Little Murders - The Gold Standard of Black Comedies

Posted in In My Opinion...

I continue to harden my opinion that blogs are stupid and pointless. But I know there are a few people living even less of a life than I am and reading this, so... for you... here's a review of a movie you need to see...

I stumbled on to "Little Murders" on HBO back in the 70's and seriously enjoyed the dark and intellectual humor. Recently, I bought a copy and snuck it into our family movie night rotation. Having not seen it in so many years, I was a little worried it might not live up to my fond recollection. However, it did not disappoint. Quite the contrary... it turned out to be one of the best movie viewing experiences I've had in years. I saw both my wife and daughter laughing, though to be fair.. I think they expected things delivered a little faster.

In my opinion, Little Murders is the gold standard of dark comedy. Generally, attempting to analyze why a particular piece of art "works" is a silly exercise, but some comments on the high points for me... First, the cast. Vincent Gardenia was one of the finest character actors ever to stand in front of a camera and this was, in my opinion, his magnum opus. Alan Arkin too holds a very special place in "comedies for people who think" and he delivers in Little Murders as well. The underlying vision of the film takes "dark" to never-seen-again levels, and gets there primarily under the power of five of the all-time most perfect rants/soliloquies in the history of film:

  • Lou Jacobi as a judge speaking on the presence of The Deity in marriage vows gives a brilliant, extended, passionate rant on how difficult life was for his generation. The camera angles are *perfect*. The details are perfect. I would have paid just to watch this.
  • Vincent Gardenia, who is to avant garde 70's comedy what Steve McQueen is to WWII prison camp escape movies, delivers an exquisite, progressive, meltdown as he finally gets his arms around, and then recognizes his place in, the mega-apocalyptic New York in which he lives... I wept.

    Example:
    [police are taking a Stepford Wives-looking woman out in a body bag as Vincent and his wife step past and around it, barely taking notice]

    Wife: "I saw that nice detective again today.. he was here investigating another murder."

    Vincent: <impatiently> "Who got it this time?"

    Wife: "I don't know.. some woman from the other wing"

    Vincent: <relieved> "Thank *GOD*!
  • Alan Arkin was the director and had a cameo as the detective.. His effort to reassure the family after 347 unsolved murders in their neighborhood is spectacular.
  • The marriage vows scene with the radical priest Donald Sutherland interacting with the rest of the cast is rich in exquisite detail.
  • Finally, this introspective, quiet little moment with lead character Elliot Gould... in the dark.. unfolding very slowly.. while he recounts how he once monkey-wrenched his FBI mail watcher in college.. It was slow and intellectual and brilliant.. It didn't advance the plot of the movie.. but when you were done watching it, you were left sitting there reeling from the brilliance of the scene. It too was almost it's own short subject.

If you enjoy dark comedy, find some quiet time and watch this film. Give it time to build. It does start slowly if you compare it to modern films, but I promise you will enjoy it.