Thursday, October 1, 2009

Halloween Movie Countdown: #30 - What the fuck happened to Bette Davis and Ruth Gordon?

Look at them. I mean look at them. Imagine them looking out the window of their house as you stroll up, an innocent little child, your Halloween basket held in front of you, looking for candy, just a little bit of candy.

#30 on the countdown are two immortal classics of truly horrific cinema - Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Whatever Happened To Aunt Alice?

Ah, Baby Jane. What can I possibly write about it which has not already been written?

Bette David and Joan Crawford were down and out on their luck as actresses. They couldn't get a part to save their lives, when along came director Robert Aldrich. He had adapted a popular novel at the time into a script both of the women agreed to star in.


The end results is an exercise in grotesque psychological suspense, rather than all out horror. Although Crawford is quite fun in the movie, it's a Bette Davis picture all the way. She's a horrible character, a thoroughly terrible creature with one thing and one thing only on her mind: destroying anything in her path which takes away from her own narcissistic spotlight (Britney Spears anyone?).

The scenes between the two women is both campy and vile. The movie is surprisingly violent and the music is sublime. Despite the grandiose ridiculousness which runs through most of the film, it was a big hit when it came out and nabbed Davis an Oscar nomination.

She didn't win (Anne Bancroft did for Miracle Worker), but that didn't stop Davis from stealing the spotlight...again. According to popular legend, Crawford was infuriated when Davis was nominated for an Oscar and she was overlooked.

She contacted the Best Actress nominees who were unable to attend the ceremonies and offered to accept the award on their behalf should they win. When Anne Bancroft was declared the winner, Crawford triumphantly pushed her way past Davis saying "Step aside!", and swept onstage to pick up the trophy. Davis later commented, "It would have meant a million more dollars to our film if I had won. Joan was thrilled I hadn't."

Hysterical, old-fashioned and baroque (this is from the same man who made the great noir, Kiss Me Deadly), Whatever happened to Baby Jane is a worthy addition to any Halloween night...

After Baby Jane, Aldrich went on to make another less-known but nonetheless disturbing movie with two actress who had seen much, much better days...

Ruth Gordon and Geraldine Page. It's amazing to me these actresses would do such a simplistic and evil movie.

The poster tells you all. Someone is killing people and burying them in a garden. There. Done. It's really not more complicated than that.

Ruth Gordon - I could write an entire blog about her. Sure, she won an Oscar for Rosemary's Baby, but the woman was a writer, director and star for many, many years in works most people don't even remember.

She was an amazing talent who simply put everyone around her to shame.

She is crazy as usual in this - funny, acerbic, walking around as if she were in her living room...watching her raise a shovel and bring it down on a poor victims head while she sticks out her infamous tongue and bites down on it...


And Geraldine Page - the woman could act. Tennessee Williams' adaptations, Horton Foote's delightful Trip To Bountiful, Woody Allen's masterpiece Interiors - give me a break! She was a goddess of the acting world and then she did...this.

I have a theory...I have a theory Robert Aldrich gave all of these women LSD when he met them for the projects and just kept feeding them LSD...why else would they do these movies?

I'll tell you why -- because they were a gas. Aunt Alice is a surprisingly funny and unsettling movie. There are twists and turns in the plot you simply won't see coming. The dialogue is crisp and ridiculous and believe it or not, there is some pretty great suspense sequences.

Aldrich may have chosen silly subject matter but he executed it well and with style. These are living, breathing, baroque melodramas which are hysterical and disturbing.

These may not 'scare' you but they will freak you'll also never look at the old lady next door in quite the same way ever again.

(And yes, I know I left out Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte - that is getting it's own entry later)...

Until tomorrow...

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