Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Little Murders

A few weeks ago on FXM/FMC, I had the chance to see Little Murders for the first time. It's showing up again twice: this afternoon at 1:00 PM, and early tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight, depending on your time zone and point of view) at 3:00 AM.

Marcia Rudd plays Patsy Newquist, a woman basically trying to survive life in the New York City of 1971, the era just before Gerald Ford told the city to "drop dead" and the city was, well, a mess. Crime was high and the quality of life not so high, and that certainly holds true for Patsy. She lives in an apartment where she's repeatedly robbed; she's got somebody making prank phone calls of a sexual nature; and she can't sleep because in the courtyard below the bedroom window she can hear a mugging going on. And when she tries to do something about the mugging, she winds up getting pushed around herself, all with the guy who was originally being mugged not seeming to give a damn about what's happening to her, or what just happened to himself.

So Patsy goes running after the original mugging victim to complain to him -- I tried to help you, she reasons; the least you could have done is tried to help me once the muggers started to attack me. The man, Alfred Chamberlain (Elliott Gould), is having none of it. After all, he didn't ask for Patsy to help, and besides, he's come to the conclusion that the least bad way to deal with the crime and other problems in New York is simply to have no feelings. It's certainly a different way of dealing with things, and this being a movie, Patsy is so intrigued by who no longer has any feelings that she falls in love with him.

Patsy's family, on the other hand, isn't so certain that Alfred is right for her, a view colored in part by the fact that she has apparently brought a series of men over to meet them and they've all wound up duds. Dad (Vincent Gardenia) is all bluster and trying to "fix" things by bribing people; Mom (Elizabeth Wilson) bickers with Dad while mourning the murder of her eldest son; and younger son Kenny (Jon Korkes) is a basket case. Still, Patsy is determined to make the relationship work, and she and Alfred get married in an irreligious service officiated by Donald Sutherland, a scene that is the highlight of the movie. Let's just say it's not the sort of wedding Elizabeth Taylor's character in Father of the Bride planned on having.

The plot synopsis on the bos guide reads, "A pushy woman marries a listless man in a grim New York that gets grimmer." Yes, there's something gimmer to come, which kicks off the third act, just as Patsy is about to get Alfred to have a feeling. It works, although not in the way Patsy intended. It also brings Alfred closer to the rest of the Norquists, although not in the way any of them intended, either.

Little Murders is an interesting idea, although one that I find a bit marred by its tone. As I was watching the movie, I felt myself a bit turned off by a sense that everybody was shrill and grating, with the possible exception of Elliott Gould, since his character is supposed to be a listless almost slacker type. He was good, and Donald Sutherland was a hoot as the preacher, but when it came to the Norquists, I wanted to reach through the screen and shake some sense into them. Perhaps it's that I was expecting something along the lines of a Paddy Chayefsky dark comedy such as The Hospital, or something different with a softer tone like Hal Ashby's The Landlord. That's not what you're going to get with Little Murders.

Amazon lists a DVD of Little Murders being available, but it's clearly out of print, since the prices are outrageous.

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