Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's the Matter with Helen?

What's the Matter with Helen? is a 1971 thriller/horror movie starring Debbie Reynolds (as Adele) and Shelley Winters (as Helen) as the mothers of 2 young men convicted of murder. Their sons are spared the death penalty. After the mothers receive a phone call threatening to make them pay for the sins of their sons they pull up stakes, change their names and move to Hollywood to make a fresh start opening a dance school for kids. There's a subtle homosexual subtext as Adele is courted by a man in California and Helen's jealousy causes a rift.

Curtis Harrington directs. Also in the film are Dennis Weaver and Agnes Moorehead. And some poor little rabbits.

There's really not much to this. I've never been a fan of Shirley Temple, so the extensive musical numbers featuring child star imitators put me off. (You can see an example here.) I found the child singing, "Oh, You Nasty Man" ala Mae West to be actively offensive. Sheesh! That was horror enough for me.

part 1:

part 2:

Slant Magazine gives it 2 1/2 out of 4 stars. DVD Talk calls it "a pre-sold 'crazy old actresses' project with a predictable script that the stylish Harrington did his best to enliven and embellish." Roger Ebert says, "I guess you folks who watch the movie of the week on TV know more about these plots than I do."


  1. Yes, there is certainly something very unsettling about a young girl acting all come-get-me to a grown-up audience. We once saw a documentary about little miss-contests in the US and the impression has stayed with us that there is something very weird about it.

    I must say, I have a soft spot for Debbie Reynolds, but even that will not get me through this entire movie, particularly as your review is tepid, to say the least.. ;-) It was fun to see a bit of Weaver, for me he is McCloud, a childhood favourite!

    1. Debbie Reynolds is cute in this, and Dennis Weaver ain't bad.

      The come-hither kiddie thing goes back to at least ShirleyTemple, and probably before. Here's an example of her not much more than a toddler as "Polly Tix" appearing in black lace bra & panties agreeing to seduce a senator: . This scene is a specific view of disgusting: At one point a younger child says to Shirley Temple, "Why don't you leave my father alone. He's not your kind. Your're not a good woman." To which baby Temple responds, "You're crazy! You have to be good to get stuff like this [indicating all her jewelry] in these hard times." Ick. I need to go wash my eyes out. Wikipedia has an article on these short films:

    2. Hm, interesting. Temple seems later to have been ambivalent about it. It must be a bit awkward, as a grown-up, to have something like that in one´s resumé. Like you, I fail to see the appeal.