What's the Matter with Helen?


1h 41m 1971
What's the Matter with Helen?

Brief Synopsis

After their sons are convicted of murder, two women relocate to Hollywood to start a talent school.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Best of Friends, The Box Step
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Thriller
Release Date
Jun 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: 30 Jun 1971
Production Company
Filmways, Inc.; Raven Productions, Inc.; Raymax Productions, Inc.; Virgo International Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Palos Verdes, California, USA; Palos Verdes, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)

Synopsis

In the small town of Braddock, Iowa, in the 1930s, Adelle Bruckner and Helen Hill become pariahs when their sons are sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of Ellie Banner. After a man phones Helen and threatens that "she will pay for what her boys did," the divorced Adelle, who fashions herself as a "Jean Harlow" type, decides to move her dancing school to California where she plans to turn out "little Shirley Temples." When Adelle invites the frumpy Helen to join her, the women decide to start new lives in Hollywood. At Adelle's Academy of Dance, Helen accompanies the little dancers on the piano while their stage mothers eagerly await the appearance of talent scouts. One day, Adelle decides to glamorize Helen, and as she cuts her hair, Helen winces at the sight of the scissors, then recalls the death of her husband Matt: While plowing the fields of their farm, Matt loses control of the horses and is mangled by the plow blades. Her four-year-old son witnesses the accident and blames her because she was not able to stop the horses. Soon after, the haircut, overly histrionic actor Hamilton Starr comes to the academy to offer his services as an elocution teacher for Adelle's little charges. Even though Helen takes an immediate dislike to Starr, Adelle accepts his offer. The next day, Texan Lincoln Palmer, the divorced, wealthy father of Adelle's student Winona, comes to watch his daughter rehearse and is smitten by Adelle. Linc invites Adelle to dinner, and when he asks her if she has ever been married, she lies that she has never met "the right man." That night, when Linc brings the tipsy Adelle home and kisses her, the prudish Helen looks on disapprovingly. The next day, as Helen begins to decorate the dance studio for an upcoming recital, Adelle informs her that Linc has rented a real theater for the event. Feeling rejected, Helen asks if Adelle told Linc about her son, making Adelle angry because she fears that Linc would not be interested in her if he knew the truth. Helen gradually begins to suffer a nervous breakdown, and during the recital, she deliberately sticks her hand into a moving fan and screams, ruining the performance. Helen's mental condition worsens when she goes into the cellar and finds that the cardboard cutout of Adelle used to advertise the studio has been mutilated. That night, when Linc picks up Adelle for a date, he shows her a newspaper clipping he received in the mail about the Banner murder. When Adelle accuses Helen of sending it, Linc reassures her that he does not care if her son was accused of murder and offers to pay for an appeal. Meanwhile, Helen sinks deeper into her paranoia and turns to a radio sermon given by revivalist Sister Alma for solace. Upon returning home, Adelle accuses Helen of trying to derail her romance with Linc and orders her to move out. After Adelle leaves with Linc the following evening, Helen is packing her suitcase when a man enters the house and ascends the stairs, asking if she got his letter. Panicked, Helen pushes the man down the stairs to his death. Returning to the studio, Adelle is shocked to find a dead body in the hallway. When she finds a letter he was carrying, notifying Helen that she has inherited money from a relative, Adelle, fearful of Linc finding out, insists on immediately disposing of the body without notifying the police. In the pouring rain, the women lug the body to a construction site across the street and dump it into an open trench. The body is found by the police the next day, and while Adelle sleeps that night, Helen listens to Sister Alma on the radio, who exhorts all sinners to confess their mistakes to God. When Adelle awakens and finds Helen gone and hears Sister Alma on the radio, she realizes that Helen went to the sister's church and hurries to stop her. Adelle arrives as Helen approaches Sister Alma and begs to confess. Not interested in Helen's confession, Sister Alma dismisses her, causing Helen to become hysterical. Adelle grabs the raving woman and hustles her home, where Helen blames Adelle for her anguish because she stopped Sister Alma from granting her absolution from her sins. That night, after Linc takes Adelle out, he proposes to her. When she accepts, he suggests they immediately drive to Arizona to be married and takes her home to pack some clothes. Adelle arrives home to find the walls splattered with blood and discovers that Helen has slaughtered the pet rabbits she had lovingly raised. Helen, who is now insane, confronts Adelle and admits that she pushed her husband in front of the plow. Adelle tries to humor Helen, but when she mentions that she and Linc are getting married, Helen stabs her to death. Soon after, Det. Sgt. West from Braddock arrives and shows her a photo of the man they found in the trench. When Helen denies knowing the man, West tells her that he was Ellie Banner's lover and was seeking revenge on the mothers of her killers. After West leaves, Helen runs to tell the news to Adelle. Later, when Linc comes to pick up Adelle, he finds Helen pounding out a song on the piano and Adelle's corpse, dressed in her dancing costume, propped up on the stage by a ladder.

Crew

Michael Anderson

Apprentice film Editor

Ted P. Angel

Senior set Designer

Lucien Ballard

Director of Photography

Bill Beaumont

Craft service

Hal Belcher

Sound

Claude Binyon Jr.

Assistant Director

Irving Caesar

Composer

Tony Charmoli

Music numbers staged and choreographed by

Paulle Clark

Production Assistant

Glen Cooper

Standby painter

Darlene Di Ponzio

Casting Secretary

Robert Edouart

2d Assistant Camera

Fanny Edwards

Women's Costume

George Edwards

Producer

Henry Farrell

Writer

Edward S. Feldman

Executive Producer

John Franco Jr.

Production Assistant

Bud Gaunt

Grip

Earl Gilbert

Gaffer

Gary Glieberman

American Film Institute intern

Les D. Gobruegge

Assistant art Director

Allan Greedy

Script Supervisor

Bud Grenzbach

Sound re-rec

Sydney Guilaroff

Hair creations

Morton Haack

Costume Design

Ray Henderson

Composer

R. Dudley Holmes

Props Master

Bud Howell

Dolly grip

Betty Iverson

Hairstylist

Ralph Ives

Music Editor

Caro Jones

Casting

Dorothy Kelly

Prod Secretary

Ted Koehler

Composer

John Lenox

Assistant Director trainee

Sally Lister

Women's Costume

Tom Loughridge

Camera Operator

Eugene Lourie

Art Director

Cecil Lupton

Best Boy

Jerry Macdonald

Coordinator

Andy Matyasi

Men's Costume

Matt Melneck

Composer

John Mercer

Composer

Mike Messinger

Assistant Director

Terri Nelson

Women's Costume Supervisor

Al Overton Jr.

Sound

Helene Parrish

Hairstylist

James C. Pratt

Associate Producer

Scott Rackin

Hairstylist

David Raksin

Music Composition and Conducting

Martin Ransohoff

Presented By

Randy Rayburn

Rehearsal pianist

William Reynolds

Makeup

William H. Reynolds

Film Editor

Jerry Roberts

Production Assistant

Bob Schunke

Best Boy

Lorraine Serber

Production Assistant

Carl Shapiro

Unit Publicist

Bob Sheridan

Sound boom and eng

Sterling Smith

Still Photographer

John Philip Sousa

Composer

Tad Tadlock

Assistant choreographer

Frank Tauss

Men's Costume Supervisor

William Tuttle

Makeup

Jim Wells

Assistant Editor

Buddy Woodside

Rigging gaffer

Jerry Wunderlich

Set Decoration

Jack Yellen

Composer

Harry Young

Assistant Camera

Film Details

Also Known As
The Best of Friends, The Box Step
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Thriller
Release Date
Jun 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: 30 Jun 1971
Production Company
Filmways, Inc.; Raven Productions, Inc.; Raymax Productions, Inc.; Virgo International Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Palos Verdes, California, USA; Palos Verdes, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)

Award Nominations

Best Costume Design

1971

Articles

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
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

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of the film were The Box Step and The Best of Friends. The full onscreen copyright statement listing the film's claimants reads; Filmways, Inc., Raymax Productions, Inc., Raven Productions, Inc. & Virgo International Pictures, Inc. Before the opening credits roll, a series of Hearst Metrotone Newsreels depicting Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the fictional Hill-Bruckner trial are shown.
       Many reviews commented on the similarity between What's the Matter with Helen? and the 1962 Robert Aldrich film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Henry Farrell, who wrote the script for What's the Matter with Helen?, wrote the novel on which What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was based. According to a January 1971 article in Los Angeles Times and a December 1970 Variety news item, director Curtis Harrington and producer George Edwards, who at the time were working for Universal Pictures, were so impressed by What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? that they asked Farrell if he had any other properties available. Farrell was at the time working on a story called "The Box Step," a contemporary story about two ladies who ran a dance school, but it had already been optioned by Farrell's agent. The property was assigned to another director at Universal, and Farrell was commissioned to write the screenplay.
       Universal eventually decided to abandon the property and asked Harrington and Edwards if they still wanted it. At that time, Harrington and Edwards changed the period to the 1930s and offered the lead to Joanne Woodward, who turned it down. Months later, after leaving Universal, Harrington and Edwards took the project to Edward S. Feldman at Filmways, who was looking for a script for Debbie Reynolds. According to Filmfacts, Reynolds invested $800,000 in the production. A September 1969 Daily Variety news item added that the producers were negotiating with Estelle Parsons to star in the film. The Los Angeles Times article added that Winters was threatened with the replacement of Geraldine Page if she did not become easier to work with. According to a January 1971 Hollywood Reporter news item, the scenes depicting the Kansas farm were shot on location in the Palos Verdes area of California. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. A few months after completing What's the Matter with Helen?, Harrington directed another film starring Winters, Who Slew Auntie Roo?, which was shot in England and released in December 1971 (see below).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1971

Released in United States Summer June 1971