In 1964, with the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? the Grand Dame Guignol genre began. Director Robert Aldrich (Twilight’s Last Gleaming) had cast aging stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in leads, created a hit, and in the process resurrected their flagging careers. The 1964 follow-up Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte starring Davis and Olivia de Havilland was another hit for Aldrich, scoring seven Academy Award nominations. What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? marked Aldrich’s third foray into the genre, but this time only as as a producer. The directing duties were left to Lee H. Katzin.
Just forty-four at the time, Geraldine Paige plays aging widow Claire Marrable. Upset to discover her husband didn’t leave an expected fortune, she’s been hiring elderly housekeepers, tricking them out of their savings, killing them, and burying their bodies in her garden. Alice Dimmock (Ruth Gordon, Harold and Maude) is her latest hire. Having Presented herself as a “combination housekeeper-nurse-companion” and a widow to boot, she seems like the perfect fit. In truth, Alice has taken the job to find out what happened to her friend, Miss Tinsley, who seemed to vanish into thin air. Alice has some help from her nephew Mike (Robert Fuller) who tries to make sure his Aunt Alice stays safe. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that Claire’s rising suspicions around Alice’s motivation results in a deadly confrontation.
Geraldine Page, known more for her theater work than film, plays Miss Marrable with a cool detachment, and a blank stare that suggests someone not in touch with reality. She expects her housekeepers to be available constantly, all this while being perfectly polite. Page delivers a believable performance even as her true personality is unmasked. Ruth Gordon does away with the quirkiness that made her such a fan favorite in Rosemary’s Baby and Harold and Maude. Alice’s ordinary demeanor stands in stark contrast to the Jekyll-and-Hyde that is her employer. However, while Alice may not be crazy, she isn’t a shrinking violet either.
Kino’s Blu-ray release contains a new high definition master from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. Presented in 1080p, and an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the picture quality is good with no scratches, dirt, specks or other apparent imperfections. Details are sharp, whether it’s the patterns in wardrobe, or the wrinkles on the actresses faces. The color palette is strong whether it’s the muted interior or the sun soaked outdoor scenes.
The DTS-HD track gives the film a surprisingly full experience. Sound effects are clear, as evidenced by the wind blowing through the trees that mark the graves of Claire’s victims. The track is well balanced, allowing Gerald Fred’s score to set set the mood without ever interfering with the action. The dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith: Smith touches on Robert Aldrich’s long career, the location shoot, the cast, some behind-the-scenes tidbits, and more. Harland knows his stuff, so there isn’t much in the way of dead air.
Movie title: What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)
Director(s): Lee H. Katzin
Actor(s): Ruth Gordon, Robert Fuller, Geraldine Page, Rosemary Forsyth, Mildred Dunnock
Genre: Horror , Drama, Mystery, Thriller