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What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/8/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/16/2019
Many times in the past, we've discussed the trends in films and how movies with similar themes or ideas will appear in a short amount of time. There have been fads like vampires, zombies, slashers, and many more. However, the 1960s saw a very unusual category of movies. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? arrived in 1962 and kicked off this trend. Starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, it set the tone for gothic thrillers which pitted two well-known actresses against one another. This was quickly followed by Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte with Davis and Olivia de Havilland, which cemented this as a sub-genre. This notion was featured in the mini-series, Feud, but that production didn't mention that a trend had started. Robert Aldrich, who directed those two films, revived this type of film in 1969 as he produced Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice?.
As What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? opens, we meet Mrs. Marrable (Geraldine Page), a socialite who had just lost her husband...although she doesn't seem that upset about it. However, her mood quickly darkens when she learns that he husband was deep in debt and that she's inherited nothing. When the attorney asks about options, she mentions family in Arizona. The scene quickly cuts to an unspecified later, where we now see Mrs. Marrable living comfortably in Arizona. It quickly becomes clear that she's been able to maintain her lifestyle by killing people, burying them in her garden, and then finding ways to get their money. Following the loss of her housekeeper, Mrs. Marrable hires Mrs. Dimmock (Ruth Gordon) to be her maid and companion. While grateful for the job, Mrs. Dimmock clearly gets an odd vibe off of the cantankerous Mrs. Marrable. Meanwhile, Mrs. Marrable is annoyed that someone has moved into the cottage next door, as this infringes on her questionable behavior.
When you look at something like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, there's no doubt that it belongs in the gothic genre. I mean, Bette Davis is dressed like a child. This may not qualify as a horror film, but it certainly borders on creepy and the abuse of the wheelchair-bound Joan Crawford is pretty hardcore. (And what about the dead rat?) Those hoping for something similar from What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? are in for a disappointing time, as it plays as more of a crime thriller. (Despite the cryptic cover art on the Blu-ray Disc.) It doesn't take long for us to understand that Mrs. Marrable is a murderer, so the point of the movie becomes a game of wait-and-see to learn if she will get caught. There is some mild violence and there is a wheelchair (which is never explained), but the movie doesn't have any of the gothic feel found in Aldrich's films.
Vague genre aside, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? has some bigger problems, most of which stem from the editing. Again, the film opens with the scene in which Mrs. Marrable learns that she's destitute. It then cuts to her living in Arizona and she seems to be doing well. It's implied that she's already killed three people, but that's never confirmed. From there, the movie should have/could have been pretty straight-forward thriller in which Mrs. Dimmock looks into Mrs. Marrable's behavior. Instead, the film attempts to be too clever for it's own good, as it introduces several characters and then beats around the bush before explaining who they are. This only bogs down what is essentially a pretty shallow film. Once everything has been established, the third act works pretty well, up until the wholly unsatisfying conclusion.
The other mis-step here is the character of Mrs. Marrable herself. The film makes a bold choice by placing the villain front-and-center and it doesn't work. Yes, the movie does a great job of making us hate her and it has us longing to see her get her comeuppance, but a bad-guy should never be asked to carry the movie. And while Ruth Gordon delivers a nice performance as the skittish Mrs. Dimmock, she's no match for Mrs. Marrable. The movie needed a character who was truly a rival for the old murderer. (And it didn't help that Geraldine Page looks just like Jason Bateman in the face. Very distracting!) If something like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? sounds too weird for you, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? may be more your speed. All others will be disappointed with what could have been another clash of the actresses.
What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? does offer a location which we rarely see in movies courtesy of Kino Lorber. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing some notable grain at times and scant defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, and bright tones really stand out in the desert landscape. The depth and detail are adequate, save for the grainier shots, where the detail suffers. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, there aren't any dynamic audio effects here, but the track does its job. The actors are always audible and the sound effects and score don't compete with the dialogue.
The What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Film Historian Richard Harland Smith. The only other extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long