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.
After reading her memoirs, she comes across so smart and self-aware, I wonder if she simply knew exactly what kind of film she was making and merely played to the genre.
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

27 comments:

  1. I love, love, love this movie. My step-sister and I used to watch it often because my grandmother was a fundamental Baptist and sometimes it was perilously close to this level of fanaticism when staying at her house! It seemed almost anything was outlawed!

    I am so grateful, problematic or not, that Tallulah made this film not too long before she died. It's such a wondrous record of that inimitable (regardless of how many people have imitated it!) voice and her one-of-a-kind face. There isn't a single moment of her onscreen that isn't arresting to witness. Besides the commitment level she gives it, it's also a performance free of vanity! She lets herself look more dreadful than almost anyone save the deteriorating Bette Davis in "Burnt Offerings!" And what a hoot to have the openly debauched Bankhead piously spouting all that religious hoohah! Thanks for profiling this wholly enjoyable movie. Oh, and don't forget, "Praaizze yee duh Loorrr!" Ha!

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      Funny what you say about the extreme religious fanaticism depicted in this movie. and your having up-close/in-person experience of said.
      When I was a kid, everything Mrs. Trefoile did and said seemed so extreme. Watching it recently, I was struck how much she sounded like so many people seeking political office these days.

      Like you, I'm glad that Bankhead made this film, which I too think is a great record of her one-of-a-kind talent. I know that Stefanie Powers' total lack of anything beyond a serviceable professionalism makes a nice contrast to Bankhead's raw performance, but this movie could have been really harrowing had Powers abandoned herself to the same lack of vanity you speak of. She seems so TV-movie to Bankhead's playing in League with the late career Shelly Winters, Bette Davis, and Geraldine Page.
      Thanks Poseidon. you are always so terrific about stopping by and contributing.

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  2. Hi Ken, I'm a huge fan of this film and of the entire genre that you describe with such accuracy and precision. And though most of these chillers are indeed pure exploitation, I have found that every one of our beloved grand dames have risen above their material,sinking their teeth into these archetypal characters, often giving some of their zestiest and most memorable performances.

    Tallulah has a field day here, pulling out all the stops with her unique take on the nightmarishly "wicked witch"...with Stefanie as Dorothy, of course. Though I think Miss Bankhead is fine in Lifeboat, and have never seen her in Main Street to Broadway, her most legendary performances were on the stage; Die! is probably the film that more people saw her in than anything else, and it's very memorable.

    The movie itself is not very good, as you point out--but is dominated by a megawatt star personality. My favorite scene is of course, when Miss Bankhead reads at length from the Bible...that unmistakeable voice is mesmerizing...but of course, I am sure just as compelling were she to read the phone book or the TV Guide.

    I actually love this film genre, because it gave so many of our great ladies the opportunity to play character roles, many of them unforgettable and iconic, and introduced a new generation of young people to the talents of real actors and stars who knew how to craft a character and make it work, with or without a good script.

    So glad you have added this opus to your encyclopedic treasury of unforgettable films! Bravo, Ken!!
    -Chris

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    1. Hi Chris!
      I wholly agree with you that while psycho-biddy genre was built upon exploitation, the elder stars enlisted were almost always outstanding in their performances. Even Joan Crawford in the lamentable "Trog" puts her co-stars to shame (although I really do love the villainous Michael Gough).
      I think that back when these films were made and there was still the leftover snobbishness of the Studio System, it was easy for the public and critics alike to view these films as examples of how low the mighty have fallen. But time I think reveals them to be more as you describe- opportunities for stars to enthusiastically tackle character roles.
      What always gets me in these instances is how colorless the leads appear. Bankhead, Vaughn, Joyce, and Sutherland are excellent. Powers and her (alive) fiance are pretty and personable, but exude a kind of TV soap-opera level star quality. They're too small for the big screen.
      I'm just glad this film is on DVD. It's a lot of fun.
      Thank you, Chris. your swift reading of and response to my posts is very complimentary.

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  3. Argyle here. Ken, you’ve really polished your prose to a lapidary sheen on this one! I came to a complete stop on “a chunk of chiller-diller cheese”. Full of admiration.

    Doing a little math, I must have been 8 or 9 when I saw this on TV, so if it came out in 1965 (when I was 7) it must have been sold to television FAST. My sisters and I loved Stephanie Powers as “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” but it was really Tallulah who made the lasting impression. I haven’t seen it again in the intervening almost 50 years, but when I see that title I get a strange mental tingle. That was really a fertile, hothouse movie. And I had no recollection until I saw your screen caps that Donald Sutherland was in it. He’s always a favorite for me - maybe it started here. Was there a crazy filligree’d elevator in this, or am I confusing it with “Suddenly Last Summer”?

    I may have been vaguely aware of Tallulah based on what I remember as Lucy’s masquerading as her on an episode. She says something like, “Sun woke me at the crack of noon...” I loved that.

    Also, my 11th cousin (we figured that out once) had an uncle from the other side of her family who she said was Tallulah Bankhead’s lawyer. I think she had an autographed copy of that TB coffee-table book with the bold blue and yellow cover. My 11th cousin was a bit of a crazy drama queen herself, but I think she was telling the truth.

    Also, after seeing DDMD on tv (and I’m not proud of this) my neighborhood friend and I made a few crank phone calls. Do children still do that? We would wait for the person to answer and then say, “You must die, DIE, my darling!” and hang up. It cracked us up when a woman who couldn’t understand us asked hesitantly “Uh, do what?” Kids.

    Also, didn’t Carrie Nye (the wonderful actress from “The Group”) perform a one-woman show based on Tallulah’s life?

    Thank you, Ken, for another excellent post and the comments you inspire.

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    1. Hi Argyle!
      You're very kind for noting my love of words. i don't always have the command of them as i would like, but it's fun trying.
      This movie really did seem to come to TV rather rapidly. I don't have any recollection of a PrimeTime broadcast, but I certainly remember many a late show viewing.

      Love the story of your 11th cousin's uncle (I think I got that right) being a lawyer for Bankhead! What anecdotes he could tell!

      But i especially like the crank call recollection. Just so hilarious to me that you guys would seize upon that melodramatic title and terrorize innocent people with it! Very inspired and very "I Saw What You Did" of you and your sisters. My sisters and I did something similar from time to time but, in this day of call tracing and god knows what, i suspect (since kids will always be kids) there must be some new kind of internet brand of pranking at their disposal.
      And you're so right about Carrie Nye. I don't know when she did the show, but I recall when I was young and her name came up whenever husband Dick Cavett was mentioned (her husband, not mine) she was always being compared to Bankhead. She does seem a shoo-in, doesn't she?
      Thanks again for stopping by and offering such engaging reminiscences!

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  4. I've never seen this film, and I am DYING to, I've heard/read so much about it. Can't believe how haggard Tallulah looks in the photos (there's a famous quote from her about this film, something like that if Shirley Temple had to be photographed through gauze, she, Tallulah, had to be shot through linoleum). Thanks for this marvelous post, so clear-eyed and affectionate about her. I have seen her Black Widow Batman episode; she perfectly captured that show's none-too-serious attitude about superheroics, and she looked as if she were having a good time.

    Can't believe there's a play about getting Tallulah to loop one line for this film -- and that it took 8 hours for her to get it right. Though with a line about a rector closing a church and maintaining services at home, I can just imagine the changes Tallulah must've rung on it!

    There's a youtube channel called Tallulah Dahling which has many old-time radio show recordings, including excerpts from Tallulah's early-50s radio program The Big Show. Check out the recordings she did with Clifton Webb, Marlene Dietrich, and Groucho Marx. The material is hilarious and outrageous, a big nudge-nudge joke on the racier aspects of Tallulah's life (so many jokes on her baritone voice, to start with!) - here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/user/TallulahDahling/videos

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    1. Hi GOM
      I think you would get a kick out of this movie. Like those late Crawford films, you wholly expect Bankhead to humiliate herself in these bargain basement surrounding, but her talent and professionalism trumps the material and you're amazed at the power of her screen presence.
      Although I was aware of the play "Looped" I had no idea that Powers was involved until I researched this post. How curious for it to come about that Powers would one day revisit this curious film by portraying her costar.
      Thanks for the link to the Bankhead clips. Having read so much about her private life excesses, it's quite the shock to see what a funny, self-possessed personality she could be.

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  5. Dear Ken: Hi! Like Argyle, I thoroughly enjoyed this review, particularly your always felicitous way with phrases. One of my favorites: ". . .in true Christian tradition, induce her spiritual redemption though means of torture, abuse, and waving firearms about."

    When someone takes so much pleasure in a film, as you do here, it's a joy to read what you have to say about it. Thank you!

    Like you, I also got my first exposure to La Bankhead through the Black Widow "Batman" episodes. I didn't know who she was but was struck by her performing style. She seemed very knowing and didn't need to overdo the humor to get her effects across. One moment in particular stands out: when she is about to kill the Caped Crusaders with fearsome (and rubber) black widow spiders, she exits by dismissing Batman as "a crashing bore!" Her majestic delivery of that line goes beyond camp into some sort of universe of greatness all its own. Leave it to Tallulah to display notable acting in a "Batman" episode!

    One Bankhead performance you must see if you haven't yet is her 1945 comedy "A Royal Scandal," made the year after "Lifeboat." Some critics say "Scandal" is the best opportunity to see what Bankhead was like in her prime on the stage. There is a lovely print of the movie available on Y--T--- (I'm sure it's not supposed to be there, so see it quick before it gets yanked down!).

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    1. Hi David
      I'm as happy that you enjoyed the piece as i am flattered by your kind words. Thanks!
      I know very well that segment of "Batman" you speak of. Her delivery is all you say it is- and then some. She really had a handle on camp long before it became a mainstream word bandied about with little understanding of it.
      Thanks for the heads up about the online Bankhead film. I've never seen it before, but took a quick look at a clip and it happened to be one Bankhead shares with Anne Baxter. So funny to see "Eve" sharing a scene with the real-life Margo!
      I like what I see and I'll check it out before it disappears.
      As soon as my schedule permits, I'm looking forward to catching up with your terrific blog. I've read the summary and it sounds like a fascinating undertaking. just in case any readers are interested, i hope you don't mind if I include the link: http://seriallovestory.blogspot.com/2015_05_01_archive.html

      Thanks for commenting, David. Much appreciated!

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    2. Dear Ken: You're very welcome! I'm honored that you included a link to my blog.

      Let me say again, too, how much I appreciate the time and care you take in replying to each and every comment on your blog. It's so generous of you and makes the experience of reading your writing that much more fun. I hope to hold to the same standard myself (as soon as I start getting comments, that is!) :)

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    3. Thanks David
      As i don't have to tell you, writing is such a solitary endeavor. When anyone takes the time to comment on one of my pieces, I feel like it's a bit of an honor to get to engage in even a tiny bit of film talk. It's like the icing on the cake. Besides, what readers contribute enriches this blog immeasurably. I'm told all the time how the comments of readers and your knowledgeable input is one of the best things about this site. So, you see the feeling is quite mutual and its a huge pleasure for me!

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  6. Hi Ken,

    Geez I look away for a couple of days and you become a posting machine! I’m not complaining just so pleased to look in and find two next entries.

    You’ve turned your eyes to something that is so divine in its very wretchedness and yet made so compelling by its leading lady that you can’t look away. The fact that Taloo rarely made the foray into film gives this one its own distinctive vibe. I do believe this is the first place I saw her in performance, though I do recall a snippet of her in Lifeboat flashing across the screen when they announced her death on the news. I know that seems an obscure thing to recall especially since I was very young but we were visiting friends in the neighborhood and were all in their rumpus room (remember them!) when the news came on and while the kids, me included, played the parents discussed how unusual and scandalous she was, that made an impression that always stuck.

    While I do prefer the more pulled together her of Lifeboat she is nearly the whole show in Die, Die, My Darling-a title she hated according to a bio I read. She was deeply disappointed when they switched from the original Fanatic. I agree that while her work is florid it’s no more over the top that the likes of Nicholson or Pacino when they let loose. Didn’t know that Flora Robson was originally pursued for the lead, what a different film it would have been though I think still fascinating.

    Another thing that makes this stand out a bit from the hagploitation parade is the presence of Donald Sutherland as you so rightly alluded to a Lurch substitute. He’s so respected today, although he’s not above appearing in junk at times, it’s funny to see him just starting out in this sort of fodder. He’s spoken of an incident during filming when Tallulah wandered into his dressing room while his back was turned and upon facing her was confronted with fully naked Miss Bankhead who responded to his speechlessness “What’s the matter, darling? Haven’t you ever seen a real blonde before?”

    I think the weak spot in the film is Stefanie Powers. Never being a big fan of hers anyway, I suppose she’s fine as far as she extends herself but she’s so surface. Against the juggernaut that Bankhead hits her with she just can’t compete. If only the producers had managed to cast a more forceful personality in her role, Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld and Anne Francis were all at about the same point in their careers as Powers and any of them would have made more of the part. Lee Remick would have worked too although she was too big a star then.

    Glad you mentioned You’ll Like My Mother. That is an economical and tight little thriller. Come to think of it Patty Duke would have been a fun choice in Powers’ role as well, she’s certainly able to chew the high grade ham so a face-off with Bankhead would have been high time hilarity.

    Thanks for always finding these gems and looking at them in wonderfully entertaining ways!

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    1. Hi Joel
      Ha! It normally takes me so long to write my posts. I was just so inspired by the Nina Simone documentary that the piece kind of wrote itself.
      That's great that you actually have a childhood memory of knowing when bankhead dies. I was eleven at the time but I don't remember anything at all about it (unlike say, Judy Garland death).
      Sounds like you enjoy her in this film as well, but perhaps have a broader familiarity with some of her more held-together roles than i. Maybe with the internet's help, I can catch up.

      Love the Sutherland anecdote. Sounds like every young co-star had a nude confrontation with Bankhead. At this stage it couldn't have been a pretty sight.
      I know what you mean about Stefanie Powers in this, but after seeing Joey Heatherton and Connie Stevens in similar period horror films on TCM, I think we can at least all be grateful Hammer Films didn't go THAT route!
      Thanks Joel! in addition to providing a lot of film factoids on your own, you are always so complimentary!

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  7. Die! Die! My Darling! starring Tallulah Bankhead and....Joey Heatherton!! Now that would be something so bizarre and mindblowing I don't know if I'd ever recover.

    If it hadn't been for those particular circumstances I'm positive I wouldn't have a memory of Bankhead's passing since I had no idea who she was at the time.

    It's funny how a specific piece of news will leave a memory of a time and place. For instance since you mentioned that you remember it I still have a vivid memory of hearing the news of Judy Garland's passing. I was in the back seat of the family car stuck in a traffic jam on the highway, we were taking my mother's cousin to the airport, they played a snippet of Over the Rainbow on the radio and then announced she had been found dead in London. This of course lead to much discussion between my folks and cousin and once they explained to us that Judy Garland was Dorothy my sister and I were crushed.

    Perhaps it's the conversation that makes the impression. Even though I again had no idea who she was at the time I recall when Veronica Lake died because my mother remarked that she and her sisters had referred to her as Veronica Snake during her heyday. Of course she died in the great celebrepocalypse of June/July 1973 that claimed over a dozen prominent stars, including Betty Grable, Robert Ryan, Joe E. Brown, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bruce Lee among others, in under a month so that played a factor there. It was a huge thing with newspaper articles and TV spots devoted to the fact that they were dropping like flies!

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    1. Now that you mention it, Heatherton and Bankhead DOES sound pretty amazing!
      Wonderful memories you have of the passing of these celebrities, especially the Garland story.
      My are really vague. And I really was taken by surprise of your recounting the loss of all those Old Hollywood stars in 1973. I'm mostly surprised that, as a film fan, I have so little recollection of it.

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  8. I first saw "Die! Die! My Darling!' back in 1966 when I was 10 and it was shown on television by CBS. I absolutely loved the movie. The force of Tallulah Bankhead's personality and her great acting ability made this movie something that was impossible not to watch. It was rumored that Bette Davis had turned down the role of Mrs. Trefoile. It would have been a completely different movie with Bette Davis. Bette's performance may have been slightly more subtle. Tallulah had a tendency to come on with the force of a sledge hammer.

    All of the performances in "Die! Die! My Darling!" are good, but it was Bankhead's film all the way. She had a way of delivering a line like nobody else.

    "Go upstairs and remove that FILTH at once!"

    "I shall SLASH your face, child!"

    "Stephen, she's here in this house, my darling!"

    Walter Hill will be remaking "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" They just don't make 'em like Davis and Crawford anymore so finding actresses that can deliver powerhouse performances like Davis and Crawford is not going to be easy.

    Come to think of it, if they ever did a remake of "Die! Die! My Darling!" who would replace Tallulah Bankhead? Tallulah was irreplaceable.

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    1. I know the director wanted a more serious film, and indeed with almost any other actress he probably could have achieved that goal (as you note, Bette Davis would have been interesting and very different).
      But with Bankhead, what you lose in perhaps never being taken seriously, you gain in watchability. Her delivery is a delight!

      As for the remake of "Baby Jane"...it HAS to be better than the TV movie with the Redgrave sisters. But all I can imagine are British actresses like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in the roles. Who would be good today? All of our older actresses look appropriately cadaverous what with all the face lifting and serial-dieting, but which ones are brave enough to go there?
      Thanks for commenting!

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  9. I am a late arrival to your excellent review, Ken. You bring depth to the hagsplotation genre! I've never seen this film and have hardly ever heard of it, all though it seems like the kind of film that I would like. Strange how Tallulah didn't make more films in the 60's. Was she that unreliable? She managed to complete this one.

    I like Stephanie Powers. I saw her in another 60's horror film called "Crescendo" and I Think that it may be similar to "Die!" (but not as good).

    I didn't know Narizzano was gay. Have you seen "Blue"? I haven't but it seems to have finished off his, Terence Stamps and Joanna Pettets careers.

    I saw Roddy McDowall in "Evil Under the Sun" the other day and he was a delight. Now I want to see the actress who inspired so many imitators. I read Bette Davis biography and she seemed to be in awe of Tallulah Bankhead. I don't think many people could have impressed Bette!

    I must get a hold of "Die! Die! My Darling!" soon! soon!
    -Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      Thanks for the compliment! Yes, I think this film is one you might enjoy , also. Bankhead made far too few films to let this one slide. Thanks to a recommendation from someone here, I recently saw her in 1945's "A Royal Scandal"- Bankhead on her game is quite a sight to behold. She's rather amazing and has such marvelous comic timing and delivery. There's no telling what her career could have been had she been able to keep her Lindsay Lohan side a bit more in check.
      I've never seen "Crescendo," but saw the trailer while researching this film...looks JUST like another Hammer cheapie, and Powers without someone strong to play off of, always makes me think that TV was a good move for her.

      Director Narizzano had a very long relationship with writer Win Wells, whose death in the early 80s is said to have precipitated Narizzano's retreat from the film business.
      I've never seen the film "Blue" but I have heard it is pretty awful. Curiously, Narizzano spoke of it as his favorite film!
      I had no idea Bette Davis admired Bankhead. They would have been fascinating (or bizarre) onscreen together.
      Should you ever get around to checking out "Die! Die! my Darling!" i hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
      Thanks, Wille!

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  10. Love your essay about one of my favorite Hammer films! I'd first read about Die, Die, My Darling in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, way back in 1965--but for some reason, the movie never made it up my way (Maine). That's odd, since we usually got all of the new Hammers! So, I had to wait until the film was shown on TV--I remember the moment like it was yesterday! January of 1967 on CBS, and I was not disappointed. My only knowledge of Tallulah Bankhead was from The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (I'd yet to see Lifeboat; at the time, I was only 14 and not exactly a classic film fan). I knew Stefanie Powers from The Girl from Uncle, and I think the Batman Black Widow episodes (featuring Tallulah) ran sometime before or directly after DDMD's TV debut. Anyway, the film mesmerized me, especially Talloo's performance. I'd go so far as to say it's her BEST film performance, touching all the bases. For me, though, it's Mrs. Trefoile's vulnerability that gets me, something I never noticed as a younger person. Her only child has abandoned her to go to a foreign country, where, apparently, he committed suicide. She has nothing, really, just her memories of a happier time. That she slowly slunk into insanity shouldn't come as any great surprise, given such a sad situation. Stefanie provides good support, but it's Tallulah's show all the way, and she really pulls out all the stops. The horror hag cycle was quite an interesting phenomenon, when you think about it. Either the older actresses are crazy and homicidal, or they're victims. My favorite of them all is Joan Fontaine's "The Devil's Own," released as "The Witches" in the UK. It also happens to be a Hammer film, and Joan plays it straight. That she was still a remarkably attractive woman makes this one stand out. Hope you discuss it someday!

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  11. Hi Rod
    Wow! I love it that your memory of seeing this film has remained so vivid after all these years! It's always great to see films like these at an age where our "camp" radar is not yet fully developed.
    I think that accounts for your refreshingly sensitive take on Mrs. Trefoile. I've always wanted to read the book and see how the author's character stacks up against Tallulah's interpretation. From the little I've been able to read online, Stephanie Powers isn't engaged to anyone at all, and only just met her eventual rescuer en route to Mrs. Trefoile's house.
    I'm unfamiliar with "The Devil's Own" but it sounds like it's worth trying to find.
    Thanks a heap for sharing such a fondly remembered first encounter with "Die Die My Darling"!

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    1. Devil's Own (aka The Witches 1966) is also one of my very favorite horror flicks...Joan Fontaine produced it herself...it was her final theatrical film. NOT available on any American DVD to my knowledge, only European DVD versions...but is occasionally on TCM and I believe still available on the Youbiquitous Tube! I agree with Rod Labbe though, you can hardly call the still-very-handsome Miss Fontaine a "hag"--though some of the supporting plays fit that bill...!!

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    2. Hi Chris
      Now that you mention it, i think I remember getting a glance at it on TCM some time way back, but, being unfamiliar with it (and not much of a Joan Fontaine fan to begin with) passed it over.
      I'll keep my eyes peeled for the possible YouTube pop-up.

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  12. Hey Ken, another wonderful essay -- as another commenter has noted, you've elevated the hag horror genre by treating it seriously.

    Interestingly, "The Celebrity Next Door" was written for Bette Davis who broke her back, but aside from adding a few "Dahlings" and a reference to The Alabama Foghorn," I doubt revamping it for Bankhead took much work.

    And I can't remember which bio of Bankhead it was, but one that I read referenced a screening of DDMD in Bankhead's home, during which she stood and announced to the assemblage of friends she'd invited, "I would like to apologize for appearing on screen looking older than God's wet nurse!"

    And a quick aside on Bankhead's having "invented camp" -- my husband saw Bankhead as Blanche in a revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (in addition to having stage managed a summer stock production of a review starring TB titled "Welcome Darlings!" -- does he have TB anecdotes). He said she was absolutely brilliant in the role (for which she does seem ideal), but that the Bankhead claque greeted everything she did as hilarious high camp, effectively putting the kibosh on her performance.

    And for what it's worth, when a dear friend of mine was told along with the rest of his class of ten year olds that "Dorothy " had died the perilous weekend, he stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the hospital. Now if that's not the hand of God telling you you're gay, I don't know what is.

    Thanks for another great rumination-- always a delight to drop by!

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    1. BTW, though it probably was a "perilous weekend" for Garland, that should have read "previous weekend" -- curse you autocorrect!

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    2. Hi Neely!
      Can't tell you how much I love that Judy Garland anecdote! I know it's not funny, but the visual and context is something out of one of those isolated memory skits in Woody Allen's "Radio Days"!

      Can't believe your husband was lucky enough to see Bankhead live. And in the role everyone including Tennessee Williams said she was born to play. I read about that production in both the recent Williams bio and in "Tallulah' and it does seems as if the audience's inability to take her seriously by this point turned everything she did into camp. Like present-day Faye Dunaway.

      Bankhead certainly seems like the kind of bohemian personality I always imagine the perfect "Mame" would be. You're lucky to be privy to TB stories from your husband no one else likely knows.
      Thank you very much for contributing the bits of trivia about Bankhead in your comment, I know so many readers learn so much from reading this section.
      And I thank you too for the very kind words, which are always appreciated. Glad you enjoyed it!

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