No Way to Treat a Lady

Jewish mothers do serial killers make
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1968
Director: 
Jack Smight
Starring: 
Rod Steiger, George Segal, Lee Remick, Eileen Heckart, Doris Roberts
The Setup: 
Serial killer offs old ladies, then calls detective to jim-jaw about it.
Discussion: 

I saw the trailer for this on Homo Promo, the collection of trailers for gay-themed movies, but now that I’ve seen it… well, it’s just not that gay. I mean, okay, it’s super gay, but no character in it is clearly definable as gay, and I’ve never thought that secondary characteristics—like overbearing mothers, for instance—are specifically GAY. So after some careful thought I don’t think this will be listed on the Homo Movies page, although it would probably hold great interest for the gays out there. You see? This is my dilemma.

We open with Rod Steiger dressed as a priest, sort of insisting that this woman open up to let him in for a chat. He then asks for a drink, then starts talking about how hot his mother was, then tells the woman she’s hot and has a sexy body, and I’m like “Am I watching the sequel to Bad Santa, entitlerd Bad Priest?” Then he starts tickling the woman [actually fairly creepy], and then, while she’s laughing, abruptly strangles her. He paints red lips on her forehead with lipstick.

Then we meet George Segal as Morris Brummel, a detective who lives with his Jewish mother—who is the MOTHER of all Jewish mothers. She browbeats him about how ridiculous it is to be a Jewish detective [why is that ridiculous?] and how he should be more like his brother. So both the killer and the detective have mommy issues! And you’d kind of think that this particular aspect was going somewhere, wouldn’t you?

We then meet Lee Remick as the sole person to see the priest. She wakes up in this room that has a multicolored butterfly decorative motif, in this sheer orange evening gown that makes her breasts and nipples clearly visible. It looks like she got in drunk from some dinner party and just fell asleep on the bed, an impression furthered when she looks down and sees her poky tits, and claims not to have been aware of what she was wearing. Ummm-hmmm.

Next Steiger dresses up as a German plumber and goes to this woman’s apartment, and after a long scene, kills her. Then he calls up Morris and wants to talk about it, insisting that Morris compliment his German accent. He liked that the paper said the murder was well-planned, and wants them to compliment him again. He gives Mo [Morris] the location of the most recent murder, but it’s almost all botched by Morris’ broken pencil! One of the things that I love about this movie is how very low-tech police still are at the time. One broken pencil could foil all their efforts! We also find that the killer stays on the phone for four minutes—but that this isn’t enough time to trace his location. I guess things really have changed.

Then Mo goes to see Lee again, who is dressed like a Hitchcock blonde in this whole pink thing. They ride the bus together, and she pretty much insists during conversation that he acknowledge that she’s pretty and has a good figure. I’m telling you, she is one strange character. Anyway, although they’ve only met once before, they’re both SUPER into each other, which we’ll just have to take their word for, as their chemistry together is flat like the pancake.

Then Steiger shows up at this woman’s house dressed as a Lagerfeld-type gay fellow who says she’s won a free wig and he’s going to fit it for her right there. He says something that cracked me up, which was “The fitting of a wig has to be done with great artistry or you’re liable to look just absolutely dreadful.” Turns out that this woman is the crazy cat lady to end all crazy cat ladies, and she makes him promise to keep his voice down and not make any sudden movements. He tells her how he recently kicked his boyfriend out, and gets closer and closer to the killing—when suddenly the woman’s sister Sylvia shows up, played by Doris Roberts of my fave Honeymoon Killers, which, ironically enough, I had just watched while showing it to some friends the very night before. Anyway, due to the presence of the sister, he doesn’t kill either of them—though of course I think he should have killed them both.

Then we have a scene where Morris’ mother goes off the chart in the Jewish mother stereotype, insisting to know all about this woman Morris is seeing, then saying how she’s all wrong and will be the ruin of him. At one point Morris says, referring to the killer’s victims, that the woman he’s seeing has “only got one eye in the middle of her forehead,” and his mother, not listening, says “Of course! Of course! She’ll break your heart!” Then, after another call from the killer, Morris gets an idea that the killer also has an overbearing mother, and feeds info to the paper that the killer is a sexual pervert hung up on his mother. This has the intended effect, to enrage the killer and get him to call again. He does, and one notes that Mo’s whole attitude is all this dismissive “yeah, yeah,” that is, he doesn’t try to engage the killer at all or try to get him talk longer, then later he complains that “I couldn’t keep him on the phone long enough!”

Anyway, Morris is taken off the case, which annoys the killer, who gets dressed up in drag and goes to what I assume is a gay bar, where he throws a scene and is taken in by another drag queen [at least I THINK it was a drag queen], and ends up killing her, leaving a message to reinstate Morris on the case, which is soon done.
Then we see Lee in her job as a tour guide at the under-construction Lincoln Center, where Morris comes to visit her. Apparently she can just leave her job at any time, and they go for a cruise down the Hudson on the police boat that Mo can apparently commandeer for his own romantic interests at any time. We see a lot of NYC’s West Side circa 1968, with all the piers still in place [the earlier Lincoln Center footage was somewhat interesting as well] as they cruise along. Lee again comes on to Mo HARD, and informs him that “all she did for two years was swing with the beautiful people.” And I don’t think she’s talking about the kind of swinging you do on playgrounds… though I suppose you could do it there as well. Lee’s character is so odd throughout, so obsessed with making Morris [whom she has never had a proper date with] tell her how he thinks she’s attractive… she seems like quite a psychologically damaged individual with serious body issues, but I guess some people are into that.

After a midget comes into the police office claiming to be the killer, we next see Lee reading the book “Jewish” in her apartment. She forces Mo to tell her that he loves her “desperately, madly,” even though they have spent a total of 3 hours and 14 minutes together, and then he takes her home to meet his mother. Lee says “I love this apartment! It’s so Jewish!” to which the mother naturally raises her hackles, but Lee means it as a compliment, because Jewish apartments are so nice. She then says that she herself is going to convert, and starts berating Morris, praising his brother, and telling his mother that he’s only good to fetch things and lift heavy objects. This wholesale devaluation of her son is enough to win the mother over, and she praises Lee to him, while Morris accepts that the only woman good enough for him is one who considers him on the mental level of a mule.

SPOILERS > > > Then later the killer shows up at Lee’s apartment, as we knew he always would, claiming that Morris sent over an elaborate Italian meal. He says she has a “very mod apartment,” which she does, but you will also note that she has a poster of J.P. Morgan on her wall. Once the killer’s identity is revealed, be sure to watch how they run in circles through the beads hanging in her bedroom doorway like four times in a row. I was SO hoping he would kill Lee, leaving Mo the shattered shell of a man, but no, she lives.

Mo then gets a tip that a fellow was seen ducking in to a theater, so he goes in, and meets Steiger, playing the owner of the theater. They search for “the killer,” but don’t find him, so Mo and friends go away. Then Mo overhears Steiger talking crazy, and knows he’s the killer. He gives us the lowdown: Steiger’s mother was a famed actress, and Steiger wants to be recognized for his own acting, which he practices by pretending to be different people and killing women. The red lips he paints on their foreheads is an indication of his mother’s own lips. Then he just leaves Steiger, you know, the KILLER he has just spent the movie chasing, to his own devices and goes downstairs to check out the costume collection. Cops were different back then. There is some chasing in the theater, including one part where Mo gets bonked square in the face with a sandbag [funny] and knocked unconscious, but not before squeezing off a shot that, we later find out, wounded Steiger. So the killer is foiled while our hero is, in fact, unconscious. The end.
< < < SPOILERS END

Eh, I don’t know. It was fine. I watched this in two parts, and was a lot more into the first part [as usual], as once we get into the second part there are no more surprises, and things we can see a mile away [you just KNEW he was going to show up at Lee’s house] start to happen, as well as time-wasters like the midget making his confession and stuff. This is listed in Netflix and IMDb as a “comedy / thriller” so maybe things like the midget were supposed to be funny, maybe Lee being virtually psychotic was supposed to be funny, maybe all the Jewish mother stuff was supposed to be funny. It WASN’T, but maybe it was supposed to be.

And maybe I was just hoping for more of a gay angle, having expected one since this was on Homo Promo. There wasn’t much of one here. I also think George Segal is cut out for a romantic comedy, but I didn’t buy him for one second as a detective, and just found his presence off for the entirety of the movie. But I definitely did enjoy Rod Steiger’s performance, and the fun of seeing him in all those different costumes and accents. And then of course you get the occasional murder to spice things up.

And then there’s a lot that just doesn’t come together. Most notably, the whole overbearing mother doesn’t seem to add much of anything. This was adapted from a novel by William Goldman, and I am assuming that the whole connection between the killer and the detective, via their overbearing moms, was a lot more solid in the novel. I was also unclear on why the killer targets middle-aged women, and how he gets to know them well enough that he knows what disguise and accent to use to appeal to them, most notable with the second victim, whom he seems to know is from Frankfurt and is homesick for that place.

Yeah, this is one of those things that is amusing enough to sit through if it comes on TV, but there’s no real reason to seek it out, and if you do watch it you’ll probably have completely forgotten it by the following day.

Should you watch it: 

If you want, but I wouldn’t go out of your way.