Movie of the Week: What Became of Jack & Jill? (1972)
Before we get to Milton Subotsky’s obligatory excuses for why What Became of Jack & Jill (1972) failed, I have to say that I kind of liked it. I watched it on a bootleg DVD because I wanted to be an Amicus Productions completist and it’s a movie of which I’d never heard, much less ever been able to find. Although it’s not a horror film, the two leads (actually named “John” and Jill) conspire to commit a horrific act and John enacts it with disturbing effect.
It’s slow for sure, but I don’t think I’d call it a slow “burn;” instead, it’s more like a slow simmer. It finally reaches a boiling point about 2/3 of the way into it, then has a nice twist before trying to boil again, but never quite gets there. Jill Standish (Vanessa Howard) is apparently pulling the strings of Johnnie Tallent, and, boy, does she pull them tight. He’d do anything for her, including establish a complicated ruse to force dear Gran (Mona Washburne) to die.
He can’t just murder her or set up an accident. He plots a scenario in which a rebellious youth movement is roaming the streets shouting their mantra, “Out with the oldies!” This upsets Gran greatly, and John perpetuates the myth by cutting out generic newspaper articles, then telling her he didn’t want her to get upset by reading them, and staging fake calls from someone claiming to be conducting a census.
He’s cold and cruel, and so is the movie, taking his actions in stride with no judgment… at first. In “Amicus: The Friendly Face of Fear,” author Allan Bryce shares a quote about What Became of Jack & Jill from Milton Subotsky, one half of Amicus:
I found the book really interesting in that it had an element of futuristic fantasy about it, the idea of a youth party taking power and killing off all the old people. It was really clever and could have made a taut melodrama.
I agree that the concept is intriguing. That part is expressed in the final film. It has a vague futuristic feel, yet is connected with what one imagines might reflect actual events of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, it feels more authentic in its timeline for a movie made in 1972 than another movie well known for that year, Dracula A.D. 1972. Having just watched that one, too, What Became of Jack & Jill is more grounded in reality, like most good sci-fi tends to be.
The movie did not do well, despite being released by 20th Century Fox and paired with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. (In the United States, it was released with an equally obscure film, The Strange Vengeance of Rosalie. Subotsky’s explanation is familiar:
The strange part is that it was ruined in the cutting room. That’s where you can really make or break a picture.
Subotsky is usually blamed for poor outcomes when he becomes too heavily involved in his productions. This time, though, it was supposedly his partner, Max Rosenberg who meddled. Subotsky said:
This picture, more than any other, was one that Max made. When he arrived in Britain, he took over. He really liked the story and decided it was a picture he wanted to control. That was fine with me, so I went on holiday.
Always on a budget, Amicus hired first time theatrical director Bill Bain, who was apparently too inexperienced to reign in the cast. Howard, the biggest “star” of the project, made an impact in The Blood Beast Terror (1968) and Girly (1970), but plays Jill too broad for this story. (This was the 13th of only 14 screen credits for her.) Paired with her was relative newcomer Nicholas, who has some charisma and is the best actor in the bunch.
That is, except for poor Washburne, whose frail and kindly grandmother character ultimately gets the last word even after death. Her presence remains and sends John and Jill on a downward spiral. It doesn’t quite end like I thought it should… someone survives. The title that Subotsky originally wanted to use suggests a more satisfying conclusion: Romeo & Juliet ’71: A Gentle Tale of Sex, Violence, Corruption & Murder.
Written by Roger Marshall
Based on the novel "The Ruthless Ones" by Laurence Moody
Directed by Bill Bain
Starring Vanessa Howard, Mona Washburne, Paul Nicholas Released June 16, 1972 (New York City) RT 93 min.
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