Tuesday, June 30, 2015

FAVORITE MOVIE PROPS: A DREAM WISH LIST

It’s been my experience that it’s the rare film enthusiast who doesn’t also possess a passing interest in (if not an outright mania for) those fascinating objects of tangible trivia associated with the making of motion pictures. I’m speaking, of course, about movie memorabilia. And whether in the form of collecting marketing materials like posters, stills, pressbooks, and souvenir programs; attending museum exhibits displaying classic movie costumes and props; going to celebrity autograph conventions, or scouring online auction sites for items from celebrity estates or rare props and collectibles from favorite films – the motivation behind the actions are the same. It’s the desire to possess part of a dream. To rekindle and revisit the sensations inspired by a favorite film. The wish to bridge the gap between reality and the fantasy world movies.

When I was a youngster, I really had a thing for movie posters and movie poster graphic design. I loved looking at the poster display cases outside movie theaters, and even had a scrapbook where I'd paste my favorite movie poster ads clipped from the entertainment section of the newspaper. In 1970 when I was 13-years-old I purchased the original 1968 Barbarella poster for $8.50. It was my very first movie poster acquisition (I still have it, framed, in my home today) in what would grow to become a collection of movie promotional material so sizable, by 1975 I had more posters than wall space to accommodate them.display them.
My bedroom during my senior year in high school.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1978 and suddenly autograph collecting was added to my fanboy obsessions. Working at a McDonald's in Hollywood, I got Stevie Nick's autograph the night Fleetwood Mac won for Rumors (and no, she didn't order a Big Mac); working at a bookstore in Beverly Hills Diane Keaton, Steve Martin, and countless others. I still have the overflowing scrapbook.

By the late 90s, with the advent of eBay and what I perceived to be a decline in movie poster design, I wound up either selling off or donating to a local film museum the bulk of what had grown into a cumbersome movie poster and Lobby Card collection. I held onto the ones that meant the most to me: Barbarella, Rosemary’s Baby, The Day of the Locust, Bonnie & Clyde, Andy Warhol’s BAD, Myra Breckinridge, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and They Shoot Horses, Don’tThey?. The ones I regret selling?: Chinatown and Shampoo. What was I thinking? ...I must have been offered a lot of money.

The collection is gone, but my fondness for movie memorabilia of all stripes has never abated. And as one might guess, Los Angeles is a wellspring for the movie memorabilia fan. Annually, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising has an exhibit of Oscar-nominated costumes, the County Museum frequently has film-related exhibits featuring props and artifacts from classic films and filmmakers; and it's a trend now for movie theaters to have have lobby displays of props and costumes of featured films.

The Only Piece of Movie Memorabilia I Own 
The weirdest (and thus coolest) gift I ever received from my partner is this plaster-cast of the right side of Liza Minnelli's face from the Paramount Studios makeup department. It was used as a form to design and fit the acid burn prosthetic makeup for her role in Otto Preminger's, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970).  


It's because of my love of movie history and memorabilia that I decided to write this post after being contacted by the online auction site, Invaluable.com, and asked if I was interested in writing about what would be my dream movie prop or bit of memorabilia to find and pick up in an auction.
As I've only been to one auction in my entire life and wanted to bid on everything in sight (in 1984 Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope Studios auctioned off tons of items from its films. I had my eye on all the miniature Las Vegas props from One From the Heart), I jumped at the opportunity to mount my own dream auction of movie props I would die for.


KEN'S TOP-TEN MOVIE MEMORABILIA AUCTION WISH LIST (money is no object):

1. The tannis root charm and chain from Rosemary's Baby (1968)

2. Any one of the futuristic, blatantly phallic weapons from Barbarella (1968).

3. The giant, inflatable easy chairs from Ken Russell's The Boy Friend (1971)

4. The miniature replica of the Hollywood Bowl Muse Fountain from Xanadu (1980) 

5. One of those belts worn by Judas and the angels in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). Although difficult to make out, each belt has a rhinestone buckle in the shape of the "praying angels" logo. While I'm at it, Judas' white, fringed jumpsuit wouldn't be bad, either!

6. Those Op-Art sunglasses worn by Debbie Watson in The Cool Ones (1967)

7. One of those prop books with Faye Dunaway on the cover used in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

8. One of those adorable bulbous Munchkinland taxicabs from The Wiz (1978)*

9. Eve Harrington's Sarah Siddons Award from All About Eve (1950)

10. Elton John's space-age Pinball Wizard machine from Ken Russell's Tommy (1975)


The above list encompasses everything from small props to items so huge they count as art direction or automotive. But a wish list is a wish list.

I'd be curious to find out if any of you out there harbor any unrequited movie prop/memorabilia desires from any of your favorite movies.

As stated, the idea for this post idea sprung from the marketing minds of the folks at the auction house of Invaluable.com, which seems to be doing a bit of research into what kinds of items film enthusiasts might find desirable. And if this post seems like the internet version of an infomercial, it's a one-sided one. I'm getting nothing out of promoting the site for free (which does have some pretty cool stuff. I'm no Star Wars fan but a while back they auctioned off a prop gun used by Harrison Ford in the film) -save perhaps their allowing me to steal their post idea.

If you're interested in seeing what type of movie items are currently up for auction, you can visit the move memorabilia section of the site HERE.

On a closing note, here are two of the miniatures from One From the Heart  I had the opportunity to see in person back in 1984 at the American Zoetrope auction. I have no idea what they ultimately sold for, but they were featured in the film's title sequence. They couldn't have been more than 5 or 8 inches high.

*Update
Looks like one of those taxi cabs from The Wiz popped up in Atlantic Beach, NY. Story Here


MOVIE MEMORABILIA AUCTION ITEMS WISH LIST (Reader submissions):
The beaded wedding veil worn by Guenevere in the film, Excalibur (1981)
(submitted by Joel)
Doris Day's mermaid outfit from The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)
(submitted by David Kucharski) Image: thewackytacky.blogspot.com 
An original Baby Jane Doll from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1961)
(submitted by Rick)
One of the Gothic ankh pendant/daggers from The Hunger (1983)
(submitted by Darin)


Copyright © Ken Anderson

Saturday, June 27, 2015

WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? 2015

The life and artistry of Nina Simone illuminated in poignant documentary

The best documentaries exist as something more allegorical than the rote, history-lesson cataloging of the biographical details of a public figure’s life. Also, in spite of the vast scope of the subject’s fame and influence, they tend to be more effective when honing in on a selective perspective or point of view. 
In the marvelous What Happened, Miss Simone?, documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus explores the personal and professional life of the legendary jazz/blues/ folk artist by submitting her film as the literal answer to the titular question, one originally asked by author/poet Maya Angelou in a 1970 article penned for Redbook magazine.

Angelou’s interview with Simone coincided with the famed singer/composer/musician's turbulent transformation from jazz concert poet to The High Priestess of Soul in the late 60s. A time when the Civil Rights Movement so significantly influenced her work that she alienated her pop music fan base while simultaneously giving voice and inspiration to the nation’s unsung with her Top 100 single, “Young, Gifted, & Black” ( a song co-written with Weldon Irvine to, as Simone put it, “Make black children all around the world feel good about themselves forever.”).

The question Angelou posed: “Miss Simone, you are idolized, even loved, by millions now. What happened, Miss Simone?” - is tellingly ambiguous and suggest perhaps a contradiction. Is it the typical press agent query, “How did you get to where you are?”, or the more complex and infinitely more painful, “What happened to you in your life to make your music so raw and impassioned?” 
The High Priestess of Soul
(1933 - 2003) 
Garbus’ documentary, co-produced by and currently streaming on Netflix, examines the life of Nina Simone by turning the story of her tumultuous career and private life into a larger examination of what can happen when an artist—an individual devoted to the freest expression of truth—is born into a society which tells them everything they are, everything that comprises their very essence and being, is unworthy of dreams. Unworthy because of the color of their skin. The broadness of their nose. The thickness of their lips. That they are born female. As the film progresses and grows darker than you might expect, the social focus of the opening question morphs into the personal, "How did it come to this?"

As an African-American piano prodigy born in the Jim Crow-era South (“I played the boogie at (age) three and gave concerts at twelve”), Nina Simone, nee Eunice Waymon, was an anomaly in her small North Carolina hometown. Crossing train tracks to the “white” section of town to take piano lessons, practicing so much she barely had a childhood; Simone’s keenly-felt separateness defined her attitude towards both her musical gift and her ambitions.
Simone dreamed big: she wanted more than anything to be the first black female classical pianist to play Carnegie Hall. But when she was turned down by the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and had to take up performing jazz and pop music in clubs, the teenage Simone felt for the first time that most common, but nonetheless soul-killing, of African-American experiences- being certain but never truly knowing if race played a part in her rejection.
Nina Simone graduated valedictorian of her high school class and was awarded
a one-year scholarship at Julliard School of Music in New York
With this, the seeds of rage, self-doubt, and indignation began to take root within her just as firmly as her talents as a singer and musician blossomed. Fueled by an ambition to succeed, blessed with a talent that couldn’t be ignored, yet led by circumstance down a path not wholly of her choosing, Nina Simone’s demons were manifest in the same questions that plagued many frustrated African-Americans in pursuit of the American dream in those nascent civil rights years. The lingering oppression of separatism and Jim Crow led Langston Hughes to pen the 1951 poem, “Harlem.” A poem whose words articulated the conundrum facing all black artists and dreamers in America.

What Happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Throughout her life, Nina Simone’s mainstream success stood in the shadow of her unrealized dream to be a classical musician. Similarly, the material rewards of her success only reinforced her childhood sense of isolation…a gap she always sought to bridge with her music. Following the 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the Alabama church bombing that killed four little girls that same year;  the discrepancy she felt between her quality of life and that of the average black person living in America, altered and politicized her artistic expression.

We witness Nina Simone's transformation from demure, evening-gowned chanteuse playing to an all-white audience on TV's Playboy After Dark, to vibrant political activist joyously singing songs of protest and revolution (No pacifist, she. Simone believed in violent retaliation). The documentary juxtaposes these wildly contrasting professional images with equally at-odds-with-themselves accounts of her stormy private life.
Revolution Evolution
Through interview footage, rare recordings, snippets from her journals, and a mercifully sparse sprinkling of talking head commentary from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly (the film’s executive-producer), husband /manager Andrew Stroud, and lifelong friends; we learn not only was Simone’s  art and life matched in complexity and anguish, but that each in many ways grew out of the other.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
What Happened, Miss Simone? is gratifying on many levels. As someone who knew of  Nina Simone, but next to nothing about her, this look at her life is quite revelatory. Hats off to director Liz Garbus (Love, Marilyn) for mounting such a clear-eyed portrait of an legendary icon. I also like that it’s a fairly straightforward documentary. Eschewing the contemporary trend toward visual gimmickry and the overuse of showy graphics, What Happened, Miss Simone? dealing with its subject in a direct, head-on manner complimentary to the great woman herself. Neither hagiography nor hatchet-job, What Happened, Miss Simone? is merely honest. Honest in a way that ultimately proves very real and very moving.
What Happened, Miss Simone? has some exceptional interview footage

*Scary side-note (make that terrifying): Sobering and sad how so much of  the film's difficult-to-watch violent footage from the 60s Civil Rights Movement looks like just America in 2015.


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Although running a brisk 100 minutes, a major asset of What Happened, Miss Simone? is the amount of time it allocated to footage of Simone performing. Her voice has mesmerized me for years, but it's truly a remarkable experience watching her in action. She's electric and unpredictable. I especially got a charge out of a bit of concert footage showing Simone stopping mid-song to point to and shout authoritatively at someone in the audience, "Hey, girl, sit down!" followed by a loooong unbroken stare and a second demand, "Sit DOWN!" Following a satisfied nod of the head signifying either the patron's compliance or execution, Simone calmly resumes the song at the exact point she left off.
Magnificent! 

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
My mother loved Nina Simone and played her records constantly when I was growing up. But as a child, I actually thought Nina Simone’s music was kind of scary. Not scary as in frightening, but somehow deeply sad and troubling in a way I was too young to understand. Of course, in retrospect, I know it was because the songs were too real. They weren't pop, they weren't escapist...they were authentic. Authentic in a way where I must have sensed (in that way kids can) that perhaps in her songs, she was saying things my mom felt, but could never say aloud.
Many years later, when the soundtrack to the 1993 movie, Point of No Return, introduced a whole new generation to Nina Simone (mostly hipsters and yuppies who, like those Playboy penthouse guests of yore, adored black music but black people, not so much), I seemed to listen to her with fresh ears. In place of what I once heard in her voice that scared me I heard the kind of naked self-exposure of a true artist. She wasn't just trying to make pretty sounds or packaging melodies for cocktail party consumption.
She was sharing the dejection of a sensitive, impressionable child told by the country of her birth that she was somehow less valuable, less beautiful, because of her skin. She sang about being a black woman of financial privilege who had to put on a smile and entertain while all around her African-American figures of hope were being killed off, one by one.
She opened up about her frustration in knowing that the more she sang about her personal truth as a black woman, the smaller her audiences would grow. In the midst of this was a woman battling a mental illness, a woman in an abusive relationship who visited that same violence onto her daughter. The dark, the light.
Nina Simone's genius lie in her ability to make poetry out of the contradictory and confounding ugliness and beauty that was her life. That triumph of What Happened, Miss Simone? is that it presents these sometimes unpleasant realities without ever diminishing the artistic legacy of this legendary woman with the soul-searing voice who was rightfully dubbed, The High Priestess of Soul.



Copyright © Ken Anderson

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! 1965

“Every play you send me is about a fiend! If I don’t murder somebody, I’m just about to. And if they are not after me, I’m after them. I tell you I cannot stand it any longer! Don’t you think I’m human? Don’t you think I’m ever helpless?”
Tallulah Bankhead playing a parody of herself (her full-time career by this point) in the 1953 film, Main Street to Broadway. Her penultimate film before Die! Die! My Darling!

Although I don’t recall now which program I saw initially, my first exposure to that legend of the American theater known as “The Alabama Foghorn” - Miss Tallulah Bankhead - was when she portrayed the villainous Black Widow on TV’s Batman, or when she camped her way through a large-as-real-life impersonation of herself on reruns of The Celebrity Next Door episode of The Lucy & Desi Comedy Hour. The time was 1967, I was ten-years-old, and in both instances, what stands out strongest in my memory is that I’d never seen anything quite like her.
A prodigious personality who all but dared you to watch anyone else, Tallulah Bankhead didn’t just occupy space onscreen; she filled it. Her one-of-a-kind persona fairly overwhelming the senses of sight and sound. There was that trademark, thick mane of glamorous, movie-star hair. Her broad range of almost-cartoonish facial expressions and reaction takes; the bold extravagance of her delivery matching the scene-stealing flamboyance of her gestures. But of course, Bankhead's chief distinction was her voice. That famous basso-profundo, bourbon-&-cigarettes drawl that eventually became so slurred, just trying to decode her dialog became part of the fun.
Even at a time when distinctive, impersonation-worthy celebrities were in abundance (Garland, Merman, Hepburn, Liberace, etc.), Bankhead was still a heady dose of drag-queen bearing and outsize star quality.
Bankhead as Regina Giddens in the original 1939 Broadway production of The Little Foxes
As it would be several years before I’d see Bankhead playing it more or less straight in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), and even more before the internet made possible the availability of her 1954 TV adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler; for the longest time the exaggerated, panderingly self-parodic Tallulah Bankhead was the only Tallulah Bankhead I knew. A perception made indelible by the time Die! Die! My Darling! – Britain-based Hammer Films’ 1965 entry in the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? / Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte psycho-biddy sweepstakes –  began making the rounds on late-night TV.
Tallulah Bankhead as Mrs. Trefoile
Stephanie Powers as Patricia Carroll
Peter Vaughn as Harry
Yootha Joyce as Anna
Donald Sutherland as Joseph
Maurice Kaufmann as Alan Glentower

Adapted from the 1961 novel, Nightmare by Elizabeth Linington (under the pseudonym, Anne Blaisdell), Die! Die! My Darling! is, as its UK title, Fanatic, suggests, something of the flip side to Hitchcock’s Psycho. Or, more precisely, it’s a movie that takes on Psycho’s Oedipal conundrum from the perspective of Norman Bates’ mother.

A pre-The Girl from UNCLE Stefanie Powers stars as Patricia Carroll, an American of unspecified profession visiting London with her British fiancé, Alan (Maurice Kaufmann), who’s a TV producer of some sort. Although essentially on a pre-wedding holiday together, Patricia (who, perhaps in the spirit of tourist bonhomie and “When in Rome” kinship, frequently lapses into a British accent) abandons her fiancé and motors to the countryside in an effort to achieve whatever the 60s word for closure is with the mother of her deceased ex-fiancé, Stephen.

Tallulah Bankhead is, of course, Stephen’s grieving mother, one Mrs. Trefoile- a devoutly religious eccentric living in ascetic seclusion in a somewhat dilapidated Gothic-Revival country house far away from telephones, neighbors, or anything else that might come to prove beneficial to an individual held captive. The widow Trefoile shares her home with an imposing, rather grim, lifesize portrait of her late husband in full military regalia; innumerable shrines to her departed son (perhaps, even his ghost); and a cowed and cowering household staff she keeps at her bellowing beck and call. This vaguely sinister-looking trio, each member appearing to have stepped right out of a Charles Addams cartoon, consists of Harry (Peter Vaughn), the lecherous, eternally skulking handyman; Anna, his compliant, strapping wife (Yootha Joyce); and the lumbering, simpleminded groundskeeper, Lurch…I mean, Joseph (Donald Sutherland). 
Let Us Prey

The initial meet and greet scenes between Patricia and Mrs. Trefoile are played for dark comedy and uneasy culture-clash laughs; the old woman’s despotic hospitality and strict religious adherence – no mirrors, makeup, or physical adornments of any kind – presented as whimsical eccentricity. But as it begins to dawn that her pious exterior masks a pathological religious fanaticism broaching no leniency in matters perceived sinful or morally transgressive, Mrs. Trefoile’s devotion to her late son reveals a smothering maternal attachment rivaling that of Violet Venable in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer
Moreover, Mrs. Trefoile not only blames Patricia for her son’s abandonment and premature demise, but also sees the once-betrothed bride as her son’s rightful wife in the eyes of God. Confident in the belief that her son died a virgin (“So much more beloved by the almighty.”), Mrs. Trefoile takes it upon herself to “cleanse” the soul of the deep-in-error Patricia by holding her captive, and, in true Christian tradition, induce her spiritual redemption though means of torture, abuse, and waving firearms about.
Although never seen, the presence of the much-discussed Stephen Trefoile is keenly felt throughout.
The too-pretty face staring out from the many portraits and paintings 
on first viewing had me anticipating perhaps a revelation that Stephen was gay.

Die! Die! My Darling! is an amusingly outré damsel in distress melodrama whose potential as an unsettling exercise in Gothic grotesquery is consistently undermined by Hammer Films’ characteristic insistence on giving the material its customary Vincent Price-style, tongue-in-cheek / high-camp horror treatment. Indeed, part of what contributes to Die! Die! My Darling! eliciting more giggles than gasps, is how there is rarely a moment in the film where one feels the cast, director Silvio Narizzano (Georgy Girl), screenwriter Richard Matheson (Trilogy of Terror), and composer Wilfred Josephs are all working in concert. No two people are making the same film at the same time.

Happily, the pitfalls of repetition that usually bedevil films in the cat-and-mouse genre (the wittily literal-minded title sequence features a demonic green cat in pursuit of a fuzzy pink mouse) are largely absent in Die! Die! My Darling! thanks to the appealing performances of the lead players and the dominant role afforded the female characters.
I generally tend to find movies about men holding women captive to be too laboriously misogynist in their execution to inspire anything other than indifference or impatience on my part (I disliked William Wyler’s masterly The Collector [1965] as intensely as I did the infinitely inferior Tattoo [1981] and Boxing Helena [1993]). But when captive and captor are of the same sex, the sight of a loony bible-thumper and her butch maid taking the starch out of a genteel sophisticate proves not only a lot less problematic, but said spectacle is substantially sillier and more entertaining than it has any right to be. 
Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves
Had Die! Die! My Darling! been released in the US under its UK title, Fanatic, perhaps one could entertain the idea of a serious-minded thriller about a mentally unbalanced religious fanatic enacting revenge on the woman she deems responsible for her son’s death. After all, films like The Haunting, Psycho, The Innocents, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and the aforementioned Suddenly Last Summer have shown that bizarre themes don’t automatically lend themselves to the exploitation treatment. However, a title like Die! Die! My Darling! primes you for one thing and one thing only: Craptacular entertainment. Thus, with the horror genre bar set roughly around the ankle height and tongue lodged firmly in cheek, Bankhead & Co. head off to Camp Hammer.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Considered to be the first color film in the Horror Hag genre, Die! Die! My Darling! is a straightforward, if tonally at-odds-with-itself, exercise in funhouse terror. Self-aware to the point of self-parody, Die! Die! My Darling!, in its attempt to cash in on the 60s trend of casting aging leading ladies of the silver screen as human gargoyles, dusts off every cliché in the damsel-in-distress book and employs them with the dutiful compliance to format of a child with a paint-by-numbers set.

After an efficient, exposition-filled opening sequence, Die! Die! My Darling! quickly gets down to the business of clocking up as many genre cliché’s as its 97-minute running time will allow. First, there’s the lovely and refined Stefanie Powers as the victim/heroine embodying just the right balance of resourcefulness and dumb-as-a-doornail stupidity necessary to the genre. Playing a strong-willed character to whose dress, makeup, and coiffure are paid such a high degree of attention, we know right off the bat the  film will ask us to revel (a la Tippi Hedren in The Birds) in her ultimate humbling and degradation. Fans of glamorous suffering are certain to enjoy monitoring the effect prolonged captivity and abuse has on Powers’ poufy 60’s hairdo and tastefully natural makeup.
Stefanie Powers Is Seized By Panic Upon Discovering 
She's Been Forcefully Imprisoned Without Any Moisturizer

Next in line, appearing in what Hammer Films at this point might as well have labeled "The Vincent Price Role," is the absolutely splendid Tallulah Bankhead. Splendid not because her performance is especially nuanced, but because, for the material at hand, she's 100% on the money. Like Price, Bankhead has the gift of deliberate excess; she pitches her Mrs. Trefoile forcefully and hammily over-the-top, yet it lands precisely at the level of serio-comic histrionics a chunk of chiller-diller cheese like this calls for.
Tallulah Bankhead, who once said to a director, "Don't talk to me about camp, dahling, I invented it!" gives a terrifically raw and epically theatrical performance in Die! Die! My Darling!  Her delivery and facial expressions alone being worth the price of admission. If you've ever wondered what it would look like for a human being to react in the pop-eyed, exaggerated manner of a Tex Avery cartoon character, just get a load of La Bankhead in the scene where Powers enters the room wearing a scarlet red sweater. She's pure camp cinema gold!
"The Devil's Entertainment!"
Legendary hedonist Bankhead is cast as a former stage actress saved from a life of sin by religion.
The joke was not lost on audiences


PERFORMANCES
Had director Silvio Narizzano been granted his wish to cast British stage actress Flora Robson in the role of Mrs. Trefoile, Die! Die! My Darling! would have been a very different film indeed. A director from television making his first feature film, the openly-gay Narizzano had no interest in turning his debut effort into a flaming camp-fest, but Bankheads's attachment to the project made it a fait accompli. Narizzano has gone on record as not being very fond of Bankhead’s performance here (not surprisingly, the actress was intoxicated a great deal of the time) and for finding the hyperactive musical score more appropriate to a cartoon than a suspense thriller. 
Similar Themes - Similar Posters
As psychological thrillers go, Die! Die! My Darling! suffers a bit from having an atmosphere that's neither afoot nor horseback. It’s not sufficiently committed to the genuinely dramatic potential of its premise, nor is it truly willing to just go for broke and be the full-on black comedy self-sendup it keeps flirting with. For a sense of what Die! Die! My Darling! could have been had they played it straight, check out the terrific 1972 Patty Duke thriller, You'll Like My Mother. Stabbing suspense! Shear shock!

Personally, I think Bankhead totally slays as Mrs. Trefoile (no pun intended). Sure, she's camp as all getout, but I don't find her performance to be any more overcooked than say, Al Pacino in Scarface or Jack Nicholson in The Shining. In fact, she has quite a few moments where she's genuinely quite affecting (her reading of the line, "This was his room," while showing Patricia the house is heartbreaking). I relish every minute she's onscreen. Meanwhile, the likable and always appealing Stephanie Powers - a Columbia Pictures contract player at the time and assigned to the film - relies a bit too heavily on "indicating" her emotions. When in peril, her eyes widen, her mouth falls agape, she even trembles...but I never believe for a minute she's ever in the throes of any kind of anguish.
Harry & Anna
Game of Thrones' Peter Vaughn and the late Yootha Joyce are first-rate as the bickering couple drawn
into Mrs. Trefoile's plot. Bankhead's oft-repeated baritone bellow,  "ANNA!" is a thing of beauty.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Hammer Films are known for their low-budget extravagance and overripe Gothic style. Die! Die! My Darling! is no exception.
This Psycho-inspired scene makes stylized, vivid use of color
The dramatic visual compositions of cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,  A Little Night Music) are often at odds with the film's overly-jaunty musical score.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
What is the whole Grand Dame Guignol genre but an amplification of the movie industry’s (society’s?) fear & loathing of women no longer young and desirable? Is the popularity and proliferation of  “Hagsploitation” films in 60s directly attributable to the boxoffice clout of the youth market—a generation of moviegoers disdainful and distrustful of the elderly? Can the genre’s deep-rooted fear of women, specifically those perceived as threatening due to an absence of male-defined role identification (the villains in these films are always single, widowed, divorced, or spinsters) be traced to that gynophobic film noir archetype, the femme fatale? 
I daresay even my own lazy signifier, camp, when attributed to these films and their stars, betrays a somewhat dismissive attitude when it comes to the display of female aggression. 

I don’t know if the genre began with Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in 1950s Sunset Boulevard (“There’s nothing tragic about turning fifty. Unless you’re trying to be twenty-five!”), a film which subtly exploited Gloria Swanson’s age and real-life status as a silent movie queen. But like that film, Die! Die! My Darling! relies, at least in part, on getting subliminal mileage out of the public’s awareness of Tallulah Bankhead’s fading theatrical renown and visible decline.
The horror genre has never been particularly kind to women anyway, but if one can extract a positive out of this curiously popular subgenre, it's that it provided some marvelously juicy lead roles to a lot of actresses who'd otherwise be relegated to the sidelines in mainstream fare (my mind goes to that great femme fate of the 40s, Jane Greer, abandoned to a nothing "mom" role in 1965s Billie).

In a world of imitators (Lucille Ball on her TV show, Bette Davis in All About Eve, and my favorite,  Roddy McDowall in Evil Under the Sun), Tallulah Bankhead was still the best Tallulah Bankhead impersonator around. Which is precisely why I can enjoy her work in Die! Die! My Darling! without a trace of pity or sense that she is being exploited. I can’t help but take my hat off to the actress, plagued as she was by addictions and fears, coming back to films after so many years and still able to wipe everybody else off the screen. She was camp, she was over-the-top, but she was her own creation…one of the first true divas, and a true original.
Although she did voice work for a stop-animation children's film in 1966, Die! Die! My Darling! was Tallulah Bankhead's final film. She died in 1968 at the age of 66.


BONUS MATERIAL
Looped
In 2013, Stephanie Powers, replacing an ailing Valerie Harper, portrayed Tallulah Bankhead in Looped. A Broadway play based on the real-life events surrounding an inebriated Bankhead being called in to loop a line of dialog for Die! Die! My Darling!

The single line of dialog:“And Patricia, as I was telling you, even though that deluded rector has in literal effect closed the church to me, I have, as you’ll note, tried to maintain proper service to the Lord in my own home." - allegedly took eight hours to record.


Bankhead's triumphant return to London in August of 1964 to begin filming on Die! Die! My Darling! hit a literal snag when (at least according to Powers) the actress's foot caught on the lip of a stair at the entrance to The Ritz Hotel with cameras present to capture the event. Of course, the press had a field day, resulting in the insecure Bankhead developing an instant case of laryngitis.

Unless it's been removed, somewhere online is a marvelous video of Stephanie Powers speaking at a screening of Die! Die! My Darling! She relates many amusing anecdotes about Bankhead and the making of the film. For instance, Bankhead and Powers developed a friendship while making the movie, and all during the filming and for years after, Bankhead referred to Powers exclusively by her screen name, Patricia. If anyone finds it, let me know and I'll include the link.


Copyright © Ken Anderson