Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Hags


It's Halloween, and what's scarier than washed up, glamorpuss-turned-grotesque-monster Hollywood icons? Since the early '60s there's been a tradition of actresses of a certain age who could only find work in low- to mid-budget horror films.


It may have started with "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", which boasted two once respectable stars (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford). Bette plays a former child star who keeps her crippled sister Blanche (la Crawford) locked in her room. To see Bette dressed up in her Baby Jane costume, singing "I've Written A Letter To Daddy" is to know the meaning of creepy.



Both ladies showed up in other questionable films. Joan starred in "Strait-Jacket," "Berserk!," and "Trog." She had the good sense to bow out in 1972. Bette worked up until her death in 1989, making such classics as "Dead Ringer," "Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte," "Madame Sin," and "Scream, Pretty Peggy," among others.


Some others who went down this path were Veronica Lake ("Flesh Feast"), Gloria Grahame ("Mansion of the Doomed," "The Nesting"), Tallulah Bankhead ("Die! Die! My Darling!"), Olivia de Havilland ("Lady in a Cage"), and Shelley Winters ("What's the Matter with Helen?, "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?").



I look forward to seeing Reese Witherspoon in about 40 years playing an axe-wielding maniac, chopping off the heads of Paris Hilton and Hillary Duff. Now that's entertainment.


2 Comments:

ALMOST right. sstrangely, I think you're off your mark with both De Havilland flicks. HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE is not really a "hag flick" but a wonderful revenge movie, and davis, playing it to the hilt, finds a formidable adversary in the still beautiful De Havilland--for once, the incarnate of evil--Cotten in good shape here too, by the way, and Astor, in her final film, and only two scenes, magnificent. Likewise, LADY IN A CAGE is difficult to watch, especially at the end, but it's a powerful movie and hardly a "hag flick" since De Havilland herself appeaers quite lovely.

Yet, overall, you have a point, and what is perhaps more interesting is that when the British ladies of a certain age go over the hill (and into "grande damme-ism"--they opt for the opposite of hag-flicks--more the lyrical ENCHANTED APRIL or the gently moving and comedic CALENDAR GIRLS--Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and others--there IS, I think, a meaningful cultural difference here--American vis-a-vis the Brits.

By Blogger william gerdts, at 7:23 AM  

Point taken. I didn't want to lump such classics as "Charlotte" and "Lady" in with "Trog." My intention was to show that once classy Hollywood icons took roles that were available to them. It's a long road from "Now Voyager" to "Baby Jane."

The Brit v. American comparison, while valid, doesn't take into account the fact that the films I named are from the 60s/70s, while yours are more recent. I think older American actresses are getting better roles these days because they have more power in the industry (not to mention the fact that the population is aging). 40 years ago they had to take what they got. You aren't likely to see Meryl Streep showing up in a remake of "House of Whipcord" any time soon.

By Blogger MadCatJoey, at 7:45 AM  

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