Posts tagged “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane

The Killing of Sister George (1968)


If you look at my most recent film reviews you’d think I’m stuck in the 1960’s at the moment. It’s just so happen to have gone that way recently. I chose this film purely on the basis of the director   Robert Aldrich who has a varied and interesting filmography, who during the 1960’s had a really strong period of directing, OK there’s a few missteps but no-ones perfect. Most known for his work concerning the darker sides of relationships and the tensions within their dynamic. With The Killing of Sister George (1968) he makes a return to the theme of fading/faded fame. After the success of rival sisters in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) that pitted two women both no longer relevant to the public, relying on their past for currency to try and restore themselves. Of course more famous for bringing together Bette Davis and Joan Crawford who famously hated each other. Together on-screen they produced fireworks, on set a few more went off too. Brought to life recently in Feud: Bette and Joan that dramatised the events leading up to their only film together and there after. It seems that Aldrich couldn’t shake the theme, returning to it after the success of The Dirty Dozen (1967), which allowed him to set-up his own production company. Sister George if often cited as he favourite film and you can see why, a lot of energy has clearly gone into it.

The fictional soap Applehurst, all looks rather quaint now, aging actress June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) fears that here role on a long running soap opera’s being killed off. The worst fear for a lot of aging actors even today. William Roach, the longest-serving actor in Coronation Street feared he’d never recover from his stroke, only to be killed off. Now in his 80’s you could easily understand why. Yet fans of the longest running soap still love this character, even if the actor now takes a less prominent role in the soap. It’s the fear of the unknown, not having control over a character that you have shaped, breathed life into for the est part of your career – such as Roach who has made the role his own and probably the only one of his career, in short he knows little else in terms of his acting career. To be cast-aside without even consulted, the sense of belonging and power you have believe you have on the program is nothing. We are a few steps away from Jane Hudson (Davis) whose own career was cut short by puberty and fickle audience tastes. A theme that anyone in the entertainment world can easily related to.

This fear of lack of relevance, having to start over again brings out the worst in June as we find out, a regular drinker and alcoholic we see her reach new lows that don’t go unseen by the BBC. Sending round Mercy Croft (Coral Browne) to put the fear of god in her. June takes out her frustration on who I first believed to be her long-term lodger a much younger woman – Alice (Susannah York) who takes a lot of abuse. June’s in fact the male of a lesbian relationship. Part of the controversy caused by this film on it’s release in the late 60’s, a year after homosexual sexual offences had been de-criminalised. Of course aimed at men, the subject would still be very raw for the general public, getting used to seeing more overt displays in public of homosexual men. Women were pretty much ignored, making this film slightly easier to make and depict women more than co-habiting. The open secret relationships of the entertainment world are the first to be revealed. An industry generally more excepting of people’s private lives.

June or George’s downward spiral is long and dramatic, mirroring a character from a modern day soap, not the twee show she was soon to be axed from. An alcoholic who gets herself in trouble with the Catholic church to making her lover do unspeakable acts in fits of rage. A woman whose clearly passed her prime and in denial about it, needing the approval ratings to boost her delicate ego that’s supported by her drinking. Ruining everything that matters around her. Unaware that the world around her has changed. When Croft arrives we see another side to her, one that wants to please yet ultimately suspicious of the power that she holds.

There are clear comparisons to Jane Hudson who we see long after the carpets been pulled from under her. Here it’s just about to happen, this is the beginning of the fall-out professionally and emotionally. desperately needing to be taken seriously, to not having to be voicing a cow in her next job. A major difference between the two women in this later film is the relationship, one that’s sexual with undertones of fractures, whilst the Hudson sister’s based on a rivalry that has been boiling over for years ready to explode. Aldrich has taken the same dynamic and sexualized it to great effect, we don’t need to men for fireworks to go off. As we have seen more recently more female-centric films (still not enough though) allowing for drama that’s not revolving around a man.

I have to mention the sex scene towards the close of the film between Croft and Alice, as awkward as it is at times to watch, it soon becomes Count Dracula sitting over his next victim who waits to be liberated from one life to start another. Croft who has been eyeing up her latest prey for the duration of the film is now ready to swoop down and take a bite. Easily read as seeing Lesbians still as group a people to be feared unlike gay men who are now to be seen and ridiculed on-screen.

Both leads are well suited for their roles, York’s Alice the younger woman whose perfect for the role, after being turned down by Julie Christie, who he’s clearly still looking for when he found York who portray’s a victim of domestic abuse yet still able to break free of the cycle which would only get worse. Whilst Reid is clearly enjoying the role of George, the insecurities of an aging actress are all there, the ego, the resentment and bitterness that comes when your passed over or tossed aside. A role that was turned down by Angela Lansbury and eyed up by Davis on the hunt of her next Oscar, something Aldrich wanted no part of for a third time. I can see where the controversy that surrounded the film. A clear shift in tone for Aldrich who was well aware of changing tastes in America and France, wanting to push boundaries himself. A year before the release of Midnight Cowboy (1969) that made the depiction of Sex and Drugs acceptable to the modern audience. The Killing of Sister George was one of those ground-breaking films that paved the way for American New wave to get underway in the 1970’s.

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Feud – Bette and Joan


I don’t usually binge on TV, eating up about a film a day instead. However I sometimes make the odd exception, such as Westworld that I’m excited to return next year. I’ve made a start on the Star Trek spoof – The Orville, which I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well written it is. Not too heavy on the casual comedy whilst still exploring some heavy ideas, not in great detail.

In the last week I have taken in Feud – Bette and Joan based on the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford over 8 episodes. I’m very familiar with the relationship, having made a work based on Shaun Considine’s now much derided book. However a lot of what was in the book has translated to the screen. Focusing on the period before Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) went into production. There was no build of the two actress’s careers. Instead straight into find both Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Davis (Susan Sarandon) as out of work actors waiting for another film to come along. I was expecting a tongue and cheeky bitchy comedy from the two of them. It was funny in places, however I found a rather modern take on the dynamic. Both women portrayed as mature women just wanting to work in an industry that had thrown them on the scrap heap because they aren’t the next big thing any more. The best days of their career are behind them no longer able to ride the wave of that success. At this point Davis had not been Oscar nominated in nearly a decade, resentful that her co-star Anne Baxter beat her to her last worthy win in All About Eve (1950) a case of life imitating art. Whilst Crawford was waiting for another film like Autumn Leaves (1956) to come her way. Both capable of leading a film, just no offers of work or scripts coming their way. The rivalries built up naturally as we get to know them.

I have noticed and come to accept that films and TV that explore the history of Hollywood can be quite prescriptive, feeding facts that we read about as dialogue which can seem forced, however it’s needed to give the film/TV show a strong foundation, to know what we are exploring. The facts become conversation and the quotes become dialogue once more. by episode four I found a feminist leaning come through in the form of Pauline Jameson (Alison Wright) whose a combination of people combined into one role. Robert Aldrich‘s assistant on both Baby Jane and Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) who wanted to be a director in her own right. Offering Crawford a script she wrote and willing to direct. Only to be turned down by Crawford, not on the basis on gender, but that of gender defined roles and perceived ideas of female ability, a product of the 1920’s talking to a more enlightened 1960’s women. Whilst through the duration of the 8 episodes the two legends are just wanting to work, to feel wanted and be relevant in their careers.

With the first half of the series focusing on Baby Jane before the apparent Oscar rigging by Crawford, which is still very much hearsay and conjecture. Before moving onto the troubled second film they started together, which I was looking forward to as no footage exist of Crawford in the film before she fell sick (of Bette Davis). Then both falling either into low budget films and obscurity. It’s a pattern that has repeated it self for years for actresses’ who we see come and go, based not on their talent but box-office draw. A few make a return but not as successful, you have to seek them out in the smaller films that get less exposure. A lot are now turn to TV, which has now become an acceptable place to work for film stars. Hopefully that will change with the harassment scandal that is shaking the industry. Change is slowly happening, emphasis on the slowly. If Feud does anything to change the depiction and position of women in film it shows that change is long overdue and effected even the most celebrated of Hollywood stars.


Cape Fear/e (1962/91/93) Revisited


I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.

The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.

Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.

The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.

Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.

Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).

Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.

Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.

A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.

The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.

Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.

Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.

I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.

Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.

The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.

So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.