What's the Matter with Helen? (1971) Poster


Director Curtis Harrington shot and edited Adelle's death with the intention that the scene would be "as harrowing and brutal as the shower scene in Psycho." Against his wishes, the scene was severely truncated because the studio wanted the film to garner a GP-rating.
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According to Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters' psychiatrist advised her not to portray a woman having a nervous breakdown because, at the time, she was having a real-life nervous breakdown. "She's the kind of actress who becomes the part she's playing..." said Reynolds, "so all through the film she drove all of us insane!"
Joanne Woodward, Shirley MacLaine and Estelle Parsons were each offered roles in the film but passed. Rita Hayworth was approached to play Adelle, but she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, and was therefore unfit to take the part.
Bit player Yvette Vickers was instructed to dye her blonde hair red, so as not to compete on-screen with blonde star Debbie Reynolds.
When friend/director Curtis Harrington offered her the part, Shelley Winters took the lead role in the film without even reading the script.
Debbie Reynolds had a deal with NBC to produce a film, and she loved Henry Farrell's story outline, as well as the idea of taking a dramatic role in a horror movie. The network put up $750,000 and Reynolds produced the picture uncredited and starred.
Debbie Reynolds kept many of the props and costumes from the film.
Director Curtis Harrington shot certain scenes with the intention of using dissolves as a transition between scenes. He reluctantly had to remove the dissolves when producer Martin Ransohoff matter-of-factly stated that he didn't like them.
Sister Alma is an obvious caricature of Aimee Semple McPherson.
Debbie Reynolds drove Shelley Winters to work each day. One morning on her way to pick up Shelley, Debbie noticed a woman standing on Santa Monica Boulevard in a nightgown trying to flag down a ride. When Reynolds stopped and asked why she wasn't waiting at home, Winters replied, "I thought I was late."
Right after Adelle reads Helen the letter that explains the man whom she just murdered was actually bringing her good news, Adelle strikes Helen with the crumpled letter, almost exactly mimicking the scene in LOLITA, in which after reading Humbert's diary, Charlotte Haze - Shelly Winters - strikes Humbert with his diary.
The exterior of the gambling ship where Linc takes Adelle is the same yacht used for exteriors of the "Fortuna II" in the 1960-61 TV series "Mr. Lucky".
Shelley Winters decided that after they came in from the rain, her Helen character should have a moment when she kissed Debbie Reynolds Adelle character on the lips. This unscripted moment was filmed but removed from the final print of the movie to avoid attaining an R-rating.
The first draft of the script was completed in February 1968.
The film began production under the title "The Best of Friends," but Otto Preminger protested to the Motion Picture Association because he had already registered the similar title Such Good Friends (1971). Producer George Edwards quickly responded by changing the title to a line from the script: "What's the Matter with Helen?."
Estelle Parsons was mentioned early-on as one of leads that eventually went to Shelley Winters.
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The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

The night before Adelle's death scene was shot, Debbie Reynolds awoke from a nightmare in which she was stabbed. When she arrived on set, she checked the knife and discovered someone had replaced the rubber prop knife with a real blade.
The marketing team created what is arguably one of worst ad campaigns in horror movie history with a spoiler campaign that tipped off movie-goers to ending (posters and ads featured photos of body of Debbie Reynolds' character, murdered and strung up on a ladder) that totally robbed film of its shock climax.

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