Fun with physics & religious fanatics

I’ll start off with Ice Princess. Okay, this is one of those movies that I would never, but never go see in the theatre unless I was accompanying a 12-year-old child, but which I ended up watching one day on cable. . As I write this, it occurs to me that since I’m eagerly counting down the hours to America’s Next Top Model, (when hopefully Jade, the narcissistic, murderer of the English Language will be eliminated), I have no right to malign the taste level of 12-year-olds…

Back to the film, Michelle Trachtenberg plays a physics geek. She’s unattractive in the way girls are unattractive in the movies–curl her hair and apply some eye shadow and she’s an instant beauty. She’s putting together a project for some scholarship that her mom, Joan Cusack is pushing her toward. The kid hits upon an idea: the physics of ice skating. Soon she’s at the local rink (run by Kim Cattrall) watching the figure skaters. The next thing you know she’s skating herself and dreaming of a competitive career in the field.

Formulaic but enjoyable. There is a place for these kinds of movies in our lives. Not everything has to be high art, which segues nicely into my next topic: the promised in-depth critique of that camp classic, Die! Die! My Darling!

The quality of the tape I picked up was quite horrible, but I stuck with it. Well worth the aggravation and the fiddling with the tracking button on the remote. Synopsis again: The guy Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers) was engaged to has died. She’s since met and become engaged to someone else. From what I gleaned from the garbled section of the tape, she meets Fiance #2 on the boat over, but maybe I missed something. Anyhow, he’d really rather she forget all about Fiance #1, but no, she’s a Nice Girl and she’s going to do the Right Thing. The right thing involves her calling on Fiance #1’s elderly mama, Mrs. Trefoile. Sometimes it’s not so smart to be a Nice Girl who does the Right Thing, particularly when you’re in a horror movie.

Mrs. Trefoile is played by Tallulah Bankhead. Time has passed and I suspect that most people, if they know her at all, think of her vaguely as an old-time movie star. Possibly, they recall her performance in Lifeboat. A grande old dame as it were. This is a lady whose name and scandal were nearly synonymous. She worked hard; drank hard; loved hard; played hard. She went commando long before the Sharon Stone character in Basic Instinct was born and she was far more brazen about it too. She had affairs with men and women and was open about it at a time when Such Things Were Simply Not Spoken Aloud. So think about that for a second. Now picture this lady sans makeup, hair severely pulled back, and playing a religious fanatic. It adds a whole new layer of irony to the film.

She gives a very good performance. Surprisingly, so does Stefanie Powers. Donald Sutherland has a small part as a developmentally disabled servant. Peter Vaughan plays a distant relative/servant with seedy elan. Yootha Joyce is his long-suffering wife and ersatz housekeeper. The cast is actually pretty good (I should point out that Die! Die! My Darling! is a Hammer production. Quality was usually a happy accident in their films.) So is the writing. Omit the religious angle and you have a fairly standard plot: pretty young woman is imprisoned. Her escape attempts are unsuccessful and her captor’s use of violence escalates. See enough of these and it’s hard to care about the heroine. However, Patricia is a bright, somewhat snarky young lady. Her escape attempts are thought out as best as could be expected. She’s got spirit. Never gives in. So that’s all good.

But the focus is always on Bankhead. It’s like watching Mary Astor in Return to Peyton Place in that you simply cannot take your eyes off of her. In the end, she owns the film. Great stuff.

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