Cast & Crew
Mrs. Trefoile, an aging religious fanatic who lives in a desolate country home in an English village, devotes her days to reading the Bible and mourning her son, Stephen, who died a few years earlier in a car crash. Her only companions are a sullen housekeeper, Anna; the woman's brutish husband, Harry; and an imbecile gardener, Joseph. One day she receives a courtesy visit from her dead son's former fiancée, Patricia Carroll. Upon learning that Patricia is soon to marry, Mrs. Trefoile locks the young girl in the attic and prepares to "cleanse her soul" so that she will be fit to be reunited with Stephen in the hereafter. All of Patricia's efforts to escape are thwarted until she tempts the lecherous Harry into releasing her, but the plan fails when the now totally deranged Mrs. Trefoile kills Harry in the basement of the house. Eventually, Patricia's fiancé, Alan Glentower, becomes so worried about her absence that he drives to the village. Mrs. Trefoile tells him Patricia has already left, but he discovers the truth and breaks down the cellar door just as the crazed woman is about to perform a death ritual over the terrified Patricia. While Alan telephones the police, Anna, having discovered her dead husband's body in the basement, stabs the old woman in the back. As she dies, Mrs. Trefoile embraces her dead son's portrait and murmurs, "Stephen, they hurt me."
Die! Die! My Darling!
Based on the novel Nightmare by Anne Blaisdell and adapted to the screen by Richard Matheson (The Incredible Shrinking Man , House of Usher ), Die! Die! My Darling! charts a young American woman's descent into a nightmare of captivity, psychological torment and physical abuse orchestrated by an elderly religious fanatic. Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers) has just arrived in London to marry her fiancé but first decides to pay a brief visit to Mrs. Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead), the mother of her deceased fiancé whom she'd never met. At first Patricia is welcomed into Mrs. Trefoile's home and urged to spend the night which she does, but when she reveals her plans to marry, her hostess turns malicious. Patricia is imprisoned in the house as the obviously demented Mrs. Trefoile (she sleeps with a teddy bear and talks to her dead son when not quoting the Bible) prepares to "purify" her soul so Patricia will be worthy of her dead son's love for eternity. Aiding Mrs. Trefoile in keeping Patricia a prisoner are her housemaid Anna (Yootha Joyce), her butler Harry (Peter Vaughan) and Joseph (Donald Sutherland), a mentally challenged handyman which is a charitable description of his imbecilic character.
Allegedly Ms. Bankhead had originally been offered the Joan Crawford role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and turned it down. Now that horror films starring former A-list actresses was the vogue, however, Bankhead changed her mind about appearing in such a film plus she needed the money and looked forward to working in England again of which she had many fond former memories. Yet due to her poor health and complete candor about it - "I've had triple pneumonia twice" - Bankhead almost got dropped from the film because the studio wouldn't insure her. "A Columbia executive came to see Tallulah," according to biographer Lee Israel (in Miss Tallulah Bankhead), "and told her that they would have to replace her since the risk of continuing a picture with an uninsured star was much too high. She pleaded with him to reconsider, assured him that her most serious ailments were way in the past, and suggested that, to verify that, he read her autobiography. They worked out some kind of deal. Tallulah's $50,000 salary was held as a guarantee against loss."
Prior to filming, Bankhead began a strict health regimen to prepare for the role, sleeping longer hours, drinking less, and taking high-potency vitamin cocktails. When the New York Times queried, "Could Miss Bankhead be intending to play it [the movie] for comedy?" the actress replied, "No, God, no. If anyone laughs, it will be because of my bad acting...I do hope this will be more serious, a bit better than the usual."
Stefanie Powers recalled her first impression of Bankhead on the set of Die! Die! My Darling!: "We were all gathered around the rehearsal table - the producers, the director, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland, Peter Vaughan, all of us - and Tallulah was the last to arrive. She came in wearing slacks and an ankle-length mink coat, with two young men at her side who helped her down the stairs. 'Oh, darlings, I'm so sorry to hold you up,' she said, 'but I feel awful.' On the first day of shooting, everything was done to make her feel at ease. We didn't start shooting until late in the morning, allowing her plenty of time to get there, and we broke for lunch. She had only one scene to do, and then she left. It was the same on the second day. And on the third we went to the studio to see the rushes. She sat with us and watched. There were lots of scenes with the rest of the cast, and then there would be one of her, in long shot. That made her angry. Suddenly her laryngitis went away and the next day she was there early, her frailness had disappeared, and she worked" (from Tallulah Bankhead: A Bio-Bibliography by Jeffrey L. Carrier).
The press played up in news reports that there was a feud brewing between Bankhead and Powers on the set and, although Bankhead was cool to her young co-star at first, they developed a beneficial working relationship. For one particularly difficult action sequence, Powers recalled that a stunt man was used as a double for Tallulah. "He was to dress in Mrs. Trefoile's clothes and do the actual dragging, and it would be intercut with scenes of Tallulah's hands grabbing me under the arms. But Tallulah didn't like the way the stunt man's legs looked in stockings, so she did it herself. She grabbed me under the arms, being sure to feel of my chest first, and with Herculean strength, dragged me through the doorway. And this was the same woman who had needed help down the stairs a few days before!"
There was also some concern about the scene where Mrs. Trefoile violently slaps Patricia and the latter fights back. Powers was apprehensive about shooting it but Bankhead insisted, "Just fight me!...Fight me!..No, hit me. You've got to hit me like that!"...On stage we'd have to be a little more careful but if you hurt me, the director will call 'Cut', and they'll wait twenty minutes until I'm all right." In the film, the slap Powers receives from Bankhead looks painfully realistic and was but the actress put a positive spin on it prior to striking Powers with a beauty secret tip: a slap "tones up the complexion."
The filming of Die! Die! My Darling! was an ordeal at times for director Silvio Narizzano who had a love-hate relationship with Bankhead; off the set, they socialized frequently over card games at his home but on the set, tempers often flared. Narizzano recalled that when the production designer originally decorated the set with photographs from Bankhead's early career the actress "threw a tantrum at first, feeling it was an impertinence. She threw occasional tantrums and walked off the set three times...no words can express my relief that the picture's over. She is magnificent, but impossible."
When Die! Die! My Darling! was shown in New York City, according to biographer Denis Brian (in Tallulah, Darling), Tallulah took [authors] James Herlihy and James Kirkwood with her to see it. "She held my hand very tightly as we watched," said Kirkwood, "and once said, 'God, do I look awful! Ugh!' It was obviously very painful for her." At her first close-up she called out, "I want to apologize for looking older than God's wet nurse," as years earlier she said, "They used to shoot Shirley Temple through gauze. They should shoot me through linoleum."
In general, critics are usually condescending or dismissive toward horror films and Die! Die! My Darling! was no exception though Ms. Bankhead was the focus of most of the reviews. Typical of the majority opinion was the New York Times notice which stated, "Although [Tallulah Bankhead] towers above the cast and story, her present effort adds little to her record." And Dora Jane Hamblin's review in Life magazine noted that Tallulah "is the saving grace of the film, and she may well be launched - at 60 or 65 - on a new career." Screenwriter Richard Matheson, who is usually highly critical of his movie adaptations, remarked: "Fanatic was a production I liked a lot, except for a little scenery chewing by Tallulah and a conclusion which was a bit overly melodramatic. I thought Stefanie Powers was excellent, and the direction was first rate."
Despite the manufactured press reports about Ms. Powers and Ms. Bankhead's rivalry during the filming of Die! Die! My Darling! the two actresses became friends. According to Denis Brian's biography, "When Stefanie Powers got back to America she always called on Tallulah when she was in New York..."She used to call me Patricia, which was the name of the character in the film, and thought it was very bad of me not to wear lipstick. I just adored her. She was my severest critic and my best and very well-respected friend."
Die! Die! My Darling! was Bankhead's final film appearance though her voice was used in the animated feature The Daydreamer in 1966 and her final role was playing the Black Widow in two episodes of the Batman TV series. She succumbed to pneumonia and influenza in New York City in December of 1968.
Producer: Anthony Hinds
Director: Silvio Narizzano
Screenplay: Richard Matheson, Anne Blaisdell (novel)
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Film Editing: John Dunsford
Art Direction: Peter Proud
Music: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Tallulah Bankhead (Mrs. Trefoile), Stefanie Powers (Pat Carroll), Peter Vaughan (Harry), Maurice Kaufmann (Alan Glentower), Yootha Joyce (Anna), Donald Sutherland (Joseph).
by Jeff Stafford
Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography by Tom Johnson & Deborah Del Vecchio
Tallulah, Darling by Denis Brian
Tallulah Bankhead: A Bio-Bibliography by Jeffrey L. Carrier
Miss Tallulah Bankhead by Lee Israel
Tallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady by Joel Lobenthal
Die! Die! My Darling!
This is the most DISGRACEFUL situation!- Mrs. Trefoile
I couldn't agree more!- Pat Carroll
Released in Great Britain in March 1965 as Fanatic.
Released in United States Spring May 12, 1965
Released in United States Spring May 12, 1965