*. After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? why not re-make it? Keep Bette, get some more waxworks out of their mothballs, have a nearly identical script (at least structurally, with common elements including the long historical intro, Bette as the character who suffers all her life for a crime she didn’t commit, a failed rescue attempt where the rescuer — Velma here, the maid in Baby Jane — is murdered, and a scene highlighting the difficulties encountered in disposing of a corpse) drawn from a story by the same author, all done up by the same producer/director. It’s like a re-set.
*. Given the number of similarities, and the very fast turnaround, it’s hard to see this movie as anything more than a money grab. But then that’s what a lot of movies are, including some very good ones.
*. Grande Dame Guignol was launched for economic reasons. Old Hollywood actresses were dirt cheap but brought name recognition to a project. Sadly, the message is an unhappy one: old age itself is something horrifying and to be dreaded, and dementia doesn’t arouse sympathy so much as terror. Isn’t there something cruel and mocking in this? I mean, in a way beyond the usual horror-film conventions of cruelty.
*. God this is a bizarre plot. I have trouble keeping straight what is going on. And there’s just too much of it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it leads to two long scenes at the end where everything has to be explained for us. This is a drag, especially, for a movie that is already overweight at 133 minutes (Aldrich had control of the final cut, and that isn’t always a good thing).
*. Another problem with the plot is that it is too complex to be realistic, and is unnecessary for the villainous plotters to realize their ends. The plot is thus an end in itself: justified (or not) by the movie. This isn’t quite the same thing as an idiot plot, but I think it is an ancestor.
*. The ending seems an obvious nod to Les Diaboliques, and as with Baby Jane there are also unmistakeable echoes of Sunset Blvd. at the end. Aldrich wasn’t interested in being original.
*. An example of the sort of overwritten psychological thriller we don’t see as much of today because (a) we don’t believe as much in screenwriting; and (b) we don’t believe in complex — particularly theatrically and dramatically complex — psychology. Unless it’s in something written by Dennis Lehane. And in the case of Shutter Island what we have is a deliberately retro effect being aimed for.
*. Aldrich loves shadows, almost as much as he loves staircases (and he even likes to combine the two, as in Bette’s final tumble after seeing Cotten’s resurrected corpse). Still, he paints in shadow very well. You couldn’t get these effects in colour.
*. But he also overdoes it. Often over half the screen is taken up in shadow, for no good reason.
*. Olivia de Havilland as the scheming villain is great casting against type. And yet whenever I see her, she seems to be holding something powerful back. She’s certainly not into hamming her role up as much as Davis and Moorehead are here.
*. Davis, in my opinion, was never a screen beauty and perhaps that helped her in her later career with roles like Eve and her string of “hagsploitation” titles. It was certainly an odd note for her to go out on.