Title: What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
Genre: Mystery, Drama, Crime
Director: Lee H. Katzin
Writer: Theodore Apstein
based on the novel “The Forbidden Garden” by Ursula Curtiss
Music: Gerald Fried
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
As claimed by the title, this kitsch murder spree is a pastiche of that delectable Betty Davis and Joan Crawford camp classic WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), in fact, it is produced by the same director/producer Robert Aldrich after the said film and a follow-up HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), so it loosely constitutes a trilogy where the plot pits two ageing women, one good, one evil against each other, only this time, the one sits in the director chair is the TV journeyman Lee H. Katzin, who replaced Bernard Girard after four-weeks of filming.
In Tuscon, Arizona, an uppity widow Claire Marrable (Page) lives in a house in the desert, she has been bequeathed by her late husband with nothing but a briefcase contains the stamps he had collected. To make ends meet and maintain a well-off front, she bloodily murders her housekeepers, buries them under the pine trees in her garden, in order to take possession of their life-long savings. The gentle Miss Edna Tinsley (Dunnock) is her latest victim. Time to hire a new one, here comes Ms. Dimmock (Gordon), aka. aunt Alice, who is also a widow with no one else in the world, which makes her an easy target. But as time goes by, Claire unexpectedly finds a whiff of compatibility with her. Yet, Aunt Alice has her own ulterior motive, soon suspicion arouses and a catfight has been brewing only to leave one of them breathing.
The script is inconsistent in shaping up a plausible story (the ending with that deus ex machina is rather lame) and the subplot of a matinee-idol looking Mike Darrah (Fuller), who is the only one could rightfully refer to Ms. Dimmock as aunt Alice, courting a young widow Harriet Vaughn (Forsyth), who lives in a cottage nearby Claire with her son Jim (Barbera), strikes as tedious and out of place.
Geraldine Page is in her full-fledged evil form, deliciously camp from her very first presence until the last scene (honed up by Gerard Fried’s overblown score), as if she was fully aware of the shoddy fodder at her disposal and decided to tirelessly ginger it up with unreserved histrionics to portray Claire’s tortured mind, her poisoned thought about “courage to kill” and her absolute selfishness, and it is wonderfully ravishing, she is the one who single-handedly rescues this widow-exploited pulp fiction from being left into oblivion. Ruth Gordon, at the heel of her Oscar-winning victory in Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), is less memorable in playing an upright role, but little does one know, after rooting for her from the onset, one might overlook that there will be a different denouement for her. Truly evil can never win in the long run, but en route to its doom, it might also take some good souls for company, that is rightfully acceptable under the context, which contrives to e a boon in this patchy murder follies after all.