November 28th, 2009

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) * ½

Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters leave their small town behind after their sons are convicted of a heinous murder.  They soon set up shop in Hollywood teaching dance to a bunch of unruly brats.  After awhile, they start receiving obscene phone calls and Shelley begins seeing dead mangled corpses everywhere.  Shelley gets really agitated once Debbie strikes up a romance with a wealthy suitor (Dennis Weaver) and even resorts to murder.  Then we find out what’s the matter with Helen.  (SPOILER ALERT:  She’s fucking nuts.)

 

Screenwriter Henry Farrell also wrote the psychological thrillers with women’s names in the titles, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  What’s the Matter with Helen isn’t nearly as cool as those films.  The problem is that it’s way too tame for it’s own good.  While Charlotte and Baby Jane had a suitably nasty tone, Helen is limp and dull.  Unlike Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Reynolds and Winters do not go over the top.  They play things more or less straight and as a result, it isn’t much fun.  I did like the part when Shelley killed some rabbits though.  (Sixteen years before Glenn Close made it hip.)

 

Director Curtis (Ruby) Harrington films the proceedings in a workmanlike fashion.  Nothing about the film is very memorable but there is a sequence midway through that is positively mind-numbingly terrifying.  It’s the scene where Debbie’s students perform onstage.  Their routines are all filmed in real time and the intolerable tykes impersonate everyone from Shirley Temple to Mae West.  If sitting through a kiddie talent show isn’t the true meaning of horror, I don’t know what is.  No wonder Shelley started freaking out backstage and eventually went on a murder spree.

LET’S ROCK (1958) ** ½

Tommy Adane (Julius LaRosa) is a crooner who hates Rock n’ Roll and only wants to sing ballads.  When his manager (Conrad Janis from Mork and Mindy) tries to persuade him to cut a Rock n’ Roll record, he refuses.  When Tommy’s record sales plummet, the dumbass still just wants to record slow songs.  Finally he meets a pretty songwriter who convinces him to sing Rock n’ Roll and naturally all the swinging teenagers buy his record.

 

The moral of the story is that ballads suck and Rock n’ Roll is fucking awesome.  Now everybody in the world already knows that but apparently this jackass doesn’t.  I guess you have to put up with his compulsive need to sing slow songs because otherwise we wouldn’t have a “plot”.  It’s kinda like one of those After School Special deals where everyone in the audience knows that drugs are bad except the main character and he doesn’t realize it until he gets high as a kite and accidentally kills his best friend or something. 

 

I think Let’s Rock could’ve been a great Rock n’ Roll movie but the main character was just so stupid that it ruined a lot of the film’s intended impact.  I’m not lying when I say that there was at least EIGHT scenes of Tommy dissing Rock n’ Roll while his manager/promoter/girlfriend tried to tell him otherwise.  These scenes will make you want to Emory board your irises off.

 

Luckily, the Rock n’ Roll numbers are pretty decent.  There were at least two classic songs (“At the Hop” and “Short Shorts”) in there that almost made sitting through all the plot stuff worthwhile.  We also got people I’ve heard of (like Paul Anka and Della Reese) singing songs I’ve never heard of, people I’ve never heard of (like Tony Pastor and Roy Hamilton) singing songs I’ve never heard of, and a future game show host I’ve heard of (Wink Martindale) singing songs I’ve never heard of. 

 

LaRosa also belts out a couple of tunes too.  It’s a shame he’s such a terrible singer because he’s not a bad actor.  I think the funniest moment in the film comes at the very end when he debuts his Rock n’ Roll song.  It’s called “Wild, Wild Party” but it’s all about kids eating hot dogs and drinking lemonade.  He obviously hasn’t gotten a hang of the whole Rock n’ Roll thing.  We all know it’s Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll and not Hot Dogs, Lemonade, and Rock n’ Roll.  Dumbass.