The Mad Room (1969)

The Mad Room (1969)


Ellen Hardy, played by Stella Stevens (The Nutty Professor and Arnold), is a personal secretary to wealthy philanthropist Mrs. Armstrong (Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue). Ellen, who is about to marry Armstrong’s nephew, is suddenly informed that her two younger siblings (Michael Burns, Santee, and Barbara Sammeth, Foul Play) have been released from the mental institution where they have spent most of their lives — soon corpses start piling up.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Wacky reworking of Reginald Denham’s and Edward Percy’s hit play Ladies in Retirement, which was previously filmed under that name by Columbia in 1941. It would be unfair to compare the two adaptations because they are too different. Ladies in Retirement is a Gothic period piece while the reboot is no-holds-barred Grand Guignol.

I’m a big fan of Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and its many clones, which The Mad Room, directed by Bernard Girard, is clearly trying to ape,  so I really, really wanted to like the movie. Truth be told, I was a bit disappointed with the whole thing — it could have been much better.

After a strong start, The Mad Room begins to “fall apart at the seams.” The screenplay, written by Girard and A.Z. Martin, relies a bit too much on silly grotesqueries. Some of the twists and turns are a bit lazy and predictable. I guess my main complaint is that the film is shot like a TV movie. It has this flat, generic feel to it (a surprisingly uninspired job by ace cameraman Harry Stradling Jr., Little Big Man and The Way We Were).

I can’t really talk much about the actors and their work because I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice to say that the entire cast is pretty good. Stevens seems to be having fun as the neurotic Ellen. Winters hams it up beautifully. Stevens and Winters re-teamed a few years later for The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Flaws and all, The Mad Room is sort of campy fun. It’s a bit erratic, but it made me giggle on so many occasions. The ending is pretty cool too. With Lloyd Haynes (Good Guys Wear Black), Beverly Garland (The Alligator People), and Severn Darden (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?). Color, 93 minutes, Rated R.


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