Overbearing Mothers & A Mother Fixation – Rediscovering ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ (US 1968 – 108 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - October 22, 2015
Overbearing Mothers & A Mother Fixation – Rediscovering ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ (US 1968 – 108 mins)

A delicious slice of murder and mirth, the superb black comedy ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ was an actor’s dream that gave Rod Steiger an opportunity to create multiple characters, in helping to tell the story of a serial killer who dons various disguises before murdering a series of lonely middle-aged women.

Theater owner and would-be star Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) is leading a double life. When not on stage, the mother-fixated wannabe is wandering around New York killing a number of elderly women. Assigned to the case of catching the crazed killer is Morris Brummel (George Segal), a Jewish detective with mother issues of his own. After unwittingly complimenting the killer in the press, Brummel begins receiving phone calls from Gill, offering him the addresses of his victims. As Brummel closes in on Gill, it appears that his next murder may turn out to be far closer to home than Brummel would wish for.

Having won an Oscar the previous year for ‘In the Heat of the Night’ (’67), the sublime Rod Steiger was again on top form, and obviously relishing the roles he was able to play here. From sweaty plumber to gay hairdresser, Steiger managed to create some believable and ultimately chilling characters. It’s still my favourite of many great Steiger roles. Likable everyman George Segal was also very good in the lead role of Morris Brummel, the detective who falls for one of the witnesses to Gill’s crimes. Lee Remick was never more beautiful as Segal’s free-spirited girlfriend and possible next victim; Kate Palmer. Special mention should go to the great Eileen Heckart, who almost stole the show as Segal’s nagging mom.

Noted television director Jack Smight did a fine job here, and would re-unite with Steiger the following year for the cult sc-fi oddity ‘The Illustrated Man’ (’69). John Gay wrote the terrific screenplay which was based on William Goldman’s short 1964 novel, although he changed it somewhat to make the killer’s role bigger than in the book.

For once, the romantic subplot doesn’t get in the way of the story, and we even begin to care about Brummel’s blossoming romance, which almost ends prematurely after a neat twist towards the end when Steiger’s latest ‘character’ comes knocking on Kate’s door. The tense theater-bound climax is very well staged, as are all of Steiger’s pre-murder set-pieces, most notably the ones involving his Irish priest, and later his sarcastic & camp hairdresser.

A film that has gained a deserved cult status and sizable following, ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ is a tense, funny, and very gripping black comedy. But don’t let the ‘comedy’ tag fool you, it’s also unnerving and creepy, with some of the on-screen murders shot in a realistic and close-up manner. But what lingers most here are Steiger’s roster of memorable characterizations, which go a long way in making it one of my favourite repeat viewing movies.

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1 Comment on "Overbearing Mothers & A Mother Fixation – Rediscovering ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ (US 1968 – 108 mins)"

  • Simon

    I love this film, although I haven’t seen it for ages, need to rewatch.
    Steiger is terrific.

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