Blu-Ray Review – Little Murders

The 1970s comedy was Alan Arkin’s directorial debut (he also appears in the film in gloriously unhinged fashion). Based on a stage play by Jules Feiffer, Little Murders is one of the craziest movies to come out of that era. It stars Elliot Gould, who at this point was at the top of the Hollywood pile. Gould also produced the film and unfortunately for him, it bombed.

Gould plays Alfred Chamberlain, a photographer who is deeply pessimistic. He meets the absurd perky Patsy Newquist (Marcia Rodd) in a ‘70s New York City characterised by crime, garbage strikes and blackouts. They start a relationship, but he remains completely emotionally blank. The film becomes increasingly surreal—it’s the most Buñuelian film that’s not actually by Buñuel that I’ve ever seen. She takes him home to meet her family, who turn out to be batshit crazy, and then the plot goes into a very dark place indeed.

The actors playing Newquist’s family were the only carry-overs from the 1969 version of the stage play, which Arkin also directed. Donald Sutherland appears in an absolutely brilliant cameo as a progressive priest who is trying to officiate a wedding with God. At one point Godard had been slated to direct, and luckily that didn’t happen because he would have ruined it.  (I’m surprised that they didn’t go after Buñuel, actually—he could have done it justice).

It’s a really unsettling film—which is the whole point—and Gould is perfect for the role, with his deadpan delivery. You can also definitely see seeds of Gould’s take on Philip Marlowe in his performance here. Little Murders was his last film role before he made a comeback with The Long Goodbye—in between he had worked on A Glimpse of the Tiger, which he was fired from after a possibly drug-induced mental breakdown, and ended up basically being blacklisted for a few years. That film was quickly reworked into What’s Up, Doc?, which ironically starred Gould’s ex-wife, Barbra Streisand,

Feiffer’s play had been trying to make a statement about the decay of America and how the country at large was struggling to come to terms with the assassinations of the Kennedys, MLK and Malcolm X. It’s utterly deranged, and the kind of film that could only have been made at that time.

The disc does include a few special features, including a commentary by Gould and Feiffer; another commentary by film writer Samm Deighan, who is the editor in chief at Diabolique; interviews with Arkin, Gould and Feiffer; an intro by Alan Arkin; a half hour of radio interview, a trailer and Trailers From Hell with Larry Karaszewski; TV and video spots; stills gallery; and a 40-page booklet with new and old writing on the film.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz

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