Quarantine is the perfect time to catch up on all of those Golden Age films that you’ve claimed to have seen, but have never actually sat down and watched. Your Lawrence of Arabia’s, your Citizen Kane’s, and what have you. Well, thanks to actor, comedian, and former Vulture blogger Jeffery Self and Difficult People’s Cole Escola, you’ve now got another Golden Age piece of cinema to add to the list. Introducing The Barbara Collins Story, the funniest 13-minute RKO film that RKO never made. Written and directed by Self, The Barbara Collins Story stars Escola as the titular Barbara Collins, an aging starlet who’s gotten herself into quite a pickle with the law, and Self as Leslie Hunter, the “sad sap that got tangled up in her web.” Swoon.
The black-and-white short film opens with a newsboy announcing that movie goddess Barbara Collins is set to be electrocuted for a truly unspeakable crime (and also, by the way, there’s an incredible home-goods sale where they’re practically giving away glassware). What transpires is, as the title suggests, the story of Barbara Collins and, boy, is it a doozy. Three parts Chicago, two parts All About Eve, with a light dusting of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane for good measure, The Barbara Collins Story asks the age-old question, “What happens when a 1930s movie star murders a twink and then gets nominated for an Academy Award?”
Somehow, all your favorite 2020 comedians appear in this throwback film. Alan Cumming dazzles as Richard Conway, Barbara Collins’s scene partner in The Jeanette Conway Story, the film within the film (meta alert!) about the first-ever female plumber. Catherine Cohen plays a judge who simply can’t get out of her own damn way with Larry Owens as her bailiff/tooth fairy. SNL’s Chloe Fineman plays Irene Sinclair, a British actress who threatens to steal the spotlight from Collins (big Florence Pugh vibes). Aparna Nancherla, SNL’s Bowen Yang, Drew Droege, Tony Award nominee Gideon Glick, Three Busy Debra’s Mitra Jouhari, Betty Gilpin as Betty Gilpin, and even Project Runway’s Isaac Mizrahi all manage to get in on the action. The result is truly a picture for the ages, shot and filmed under quarantine in an effort to raise money for Feeding America, a nationwide network of over 200 food banks. Quite frankly, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly have nothing on Miss Barbara Collins and her filthy, filthy hands.