A movie directed by Eli Roth
Oscar winner Geraldine Page (THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) stars as Claire Marrable, an Arizona widow with a habit of murdering her housekeepers and stealing their savings. Enter Aunt Alice (Ruth Gordon), a close friend of Claire's last victim who poses … see full wiki
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) was the first of what is called the psycho-bitty genre; What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice(1969) was one of the last.
Mrs. Claire Marrable (Geraldine Page) loses everything after her husband dies. She moves to Arizona because her only family is her nephew George (Peter Brandon) who lives in Tucson. When we first see her in Arizona, she is a bit older and has discovered a way to “make” enough cash to keep herself in the manner she was accustomed, meaning surrounded by expensive things and maintaining a maid/companion. Mrs. Marrable spends nearly all of her time being very tense and angry and taking all of that on the help. Enter Alice (Ruth Gordon) who is there to try to solve a mystery. No more in case I enter the realm of the spoiler.
I am a huge fan of Ruth Gordon and hadn’t seen this film. Perhaps because of the success of other psycho-bitty films, it was easy to get actresses of the Page and Gordon variety to make it. It is derivative, but it isn’t awful. All of this is due to the acting. The story is not at all compelling and with unknowns it would likely never have made it to DVD (well with the whole Chucky series on that medium, it is possible that Aunt Alice would have made it even with total unknowns). Ms. Page is fantastically horrible; there is nothing at all in her character to like. She is hateful and dismissive and uses very old grammatical constructions and rare words to be hateful and dismissive. She plays the character so well that every time she opens her mouth I got a tight stomach at the desire to punch the crap out of her.
Ms. Gordon comes enters the story after longer than I would have liked but she didn’t disappoint. There is something I can’t put my finger on that allows her small body to take over a scene. If a less adept actress were put against her, the idea of Ms. Gordon as her maid would be without credibility. With only expression she adds to the tension. She has to spend almost all of her lines being subservient so she isn’t given the dialog to be much more than a maid, but her emotive mien does all of that work.
Just a few minutes ago I reviewed The Changeling. I said the music was over the top. The music for Aunt Alice is almost deafening. It is also horrific and doesn’t really add to the mood and in many ways it distracts from the story. It is all synthesizer, and this is 1969 so perhaps you can image the Moog synthesizer (a machine that took up half a room and was able to make only a few electronic sounds) being hit with a hammer and a baseball bat.
There is a tacked on love story between Alice’s nephew Mike (Robert Fuller) and Harriet (Rosmary Forsyth) recent resident of Arizona by way of the death of her husband. The manner of how they come together is so coincidental it is laughable. The flick didn’t need a romantic storyline at all since there were many other more believable ways for Mike to keep an eye on his aunt. What stops it from being truly awful is that their acting was also quite good.
What surprises me is that all of the actors turned in really good performances on a turkey of a story. And Aunt Alice didn’t seem to be a movie where anyone had fun making it which gives it an even odder aura.
If you opt to see it, judge it by the acting. It is difficult for me to recommend such a predictable story that has nothing else to offer except the strength of the people on camera. This is especially true if you like either Geraldine Page (who seems to be playing against type and in a great way) and/or Ruth Gordon.
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A movie directed by Eli Roth
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