Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Helen" is latest shocker movie

Cleveland Press June 17, 1971

If "What's the Matter With Helen?" sounds in title and matter a trifle like "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" don't be surprised they were written by the same man, Curtis Harrington.

This is another shocker with a fair amount of blood, the threat of mayhem from an unknown source and plenty of red herrings.

lt is well acted and well scripted but promises more suspense than it finally delivers.

The movie is set in the 1930's and nostalgia buffs can always while away the time looking at old autos, styles, NRA stickers and listening to the voice of Pierre Andre emerging from a radio offering a free Orphan Annie mug in exchange for the inner seal from a jar of Ovaltine.

The picture starts with grainy black and white newsreel shots of FDR,

Eleanor Roosevelt and finally the outside of courtroom following a sensational murder trial.

Grainy black and white turns to wide-screen color and the two women emerging from the courtroom, mothers of the convicted murderers, are Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters.

Threatening phone calls send them fleeing to Los Angeles where they plan to start a new life. Miss Reynolds runs a song and dance school for little girls and the West Coast seems the right place to lure in a few hopeful Shirley Temple types. The school bits offer more nostalgia.

Miss Reynolds is wooed by the father of one of her students. He's a millionaire, Texas type, and is played by Dennis Weaver in an accent big enough to drive a herd of cattle through.

Miss Winters is the opposite of Miss Reynolds. She is withdrawn, given to listening to radio evangelist Agnes Moorehead and suffers from a guilt complex concerning the death of her husband

The women are unnerved by minor incidents, begin to suspect each other and finally are threatened from an outside source.

The movie works its way to a bloody conclusion though by today's standards the gore is fairly restrained.

Miss Reynolds is OK and the song-and-dance stuff she does has been worked in logically. Miss Winters is more restrained and hence better than she has been in recent films. She manages to flip without chewing the scenery.