December 21, 2003
A woman named Patsy (Rodd) awakes one day to hear a commotion outside her apartment building. She exits the building and stops a gang of thugs from beating a man named Alfred (Gould). He then walks away only for the miscreants to turn on the poor woman. She escapes, catches up to the man, and yells at him. He responds, “You shouldn’t have done that. They were getting tired.” Welcome to the world of Little Murders (1971).
Little Murders is a film that follows its own skewed logic. It’s a pitch black absurdist comedy. Any kind of convention is thrown out the window. For example, the typical couple bonding montage that is shown in most romantic movies is flipped on its head when we see Alfred and Patsy play tennis (badly), go bowling and finally dinner and dancing. One moment they are kissing during an intimate moment and the next they are having a conversation while riding horses.
Alfred is pulled through life by outside sources. The only natural thing to him is solitude. He is not a man of words; rather he lets his photographs speak for him. It’s almost like he’s an alien observing life on Earth. Patsy, on the other hand, is aggressive and always talking. She constantly drags Alfred into things, like dinner with her family or getting married. They are the epitome of opposites attracting.
The centerpiece of the film is dinner with Patsy’s family. Their apartment is decorated in vintage early ‘70s kitsch décor cum nouveau riche. Her father (Gardenia) is an Archie Bunker type. He sees everything through blue-collar eyes. The rest of her family is full of forced cheer. The son (Korkes) laughs at everything and is first seen reading a book entitled, Lesbians from Venus. The mother is the eternally cheerful homemaker beaming with optimism. Patsy’s entire family is in denial and ignores the world around them. The lights go out and come back on repeatedly and they don’t even acknowledge it. It is never addressed because they don’t know how to deal with the dangerous outside world.
The outside world is constantly shown as a scary place. At one point, Alfred and Patsy use a smashed in phone booth, they meet while he is being beaten by a gang of delinquents and the church they get married at is first seen with people pouring out fighting each other. This is clearly a world turned upside down where no one can communicate properly with anyone else.
Hot off the success of M*A*S*H (1970), Elliot Gould parlayed that cache into getting Little Murders made. He plays Alfred with just the right amount of dazed bewilderment and detachment. He doesn’t relate to anyone. He can’t even call his future father-in-law “dad” or even his own for that matter. The rest of the cast, from veterans like Vincent Gardenia to newcomers like Jon Korkes, handles the challenging material perfectly. There are even inspired gonzo cameos by Donald Sutherland (as the “priest” who marries Alfred and Patsy) and Alan Arkin (as a deranged police detective).
There is an audio commentary by actor Elliot Gould and the film’s screenwriter Jules Feiffer. The movie was based on Feiffer’s Broadway play of the same name with Gould originally playing Alfred. The actor talks about the differences between the play and the film and also provides fascinating backstory on how the film was made. He even approached Jean-Luc Godard to direct at one point! This is a good track and it quickly becomes obvious that this was a personal project for Gould (he never does commentaries for DVDs for one thing).
Rounding out the extras are two TV spots and a theatrical trailer.
Little Murders is a black comedy as if written and directed by Salvador Dali. This has been a vastly underrated movie, ignored all these years. Hopefully, this new DVD release will expose this classic film from the ‘70s to a new audience.