Tallulah Bankhead and Die! Die! My Darling!

Tallulah Bankhead and Die! Die! My Darling!
Tallulah Bankhead’s final film is neither highly suspenseful nor unadulterated camp; however, Die! Die! My Darling! is a worthy watch due to the craftsmanship of this legend of stage and screen.

The plot is predictable, and the level of suspense is only so-so. But it isn’t the plot, or the blood, or the occasional violence that will keep viewers glued to the screen; it is the artistry of Miss Bankhead. She captures your attention with her intense stares and her complete embodiment of a tortured soul.

The story centers around elderly Mrs. Trefoile (Bankhead), a religious fanatic, who is mourning the death of her adult son. She invites her son’s ex-fiancé, Patricia (Stefanie Powers), to tea. It quickly becomes obvious that Mrs. Trefoile wants her son and his fiancé to spend eternity together and the sooner the better. But first, she must purify Patricia’s soul before she slits dear Patricia's throat.

The studio creatives must have been aware that Bankhead’s value to the picture didn’t stop at her ability to play the role of Mrs. Trefoile. Possibly to ensure a good box office, they capitalized on Bankhead’s name and reputation and made changes to the production after she had signed on the dotted line.

Known for her habit of calling everyone “darling,” the film’s original title, Fanatic, was changed to Die! Die! My Darling! for American audiences.

Additionally, a subplot was added. Mrs. Trefoile was no longer just a maniacal religious fanatic; she was now an ex-actress whose husband “rescued” her from showbiz and a life of loose morals in favor of a puritanical religious existence. In real-life, the wild actress was known for her uninhibited lifestyle and frequent substance abuse.

Although she passed away just three years later at the age of sixty-six, her legendary talent – and her exploits – continue to live on.

In 2008, playwright Matthew Lombardo was inspired to write the stage play Looped, starring Valerie Harper as Bankhead. The play is based on a real-life event associated with the film.

In an outdoor scene with Mrs. Trefoile and Patricia, one of Bankhead’s lines needed to be re-recorded – or “looped” – due to audio difficulties. When Bankhead showed up to record the line, she was reportedly under the influence and it took an entire day to record the line as it was written.

While she seemed to spend more time in the spotlight for her personal life, her talent – and her ability to carry a film – remained.

Such is the stuff of legends.

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