carol, Leif Erickson as Crawford’s brother, George Kennedy as an unsavory farmhand, and a very young Lee Majors as the ill-fated husband–not to mention Mitchell Cox, a Pepsi V.P. Joan was favoring at the time. There are cheap special effects (amazing, how she can neatly lop off a head or two with a single blow), Pepsi-Cola product placements, and even some dialogue that would do Ed Woods proud. It’s all campy and bizarre and hilariously weird and ramped up to the nth degree by Crawford’s full-force performance.

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With a somewhat better script and production values, STRAIT-JACKET could easily have matched Bette Davis’ more sophisticated HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE; as it stands, however, it is a cult movie in all caps. The DVD release is very nicely done, with the film itself in excellent condition. A collection of Crawford’s costume tests gives a surprising insight to actress’ personality, and a particularly nice little making-of documentary includes comments from Diane Baker. (Note: don’t watch the documentary, called “Battle-Ax,” until after you’ve seen the film: it’s a spoiler.) Strongly recommended to Castle, Cult, and Crawford fans! Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer.

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Background notes

After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Joan Crawford and other older actresses, including Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck, made numerous horror movies throughout the 1960s. Strait-Jacket is one of the more notable examples of the genre sometimes referred to as psycho-biddy or Grande Dame Guignol. During the film’s original release, moviegoers were given little cardboard axes as they entered the theater. At the end of the closing credits, the Columbia logo’s torch-bearing woman is shown in her traditional pose, but decapitated, with her head resting at her feet on her pedestal.

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Reception

Critics disliked the film but praised Crawford’s performance, the general critical consensus being that she was better than the material. Variety noted, “Miss Crawford does well by her role, delivering an animated performance.” Judith Crist commented in the New York Herald Tribune, “…it’s time to get Joan Crawford out of those housedress horror B movies and back into haute couture…this madness-and-murder tale…might have been a thriller, given Class A treatment.” Elaine Rothschild in Films in Review wrote, “…I am full of admiration for Joan Crawford, for even in drek like this she gives a performance.”

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Bosley Crowther, however, wrote a scathing review of both the film and Crawford’s performance in The New York Times, declaring, “Joan Crawford has picked some lemons, some very sour lemons, in her day, but nigh the worst of the lot is “Strait-Jacket…”. He goes on to call the film a “…disgusting piece of claptrap.”

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The film has reasonably high reviews on the Internet Movie Database, with a score of 6.8 out of 10, based on 2,123 votes (February 2013). The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson‘s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. The film also maintains an 80% rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 5 reviews.

Assisted by Castle’s promotion gimmicks, including in-person appearances by Crawford, the film was a big hit.TCM

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Crudely effective William Castle schlocker; Crawford’s last hurrah.

6/10
Author: sdiner82 (sdiner82@aol.com) from New York City, USA
15 September 2002
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Following the unexpected smash-hit “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” both Bette Davis & Joan Crawford saw their careers revitalized–as crones in horror films. Davis took the high road (“The Nanny” features one of her finest, most subdued performances.) Crawford apparently took whatever she could get, as witness “Strait-Jacket,” an enormously entertaining low-budget low-class William Castle schlockfest wherein our gal Joanie’s released from prison years after chopping hubby’s block off upon discovering him in bed with another woman.

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When La Crawford is sent home to stay with her daughter (the lovely Diane Baker, whose career had apparently fallen on hard times as well), heads begin to roll again and guess who the cops think is wielding the axe? Like most of Castle’s fright-fests, “Strait-Jacket” is a crude, outrageous (for its time), often genuinely shuddery thriller that does indeed deliver the goods–and benefits immensely from Crawford’s undeniable star-power (whether you’re a fan or not). The isolated farmhouse setting provides a perfectly eerie backdrop for the ghoulish goings-on, the cast includes such pros as Leif Erickson, George Kennedy and Rochelle Hudson, and when the battle-axe starts swinging, the chill-factor is truly alarming.

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The surprise ending is a corker–and such a neat, nasty twist that the exact same gimmick was used four years later when Ms. Crawford journeyed to England to take on the lead in the garishly Technicolored circus thriller “Berserk.” If you’ve seen the latter, you’ll know exactly what I mean, so I shall say no more. Except that, without Miss Crawford, both films could have easily come off as camp hoots. That they don’t is a tribute to this lady’s amazing professionalism. In private life (according to her daughter’s memoir), Joan Crawford may have indeed been the mother-from-hell. In movies, however, she commanded the big screen right up to the bitter end. More power to her!

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Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Directed by Robert Aldrich

Aged and wealthy Charlotte Hollis has lived alone and as a recluse in the crumbling family plantation mansion in Hollisport, Louisiana since her father Sam Hollis’ death thirty-six years ago. The only people who regularly see her are her hard-as-nails but seemingly loyal housekeeper Velma Crowther, and her longtime friend and physician, Dr. Drew Bayliss. She has lived there the better part of her life except for a short stint in London thirty-seven years ago following the vicious murder of her married lover, John Mayhew, at the plantation’s summer house while Sam was hosting one of his legendary grand balls in the mansion. That evening, she and John were going to run off together, that is before he was bludgeoned to death, his right hand and head which were never found.

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Great film but slightly flawed in the middle

14 January 2005 | by Brandt Sponseller (New York City) – See all my reviews

John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), a married man, is having an affair with Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis). When Charlotte’s father, Sam (Victor Buono), a local bigwig (the town is even named after the family) finds out that John was planning on eloping with Charlotte, he demands that John tells Charlotte during a big party that he’s breaking off their relationship. John ends up dead, and Charlotte is the likely suspect. Thirty-seven years later, Charlotte is still living as a recluse on her family’s plantation, but now she is being forced to move, as a highway is going to be built across her property. Gradually, people come back into her life to ostensibly help her.

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For at least the first 45 minutes to an hour or so into the film, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 10 out of 10. Unfortunately, given a 133-minute running time, director Robert Aldrich can’t sustain the intensity for the length of the film, but Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte finishes as an 8 out of 10 for me.

Although there are some thriller and horror elements, both take up relatively little screen time. At that though, these elements are extremely effective. Some parts are surprisingly graphic for 1964–just enough to be a surprise and evoke the appropriate sense of shock. The best horror/thriller material in the film is in the haunted house vein, and for a time, we wonder if Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is going to end up being a ghost story.

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But the focus here is primarily on Charlotte and Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) and their relationship to one another. Davis and de Havilland are both incredible in the film, and both go through a very wide range of emotions. Oddly, Agnes Moorehead (as Velma Cruther) was more recognized for her performance than the rest of the cast in terms of awards and nominations, with de Havilland receiving neither. Not that Moorehead wasn’t good, but in my view, she wasn’t the standout performance. However, that’s just further fuel for my belief that the Academy Awards have little to do with rewarding the best films, actors and filmmakers.

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There are also broader themes explored as a subtext, including the changing way of life in the southern United States between the early and mid-20th Century.

I subtracted two points because the film lost a bit of its momentum and direction in the middle, but the last half-hour is as exciting as the beginning.

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”Chop, Chop Sweet Charlotte!”

8/10

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” was, as most people know, intended as a follow up (not a sequel) to the first and most influential “horror hag” film of them all, “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”. Producer/director Robert Aldrich who had helmed “Jane” wanted to repeat that film’s box office success. He re-teamed Bette Davis (as Charlotte) and Joan Crawford (as her cousin Miriam) but, in events that have become the stuff of Hollywood Legend, Crawford became “ill” and checked into the hospital and wouldn’t come out. She was eventually replaced by Bette’s long-standing friend, Olivia de Havilland, fresh from “Lady in a Cage” (1964).

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Although many find the plot somewhat convoluted, it is basically rather simple. Aging southern belle Charlotte Hollis lives in decayed splendor in the Louisiana mansion where, thirty seven years earlier, a horrible murder took place. The victim was none other than her married lover John Mayhew (Bruce Dern, in an early screen appearance) whom Charlotte fears was killed by her overbearing father (Victor Buono) who was against their affair. Over the years, however, the local townspeople have concluded that Charlotte herself was responsible, but escaped punishment due to her father’s political connections. As it happens, the highway commission is planning on building a bridge where Charlotte’s house stands, and are tirelessly trying to remove her from the property.

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She is just as doggedly determined to remain, because she fears demolition of the house will reveal proof of her father’s guilt. Charlotte’s only companions are her old, white trash housekeeper, Velma Crother (Agnes Moorehead) and the family doctor, Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten). Charlotte’s attempts to hold off the sheriff are finally beginning to weaken, so, in a last attempt to hold onto the old plantation, she sends for her Cousin Miriam Deering, hoping she can help. Miriam does, eventually arrive, but it’s soon obvious that she is there for reasons other than to comfort and aid her cousin.

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The film is well photographed in eminently suitable black and white, and the haunting musical score by an Oscar-nominated Frank DeVol (as well as the beautiful nominated title song) aid it immeasurably. The performances are what makes the movie so much fun. Bette Davis, as usual, goes all out as the tormented cousin, moaning, whining simpering and,especially shrieking her way through her part. In contrast, the still very attractive de Havilland is, at first, a model of restraint. Matching Davis in the histrionics department is Moorehead (who was also Oscar-nominated for her performance) as she carries on, sometimes so hilariously, it’s difficult to understand what she is saying. (Oh well, that’s what DVD subtitles are for!) At the same time, she can be moving as well. Cotten gets to do his own (relatively restrained) scenery-chewing , but the scenes in which Davis, de Havilland and Moorehead scream at each other in very thick southern accents could be right out of the old “Mama’s Family” TV series.

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As Jewel Mayhew, widow of Bette’s lover, Mary Astor gives her usual excellent performance, so subdued and realistic, that she seems to be in a different film. Ditto Cecil Kellaway as a curious insurance investigator. In the end, though, it’s all the overplaying and gaudy scene stealing which makes “Charlotte” so much fun. A remake would be not only redundant, but a mistake. “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” is truly one of a kind. The just-released Fox DVD includes a great widescreen transfer of the film, an audio commentary, and, best of all, a trailer, teaser trailer and three television spots, which emphasize the movie’s lurid aspects–what else could you want? GET IT NOW!

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Southern Discomfort

Author: BaronBl00d (baronbl00d@aol.com) from NC
26 September 2000
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Few films have the ability to show the decay of plantation life in the South better than Hush…Hush sweet Charlotte. The setting is a rural plantation home that in 1927 was the scene of a brutal murder where an unfaithful husband was beheaded and behanded. Next we fast forward to 1964 and see the effects of this crime on Charlotte Hollis..the young girl accused of the crime and bordering on mental instability. Bette Davis plays Charlotte and her performance is a tour-de-force as she plays a woman under stress with a zeal that would make any ham actor proud.

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Davis tops her baby Jane performance by not only creating a character with obvious problems, but also giving this character feeling, compassion, and an air of pity. The plot of the film involves Davis’s descent into madness as she thinks she sees things..or really does. The rest of the cast is first-rate with Joseph Cotten playing the stereotypical Southern doctor with the over-pronounced inflection only Cotten could provide. Olivia De Havilland creates one of her better roles, and makes a superb wicked woman. The real treat to watch is Agnes Moorehead who plays a wise-cracking, crotchetey housekeeper. Rounding out the superb cast are a few nice performances from the ever affable Cecil Kellaway as one of the few humane people in the film, a nice cameo by Mary Astor, Bruce Dern and Victor Buono in flashback sequences. The movie tells a pretty inventive tale…but really is a showcase for great talent, good direction, wonderful atmosphere, and a rather perverse thematic underpinning. To use a well-worn cliche….they just don’t make em like this anymore. Ain’t it a shame!

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A Cast of Class!

8/10
Author: dougandwin from Adelaide Australia
22 September 2004

Following soon after “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”, I originally thought that “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” would be a letdown – far from it, in my opinion, much better due a great deal to the cast of great actors and actresses. Bette Davis was in her element in this role of Charlotte, while Olivia de Havilland in the role originally planned for Joan Crawford was superb, and was an inspired piece of accidental casting! Agnes Moorehead deserved her Academy nomination, while Mary Astor was a most welcome sight. Joseph Cotten normally seems very wooden in his parts, but does an excellent job here. The Black and White photography adds a great deal to the mood, and is far better than Colour would have been. The ending was very well planned and carried out, and you feel after the film ends there is something else that happened that the viewer never saw. Get it on Video – it is well worth the experience.

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Great film but slightly flawed in the middle

8/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
14 January 2005

John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), a married man, is having an affair with Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis). When Charlotte’s father, Sam (Victor Buono), a local bigwig (the town is even named after the family) finds out that John was planning on eloping with Charlotte, he demands that John tells Charlotte during a big party that he’s breaking off their relationship. John ends up dead, and Charlotte is the likely suspect. Thirty-seven years later, Charlotte is still living as a recluse on her family’s plantation, but now she is being forced to move, as a highway is going to be built across her property. Gradually, people come back into her life to ostensibly help her.

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For at least the first 45 minutes to an hour or so into the film, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 10 out of 10. Unfortunately, given a 133-minute running time, director Robert Aldrich can’t sustain the intensity for the length of the film, but Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte finishes as an 8 out of 10 for me.

Although there are some thriller and horror elements, both take up relatively little screen time. At that though, these elements are extremely effective. Some parts are surprisingly graphic for 1964–just enough to be a surprise and evoke the appropriate sense of shock. The best horror/thriller material in the film is in the haunted house vein, and for a time, we wonder if Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is going to end up being a ghost story.

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But the focus here is primarily on Charlotte and Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) and their relationship to one another. Davis and de Havilland are both incredible in the film, and both go through a very wide range of emotions. Oddly, Agnes Moorehead (as Velma Cruther) was more recognized for her performance than the rest of the cast in terms of awards and nominations, with de Havilland receiving neither. Not that Moorehead wasn’t good, but in my view, she wasn’t the standout performance. However, that’s just further fuel for my belief that the Academy Awards have little to do with rewarding the best films, actors and filmmakers.

There are also broader themes explored as a subtext, including the changing way of life in the southern United States between the early and mid-20th Century.

I subtracted two points because the film lost a bit of its momentum and direction in the middle, but the last half-hour is as exciting as the beginning.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Director:

Robert Aldrich

In a tale that almost redefines sibling rivalry, faded actresses

Blanche and ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson live together. Jane was by far the most famous when she performed with their father in vaudeville but as they got older, it was Blanche who became the finer actress, which Jane still resents. Blanche is now confined to a wheelchair and Jane is firmly in control. As time goes by, Jane exercises greater and greater control over her sister, intercepting her letters and ensuring that few if anyone from the outside has any contact with her. As Jane slowly loses her mind, she torments her sister going to ever greater extremes.

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Bette Davis came up with her own makeup for her role. She said that Jane was someone who never washed her face, but just added more makeup.

The house exterior of the Hudson mansion is located at 172 South McCadden Place in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Other residential exteriors show cottages on DeLongpre Avenue near Harvard Avenue in Hollywood without their current gated courtyards. The scene on the beach was shot in Malibu, reportedly the same site where Aldrich filmed the final scene of Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

Footage from the Bette Davis films Parachute Jumper and Ex-Lady (both 1933) and the Joan Crawford film Sadie McKee (1934) was used, to represent the film acting of Baby Jane and Blanche respectively.

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The neighbour’s daughter was played by Davis’ daughter B. D. Merrill who, following in the footsteps of Crawford’s daughter Christina, later wrote a memoir that depicted her mother in an unfavorable light.

It was an open secret that Davis and Crawford loathed each other, and filming was contentious as their real-life hatred for one another spilled over into the production, and even after filming had wrapped.

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But ya are Blanche!

23 October 1999 | by MickeyTo (Toronto, Canada) – See all my reviews

I recently viewed this film with a friend who had never seen it before. Much to my surprise, we had to turn it off early because this friend actually found Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? boring.

I’ll admit that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a dated piece of work. By today’s standards, there is no shock value. The actresses are not well known by the younger crowds out there. There is a lot of dialogue and very little action. It simply doesn’t fit in with today’s expectations of horror and suspense. So why does it hold up as a great film, at least by my standards and by the standards of so many others?

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To truly appreciate this film, it would be necessary to understand the background. What actually contributed to the making of this film is what I find truly fascinating.

The story itself is about two elderly sisters. One, Baby Jane, (played by Bette Davis) was a child star in the early part of the century. She was hugely popular on the vaudeville circuit. Backstage she was a spoiled brat. Later on in life the other sister, Blanche (played by Joan Crawford) became a popular Hollywood movie star, overshadowing her now ‘has-been’ sister. A supposed car accident leaves Blanche crippled during the height of her popularity and a crazed Jane is left to care for her.

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In their later life Blanche is confined to her bedroom and Jane, still donning the make up and curls from her childhood runs the house. Jane still believes she can resurect her career, but is tormented by her sisters continued popularity as her films are rerun on television.

There are some fabulous lines throughout the movie that have become legendary. Blanche says, “You couldn’t do this to me if I wasn’t in this wheel chair.’ Jane quips “But ya are Blanche, but ya are.”

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Davis plays Jane to the hilt, looking hysterically eerie as she tortures Crawford’s stoic Blanche. My kid sister saw this film after seeing Mommie Dearest and aptly stated that this was just dessert for a woman who beat her children so badly. I think my sister was most impressed when Davis kicks Joan in the stomach. “Take that Mommie Dearest!”

Back to my original point, I believe that in order to truly appreciate this story, one must appreciate the behind-the-scenes legend that truly is the essence of this film. Davis and Crawford were, and are, two of the most formidable actresses in Hollywood. Between them there are hundreds of films, three Oscars, and countless tidbits of gossip.

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Both had to claw and chew their way to the top, and had to fight harder to stay there. They both had stormy relationships, and bitter feuds with studio bosses and directors. And both have a legion of fans that have survived long after they did. And of course, lets not forget the fact that they may have despised each other.

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There is a fantastic book called Bette and Joan (I can’t recall the author’s name) that I recommend any novice viewer read prior to viewing this film. In it, the lives of these two remarkable women are described in gossipy detail. A lot of time is spent detailing the making of this film. At the time Joan was pushing her husbands company, Pepsi. It was rumored, perhaps by Bette that her Pepsi bottles were half filled with vodka. Bette also complains vehemently about the size of Joan’s fake cleavage, and how they got in the way of some of those scenes. It’s even suggested that some of those beatings that Joan took from Bette were real.

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With all of this background, one might soon appreciate, as I did, the importance of this film in documenting the lives of these two prominent women. I don’t think we’ll ever come so close to true Hollywood Babylon as we will with this brilliant work.

A compelling movie; Davis and Crawford tear each other apart

10/10
Author:LoneWolfAndCubfrom Australia
21 June 2006

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? might seem dated, but it is still an extremely riveting watch. I literally could not look away, as soon as the movie started, I couldn’t stop until it had finished. Not a lot of movies can do that to me. The acting is extremely good, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are just so good as the main focus of the movie. The chilling score is suits the movie and the camera-work reminds me a lot of Hitchcock.

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The story focuses on two sisters, Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford) who was crippled in an accident awhile ago and “Baby” Jane Hudson (Bette Davis). Jane used to be a big child star, she even had a doll brand after her. Now, though, she is no longer recognised while her sister has recently become very famous. They live in an old mansion, with Blanche confined to her room upstairs while Jane gets madder and more cruel by the day.

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Bette Davis gives the star performance here, some may call it over-acting but it is far from. She really makes Jane as mad, cruel and sad as possible. Joan Crawford is equally good in a very different role. She is much more timid then Jane and quite scared. The supporting cast are all good as well, especially Victor Buono as Victor Flagg, an odd pianist that befriends Jane. The black and white really are used to full effect, they make the mansion look extra creepy. Robert Aldrich’s direction is fine.

To today’s modern audience, this may seem boring as it does not have any action. Most of the movie is dialogue, but I do urge those who haven’t seen it to do so, as it is a truly excellent movie.

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Impressive Thriller

8/10
Author:ragosaalfrom Argentina
10 October 2006

“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a most unusual and impressive thriller. Director Robert Aldrich achieves a fantastic sordid and dark atmosphere at the Huadson sisters mansion -where most of the action takes place- with an unusual black and white shooting for the early 60’s. An interesting story, a well delivered screenplay and an accurate musical score also rise the film high.

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But the main credit of the picture is casting together to real big names in Hollywood’s history, not at their peak then but always reliable and attractive to see. Bette Davis (Jane) takes the most interesting character as the former child star that couldn’t make it as an adult in show business so she has gone insane and keeps behaving as the spoiled child he was. She looks grotesque and ridiculous in her child outfits, hairdo and heavy make up. Davis is outstanding in her role and looks really mean when she tortures both mentally and physically her sister Blanche, delicate and reasonable. Joan Crawford plays Blanche and very well too, a former big star whose career ended after a strange car accident that put her on a wheel chair for life.

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In the end things are not completely as they seem but the final twist is not what makes this film an extremely good one; it’s the strange relationship between the sisters, that requires of that final twist to understand Blanche’s tolerant conduct towards her sister.

The movie is perhaps a little too long and it would probably have been even better with a 10 minutes cut. But no doubt this is a top product in its genre and a great movie indeed.

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When Davis and Crawford worked together

9/10
Author:Petri Pelkonen (petri_pelkonen@hotmail.com)from Finland
10 December 2008

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were the biggest rivals during the golden age of Hollywood.This is their only collaboration.In the beginning of the movie we’re at 1917, where the six-year old Baby Jane Hudson (Davis) is a successful Vaudeville performer.Then we move to 1935 where her sister Blanche (Crawford) becomes paralyzed in an automobile accident for which Jane is held responsible.In the present-day of the film we see Blanche being kept as a prisoner upstairs of their mansion by the sadistic Jane.Robert Aldrich’ What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) is a terrific psychological thriller with some black comedy.The leading ladies are truly magnificent.Bette Davis was born a hundred years ago in 1908 and died in 1989.She could play all kind of roles and make the characters memorable.

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Baby Jane Hudson is that kind of a role.Joan Crawford lived from 1905 to 1977 and started making pictures during the silent era.Her Blanche Hudson is vulnerable and that’s why we like her that much.A fine performance is given by Victor Buono who plays the shiftless musician Victor Flagg.Maidie Norman plays Elvira Stitt.Michael Fox, who the soap opera fans remember from The Bold and the Beautiful plays Motorcycle cop.This movie is a classic.

Those Hudson Sisters

9/10
Author:bkoganbingfrom Buffalo, New York
30 April 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not that this film isn’t good, it’s very good in a ghoulish sort of way. But the miracle is that it got made at all. Was director Robert Aldrich really a director here or more of a referee.

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In any event Aldrich in directing Whatever Happened To Baby Jane took a pair of screen legends whose well known and public loathing for each other and managed without being killed to fashion a film about a pair of has been performers who live in the same house with their memories, their problems and mutual hatreds.

Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson was a child vaudeville performer who like so many child stars was a has been when she became a teen. Not to worry about income because when she became a teen, her younger sister Blanche played by Joan Crawford then became the family breadwinner. But that came to an end when she was crippled in a car crash and it was widely believed that her sister had deliberately used the car as a weapon of jealousy.

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So these two with everything and yet nothing in common are bound to the family house and each other. Crawford a prisoner in her wheelchair and Davis a prisoner of her own fantasies as she retreats gradually into her childhood and glory days.

Crawford is seeing how Davis is becoming more and more unhinged and decides to sell the family estate and get Davis into the 1962 equivalent of Happydale. But Davis gets wind of the plan and she makes Crawford a prisoner in her own home and eventually Davis just loses it totally.

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The wrap up of shooting must have been a day celebrated by Robert Aldrich on each anniversary the rest of his life. But he got himself a film that’s as fascinating as a bloody 20 car pile up on the Interstate. Whatever Happened To Baby Jane got an Oscar for costume design for a black and white film and four other nominations.

One of those nominations was for Best Actress, a then record 10 of them for Bette Davis in the title role. Bette Davis was an actress who could make some mediocre films entertaining when she took the brakes off. Here the role called for the most outrageous kind of overacting and Bette made the most of it. Joan’s more subdued role of the victim in this film, good as she was didn’t have a chance next to Bette’s for recognition. Of course Crawford legendarily took a perverse pleasure in being the honorary acceptor for Anne Bancroft when she won the Oscar for Best Actress for The Miracle Worker in 1962. Truth be told Anne was the Best Actress that year.

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Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is such a two woman film that the rest of the cast is just left in the dust. Another miracle occurred when Victor Buono received some recognition with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor as the mother fixated pianist who plays along with Bette Davis when she decides to revive her career. Of course the strange noises and doings in that house eventually creep him out. Buono’s scenes are all with Davis and with the scene stealing Marjorie Bennett who’s kind of a mirror image of Baby Jane Hudson as Buono’s inebriated mother. Just holding his own with these two I’m figuring the Academy figured Buono deserved some recognition.

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Bette and Joan, both were destined to be trapped in mediocrity for the most part in roles well beneath their talents. Bette to her credit did escape with such things as an Agatha Christie mystery occasionally and The Whales Of August. But mostly she and Joan did horror flicks because of the impression that Whatever Happened To Baby Jane left on the minds of the movie-going public. Both also got unceremoniously dissed by their daughters in memoirs, Bette not having the decency to die before B.D. Hyman’s book came out.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane as repulsively fascinating as it is is a testament to two screen legends and the stamina of director Robert Aldrich who got them to share the screen.

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One of the great movies about the movies

10/10
Author:Martin Bradley (MOscarbradley@aol.com)from Derry, Ireland
3 July 2006

One of the great movies about the movies, (and great movies about the movies aren’t reverential, they bite the hand that feeds them), and the best of Aldrich’s ‘women’s pictures’. Detractors see it as a misogynist load of horse manure about a couple of self-loathing sisters hauled up together in a decaying Hollywood mansion, a too-close-to-home study of the real life rivalry between stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford or even as a veiled study of homosexual self-depreciation with the sisters as ageing drag queens. But these are the very things that make the picture great. It is precisely because it can be read in this way that makes it such a perversely enjoyable, subversive piece of work.

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As the sisters, Davis and Crawford pull all the stops out and then some. What makes Crawford’s performance great is that she is never sympathetic even when Davis is feeding her dead rat or quite literally kicking her when she’s down, while Davis is simply astonishing. With her face painted like a hideous Kabuki mask and dressed up like a doll that’s filled with maggots it’s an unashamedly naked piece of acting, as revealing as her work in “All About Eve” and almost as good. Unfortunately the film’s commercial success lead both actresses into a downward spiral of not dissimilar but considerably lack-lustre material. But this bitch-fest is the real McCoy.

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Mildred and Mildred, For One and Only Time

10/10
Author:nycritic
7 June 2006
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

By 1962, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had been all but relics from Old Hollywood. Even then, they were faint memories of a time gone by. No one young and alive at that time knew who they were nor did they have an interest in their all but dead careers. New stars were on the rise, sensibilities were changing, movies were starting to rely less on star power and taking risks with lesser known actors who did not convey the typical Hollywood image. New directors were also the hot ticket, and had little time or patience to deal with the vitriolic antics of temperamental females who threw their ego around like they would do with a small object in the heat of an argument. It was the start of the end of the American innocence.

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And innocence lost is what seems to be the central theme of Robert Aldrich’s Gothic horror movie WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? The story of two sisters living in complete isolation from the rest of the world, hating each other every from dusk ’til dawn, and harboring a deadly secret that could kill them is not the kind of material anyone would associate the two lead actresses with, but by then, their choices in scripts were precious few, both had begun to take baby steps in television — considered by many actors to be a step down in their careers — and both needed the work to pay the bills. When Crawford got her hands on the book, she decided to turn it into a movie because it would give her a chance to work with the actress she admired the most, even when such admiration was rebuffed with brutal aggression and had turned into hatred.

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Enlisting Robert Aldrich, who had directed her in AUTUMN LEAVES (and with whom Crawford had had an affair with), and securing Davis in the role of the more dominant sister, cinema history was made when for the first time audiences got to see both actresses essay not only their character counterparts, but relive their extreme, morbid antipathy against each other. Reports of tension on the set flew like wildfire: for the first time since Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis was up against the only other female whom she did not particularly like. Crawford knew she would have to compete in many other ways — salary and dressing room included — to make her experience with the stronger-willed Davis bearable. But… Crawford must have known what she was getting into: when you express such admiration for someone who does not respond back, and force yourself into a project with that person, anything can happen.

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Despite the belief of a feud, both actresses expressed getting along quite well together. Of course, Davis added that had they worked for three months instead of three weeks, the result would have been much different. It is interesting, however, to see how they play against each other scene by scene: Davis overacts to almost impossible degrees and without knowing makes Crawford come off better. It was like seeing Mildred Rogers meeting Mildred Pierce for a perverse face-off: and it is also interesting to see that the wig Davis wears bears a resemblance to the way she wore her hair in OF HUMAN BONDAGE to some degree, the same way the resemblance to Crawford as Blanche to her anterior character is striking.

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As a movie, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is a lesser sister film to SUNSET BLVD., but also a precursor to Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s MISERY with the genders reversed. It did pave the way for a sub-genre within the horror genre featuring older women in exaggerated Gothic stories of murder and mayhem, and on that alone it does deserve that accolade. It also became something of a distant relation to the works of David Lynch in its willingness to depict an inherent weirdness within the sadomasochistic, co-dependent relationship between the sisters.

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At times a little exploitative, at times gripping, and at times flat out funny, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was yet another triumph in both Crawford’s and Davis’ careers with an Oscar nomination for Davis, an Oscar snub for Crawford, and increased tension between the two women. Both were slated to appear in a follow-up movie that became HUSH, HUSH… SWEET CHARLOTTE in 1964, but because of “medical reasons” Crawford had to bow out, leaving Davis’ old friend Olivia deHaviland to step in. Neither actress would ever work together again.

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Crawford’s career would come to an end not 8 years later in 1970 following a string of grade F horror movies (a shortened version of what has become Karen Black’s career), whereas Davis would successfully alternate the remainder of the Sixties and all throughout the Seventies and Eighties between OK horror movies, TV dramas (where she would get Emmy nominations), and even a pilot for a series co-starring friend Anne Baxter. As it is, this remains a blueprint for actors who have been known to despise each other, working together, and making their mutual animosity the stuff of high camp and egotistical overacting.

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Confused grating disappointment

3/10
Author: kanerazor from Yorba Linda, CA
17 April 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am a huge lover of all films, especially classics and horror flicks. I had heard about this film for years and was really excited when I rented it, but was thoroughly unsatisfied by the product. Where do I begin…

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The setup is very compelling. I loved seeing Jane as a talentless brat and Blanche as the quiet older sister who grows up to become the hottest actress in Hollywood while Jane turns into a drunk laughingstock. Then when it looks like Jane cripples Blanche, I was horrified and my eyes were glued to the screen. It was all downhill from there.

First of all, I have to take issue with Bette Davis’s performance. I know that’s sacrilege, but I couldn’t stand her. I’m not sure how much of the blame should be divided among her, the screenplay and the director but her character was so over-the-top that it just became cartoonish at times. Some would of course argue that that’s to the film’s benefit, because they love the black comedy.

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I’ve heard that the film is a favorite of drag queens, and I can see why. But I think it severely undermines the film’s merits as a HORROR movie, which is how it’s almost always qualified. If they wanted to go the black comedy route, they should have gone farther with that b/c I thought as they did it things just didn’t mix. Davis’s caricature was such a glaring contrast to the sincere performance of Joan Crawford, as well as pretty much everything else in the movie.

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Speaking of Crawford, though, I found her character mind-boggling at times. So it was established that Blanche has been trapped by Jane for all the years since the accident. Why couldn’t she just leave? Surely the top actress in Hollywood would be able to afford personal care! Some fans might say that’s answered at the end of the movie, but I’ll come back to that. When Jane was torturing her that much, why couldn’t Blanche at least call the police and say she was being held against her will? It’s mentioned during the movie that Jane’s started going insane, so maybe it hasn’t been going on that long, but if Blanche doesn’t even get any visitors ever, she must sense something’s wrong.

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And then when Blanche goes through the INCREDIBLE ordeal of getting to the phone downstairs when she’s home alone after Jane’s taken out her phone, why doesn’t she use that to CALL THE POLICE! Some might say she was concerned about Jane and wanted to get a doctor for her, but I’m sorry, when a character’s such a one-dimensional doormat, I stop caring about here. If the ending is supposed to justify all this, well I think whatever Blanche did was more than made up for by the endless abuse Jane subject her to, and I don’t see how anyone could reasonably argue otherwise.

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When Elvira found Blanche, I was relieved thinking at least the movie was going somewhere now with Blanche about to be rescued. BUT WHY DID ELVIRA LEAVE THE HAMMER OUTSIDE WITH THAT PSYCHO RIGHT NEXT TO IT? Gee, who thought Jane would bash her head in? I was again happy when Edwin found Blanche, but he just ran off stammering! What the hell was the point of him even being in the movie? I’m thinking there just wasn’t enough story to fill out a film otherwise. I thought he was just an annoying fat guy, and he turned out to be an annoying heartless fat guy. How did Victor Buono get an Oscar nomination for that? Why am I not surprised that people never saw or heard of Mr. Buono again after this movie?

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While the movie had glaring flaws, I thought it would at least be great to see Blanche saved and Jane killed at the end. But instead, one of the worst twists in history was thrown at us! The only things the film had in its favor at any point were a sympathetic heroine and a contemptible villain. So what do they do at the end? Make Blanche responsible for her own trouble and Jane a lovable loon! Even if Blanche paralyzed herself, Jane kept her a prisoner, starved her, beat her, and berated her endlessly. And let’s not forget SHE MURDERED ELVIRA! I’m not buying the mental illness excuse the movie tries-Jane was a monster her whole life and apparently towards the end became a monster unable to handle how pitiful she was. The pathetic attempt at shocking viewers just made me wish I’d never met either sister! Oh, and by the way-Jane’s giddy dancing at the end? A RIPOFF of the INFINITELY superior Sunset Boulevard!!!!!!!

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