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,What's the Matter with Helen?

What's the Matter With Helen?

Shelley Winters may have gotten to go mad in this late entry in the Grand Dame Horror genre, but it's Debbie Reynolds who walks away with all the honors. By the 1970s, the actress had left her "girl next door" days behind and was looking for a strong dramatic role. She was even open to tackling her first horror film. At the same time, director Curtis Harrington and producer George Edwards were looking for stars for a script they had commissioned from novelist Henry Farrell, whose story for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) had given rise to the genre. It seemed a perfect match, as Reynolds seemed perfect as an Iowa farmwoman fleeing a notorious crime to open a school for Shirley Temple wannabes in Hollywood. In addition to some strong dramatic scenes, Reynolds got the chance to sing and dance in the role, sharing a memorable tango with Broadway veteran Swen Swenson. The film should have been a big hit, but the production company, Filmways, cut some of Harrington's most distinctive directorial touches and created an advertising campaign that gave away the ending. Yet the film has developed a devoted following, including writer-director Quentin Tarantino on the strength of Farrell's twisted script, the stars' performances and David Raskin's ingenious background score.

By Frank Miller

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