Wednesday, August 21, 2013

From my unpublished "FADEOUT, the Last Film of ..." HELEN WALKER


Because she toiled mostly in Paramount B-pictures, Helen Walker is not much remembered. But she remains unforgettable for those who have seen MURDER, HE SAYS  (1945), about the lunatic Fleagle family of hillbillies of which Walker may or may not be a member, or some of her later films noir including NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947). By then, however, Walker was starring in her own, private, noir when on December 31, 1946, after having picked up three hitchhiking veterans, she smashed her car into a road divider. One of the veterans was killed instantly, the other two and Helen herself emerged seriously injured. She was accused of drunk driving by one or both of the surviving soldiers and although found not guilty of ooo criminal charges "for lack of evidence," she was replaced by Marjorie Reynolds in the Western fantasy HEAVEN ONLY KNOWS (1947). Stardom over, Walker played character roles for a while but by the mid-1950s she was suffering from acute alcoholism. (At one point she was rumored to have arrived at a birthda party with gifts wrapped in still photos from her old movies.) She lost her home to a devastating fire in 1960 and friends such as Dinah Shore and Ruth Roman staged a benefit for her. By the time of her death from cancer, Helen Walker resided in a small apartment in North Hollywood.

The last film of Helen Walker:

THE BIG COMBO (Allied Artists, 1955) D: Joseph H. Lewis. CAST: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Robert Middleton, Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman, Helen Walker (Alicia Brown), Jay Adler. A dedicated police lieutenant (Wilde) goes after a mob boss (Brown) by following a clue leading to the latter's wife (Walker). Walker's character in this classic noir is much talked about before actually seen, much like Mrs. Mona Mars in THE BIG SLEEP (1946). Filmed at King Studios in Hollywood and produced by star Cornel Wilde and his wife at the time, the film's leading lady Jean Sullivan. 

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