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  No Way to Treat a Lady What A Performance!
Year: 1968
Director: Jack Smight
Stars: Rod Steiger, Lee Remick, George Segal, Eileen Heckart, Murray Hamilton, Michael Dunn, Martine Bartlett, Barbara Baxley, Irene Dailey, Doris Roberts, Ruth White, Val Bisoglio, David Doyle, Kim August, Val Avery
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: A priest (Rod Steiger) strolls through Manhattan with a spring in his step, but purposefully for all that, whistling and acknowledging those who greet him; eventually he gets to an apartment block, and as he climbs the stairs he returns a hello from one of the residents, Kate Palmer (Lee Remick), then stops at a door. After inviting himself into the home of the widow who lives there - Mrs Mulloy (Martine Bartlett) - he strikes up a conversation with her and how she has lapsed from her faith. As he sips the port she has offered him, the chat turns to his mother... and then he strangles Mrs Mulloy to death.

There is a reason, maybe two, why No Way to Treat a Lady was an interesting movie of its day, and one of them is due to the manner in which it influenced the depiction of the psychopath. Before Steiger came along with his tour de force as a madman who takes pleasure in adopting various disguises to outwit the police, these characters were shown as dangerous but often pathetic, however once the star did his turn the illustration of mental imbalance which led to murder gradually became the criminal mastermind variant much beloved of horror and thriller moviemakers who wanted some of those hefty Silence of the Lambs profits. The influence wasn't entirely direct, but it was noticeable.

That said, this was more of a black comedy than a chiller, where the humour derived as much from investigating cop Morris Brummel (George Segal) and his testy relationship with his stereotypical Jewish mother (Eileen Heckart) as it did from Steiger raiding the dressing up box. Even then it wasn't utterly hilarious, more slyly amusing than the cause of belly laughs galore, and much of that was being well aware that the star was shamelessly overindulging himself as he adopted a variety of wigs, costumes and accents as a way of persuading himself into the homes of his victims or taunting Brummel over the phone, which he begins to do for reasons of keeping his crimes in the media spotlight.

Which alas brought us to the other point of interest, in that Steiger's Mr Gill, himself a spoof of The Boston Strangler, was credited in some quarters as triggering the Zodiac Killer of the late sixties and early seventies with his penchant for hogging attention by sending newsapapers clues and puzzles related to his murders, which now sounds like the modus operandi of some cheap thriller except horribly it was all too real. As much as that probably influenced the characterisation of movie and paperback serial killers for decades to come, it was noted how well Gill fitted that template, and with that impulse to show off well to the fore, though the question of which was following what is one which vexed observers for some time to come, if there is a definitive answer: the mechanics of the psychopathic mind could be too murky to make out.

Back at the movie, there was an obvious effort to not have their suspense piece quite slot into any category too neatly, so there would be moments more of a tone with humour, as when dwarf Michael Dunn tries to confess to the murders despite all evidence to the contrary (then decrying prejudice when he's asked to leave), and then the out and out chills as when Gill appears at Kate's door, knowing full well she has started a relationship with Brummel after her hopeless witness statement got him interested in her and vice versa. Remick was as quirky as the rest of the film, and the script, drawn from William Goldman's novel, gave every actor a chance to shine, unusually for a plot which appeared to be very suspicious of them and their need to pretend convincingly as you'll see. As the victims mount up, mostly lonely old ladies but also a drag queen for variety, there was a sense of slightly too much of a good thing as proceedings grew repetitive, no matter the skill on display. Very little of what followed quite achieved its particular style, it has to be said. Music by Stanley Myers.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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