Early on in my high school years, I took to watching Nick at Nite in the evenings when I was working on my homework. Something about those old television programs was soothing and relaxing. I took a particular liking to THE PATTY DUKE SHOW during that time and that was due in so small part to the crush I quickly developed on Patty Duke herself. I even made a video short in college about a guy who was obsessed with THE PATTY DUKE SHOW. Now that I have thoroughly creeped you out with my weirdness, let me just say that I was and am still a huge fan of hers, not only for her TV work, but also for her film roles. I was very saddened to hear of her passing earlier this year and it only reminded me that I need to go and rewatch a bunch of her movies that I have enjoyed over the years. YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER is one that I'd never seen before, but I was compelled to watch not only because of the cast (Patty Duke, Richard Thomas, Sian Barbara Allen) but also because of director Lamont Johnson. He made a few of my 1970s favorites in THE LAST AMERICAN HERO with Jeff Bridges and ONE ON ONE with Robby Benson. He made other interesting films besides these two and demonstrated a certain ability with actors and storytelling that I've always found interesting. He also was able to work in a few different genres effectively while putting character work at the center of many of his films.
"You've come at a bad time I'm afraid. It was necessary to drown some kittens and poor Kathleen is quite upset about it." These are not necessarily the first words you'd want to hear from your late husband's mother whom you've never met. Patty Duke plays the very pregnant Francesca - whose husband has been killed and who decides to venture from Los Angeles to the snowy tundra of Minnesota to finally meet his mom and the rest of the Kinsolving family. Their meeting is less than pleasant as Mrs. Kinsolving makes it quite clear that she is not only not interested in getting to know her, share her grief with her or have any involvement with her son's baby, but also that she is just about the coldest woman known to mankind. Her demeanor compliments the icy weather outside the Kinsolving estate quite perfectly. So Francesca decides that, in less than five minutes, she is not welcome and not interested in staying and attempts to leave. I say attempts because it's a classic case of "no, you'll stay for dinner and I'll drive you to your bus later". Mrs. Kinsolving even emphasizes that she has no intention of letting Francesca miss that last bus. It is a combatively passive aggressive start to the film and your unease will only grow as more characters and the history of the family is revealed.
YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER has a genuinely creepy and psychologically suspenseful style to it, but not in the same way as horror movies and thrillers today. This movie is more in line with things like REBECCA and THE INNOCENTS than its present day counterparts. One thing I like about it is the sense of isolation and confinement that comes from not only the eerie old house location, but also from the fact that the story takes place in the winter and the whole place is surrounded by snow (and obviously bitter coldness) for as far as the eye can see. My favorite film of all-time is probably John Carpenter's THE THING, so snowbound single-location films often grab my attention. The sense of claustrophobia is quite palpable and just ratchets up the suspense once we start to realize that all is not well in the big old Minnesota house where poor pregnant Francesca has ended up. Her being so pregnant only makes everything more tense. It is absolutely unclear whether Francesca will ever leave the Kinsolving home or if she will ever be seen again. The movie takes its time in a good way and builds to a pretty intense climax.
-"The Mystery of Kenny and Kathleen" (55 mins) New interviews with Richard Thomas and Sian Barbara Allen. Both actors go way back and talk about their early experiences with getting started in their craft as well as their specific memories of experiences on YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER. Both speak intelligently about how they do what they do and seem to remember a lot of parts of the production considering how long ago it was. This is a nice and thoughtful couple conversations with two veteran actors and a nice supplement overall.
I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965; William Castle)
Once you start to get into William Castle, as both a filmmaker and a showman - it's hard not to be a bit fascinated by him. While he was obviously emulating Alfred Hitchcock as far as projecting himself and his persona into promoting his own movies (he often shows up in trailers for his own stuff), Castle has always struck me as more of a cross between say Roger Corman and Hitch. In some ways, he was as good or better than Corman or A.I.P. at drawing people into theaters. With lots of gimmicks like flying skeletons on wires swinging out over the audience or wiring the seats with electric joy buzzers to "zap" unsuspecting movie patrons, he found many inventive ways to make his films into interactive and unique experiences. Even if the movies themselves were often slightly derivative of other things, Castle was able to make them his own with pageantry. In the case of I SAW WHAT YOU DID, Castle tried to create a fearful appeal to audiences by showing that "it could happen to you". The film's trailer opens with several shots of telephones ringing and a voice warning not to answer. It then shows a telephone book (remember those?) and declares that "You're name is in this book!". The basic premise of the film is that two bored young girls have found that they enjoy entertaining themselves by calling random numbers from the phone book and saying "I saw what you did and I know who you are!". While this may seem an amusing use of a Saturday night, it always goes south when you end up calling a man who has just murdered his wife - which is what happens. William Castle warns "This is a motion picture about Uxorcide" on the film's poster (which is a fancy way of saying it is about killing one's wife). Castle even tried using big words to hook people! So anyway, there's a very Hitchcockian setup here - one that slightly resembles an audio version of REAR WINDOW I suppose, made all the more suspenseful by the fact that the peril in question is being inflicted upon these two girls. While the idea of using a phone book and being anonymous in prank calling people seems quite antiquated now, it is nonetheless effective (if a little cheesy) inside the William Castle world of this movie.
The film opens with a great matte shot that gives the appearance of an eye opening and watching the first girl calling someone on the phone on the left side of the screen. When the other girl picks up, she is revealed in the same way on the right sight of the screen. The shot kind of anticipates the "mask POV" shot from the opening of HALLOWEEN in some ways, though it is static and not moving. Regardless, it sets the slightly uneasy but clever and knowing tone right from the start. There's even some jazzy tunes that play under the titles that make it almost feel like a beach movie or something. It all works well to help put you off guard for the tension that's coming. As with YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER, this movie also has an isolated location in a rural farm house off in the woods a ways. It all seems innocent enough though. Then the girls just make the mistake of calling the wrong house and things go south real quick. As mentioned, William Castle was often very much following in the footsteps of Hitchcock and he even has a shower murder scene in this film. It's different than PSYCHO, but there's clearly a knowing nod to the classic film from only five years prior. The film has other horror cache about it in that it also features Joan Crawford. She had starred in WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? in 1962, and then William Castle cast her as a recovering axe-murderer in his 1964 film STRAIT-JACKET, so she was no stranger to the genre by this time. Veteran actor John Ireland stars as the wife-killer and Joan is his mistress. Ireland plays the unstable violent type quite adeptly and though both he and Joan chew some scenery, it's all in good thriller-ific fun. If you like movies from this period and you like horror and some camp (which tends to enter in to his films too), you should already be a fan of William Castle. If not, this might be decent place to start, but definitely find your way back through his 50s and 60s stuff as it is all made with the a similar showmanship and canniness. Watch enough of these and you'll see why Castle has a following. You'll see what people like John Waters love him. Oh and if you get the chance, definitely read his autobiography (STEP RIGHT UP...I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America) as it is one of the most entertaining showbiz books out there!