Category Archives: mommy dearest

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra ~ I remember Liberace from my childhood. I remember him from the 1966 “Batman” TV show (in syndication, I’m not that old), where his appearance as villainous twin brothers equaled the series’ highest rated episodes. Such was the power of Liberace. He was not only a fabulous piano player, and a faaah-bulous showman, he was a huge star, and a serious draw when it came to stage and screen. When Liberace was on TV, for various reasons, you had to see it, and his stage show, whether in Vegas, New York, or LA, it was always a sensation.

While it wasn’t talked about back then, I think everyone knew Liberace was gay, it was oddly accepted he was different in that way. Liberace was wholesome entertainment. When I heard HBO was making a movie about him, I feared the worst. Especially after recent hack jobs on Phil Spector and Alfred Hitchcock. HBO knows how to make quality television series, but the folks who make their movies are out of control.

When I heard it would be about Liberace and his last lover, Scott Thorson, I knew it would be another smear piece. Thorson’s book of the same name was a memoir in much the same vein as Mommy Dearest.

Then I heard about the casting, and I was intrigued. Michael Douglas as Liberace, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson. Wow. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing, they pull it off, they pull it off mind bogglingly well. When I see a flick with a big name star, if I can stop calling them by name, and believe they are the character, that’s impressive to me. For instance, Meryl Streep and Mel Gibson are always Meryl and Mel to me, but here, this was Liberace and Thorson. The actors’ performances are stunning.

True or not, those performances are scarred by the outrageous and flamboyant story. It may have happened that way, and they may have worn those clothes, but the absurdity of the situations take away from the quality of Douglas and Damon.

It also doesn’t help that the rest of the cast is filled out by comedians and actors doing their crazy best. Rob Lowe, Dan Ackroyd, Scott Bakula, and Debbie Reynolds, among others, are at their insane peak, equal to Douglas and Damon.

Should you watch it? Definitely. Behind the Candelabra is both time capsule and freakshow, and most importantly a manic showcase for the actors involved, and nowhere near the usual trainwreck we have gotten recently from HBO Films.

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? ~ This 1962 campy horror classic from director Robert Aldrich is immortal in the annals of Hollywood. It’s been quoted, parodied (my fave a bit for the MTV Video Awards with Madonna and Courtney Love), remade (one with the Redgrave sisters in 1991, best avoided), shown in revival houses for decades, re-enacted on stage, and is the only pairing of two of the greatest and most infamous Oscar-winning actresses of all time. This film is legend.

Rumors of a Joan Crawford/Bette Davis feud had been fueled for decades by publicists and tabloid journalists so this feature with both of them, in antagonistic roles made for lots of press, even with both actresses in the twilight of their careers. Both had been making B-grade horror flicks of a fashion so a teaming in this manner seemed right. And additionally, both women had a reputation for sometimes taking roles over the top, so a story in which over the top was the rule was indeed perfect.

In the film, alcoholic former child actress Jane Hudson takes care of her paraplegic celebrated actress sister Blanche Hudson. Jane does so because she believes she’s the one who crippled her sister in a long ago accident that ended both their careers. Now years later with the advent of television, Blanche’s movies are getting a bit of a revival, causing jealousy and insanity in Jane. The fun and campy horror only begins there.

Despite the over the top acting of both ladies, it is Bette that rises to the top as the superior actress. While Joan just does a parody of her best melodramatic roles, Bette rocks the screen with what could be camp, but more often than not shows as true performance as a woman snapping from a psychotic break.

Of course, despite the two women involved, the point is not the acting, but the fun of these two trapped on the same screen. This is almost as good as Dracula vs. Frankenstein or King Kong vs. Godzilla. Sometimes Joan’s passive/aggressive technique is every bit as nasty as Bette’s straight out hostility. Truly a battle of giants, this is a fight that must be seen.

Victor Buono stands out from the rest of the small cast, spotlighting his mild-mannered persona as opposed to his frequently seen villainous side. Director Robert Aldritch wisely chose, at Bette Davis’ insistence, that the film be shot in black and white, adding to the horrific atmosphere.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, for both good and bad, is one of my favorite movies. I love it as the quirky horror it was meant to be, and I also love it as the camp comedy it has become over the years. It is my second favorite to MST3K to after The Rocky Horror Picture Show and before the also Joan Crawford themed Mommy Dearest. I love it, and watch it whenever I see that it’s on. Recommended.