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WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? starring DEBBIE REYNOLDS, SHELLEY WINTERS, DENNIS WEAVER and AGNES MOOREHEAD

Though it bears more than passing resemblance to his macabre hits HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, this lesser-known outing from screenwriter Henry Farrell takes a more satirical turn, skewering the eccentricities of the Hollywood studio system. The story opens during the advent of talking pictures, where a school for would-be child stars is opened by voice coach Helen Hill (Shelley Winters) and dance instructor Adelle Bruckner (Debbie Reynolds). Haunted by a dark secret -- each of the women's sons was convicted of murder -- Hill and Bruckner are pursued by a cloaked interloper whose incessant snooping leads to a fatal altercation, where one of the two women may be even more lethal than her homicidal son. Though the film's absurdist tone is a harsh about-face from the deadly deadpan camp of Farrell's Gothic 1960s thrillers, the period flavor is a nice touch, and accomplished director Curtis Harrington frequently achieves the right balance of horror and humor. Debbie, in her blonde wig ('I'm a Harlow, you're more a Marion Davies' she tells Winters) leads the tots at their concert and wins a rich dad (Dennis Weaver). She also does a deliciously funny tango and, over all, gives an outstanding performance, unlike anything she'd done before. Lots of lovely swipes at Hollywood and the terrifying movie tot. Micheal MacLiammoir has a ball as the drama coach: 'Hamilton Starr', he purrs, 'two r's but prophetic nonetheless'. See it and love it.
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