6.4/10
1,452
38 user 41 critic

What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)

Two middle-aged women move to Hollywood, California after their sons are convicted of a notorious murder and open a dance school for children eager to tap their way to stardom.

Director:

Curtis Harrington

Writer:

Henry Farrell
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Debbie Reynolds ... Adelle Bruckner aka Adelle Stuart
Shelley Winters ... Helen Hill aka Helen Martin
Dennis Weaver ... Linc Palmer
Micheál MacLiammóir ... Hamilton Starr (as Micheal Mac Liammóir)
Agnes Moorehead ... Sister Alma
Helene Winston ... Mrs. Greenbaum
Peggy Rea ... Mrs. Schultz
Logan Ramsey ... Detective Sgt. West
Paulle Clark Paulle Clark ... Mrs. Plumb
Yvette Vickers ... Mrs. Barker
Molly Dodd ... Mrs. Rigg
Samee Lee Jones Samee Lee Jones ... Winona Palmer (as Sammee Lee Jones)
Robbi Morgan ... Rosalie Greenbaum
Timothy Carey ... The Tramp
Swen Swenson Swen Swenson ... The Gigolo
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Storyline

Set in the 30s, Helen and Adelle are two women whose sons commit a gruesome murder. After their conviction, they move to Hollywood change their names and open a dance school for girls. Adelle is looking for a good life and when one of the parents of her students who is wealthy takes a liking to her she thinks she's got it made. Helen thinks that someone who blames them for what their sons did is stalking them. But Adelle thinks it's all in her mind. Written by rcs0411@yahoo.com

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

All she wants is a friend... to the end! See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some violence/bloody images | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 April 1972 (Mexico) See more »

Also Known As:

The Box Step See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

When friend/director Curtis Harrington offered her the part, Shelley Winters took the lead role in the film without even reading the script. See more »

Goofs

The film is set in 1934, but the prominently seen "Movie Life" magazine wasn't first published until 1937. See more »

Quotes

Helen Hill: Men can be quite a bit lower than the angels.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Connie and Carla (2004) See more »

Soundtracks

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Music by Charles Crozat Converse and lyrics by Joseph M. Scriven
Performed by Agnes Moorehead
See more »

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User Reviews

 
"Goody, Goody"
4 March 2003 | by traumatixxxSee all my reviews

The most bizarre of the cinematic sub-genres is the so called "The Great Ladies of the Grand Guignol": camp horror films which combined over-the-top melodrama with gothic thrills and always starred by seasoned and almost forgotten actress from hollywood golden age in unflattering roles of either long suffering victims or screeching evil harpies. This genre provided them with an unusual acting showcase that allowed strut their stuff on the screen once again and win new generations of fans at expense of their glamorous images from yesterday.

"What's the matter with Helen" is the last drop of this sub-genre with stunning performances of both Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters as the troubled mothers of two convicted criminals who run away from their past to the sunny California in the 1930s to open a talent school to milk out the eagerly mothers who want their daughters to be the next Shirley Temple. In California, Debbie gets happiness, clients, tango, tap dancing and a new love interest (Dennis Weaver meanwhile Shelley gets wacko with horrible flashbacks, menacing anonymous calls, menacing strangers, menacing Agnes Moorehead as a radio evangelist, cute little rabbits (!) and an unfortunate encounter with an electric fan (ouch!).

The sloppy script (penned by Henry Farrell, the man who started all this genre with "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" along with master director Robert Aldrich, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis) is full of plot holes, red herrings and wasted opportunities that could had made this movie great: the underlying themes of twisted motherhood (with Debbie and Shelley's characters as "failed mothers" and the overbearing mommies of the child stars) and obsessive female bonding (Debbie and Shelley relationship and the fact that the few male characters of this movie are either sinister or sleazy even Dennis Weaver dream boat Texan) are wasted. Instead we get Debbie Reynolds musicals interludes and dancing tots, although fun to watch take too much screen time of what is supposedly to be a psychological chiller. But still this movie is highly entertaining. The two stars and Curtis Harrington stylish direction easily overcomes its flaws. The movie recreation of the 1930's is colorful and elegant (look at Debbie's clothes!) made with a very tight budget. The increasing atmosphere of madness and hysteria is genuinely creepy with a shocking finale that will haunt you for days. And you wouldn't easily forget that silly "Goody, goody" song that runs through the movie either. And seeing an increasingly mad Shelley Winters screw every one of Debbie Reynolds' chances at happiness is a hoot to watch!

8 out of 10.


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