The movie opens with an Irish priest, Father McDonald, making a house call to a widowed middle-aged woman. She states she has fallen from the church, losing her faith after the death of her husband. An inappropriate conversation initiated by the priest leads to a frenzy of tickling (yes, tickling) followed by a strangulation by his cold and uncaring hands. May she rest in peace. This opening scene leaves you feeling violated yet intrigued. Can you trust no one in this world? This movie certainly tends to think so. You can’t even trust a priest, those closest to God.
A Jewish cop, Morris Brummel (played by a young George Segal), gets put on the case and interviews the beautiful neighbor upstairs, Kate Palmer, a flirtatious single woman with her eye on Morris. Kate is so stylishly mod, with her A-line dresses, thin frame, blonde bob haircut, and thick eyelashes. They quickly build a rapport that turns into a fledgling relationship, which does not go unnoticed by our mystery killer who also has his eye on Morris and his movements.
Older murder mystery films like this tend to drag on and include many irrelevant scenes, especially in the dark comedy genre. Take Dario Argento’s film Deep Red (1975) for instance; the “comedy” scenes that try to cut the tension, more often than not, come off as cheesy. But No Way to Treat a Lady manages to capture a balance between the two. It is not graphic or gratuitous in any sense of the word. Instead, it relies on intriguing storytelling and inventive and memorable characters. It is as much about the characters’ personal lives as it is about the murders being investigated, making the audience invested in what happens to these characters.
The first time I saw this movie I couldn’t stop thinking about it for years. When the killer begins this murder spree, we quickly realize he is not a priest but a man of many masks- a German handyman, a gay wig-maker, an officer of the law, even a woman, adept at altering his personality and a wizard at changing his accent with ease- lending to a fascinating character study and great performance by actor Rod Steiger. The idea of the killer masquerading as people we trust, scared the piss out of me when I was younger.
No Way to Treat a Lady feels way beyond its time, much like Dressed to Kill (1980), another murder mystery film that has stolen my heart and attention with effortlessness. I hope to one day read the novel version of this, adapted from writer William Goldman, though it looks like it is hard to come by on Amazon.
©Doom-Generation.com Movie Reviews for the Sublimely Weird