Tuesday, August 5, 2008

DVD of the Week: "Little Murders" (Alan Arkin, 1971)


It’s a shame that Alan Arkin’s directing career never took off. The Oscar-winning actor’s direction infused 1971’s Little Murders, based on the satirical Jules Feiffer play, with energetic visuals, biting wit, and outrageous absurdity. The film stars the perfectly cast Elliott Gould as Albert, a man of intense apathy whose career as a photographer is stuck in existential mire and who strangely enjoys getting the shit kicked out of him by perfect strangers. Eventually, Albert runs into a peppy little ultra-consumer named Patsy (Marcia Rodd), and love blossoms, prompting Albert to poke his numb little head out of his numb little shell and take a peak at the domestic possibilities and emotional dead-ends of materialism.

Throughout Albert and Patsy’s courtship, which culminates in a riotously funny marriage ceremony featuring an unforgettable appearance by Donald Sutherland as a confrontational priest, various acts of violence and anarchy encircle their New York City environs. Patsy’s family doesn’t help matters much, dwelling in an oppressive atmosphere of xenophobic terror and pristine conformity in which sniper-blocking steel shutters are constant reminders of outlying threats. Following a tragedy, however, the absurdity and paranoia that hover around the darkly comedic action are ratcheted up to extreme proportions and Little Murders reveals itself to be a very brave and worthwhile, if under-appreciated, film.

-Brandon Colvin

7 comments:

Jeremy Richey said...

Man this sounds awesome...thanks for the report. I'm gonna seek it out...

Ed Howard said...

Probably one of my favorite overlooked movies, GREAT choice. It's a brilliant, over-the-top masterpiece that shifts tones abruptly and violently. The long, discursive monologues delivered at key points by several different characters -- the preacher, the judge -- are hilarious too. I love the whole wedding ceremony scene. Feiffer is a great dialogue writer, and a sharp, uncompromising satirist, and this is his best film work by far, although his scripts for Carnal Knowledge and Popeye are also quite good. Scenes from this film have just been burned into my brain ever since I first saw it, especially the ending. I couldn't recommend this highly enough.

James Hansen said...

I've never even heard of this movie. Nice choice, Brandon! (Not just because I haven't heard of it, but...you know...yeah...) Maybe we'll go back and forth on picking DVDs of the week to make sure we have plenty of flavor in there.

Ed Howard said...

Incidentally, if you're not aware of Feiffer's work in comics, it's well worth a look for anyone who appreciates the barbed humor of this film. He's perhaps best known as a cartoonist, despite his impressive plays and screenplays. Fantagraphics Books recently released a huge collection called Explainers that gathers up the first big haul of his Village Voice strips. It's great, funny stuff.

The character of the Judge in this film also inspired a very similar character in Dave Sim's great comic Cerebus. It's pretty much a pitch-perfect homage.

Brandon Colvin said...

It's available on Netflix, so you should definitely queue it up, Jeremy.

Thanks for the comments, Ed! It's good to see that someone else appreciates this tragically forgotten film!

James, I would have no problem alternating. It's good to have some variety, one of the advantages of having a multi-writer blog.

Neil Fulwood said...

Can't believe I've never come across this movie before. I'll definitely be tracking it down now. You had me at "Donald Sutherland as a confrontational priest". (One of my long-standing guilty pleasures is Sutherland as a hippy tank driver in Brian G Hatton's bonkers 'Where Eagles Dare' follow-up 'Kelly's Heroes'.)

Anonymous said...

The DVD of this movie has been unavailable for purchase for quite some time (except for used copies from Amazon) - quite a pity really.
John Corley