Thursday, 3 May 2012

397: No Way To Treat A Lady

No Way to Treat A Lady (1968)
Directed by Jack Smight
Screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel by William Goldman

Starts at 33.55

This is a black comedy, a forerunner of those 1970s Vincent Price theatricalised serial murder films.

A serial killer, Christopher Gill (played by Rod Steiger), strangles older women to death then draws a lipstick kiss on their foreheads. Gill is a theatre director who kills because of his mother fixation. To compound this he regularly phones the detective investigating the murders to taunt and mislead him and laud his own genius.

The main reason to watch this film is Steiger’s performance which is outré to say the least. Gill commits his murders by getting the old ladies to invite him into their homes, by putting on a series of disguises: priest, plumber, cop, hairdresser. So there are his oddball performances in these disguises. He then puts on other accents when on the phone to the detective. And then there’s his performance when Gill is just being himself. Steiger’s character/characters never quite manage to form a total. The character never settles into a groove and so is either all over the shop like a mad woman’s piss or deliberately unsettling. The tone never quite finds itself.

Half of this film follows Steiger. The other half follows the investigating detective, his developing relationship with one of the witnesses played by Lee Remmick, and his life with his ultra-stereotypically jewish mother. Oh, and there’s even a dwarf making a confession thrown in at one point.

Yes, it’s an odd film. But not flamboyant in such a way that one could describe it as a traditional camp classic. It’s shot in a slightly grubby manner more appropriate to a film about The Boston Strangler, say, with no showy cameos unless you count Steiger’s various impersonations. The only camp is in the scene where Gill pretends to be a gay hairdresser offering a free wig to his prospective murder victim.

Steiger’s impersonation involves a blond wig with large sunglasses and a fastidious suit – there does seem to be some sort of cliché in the 60s that gay men were dyed blond. Of course there’s a mincing walk and prissy hands. His character here is called Dorian Smith – Dorian for the Oscar Wilde allusion, and Smith for the slight gay lisp, hence also a number of effeminate “Sweetheart”s in his conversation. When he talks it’s with twitching, pursed lips, particularly immobilising the lower lip even as he speaks – which deserves some credit – and indeed the camera zooms in on his face. His speech is drawling, but emphatic i.e. “Just. Absolutely. Dreadful”. Or else everything is “lovely”, “sweet”, “marvellous”.

Then there’s this little monologue:
“Honestly, the whole world is falling into crazy little pieces. It’s getting so you can’t trust anyone anymore. I had a friend, a very close friend, I mean we lived together for three years, so you know, sweetheart, I mean we Were Close, you see. Well, I found out he was a very mean and a very spiteful person. So just yesterday I had to kick him. That’s all: Just. Kick. Him. Out”.

The character has little bitchy moment as his victim argues with him about the wig, and then latter when he realise he won’t be able to murder her, to make his escape he gets a real strop on. As he storms out his prospective murder victim’s the sister calls him “You homo!” To which he waspily replies :”That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person” and slams the door behind him.

Steiger had played at least one tortured closet homosexual role before, but this is not in the same dramatic hemisphere. This is just blowing up clichés on the big screen outrageously. Who’s in on the joke maybe another matter. Though to most of the audience at the time it would have been a novelty to see them on the big screen, as this sort of thing hadn’t made its way on to the TV.

1 comment:

VermillionCorsetryCouture said...

i assume you know that female impersonator kim august played 'sadie' the hooker who was tricked by gill disguised as a woman.