The Intriguing Everyman: Cult Star Stuart Whitman

There is a rugged sensuality about Stuart Whitman with his thick black hair and that sexy cleft in his strong chin. I’ve been totally gone gaga over the man for as long as I can remember. Although he doesn’t possess the typical pretty leading man looks like Paul Newman or Marlon Brando, Whitman has an offbeat sex appeal that I’m drawn to more than the obviously handsome guy. Maybe it’s his commanding brows framing his deep drawn blue eyes. Or perhaps it’s his raspy suede voice one octave down from middle C and that outre cool swagger that gets me. I love the self-assured manner that he exudes in every one of his roles. There are over 180 films and television roles to his credit. It seems like he lived a very full life on his terms, and had a great appreciation for the ladies– lucky them! He was also long time friends with many of his working colleagues and that says a lot to me.

Stuart Whitman was born on Feb. 1, 1928, in San Francisco. He appeared in summer stock plays in New York until  the age of 12. After living in New York his family moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1940s. He graduated from Hollywood High School in 1945, then enlisted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for three years. While in the service he was secretly trained in boxing by his uncle, and won boxing matches as a light-heavy weight. After an honorable discharge he attended acting classes at night with the Michael Chekhov Stage Society and studied for four years.

He joined the Ben Bard Drama School in Hollywood debuting in the school’s production of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which ran for six months.

20th Century Fox scooped Stuart Whitman up while amassing new talent during the late 1950s.

In 1952, Stuart Whitman continued to appear in small roles in George Archainbard’s Barbed Wire and Tay Garnett’s One Minute to Zero. Universal signed him In December, 1952, which got him a tiny part in Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire with Barbara Stanwyck and The All American.

His most memorable and brave portrayals is of Kim Fuller in The Mark.

In The Mark, Stuart Whitman takes on the compelling, challenging role of Jim Fuller, who after serving three years in prison for the abduction and attempted molestation of a nine year old girl, is let out. Jim Fuller coming to terms with his past has gone through extensive therapy with psychiatrist McNally (Rod Steiger) and is released a reformed man, given a good job, and tries to acclimate himself back into normal society. He starts up a relationship with the company secretary Ruth (Maria Schell) who has a 10 year old little daughter. The ugly monster that is his past creeps up behind him and challenges his chance at a new life. While the film’s subject is still one of revulsion, the character of James Fuller is framed sympathetically, partly because he never went through with committing the crime. The film gives a well explained symptomology through Dr. McNally’s compassionate trained eye for uncovering the truth, and flashbacks aide us in seeing Fuller’s utter agony with what he contemplated doing. He stops himself from going through with the assault and vomits at the thought of it. He drives the little girl back to town where he is met with an angry mob. He asks to be locked up because he is sick.

The Mark explores without reservation the conflicted Jim Fuller, which in the cinema at that time breaks ground.He finds solace in his relationship with a sympathetic psychiatrist Rod Steiger. The Mark costars Maria Schell.

While the film is quite black & white with it’s Freudian brush strokes, the story is still compelling and Guy Green’s direction works well to light the flame under the kettle slowly. The Mark was released in a time in film releases where sexual ‘deviation’ was being experimented with at the cinema. Director Basil Dearden’s taut drama Victim (1961) starring Dirk Bogarde about homosexuality and blackmail, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) that deals with mental illness, homosexuality and cannibalism, and Lillian Hellman’s story directed by William Wyler The Children’s Hour (1961) that deals with the stigma of lesbianism.

Originally Richard Burton was cast in the part of Jim Fuller and the part of Ruth was to be Jean Simmons. And while Burton is of course one of those incredible actors who is laudable at dancing a waltz with complex and damaged, Whitman is profoundly adept at pouring out multitudinous levels of torturous self loathing and social anxiety in a plot full of minefields the protagonist can step on. The film earned him the Oscar nomination for Best Actor not only for his incredibly nuanced performance but partly for his brave and challenging accomplishment. The Mark features Whitman’s complex portrayal of a sexual deviant and a self reflexive man struggling to come to terms with his predilections while finding his way back into society again. There’s a good reason he was nominated for Best Actor… he deserved the award.

Excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

SC: What was the challenge for you in making THE MARK?

STUART WHITMAN: “I was doing a screen test at 20th with Lee Remick for a movie called The Candy Man which Tony Richardson was going to direct. And I got a telephone call from Kurt Frings my agent at the time. And Kurt tells me, “Don’t go back” ‘but I’m shooting right now I said. “Don’t go to the set.” He said “What do you mean?” ‘Don’t go back Just go home, pack a bag and catch the four o’clock to London this afternoon. You’re gonna shoot a movie in Ireland.” I asked “Well, what’s the name of the picture?” “Not to worry. Don’t ask any questions. Just get on the plane and go.” And I remember racing to the airport to catch the plane and running into the actor Dane Clark, “Where you going Stuart?” He asked me “ I’m off to do a thing called THE MARK” I told him, “but I don’t know anything about it.” THE MARK? He said “My God, I really wanted to play that role, Jesus Christ.” So that was the only indication I received that it was something special… Well Richard Burton was originally supposed to do my role in THE MARK but he was starring in Camelot and couldn’t get out of his commitment to do the play. So Kurt–who handled Burton and Maria School, the female lead in THE MARK and wonderful to work with-he squared me into the thing.”

“So they put me up in a hotel in London, and I had three days there before going on location to Ireland. Now when I arrived at the London hotel, all of these British reporters were asking me “What do you think about doing this movie?” ‘I haven’t read it” I told them “ I don’t know. Let me read it , then I will tell ya” So I got rid of all of the reporters because I really didn’t know what the fuck the movie was all about. And in my hotel room, when I finally read the script, I kind of freaked out. So much so that I was thinking to myself “Well, I could get sick and tell them that I can’t do the movie—I had all kinds of excuses that I was going to lay on ‘em so that I didn’t have to tackle this project. Then I thought, “Well, fuck it. If I”m in the right business or the wrong business I”ll know if I can pull this one off. And if I can I”ll be alright, But yeah it was difficult to do. And that’s when I first met Rod Steiger. Since Rod and I had a lot of scenes together, he said “you want to come over to my house and we’ll just run over the lines and get familiar with it?” “Absolutely” I said to him.”

After the dreaded Night of the Lepus, Whitman survived the blip in his momentum and proclaimed his comeback with multiple entertaining films and television roles, many that helped him attain cult status. Including Lawrence Harvey’s excursion into cannibalism Welcome to Arrow Beach, and master of horror Tobe Hooper’s sub-genre of horror films— the hillbilly slasher Eaten Alive starring Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones. My favorite is his performance as the love sick paramour of Piper Laurie’s in Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977). The underrated nightmarish ghost story and a great vehicle for Piper Laurie. Whitman brings that wonderful 70s sensibility to the film as he aches for his lover to return his affections.

Meg Foster and Stuart Whitman in Lawrence Harvey’s Welcome to Arrow Beach

Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun in Night of the Lepus

Stuart Whitman also stepped into the role of cult leader of People’s Temple Jim Jones with a hyperbolic performance in GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED.

Aside from some his more obvious diversions into the cult market, Stuart Whitman delivered memorable roles in films like director Monte Hellman’s Shatter 1974 where he plays an a cool character, an international hit man who is now himself a target. Whitman can slip into a diverse range of characters from sympathetic child molester, to homicidal cult leader/mass murderer, cut throats and heroes, urbane hitmen or a variety of sheriffs. From the 60s decade through the 70s Stuart Whitman’s roles ran the gamut.

Making his film debut in 1951 science fiction films uncredited in director Rudolph Maté’ and George Pal’s When Worlds Collide credited as Kip Whitman and in director Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Whitman gained popularity as a cult actor appearing in a variety of films The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957)  co-starring Mamie Van Doren and Anne Bancroft.

The 1960s were a  golden time for Whitman where he found himself to be one of the leading stars in Hollywood. Another outstanding example of his versatile acting ability is showcased in the intense crime drama based on New York gangsters — Murder, Inc. 1960 and the 1964 psychologically disturbing, psychotronic  Shock Treatment 1965. Whitman plays an actor Dale Nelson who is hired to locate $1 million in stolen money, so he gets himself committed to the institution run by Lauren Bacall. But finds himself immersed in the depths of insanity inside the asylum. Then there was the international assembled cast for the aviation extravaganza comedy Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines and the fantastic adventure film The Sands of the Kalahari.

Stuart Whitman in The Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

Murder, Inc. Year : 1960 USA Stuart Whitman Director: Burt Balaban.

Stuart Rosenberg’s directorial debut Murder, Inc (1960) co-starred Peter Falk in his explosive role as Abe Reles.

SC: Hey, I don’t want to forget about MURDER, INC.

STUART WHITMAN: “I did that while I was still under contract to 20th They said “you’re going off to New York to do this thing called Murder, Inc. So on the plane I’m reading the script, and I’m thinking “wow! What a role here… Abe Reles… And when I got to New York and they picked me up in a limo at the airport, they asked me “how did you like the script? “Oh God, I just loved it” And they said “we got an interesting young guy, a character actor named Peter Falk who’s gonna plays Abe Reles” “Wait” I said, “I thought that was my role” “No, no You’re going to play the kid in it.. with May Britt.. the love affair part of the story.” And I said “Oh shit, I don’t want to do it. SO I called up (Spyros) Skouras (president of 20th Century Fox from 42 to 62) and said “Now Mrs Skouras that’s not the role I wanted to do” No do it” he said.

Anyhow, Peter Falk and I were getting along, getting some good stuff into the picture but when they fired the director Stuart Rosenberg, we had a sit down strike between us actors. But then a full out strike was coming along, and 20th said “The strike is coming up, so we have to finish this picture right away—before it hits.” Well, the very day we finished the picture, the strike hit. But that’s why there are two directors credited on Murder Inc. Burt Balaban was the producer so when Rosenberg got fired he stepped in.”

Stuart Whitman was very physically fit and started doing a lot of macho-type movies around this time, like westerns Rio Conchos 1964 and The Comancheros 1961. Whitman has top billing in the well-cast western, The Comancheros, and maintains a glorious chemistry with Wayne. He plays a womanizing gambler who kills a nobleman’s son in a dual. He escapes the noose but is hunted down the honest Captain of the Texas Rangers Jake Cutter (John Wayne). It’s directed by Michael Curtiz, and both men exchange quick-witted dialogue. Inevitably the two become friends. Cimarron Strip 1967-68 was Whitman’s short lived highly charged 90 minute TV western which was his show starring as the serious Marshal Jim Crown. Episodes featured other great actors like Richard Boone, Warren Oates, and Robert Duvall. I read that Cimarron Strip was of Whitman’s favorite projects.

Stuart Whitman as Marshal Jim Crown in the television western series Cimarron Strip 1967-68

Stuart Whitman in Rio Conchos (1964)

Stuart Whitman and co-star John Wayne in Michael Curtiz’s The Comancheros (1961)

Stuart Whitman was so versatile he was able to stand astride both television and feature films from dramatic hits to film noir, horror and cult exploitation. Some of his most notable films are Ten North Frederick (1958), director William Wellman’s Darby’s Rangers (1958) co-starring James Garner. Whitman does a superb job piece of work as a ballsy American soldier who joins an elite group who are trained as special forces during WWII. Andrew L. Stone’s The Decks Ran Red (1958) co-starring James Mason and Dorothy Dandridge. 
The Longest Day (1962), The Comancheros (1961) co-starring John Wayne, The Sound and The Fury (1959) co-starring Joanne Woodward, the grand British comedy adventure spectacle Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Shock Treatment (1964) co-starring Carol Lynley and Roddy McDowall as a very disturbed gardner, René Clément’s The Day and the Hour (1963) co-starring Simone Signoret. Stuart Whitman plays an American soldier who is shot down behind enemy lines and is aided by the French resistance. Whitman directed one specific scene that Clément agreed to let him shoot. There is an impassioned chemistry between the sublime Signoret (a favorite actress of mine) and Whitman, as the two journey to escape the Nazi’s in occupied France. Clément is at his finest profiling war torn Europe, his focus on the stirring content and eloquent faces that populate his films.
Stuart Whitman in Darby’s Rangers (1958) – directed by William Wellman
Joanne Woodward and Stuart Whitman in The Sound and the Fury (1959)
Stuart Whitman holding Simone Signoret in a scene from the film ‘The Day And The Hour’, 1963. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
Le jour et l’heure (The Day and the Hour) Year: 1963 Director: René Clément -Simone Signoret, Stuart Whitman, Billy Kearns
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Simone Signoret, Stuart Whitman
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément  Simone Signoret , Stuart Whitman
Whitman plays the compassionate prison guard who believes in rehabilitation not the death penalty in Convicts 4 (1962). His performance adds a real and humanist impact to the tense and confining spaces of the prison. There are also fine appearances by Rod Steiger, Sammy Davis Jr. and Vincent Price. Whitman felt at home in the western, he starred in Rio Conchos (1964), and then the turbulent psycho-drama An American Dream (1966) co-starring Janet Leigh and Eleanor Parker.
Night of the Lepus (1972) co-starring Janet Leigh and Rory Calhoun. Apparently Whitman felt that this low budget horror film was the decline of his career. Stuart Whitman was forced into taking the role in William F. Claxton’s ridiculous horror flick. In it, Whitman and Janet Leigh play zoologists who accidentally unleash giant bunny rabbits. The film is laughable and was partly responsible for the blemish on his career, though the film has attained cult status.
He managed to work with some of the most prominent directors, William Wellman, Frank Borzage, Don Siegel, Richard Fleischer, Michael Curtiz, Douglas Sirk, Jacques Tourneur and  René Clément.
After guest starring in dramatic television programs Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Zane Grey Theater and Dr Christian. He gained recognition in the lead role as Marshal Jim Crown in the successful Western television series Cimarron Strip that ran from 1967-68 on CBS. Other television appearances include Death Valley Days Highway Patrol 1956-57, Have Gun-Will Travel (1958), Bracken’s World (1970), Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episode Lindemann’s Catch and Fright Night.
He was in Circle of Fear (1972) The Streets of San Fransisco (1973), Quincy M.E., Knight Rider, A-Team, S.W.A.T., and Murder, She Wrote. He had a re-occurring role in Knots Landing. In 1988, he was featured in Superboy which lasted until 1992. Whitman played Jonathan Kent Superboy’s adoptive father.
Stuart Whitman and Chloris Leachman in Jonathan Demme’s Crazy Mama (1975)
Stuart Whitman and Eleanor Parker in An American Dream (1966)
Fred Williamson, Jenny Sherman and Stuart Whitman in Mean Johnny Barrows (1976)
1971: (L-R) Bradford Dillman, Carol Eve Rossen, Shelley Winters, Stuart Whitman appearing in the ABC tv movie ‘Revenge!’. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
Stuart Whitman appeared in various tv movies, City Beneath the Sea (1971), Revenge! (1971) co-starring Shelley Winters, The Woman Hunter (1972), co-starring Barbara Eden.
Donald Randolph, Tony Curtis, Richard Long, Stuart Whitman and Palmer Lee in “The All American” 1953 Universal ** B.D.M.

Under contract to Universal Stuart Whitman was still cast in minimal parts in 1953. The first with director Budd Boetticher’s The Man from the Alamo. Then he worked with Jacques Tourneur his crime thriller Appointment in Honduras. Then followed The Veils of Bagdad and Walking My Baby Back Home.

in 1954, he was still getting cast in small roles Charles’ Vidor’s Rhapsody, loaned out to MGM. Stuart Whitman appeared in Brigadoon. He performed on stage at the Coast Theater in Christopher Fry’s Venus Observed.

1955, Whitman maintained his brief images like the man on the beach in Curtis Bernhardt’s Interrupted Melody. Also that year, Whitman had a minor role in the serial King of the Carnival. In that same vein he appeared in Allan Dwan’s war drama Hold Back the Night.  Then came Budd Boetticher’s western Seven Men from Now in 1956 co-starring Lee Marvin and Randolph Scott.

Finally In 1957, Stuart Whitman’s film presence gained visibility in Gerd Oswald’s noir thriller Crime of Passion, and Reginald Le Borg’s War Drums. He got his first leading role in John H. Auer’s Johnny Trouble. Where Whitman plays Johnny Chandler a belligerent young man whom Ethel Barrymore believes is her grandson. Films that followed were Hell Bound co-starring Broderick Crawford and James Mason and Howard W. Koch’s psycho-sexual shocker The Girl in Black Stockings (1957).

Stuart Whitman as Prentiss in The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957)

Carolyn Jones and Stuart Whitman in Johnny Trouble (1957)

Also in 1957 Whitman had a notable role in the military series, Harbor Command based on the United States Coast Guard.

He had a recurring role as police officer Sgt. Walters on the television series Highway Patrol. Whitman  and his co-star Broderick Crawford hit it off and became friends.

He was cast in bit parts in film and stage productions. Then he finally had his breakthrough with the drama Johnny Trouble in 1957 co-starring Ethel Barrymore in her last role. Then he co-starred with Gary Cooper in Ten North Frederick (1958) Stuart Whitman co-starred with Dorothy Dandrige in the crime drama The Decks Ran Red in 1958 where the two kissed showcasing one of the first interracial kisses in Hollywood at the time.

STUART WHITMAN & DOROTHY DANDRIDGE Film ‘THE DECKS RAN RED’ (1958) Directed By ANDREW L. STONE
10 October 1958 CT2447 Allstar/Cinetext/MGM

Dorothy Dandridge and Stuart Whitman in The Decks Ran Red (1958)

excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

SC:You also starred with Broderick Crawford (they worked together in Highway Patrol) in The Decks Ran Red 1958.”

STUART WHITMAN: “Dorothy Dandridge, poor baby… She was previously married to one of the two Nicholas brothers {Harold} and their daughter, who was (brain-damaged), eventually had to be placed in a mental institution. And poor Dorothy was going through all of that turmoil while she was making the movie. A goddess, that’s what she was. “You know how Brod got that picture? Listen to this… Andrew and Virginia Stone both produced it with Andrew directing. And I said to them “who are you going to get to play this role (of Henry Scott)?” And they said, “Oh God, we’d love to have Broderick Crawford but he’s a drunk” And I said “Wait a second, if he tells you he’s not going to drink, then he won’t drink” No, they said. And I said “look. Call him up and talk to him. Tell him that I’m in the picture.” So they called Brod up and hired him. And just as I told them Brod didn’t touch a drop until the last day of shooting-then he let go But that’ show he got that job It was actually a good little movie. James Mason was an interesting guy, and we became fast friends. Oh God, he was a sweetheart. But Brod and he just didn’t get along.”

Came 1958, Charlton Heston left the William Wellman’s film Darby’s Rangers. It’s star James Garner took over the role and Stuart Whitman took Garners original character. Starting in production that year was Richard Fleischer’s western These Thousand Hills, and beginning it’s theatrical run was Ten North Frederick. Whitman remarked “many good things came from that”.

In 1958, Hedda Hopper wrote a piece on Whitman which said he could be the “new Clark Gable” :

This is a fresh personality with tremendous impact. He’s tall and lean with shock of unruly black hair and dark hazel eyes which harden to slate grey when he plays a bad man or turns on the heat in a love scene. When he comes into camera range, the audience sits up and says: “Who dat?”

The Decks Ran Red directed by Andrew L. Stone followed and according to Whitman, he got MGM to hire his friend Broderick Crawford with the condition that he remain sober during the shooting.

In 1959, Stuart Whitman replaced Robert Wagner in The Sound and the Fury co-starring Joanne Woodward and Yul Brynner. Woodward and Whitman would find themselves acting together once again in the taut thriller Signpost to Murder 1964. Also that year he appeared in an episode of the popular television show by writer/produced by Gene Roddenberry Have Gun-Will Travel.

Whitman finally started getting leading man roles in director Don Siegel’s Hound Dog Man. Whitman   played a rogue his “fourth heel in a row… I had a ball because the character was a real louse, everything hanging off him and no inhibitions. I like those kind of guys, I suppose because I can’t be that way myself.”

In 1960, he starred in the Biblical drama The Story of Ruth, replacing Stephen Boyd as Boaz.

Stuart Whitman in “The Story of Ruth” 1960 (Photo by RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

That year he co-starred in the darkly violent crime biopic Murder, Inc. Whitman had originally thought that he was to be cast in the Peter Falk role, but wound up playing the romantic lead instead. The film’s production was problematic from the beginning. Director Stuart Rosenberg was fired for taking too long to set up shots. After the actors’ strike the studio was pressured to finish the film so they hired Burt Balaban to finish production.

Then came 1961 and the role that earned him the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Stuart Whitman was frustrated with the kinds of roles he was getting. “I had been knocking around and not getting anything to test my ability” When Richard Burton dropped out of production of Guy Green’s The Mark, to take the part in the stage production of Camelot, Whitman was contacted by his agent, the actor not knowing the controversial content of the film, he flew to Ireland to read the script. Though it was a challenge he felt that he could tackle the role of a child molester, and he was right as he garnered the Oscar nomination for his performance. Whitman acknowledged that it “doubled my rating as an actor” yet  “I had a tough time breaking my image in that movie… it blocked my image as a gutsy outdoorsman.”

Whitman then starred in The Fiercest Heart filmed in South Africa. Then he appeared in Michael Curtiz’s religious biopic Francis of Assisi. Curtiz wanted Whitman, to appear in his next film The Comancheros. John Wayne had to negotiate with the studio to get Whitman released from a prior commitment with the studio. Stuart Whitman plays Paul Regret who escapes from the law but is eventually captured by Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne).

1962, Whitman starred in Millard Kaufman’s crime drama Convicts 4 and was cast in the all-star feature The Longest Day (1962) The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view. 

Publicity Still from The Longest Day (1962)

Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Stuart Whitman, Marcel Bozzuffi
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Stuart Whitman, Reggie Nalder

From Wiki: In 1963, instead of choosing any of these roles, Whitman played an American pilot in the French film René Clément‘s The Day and the Hour, shot in Paris and set during World War II. As described by Whitman, he got the part through Alain Delon, who he bumped into in an elevator at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Delon invited him to meet the director, and eventually worked out a way to loan him out from his studio contract. During the production of the film, Whitman disagreed with Clément on the direction of a torture scene. Whitman swore to Clément that he could handle it. After coincidentally sitting in a plane next to Sidney Buchman who co-wrote The Mark, they re-wrote the scene. Whitman directed the torture scene and hasn’t directed since. Whitman described Clément, as one of the finest French directors. He enjoyed the experience, saying, “I busted through at last and can now get an honest emotion, project it and make it real. You become egocentric when you involve yourself to such an extent in your role; your next problem is in learning how to turn it off and come home and live with society. It took a lot of time and energy to break through, so I could honestly feel and I’m reluctant to turn it off. Now I know why so many actors go to psychiatrists.”

In 1963, Stuart Whitman appeared in an episode called  “Killing at Sundial” of the first season of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. Whitman plays a Native American seeking to avenge his father who was hanged years ago.

1964, Whitman was cast in the expository psychological shiver as the unfortunate Dale Nelson who gets cast into the snake pit of Shock Treatment (1964). Then came the western directed by Gordon Douglas- Rio Conchos co-starring two other leading men Richard Boone and Tony Franciosa. Whitman said that he didn’t like the script, but producer Darryl F. Zanuck dangled the carrot of the lead role in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in 1965.  After Stuart Whitman met with Richard Boone and director Douglas he agreed to take the part. Director Annakin had wanted Dick Van Dyke for the lead role in this aviation extravaganza but he had to to accept the studio’s choice and wound up being please with Whitman’s wonderful performance.

In 1965 he appeared in the director George Englund’s film noir Signpost to Murder co-starring Joanne Woodward. Signpost to Murder is perhaps one of Stuart Whitman’s most compelling performances. He plays Alex Forrester an escaped patient from an asylum – takes refuge in Molly Thomas’ (Woodward) house who has secrets of her own. This contemplative thriller with twists is an incredibly underrated psychological thriller and deserves more attention paid to it for its narrative precision.  There is an evocative score by master composer Lyn Murray that underlines the moody discord of the plot. Whitman is superb as the desperate man trying to free himself of being labeled insane, culminating in the emotional eruption of violence. “What a terrible way to live out the one life I have. Shut up. Shut off. Forever lost.”

He got the lead in Cy Endfield’s Sands of the Kalahari. Other actors considered for the role were Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Marlon Brando. Whitman had a horrendous time during the shoot, due to the extreme heat on location in Africa, and the baboons whom he had to fight with weren’t trained.  And finally the release of director Ken Annakin’s comedy centered around the aviation craze circa 1910 with an ensemble cast. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines with Whitman featured as the American participating in the race from London to Paris.

In 1966, Whitman starred opposite Eleanor Parker in Robert Gist’s An American Dream aka See You in Hell, Darling based on the novel by Norman Mailer. The film is a self-indulgent cynical journey as Whitman is suspected of killing his wife (Parker) who plays a miserable alcoholic. Whitman then appeared once again on the dramatic television series Bob Hope Presents  in the episode The Highest Fall of All. He played a suicidal stuntman with a death wish who is willing to do dangerous fall.

In 1967, Whitman came into American living rooms for the first time as U.S. Marshal Jim Crown, the lead character in the television western Cimarron Strip.

Stuart Whitman and Margit Saad in The Last Escape (1970)

1970, Whitman appeared in the episode “Murder off-camera” of Bracken’s World. Also that year, Stuart Whitman starred in The Last Escape and The Invincible Six. He was also in an episode of The FBI. 1971, Whitman acted in director Alexander Singer’s Captain Apache co-starring Carroll Baker and Lee Van Cleef.

Whitman plays a psychic who is hired by Carol Rossen to find her missing husband in the Grand Guignol made for television thriller Revenge! starring Shelley Winters as a twisted vengeful mother who is holding Bradford Dillman captive in her cellar. He appeared in another made for television sci-fi adventure The City Beneath the Sea. In 1972, he plays a hardened, solitary sea captain who catches a mermaid in “Lindemann’s Catch”, an episode of Rod Serling’s horror/fantasy series Night Gallery. Serling wrote the episode and Jeff Corey directed.

City Beneath the Sea (1971) made for tv movie

Also in 1972 he appeared in Disney’s Run, Cougar, Run, and an episode of Fantasy Island called “Carnival/The Vaudevillians“. He did another episode of Night Gallery called “Fright Night” where he must take care of a mysterious trunk in an old family estate. Having a proclivity toward starring in horror he appeared in a television episode of Circle of Fear/Ghost Story called “The Concrete Captain co-starring Gena Rowlands. That same year he appeared in another television movie, The Woman Hunter starring Barbara Eden. Came 1972 Whitman appears as a hitman in “The Set Up” episode of The Streets of San Francisco, and the made for television film The Man Who Died Twice. He also appeared in Love, American Style, and an episode of Hec Ramsey called “A Hard Road to Vengeance.” Curtis Harrington’s Made for Television horror The Cat Creature (1973) co-starring Gale Sondergaard.

In 1974 he took to the horror stage again appearing in the outre creepy and violent Welcome to Arrow Beach co-starring Lawrence Harvey and Joanna Pettet about a veteran who craves human flesh. Harvey who directed had asked Whitman to play the lead role, but he told him he didn’t want to play a cannibal but he’d play the deputy because he wanted to work with Lawrence Harvey.

In 1975, he had the lead role in Call Him Mr. Shatter, and an episode of Cannon called “Man in the Middle”. He co-starred with Fred Williamson in Mean Johnny Barrows. That same year he starred in Jonathan Demme’s exploitation film Crazy Mama co-starring Cloris Leachman. Several generations of women go on to be outlaws robbing banks so they can reclaim the farm in Arkansas that was taken away from them by the bank. Whitman plays Jim Bob who is along for the ride with Melba (Cloris Leachman). In Mean Johnny Barrows (1975) Whitman co-stars as a crime boss with Fred Williamson.

In 1976 he starred in the television series S.W.A.T. episode “The Running Man” and then he took to the Italian action genre working with director Alberto De Martino in his giallo feature where Whitman plays Capt. Tony Saitta and co-stars with John Saxon and Martin Landau in the very slick mystery Strange Shadows in an Empty Room. He appeared along side Rod Taylor and Elke Sommer in Treasure Seeker. He acted in television’s Harry O with friend David Janssen and Ellery Queen. He played the sheriff in Tobe Hooper’s nasty horror gorge- Eaten Alive.

In 1977, television called Stuart Whitman once again to appear in Quincy, M.E. in the highly charged episode “Hot Ice Cold Hearts” He appeared in one of my favorite horror films starring the great Piper Laurie. He starred in J. Lee Thompson’s The White Buffalo co-starring Charles Bronson.

In 1978 Whitman appeared in several television miniseries, The Pirate written by Harold Robins and The Seekers. He also starred in Delta Fox.

Around this time, Whitman collaborated twice with director René Cardona Jr.. In 1979 he starred as Jim Jones in the powerfully disturbing, Guyana, Cult of the Damned. The second film was Los Traficantes De Panico, also known as Under Siege.

“A lot of big people told me I was the number one man the networks wanted,” said Whitman. “I always wanted to play a cop with a heart, a guy who would use every possible means not to kill a man,” he said. “TV has needed a superhero… and I think Crown can be the guy.”

The Los Angeles Times did a profile on Whitman around this time, calling him “an actor of growing importance in a business that needs stalwarts to follow in the steps of the Clark Gables, Gary Coopers, and John Waynes… Whitman is like a finely trained athletic champion – a modest but self-assured chap who seems to know where he is going.”

“I’ve done lots of different parts since I left Hollywood High School and City College”, said Whitman in a 1960 interview, “so the sudden switch didn’t bother me too much. I hope 20th Century Fox will keep the roles varied and interesting.”

“I didn’t need to act to make a living, but I had a real passion for it,” he told writer Nick Thomas. “I just loved to act.”

Whitman described himself to Hedda Hopper as “a real American – have a little bit of English, Irish, Scotch and Russian – so I get along with everyone.”

“I went to so many schools—26 in all!—that I was always an outsider,” he later recalled. “It wasn’t until high school that I could really read . . . I always sat in the back of the room.”

Whitman’s early love for acting came through when he did three summer stock plays in New York when he was 12, but “nobody took that seriously,” he said.

“I reached a point where I said, ‘What are you going to do with your life? You got to get something going.'” he said. “I decided I wanted to spend most of my time on me. So I decided to develop me and educate me.”

According to John Gregory Dunne’s “The Studio,” Whitman was suggested for the title role in The Boston Strangler by John Bottomly, the Massachusetts assistant attorney general who prosecuted Albert DeSalvo. Instead, the role went to Tony Curtis.

Whitman had turned down a number of offers to star on television series over the years, including Mannix and Judd for the Defense. “I wanted more diversity in acting,” he said. “I felt I would limit myself.”

Whitman admitted, “I’m the type who must work constantly.” In the early 1970s, he worked increasingly in Europe. “I left Hollywood because it was getting to be a mad mess!” he said. “There are only about two really good scripts going around and they always go to the industry’s two top stars. I thought that in Europe, something better might come my way—and it did! I’ve made mistakes in the past, but I kept bouncing back. I always thought that an actor is destined to act, but I now realize that if you do one role well, you get stuck with it!”

Stuart Whitman retired from film and television after 2000 after his final appearance in The President’s Man.

Awards and honors Included on the Hollywood walk of Fame (1998) Nominated Best Actor Academy Award, The Mark (1961) Winner (cast member) Western Heritage Awards, The Comancheros (1961)

“The Comancheros” John Wayne, Stuart Whitman 1961 20th Century Fox

“I was filming Francis of Assisi 1961 In Italy with director Michael Curtiz IT was wintertime and a hard shoot And near the end of the film, Michael said “Stuart take a look at this script. It’s called The Comancheros” I read it over and said ‘boy, there’s a role in there that I’d love to be in” And he said I’d love to have you in it. I’m directing it. But the studio has got somebody else cast for that particular part. But we don’t start filming for another month, so when you get back to Hollywood see if you can get on the picture. I’d like to have you. “When I got back, I asked the studio and they said No you can’t do it We’ve got it all sewn up. So I called up Kurt Frings and told him what Curtiz said to me “Well he said “go see the Duke at Paramount He’s on Stage 17 Go talk to him.

Anyhow I worked my way into Paramount went to Stage 17 and when I got there (Wayne) was just going off to his dressing room. So I followed him in— “and Michael Curtiz wants me in your next picture. I really want to do it but the studio is putting up some blockage there. So I hung around there with Wayne for part of the day. And at the end of the day he asked me, “you really want to do the picture huh? Okay You’ve to the job. That’s how I got The Comancheros.”-Stuart Whitman

IMDB Trivia:

Alfred Hitchcock considered him, along with Cliff Robertson, Robert Loggia and Tom Tryon, for the role of Sam Loomis in Psycho (1960), but the role went to John Gavin.
Was a light-heavyweight boxer while serving the United States Army. Ironically, it was his role as a prizefighter in the play “Dr. Christian” that brought him his first leading role in a movie, playing Johnny in Johnny Trouble (1957) opposite Ethel Barrymore.
Was close friends with David Janssen.
In 1960, MGM toyed with the idea of doing an all-male remake of The Women (1939) which would’ve been entitled “Gentlemen’s Club.” Stuart Whitman would have been cast as (Oliver, the bartender who spills the beans about the illicit affair).

Another The Decks Ran Red co-star Whitman commented on was Dorothy Dandridge, who was going through a divorce and had to institutionalize her mentally ill daughter. Whitman was impressed with her strength and described her as a goddess.

Whitman told that when he first met Peter Falk on the set of Murder, Inc., they had differences but eventually became friends. Whitman found The Mark director Guy Green difficult to work with, finding him demanding and too strict, but they became good friends afterwards. On the set of Sands of the Kalahari, Whitman said he became best friends with fellow cast members Stanley Baker and Theodore Bikel, while he didn’t click with Jim Brown at first, they too became friends.

S.W.A.T. – Season Two – “The Running Man” 12/2/75 Stuart Whitman
FILM CLIPS HERE:
Cimarron Strip television show
Johnny Trouble 1957 as Johnny
 
Darby’s Rangers 1958 as Sgt. Hank Bishop
Ten North Frederick 1958 as Charley Bongiorno
The Decks Ran Red 1958 as Leroy Martin
The Sound and the Fury 1959 as Charlie Busch
Murder, Inc 1960 as Joey Collins
The Mark 1961 as Jim Fuller
The Comancheros 1961 as Paul Regret
Convicts 4 (1961) as Principal Keeper
The Day and the Hour 1963 as Capt. Allan Morley
Shock Treatment 1964 as Dale Nelson
Signpost to Murder 1964 as Alex Forrester
An American Dream 1966 as Stephen Richard Rojack
The Invincible Six 1970 as Tex
Captain Apache 1971 as Griffin
Revenge! 1971 tv movie as Mark Hembric
Night Gallery 1972 Capt. Hendrick Lindemann (segment “Lindemann’s Catch”)
The Streets of San Fransisco 1973 episode: “The Set-Up”) (1973) as Nick Carl
Shatter 1974 as Shatter
Crazy Mama 1975 as Jim Bob
Mean Johnny Barrows 1976 as Mario Racconi
Strange Shadows in an Empty Room 1976 as Capt. Tony Saitta
Ruby 1977 as Vince Kemper

Filmography

This is your everlovin’ joey sayin’ goodbye Stuart Whitman… we’ll always have your eyebrows and that sexy voice of yours to enjoy!

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 & Man On a Swing 1974: All the World’s a Stage: Of Motherhood, Madness, Lipstick, trances and ESP

No Way To Treat A Lady 1968

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Directed by Jack Smight (Harper 1966, The Illustrated Man 1969, Airport 1975 (1974) plus various work on television dramas and anthology series) John Gay wrote the screenplay based on William Goldman’s novel (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969, screenplay for The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man ’76, Magic ’78, The Princess Bride. Smight shows us sensationalist traces of The Boston Strangler killings to underpin his black satire.

Lee Remick George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)
Lee Remick, George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968  Stars Rod Steiger, George Segal, Eileen Heckart, Lee Remick, Murray Hamilton, David Doyle, Val Bisoglio, Michael Dunn, Val Avery and the ladies… Martine Bartlett, Barbara Baxley, Irene Daily, Doris Roberts Ruth White and Kim August as Sadie the transvestite, a female impersonator who was a featured performer at a Manhattan cabaret.

The film has it’s gruesome, grotesque and transgressive set pieces of women splayed with lipstick kisses on their foreheads. Director Jack Smight’s and writer William Goldman’s vision is outrageously dark, sardonic, satirical penetrating and contemptuous of motherhood and humanity in general.

From “Ed Gein and the figure of the transgendered serial killer” by K.E. Sullivan “NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY a story about a serial killer who was psychologically abused by his mother and kills women to get revenge upon her. The killer is most likely based on William Hierans (The Lipstick Killer),yet the narrative foregrounds cross-dressing as part of the murderer’s technique, despite the fact that Hierans did not cross-dress.”

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The dynamic Rod Steiger enlivens the screen as lady killer Christopher Gill, living in the shadow of his famous theatrical mother. He impersonates different characters in order to gain access to his victim’s homes, where he then strangles them, leaving his mark a red lipstick kiss on their foreheads. Gill begins a game of cat and mouse with police detective Morris Brummel (George Segal) who lives at home with his domineering mother.

There is an aspect of the film that is rooted in the ongoing thrills of watching Rod Steiger don his disguises as a sex-killer. But what evolves through the witty narrative is the moral confrontation between antagonist and protagonist surrounding their conflicting values and class backgrounds. The one psychological thread that runs through their lives is the parallel and sexual neurosis both have because of their dominating mother figures.

The opening scene… Christopher Gill impersonating Father McDowall (Steiger) is walking down the street viewed with a long shot, he’s whistling a ‘sardonic’ tune… in the vein of “the ants go marching” along side The East River. Present is the activity of cars passing by on the East Side Highway.

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As he comes closer into the camera’s view we can see he’s wearing a priests frock.

We hear the city noises, the sounds of cars honking, young children plow into him as they run by, a young girl in a short lime green dress greets him as he continues to walk along the sidewalk.

As Gill passes Kate Palmer (Lee Remick) descending the stairs of the apartment house, he says “Top of the morning to you young lady!”

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Kate is wearing in a smart yellow dress (Theoni V Aldredge ) she says “Hello father” As he continues to whistle his tune, she stops and looks up the stairs after him, the camera does a close up on her lovely face. He stops at apt 2B knocks and calls out for Mrs. Mulloy. It’s father McDowall, asking if she can spare a moment of her time. Sounding a bit suspicious she asks if he’s new to the neighborhood, but he smiles and says that it’ll be a pleasure to serve to such as the like as herself. “I Just need a minute of your life” he says and that’s pretty telling… since that’s true. Mrs. Mulloy sounds like she’s making a hard decision to open the door, but we hear the latch click….

Martine Bartlett (Sybil’s mother yikes!) opens the door as Alma Mulloy, the very simple Irish Catholic widow.

Alma Mulloy let’s him in, after all he’s a priest. He remarks on what a lovely place she has. She prides herself on her vocabulary. He delights in a word she uses. “habitable” She’s been taking a self improvement course… She offers him a cup of tea. He asks for something a might bit stronger. She offers him some port. Splendid…

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We don’t know what to expect in terms of how graphic the murder sequence will become. It is already quite disturbing how it begins to evolve, as the violence is simple and quite literal, it is the subtle psychological mechanisms that are turning within the narrative that make it all the more uneasy to watch.

This is his first kill. He sits back in the rocking chair contemplative. Perhaps a moment of Guilt? perhaps. Gill puts the lifeless body of Mrs. Mulloy in the bathroom – Stanley Myers’ (The Night of the Following Day ’68, The Devil’s Widow ’70 with Ava Gardner, X,Y and Z ’72, House of Whipcord ’74, The Deerhunter ’78, The Watcher in the Woods ’80) soundtrack creates a layer of vocalise which is a flutter of sopranos, like Anglican chants, nuns doing canticles or vespers. The frailty and holiness of their voices underlying the freakishly morbid ritual of Gill laying out the body and adding the fetishistic red lips on their forehead is provocative. This image has stayed with me for years.

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It’s a haunting backdrop to a very disturbing opening sequence… once the piano and voices are through.. Gill turns from the door frame and blows the dead woman a kiss… utterly macabre…

Switch scene to Detective Morris Brummel’s (Segal) mother yelling at him that his eggs are cooking. She starts picking at him… The banter begins, the cliched jewish mother/ son relationship unfolds. Morris asks for toast, she pushes the Latkas- he says it’s a bit heavy for breakfast.

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“So take a good look at yourself, a skeleton without a closet… hows the eggs?” she complains about people starving then adds. So why do I feed you? Tell me…ha Tell me, how much money are you gonna make today?… Should I tell you how much your brother Franklin’s gonna make today, maybe a thousand maybe two thousand in one day.”

Morris tells her, “He deserves it mother he’s a very fine doctor.”

“Oh no not fine… THE BEST!! B.E.S.T. do you know what that means to be the best lung surgeon in all Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx!… and he’s not even 40 yet” Her Semitic hand gestures are a vital part of the conversation.

“Well he’s older give me time..” She answers him, “Ha you… time, a hundred years I give and you still can’t tie your shoe laces.”

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I could continue with the hilarious dialogue that satirically pins down beautifully the essence of the mother/son relationship between New York Jews. Heckart does a splendid job of capturing the needling ‘pick pick pick’ nature, in the guise of love, protectiveness and worry, pride and disappointment all rolled into a swift set of words and not so subtle hand gestures…

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Lieutenant Dawson (David Doyle) calls Morris and asks how his mother is and tells him that he’s on the Mulloy homicide. Morris starts to leave… putting his gun on his belt.

“Look at you with that thing… a Jewish cop. When everybody knows if you’re not Irish, you’re a nobody if you’re a cop.”

His mother starts flailing her hands at him while he’s trying to tie his tie. She needles him about not getting a diploma from city university not to mention giving her grandchildren, his brother Franklin has three grand children already… pick pick pick.

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“What do I got from you… but heartbreak.” She slaps her heart. Morris says so long mashe chases after him, “Oh that’s right, leave, me leave me… don’t come back…”

He tells her she’s over doing it a bit. She calms down , her voice softens, She calls his name wistfully, Morris… He looks down at his shoes, He needs to tie them… She calls him darling… they’re having Kreplach for dinner, he should stop by for the Flanken… He kisses her on the cheek. And the dynamic comes full circle. Love through food and needling…

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Scene cuts to Christopher Gill’s opulent Gothic adorned apartment house interior. He’s humming that sardonic tune again, wearing a black silk bathrobe. He fixes a candle stick that isn’t quite straight on the side table. He is a control freak and a fastidious man. Sits down to a lovely breakfast set out for him by Miss Fitts (Irene Dailey) She gives him the morning paper. He ruffles through the newspaper looking for signs of the murder, and is angered that it isn’t on the front page. All there is, is a small paragraph under WIDOW SLAIN amidst the other news about floods and fireworks.

He calls the newspaper to ask why the story was buried, they tell him that they didn’t have time to get all the facts, when they ask who’s calling he hangs up.

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“Miss Palmer did he say anything to you?”

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“Oh yeah as a matter of fact he said something kinda funny… He said Top of the morning.” Morris looks puzzled, “That’s funny?” Kate clears up the confusion, “It was afternoon.”

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Morris arrives at the Mulloy crime scene. Asks the super who saw the priest. He tells Morris, 3E Katherine Palmer.
He asks for a description of the priest. Kate is still groggy from sleeping. She flirts with Morris. “That’s kind of a sweet nose you got there, it’s not handsome exactly I didn’t say handsome… just kinda sweet, especially for a cop.”

“Oh yeah as a matter of fact he said something kinda funny… He said Top of the morning.” Morris looks puzzled, “That’s funny” Kate clears up the confusion, “It was afternoon.”

Morris leaves but Kate tells him to come back some other time. A voice over of Mrs Brummel begins…

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“Lunatics, lunatics (she’s now framed sitting in a chair on the phone talking to Morris) you got now… Stranglers!!! Morris I tell you, I’m ashamed. You know… you know. I am sickened at heart when my own son goes looking at dead women’s naked bodies. I tell you Morris… it’s no way to treat a lady!”

Now Gill arrives at Mrs. Himmel’s (Ruth White) apartment dressed as a plumber. He looks through the old photo albums of Germany, and eat strudel. Now he’s using a German accent. After he’s killed poor Mrs Himmel and left his lipstick mark… he calls Morris while holding the newspaper with a photo of Detective Brummel.

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Morris answers, “Yeah this is Detective Morris Brummel speaking?”

“Yeah well this is Hans Schultz, at least I was Hans Schultz all day today, but a week ago last I was Father Kevin McDowall.”
Morris says, “Look I don’t have time to fool around Mister” Gill tells him, “Yeah well don’t hang up on me, just don’t hang up Mr Brummel huh.”
“What do you want… What do you want?”
“Well I want to tell you that I am in the apartment of Frau Himmel and she’s quite dead.”
“What?”
Gill laughs “Now you’re interested, maybe now I should hang up on you” Morris motions to Detective Monaghan (Val Bisoglio) to start a trace…

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“No no don’t hang up just wait a second, hold on, please please don’t hang up.”

“Hehehe, now you say please, say please, then I don’t hang up.”

Morris pleads, “I just said it, please please don’t hang up.”

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“You know what I think, I think you put a trace on the call so that’s not gonna work because there is no trace tone on this set and by the time that they check with the switchboard man at the central office and he checks the frames on the cross bar equipment and then they check “ Morris mouths to Monaghan with his hand over the receiver that Gill knows all about tracing. “But by that time Auf Wiedersehen I’m gone see, so I think it’s best I tell you, that I tell you that I am at 520 East 89th street… (Morris scrambles to get a pen to write down the address)
I like what you said in the newspapers about the murder being so well planned and so well executed and I consider that high praise coming from an expert such as yourself. I thank you for that. You hear me?”

“Yeah yeah I hear ya.”

“Now the other thing I’d like to tell you is is that you should come over here and take a look because you’ll find out that I am well up to my previous standards and I would like you to put that in the newspaper. In fact I insist on it.”

“I’ll try” Morris acts casually, as a way to piss Gill off, but it’s also part of Morris’ jaded, down trodden personality.

“Don’t try, you do it and know that I’m smarter than you are.”

“You’re smarter than I am?”

“And there’s just one more thing. You see I don’t like I should call you Detective Morris Brummel because that’s too formal so from now on I call you Morris.”

Morris starts to answer “Fine, listen…” then Gill hangs up. Maintaining himself as the one in control….

The way the scene is framed it looks like Gill is lying on the bed making romantic overtures to Morris. Gill has found a relationship that titillates him.

Meanwhile a relationship is developing between Kate and Morris. Kate comes down to the police station to give a description to a sketch artist of the priest. Morris escorts Kate onto the bus and back home. Unbeknownst to the couple, Gill is wearing his hairdresser disguise and watching the pair… Gill is now fixated on Morris.

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The next victim up is Barbara Baxley as the cat lady Belle Poppie. Gill plays a flaming fag hairdresser Dorian Smith with bleached blond hair and perfect lisp and hat boxes filled with bad wigs.

Belle holding one of her felines asks, “Would you like to meet my cats?” she shows him around the immaculate BTW apartment introducing him to the various cats… This scene is perhaps the most hilarious in the film as the whimsical Belle introduces every feline in the apartment. Gill follows her around, repeating the names of the cats in a manner that just made me laugh out loud,  it’s a hysterical scene and Barbara Baxley is spot on in this bit role.

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His plan is foiled when her sister Sylvia played by the equally hilarious character actress (Doris Roberts) comes home. He pretends that the wig isn’t free after, so he can get out there. As he’s leaving Sylvia calls him a homo, he snaps back quickly. Sylvia Poppie- “Is that one of your own wigs you’re wearing? Gill- “You don’t look like Cleopatra, honey.” Belle Poppie-“Don’t raise your voice!” Sylvia gets mean- “You homo!”

You Homo... Well that doesn't mean you're a bad person (lisp)

Gill as he’s halfway out the door. “Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.” 

Back at the Brummel apartment, Mother Brummel is torturing Morris again…

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Mrs. Brummel: “So, what do you, what do you do with her, go to mass?
Morris Brummel: “No, we just… we walk and we talk.”
Mrs. Brummel:“Oh, please, please. I don’t want to hear another word. Already I won’t sleep another wink tonight. Please, don’t say another word.” she pauses.
Mrs. Brummel: “Morris…”
Morris Brummel: “I thought you didn’t want to hear any more?”
Mrs. Brummel:Aw, you think I want to? You think I want… I’m in agony. I… I… It’s my duty. Go on, go on.
Morris Brummel: “Well, she… her, her name is Katherine. Katherine Palmer.”
Mrs. Brummel: “Short, blonde, beautiful?”
Morris Brummel: “No, she’s, er, she’s, she’s tall and er, she’s only got one eye right in the middle of her forehead.”
Mrs. Brummel:Of course. Of course. She’ll break your heart!”

There’s a bowl of assorted fruit in the fine crystal and the Challah bread sits on a silver platter decorating the table. The details of the film’s spaces are perfect. From Kate’s mod apartment, to the Brummel’s home, to each individual apartment of the various female victims, to the NYC bars, including Gill’s own opulent apartment. The atmospheres are envisioned perfectly.

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Again like masturbation Gill calls and taunts Morris as the flaming hairdresser Dorian…

As Gill asks to speak to Morris Brummel the camera frames the dead woman to the left of screen as Gill is lensed to the far right, standing by the phone. He found his third victim. Morris says, “Speaking” Gill answers, “Morris, this is Dorian (still in character) Dorian, Dorian Smith.”

“Ha, I’m sorry I think you got the wrong number.”

“I don’t have the wrong number this is Dorian, Dorian Smith. Tell me you haven’t forgotten me already sweetheart. “ Morris says, “no no I haven’t forgotten you.”
Sarcastic chuckle, “Well I didn’t think so Sweetheart, I didn’t think so. Now look, (he stammers for a bit) I’m very sorry if I”m disturbing you at home.”

“How’d you get my number?”

“Sweetheart, How many Morris Brummel’s are in the phone book?”

“What do you want?”

Gill looks insulted that Morris seems abrupt and uninterested, and looks over at the dead woman. Her head resting on the cold porcelain toilet lid. Her forehead tattooed with bright red lips.

“Oh Morris I’ve been a bad boy again. yes… (he explodes) What do you mean yes… just don’t say yes show some interest. Can’t  you notice that my voice is completely different?”
“Yes I noticed that.”
“Alright, you should have heard my Father McDowall it was sensational. (Steiger’s voice changes on a dime and an all together malefic tone emerges in the midst of his rant “Don’t you think I’m clever?”
Morris comments, “Yeah, you’re a wizard.”

“Then You should hear my W.C Fields sometimes it’s absolutely uncanny” ( he goes into his WC Fields impersonation- “My boy you are engaged in a conversation with the great WC Fields himself concerning the degeneracy, debauchery and murder involving one infantile detective called Morris Brummel boy detective. How’d ya like that one Morris?”

“Alright alright but can’t we talk this over from one human being to another?”

“No no no no no no no you don’t, you don’t (Deep sigh) you gotta find that out for yourself, you see it’s not fair I told you where I was last time. So you’ll have to find out this time for yourself.” He hangs up the phone.

Gill says out loud to himself Ciao, Ciao Ciao Bambino…. He holds the last vowel and hums on it like a mantra which turns into a whimpering sob as he looks away crying like a small child, he chokes the tears back and puts a gold handkerchief over his mouth. He is sickened by his actions. Obviously struggling with Oedipal psychosis, ambivalent and disturbed. He even called himself a “bad boy” to Morris…

His body shakes and shivers. Yet again another layer of a stunning performance by Steiger. We hear the heavenly soprano voices in the background, it’s an eerie moment that plugs into the disorientation and grotesquery of the film’s narrative. One that also makes this antagonist a bit more sympathetic, as he is aware that he is sick…

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Morris has to cancel the dinner date with Kate…
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“You know what she said…She told me to be careful…”- it must be love.
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Gill looking for his name in the headlines.

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Gill putting back the wigs in the prop department of the theater.

Morris and Katherine continue to date. We see Gill at his mother’s theater. He is directing a production of Othello. One of the names on the theater roster is William Pratt an homage to Boris Karloff’s real name.

Gill is trying to live up to the expectation of his famous mother. His masquerading to murder is put on for her benefit. To attain the notoriety she had back in the day. The strata of Steiger’s performance is chilling as it is stunning. Going in and out of his central character Christopher Gill to one of his guises back into the wounded child within Christopher Gill, the very sick man, the mama’s boy, he balances three separate performances in one when he is aroused to anger on the phone. He is an outstanding actor, and in No Way To Treat A Lady he gives a tour de force…

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A very memorable scene in the film is when Michael Dunn comes to the police station and tries to confess to the murders. As Mr Kupperman (Michael Dunn) turns himself into Brummel as ‘The strangler,’ “Yeah I killed everyone of them” Morris asks, “You, you killed them?“With my bare hands” “Why’d you do it?” “Hostility.” Mr.Kupperman warns Morris that he’s sensitive. But Morris has to bring it up because it bares on the case. “You’re a midget” “Lots of people are midgets!” “He was taller than you..” “You see how I fooled them I’m a master of disguise.”

Morris gets the idea to plant a fake 6th victim. He suggests this idea to Murray Hamilton as Inspector Haines.
They got the body from the east river, a suicide. Morris is disgusted that they even added the lipstick to the corpse.

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At Gill’s home, he sits down at the piano remarking about the flowers that Mrs Fitts puts on the grand piano. He tells her they’re lovely, “Romance Mrs Fitts, romance is the magic that makes men whole and women bold.”

Mrs Fitts-“You read the newspapers nowadays there’s not much love in it… not with all the rioting and wars and with all these murders. It’s getting so that I’m afraid to step out onto the street. Imagine one man killing six women.”

Gill is confused asks what she means he didn’t kill six women. Morris’ plan works, the news unwittingly has planted a fake story to lure him out.

Mrs Fitts tells him, “Victim number six and killed the same way with the lipstick across her forehead and everything. Imagine Mr Gill six women!!!!”  He asks Mrs Fitts for his tea. Then gets into a phone booth and calls the police station.

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Gill-“I didn’t do it, I didn’t you hear me. Somebody else did, I did not kill that woman you must listen to me
listen to me.”
Morris-“I am listening to you what can I say.”
Gill begs insistently- “Say you believe me, say it.” Morris calmly-“I can’t say that because I don’t believe you.”
“I didn’t do it.” Gill is using his German persona this time.
Morris argues, “You did it, you did it alright.”
Gill desperate-“Can’t you understand it’s somebody else, somebody who is a copycat. I did everything up til now. Somebody comes along now and he wants to take all the credit and it’s not fair.”
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Morris bates Gill-“Look this is getting a little too weird for me I think I’ll
hang up now.”
Gill angry “Don’t you hang up on me…don’t you hang up on me or I’ll kill a hundred women I promise you that.”
Morris says, “Go on.”
“A little common sense will tell you that it is a copycat. Did he call you on the phone? Did he tell you where the body was?”
Morris tells him, “Neither did you the first and fourth time.”

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“Ah but you forget something Mr Brummel, I have given you my word of honor that I’ll stop… I don’t tell lies what kind of a person do you think I am?”

“What do I think you are… a malignancy, a cancer the cesspool of the world that’s just for openers.”

“I see, hhm well why cant I make you believe it!”

Morris starts yelling into the phone “You don’t have to, you don’t have to… we got a full description of you this time, somebody who saw you last night at the murder” “But that’s impossible, it was not me.”

“You’re very short, you have blonde hair wide nose and bushy eyebrows.”

“hahha that’s very funny you see cause first of all I have brown eyes, I have brown hair I am approximately 6 feet tall. (he pauses) and you are clever.”

“What’d you say?”

“Oh Mr Brummel you’re very clever, very clever.” he gets off the phone, “yes clever but not clever enough.”

And so the elaborate game of cat and mouse continues between the theatrically psychotic Christopher Gill and the smothered downtrodden Jewish cop Morris Brummel. I’ll stop here… See it to it’s thrilling conclusion!

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“A rather striking portrait of my mother don’t you think?… Have you ever seen her on the stage?”

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Gills sees Morris admiring the imposing painting of his mother-“A rather striking portrait of my mother don’t you think?… Have you ever seen her on the stage?”

In Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo’s New Light by Martin M. Winkler he mentions how the killer (Rod Steiger)
feels overshadowed by his late mother, and so strangles these middle aged women- He owns a large bronze statue by German sculptor Gerhard Marcks of Antigone leading her blind father in which killer Christopher Gill makes the revealing comment “I like it’s strength.”

Ed Gein and the figure of the transgendered serial killer by K.E. Sullivan
“In the world of Krafft-Ebing, there is no such thing as benign sexual variation. Everyone who departs from reproductive, monogamous, male-dominant heterosexuality is described as criminally insane.”
According to Vito Russo in The Celluloid Closet “In the 1960s, lesbians and gay men were pathological, predatory and dangerous; villains and fools, but never heroes.” I just watched Richard Chamberlain who portrays a wife beater struggling with his bourgeois 60’s existence suppressing his attraction for little boys in Petulia 1968. Rod Steiger played a closeted homosexual who winds killing himself with a bullet to the head after kissing the divine John Phillip Law in The Sergeant 1968. Carson McCullers Reflections in a Golden Eye 1967 has Marlon Brando’s macho exterior as an impotent army officer finally destroying the object of his desire lingerie sniffing Robert Foster who rides a horse naked throughout the film just to antagonize Brando’s latent homosexuality. In 1961 Shirley McClaine hangs herself for the love of Audrey Hepburn in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and Sandy Dennis has a large tree fall on top of her in, if I remember correctly symbolically falling between her legs. The giant phallus she needed to smash out the lesbianism she suffered from in The Fox 1967. And a post I did a while back that combined The Devouring Mother and The Oedipal Son in Tennessee William’s Suddenly, Last Summer 1959 where the specter of Sebastian, a predatory homosexual is eventually devoured literally in front of poor Elizabeth Taylor by a group of young local boys he had been soliciting. And that’s just to mention a few, Ultimately cinematic homosexuals and lesbians –all had to be killed or kill themselves. These are just a drop in the queer bucket of cinematic history.
This is why I’ve got a working draft of Queers and Dykes in the Dark. Noir Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters: The Idolizing/Objectifying Male, and the Obssessive/Psychotic Woman sitting in WordPress waiting for me to publish it! The sub context fascinates me to no end…
While Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) was a transvestite and not transexual the prototype for these kinds of gender bending killers could be located through out the 70s. As K.E. Sullivan cites.
“The second version of transvestism in contemporary media also involves discovery about the “truth” of a character’s body. Such revelation, however, is not comic but horrific. Here the guise of femininity does not hide or empower a clever heterosexual man but reveals a monstrous gender- and sexual-deviant: a man in “gender distress.”‘ If a character has a transgender body, this detail usually is tied to some dark and horrible secret in the narrative, and the revelation about the “truth” of the body” — that a woman has a penis or a man is a transvestite/ transsexual — typically is revealed simultaneously with the revelation of another “secret” — that the person is a killer. Indeed, monstrosity or deviance almost exclusively mark images of transgender individuals, allowing for little if any sympathy from spectators.”

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A drag queen walks into a bar and orders a pink squirrel…

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“There haven’t been seven victims?”
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“There are now!”

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The onlooking neighbors spout biblical put downs and curse words at the dead transvestite… a bit of the moralizing that challenges Morris’ old fashioned yet compassionate nature.

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Gill calls Morris from Sardi’s.

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Rod Steiger is superb as Christopher Gill the Oedipal well-educated upper-class dandy thespian lady killer who disguises himself as various characters in order to gain entry to unsuspecting women’s apartments where he proceeds to strangle them. George Segal is marvelous as Morris Brummel… Gill’s new fixation/adversary as he begins to phone and taunt Brummel like a lover. Brummel who also has issues with his own domineering mother portrayed by the wonderful character actress Eileen Heckart.

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Kate tells Mrs Brummel-“I love your home it’s so Jewish!”... the Jews only have the best things she tells her- The pretty blonde shiksa starts to work her charms on her future mother in law…

Lee Remick is perfect as Kate Palmer the shiksa in Morris’ life who has a pretty wild side herself, confessing that she used to swing with all the beautiful people when she first moved to NYC.  The film also co-stars Murray Hamilton as Inspector Haines. Then there’s a delicious bit by Michael Dunn as Mr. Kupperman who has a hilarious cameo in which he shows up at Morris Brummel’s police station confessing to the murders. The always droll Val Bisoglio plays Detective Monaghan.

And the fine character actors who are lined up to be Gill’s victims- Martine Bartlett as Alma Mulloy, Barbara Baxley ( who I love!) as the cat loving Belle Poppie, Doris Roberts as sister Sylvia Poppie, Irene Daily as Mrs Fitts, Ruth White as the nice German house frau Mrs. Himmel.

Stanley Myers is responsible for the fabulous musical score and the engaging cinematography is by Jack Priestley   (Who’s on location realist and gritty photography can be found in some of the best episodes of The Naked City series, Where’s Poppa 1970, & Across 110th Street (1972). Priestley captures the rhythm of NYC perfectly. And George Jenkins (All the President’s Men 1976) adds detail and flare with his art & set direction. His use of color brings the palate of the film to a vibrant level of verisimilitude. Cinematographer Jack Priestly and art director George Jenkins chose very vibrant colors- a familiar richness in tone common to films of the 60s and adds a sense of pageantry of the grotesque because the killer is playing out some murderous theater.

Theoni V. Aldredge’s costuming and wardrobe for Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart are fabulous, but even as much detail is spent on the lady victims of the story. Adding a dimension of realism and intimacy as a character study within the narrative.

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A descendent from the Alfred Hitchcock/Robert Bloch -Norman Bates generation of psycho flicks No Way To Treat A Lady acts as wonderful hybrid suspense piece synthesizing all the best parts of black comedy & crime thriller, with a bit of police procedural and psycho-sexual drama centered on a flamboyant actor with an Oedipal fixation who kills women, leaves a lipstick kiss as his calling card on their foreheads and taunts a Jewish cop who is also dominated by his stereo typical Jewish mother.

Here as in Psycho the monster is not drawn from the supernatural, or divined by historic mythic lore, they are  very real psychotic individuals who commits acts of violence. The antagonist is presented as an ‘object’ of horror, like Norman Bates, Hannibal Lector, Terence Stamp in The Collector ’65 or even Catherine Deneuve’s insane disorientation in Repulsion ’65.

According to Leslie H. AbramsonMovies and the Failure of Nostalgia in American Cinema of the 1960s edited by Barry Keith Grant. 1968 was rife for movies to exploit the American nightmare. The Vietnam War peaked in ’68, civil unrest, anti-establishment sentiment was rampant, there were political, social and domestic clashes everywhere, so that these turbulent times manifested a very contemplative lens in film. Jack Valenti president of Motion Picture Association of America tried to attain film’s independents and self protection by  creating the rating system instead of the Production Code that existed earlier. This was meant to appease critics. So amidst all the reality of shocking news headlines “In cinema as well, manifesting not only social trauma and upheaval but the public’s new commitment to confronting its own demons, the year’s releases reflected upon domestic culture as one of appalling violence, violation and struggle. An index of the increasing pervasiveness of psychic and graphic mortification as well as the huge for its containment, both the independent and studio sectors nostalgically encoded contemporary anxiety in the horror film, reinvigorating the classical genre with Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary’s Baby. Both films envisioned the nightmarish emergence of the ghastly from within and among patriarchy, a preoccupation of the year’s multiple releases representing the murderer as lone assassin: The Boston Strangler, Targets, and No Way To Treat a Lady.” 

Abramson seems to be making the argument that these films cynically portray the disparity between a vastly dysfunctional social pathology and a corrupt institution of laws. Presenting the archetypal outsider, the anti-hero figure who is capable of shedding a truthful light on the decadence or irredeemable vexations of our culture.

Also made monstrous within the film’s narrative is Morris’ castrating Jewish mother, who is running parallel to the specter of Gil’s deceased but ever present imposing theatrical mother. What makes this a clíche is what Kaja Silverman in Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism claims is that the character (in this case every female presence in the film) only knows her own identity by the language that is used. This is how she knows herself. Brummel’s mother, one of the main women in the film, is merely defined by her being an overbearing Jewish mother with no other qualifying marker of identity. As Silverman states, “Whereas the male subject has privileges conferred upon him by his relationship to discourse, the female subject is insufficient through hers.”

So neither Kate Palmer (Lee Remick), Mrs Brummel (Eileen Heckart) nor the various female victims have a strong identifying individuality other than, ‘mother’, ‘object of desire’ or ‘victim’. The film truly focuses on the relationship between Morris Brummel and Christopher Gill which acts as the central pinion for the larger narrative.

An interesting fun fact that I read from IMDb is that one of Rod Steiger’s theatrical and campy impersonations was that of comedian W.C.Fields. In (1976) Steiger would inhabit the role of the red faced wise cracker in Arthur Hiller’s W.C.Fields and Me.

Director Hiller with Rod Steiger on the set of WC Field and Me
Director Arthur Hiller with Rod Steiger on the set of WC Field and Me 1976

Curiously Rod Steiger was the one who was approached at first to play the mama’s boy cop Morris Brummel. And he probably would have been fabulous at it, since he’s quite good in any role. But what a stroke of genius for him to choose the part of psychopath, transvestite and all around chameleon, his over the top performance truly brought the film to life. In fact, Christopher Gill was not as prominent in William Goldman’s novel, but had been elaborated on in greater detail for the film, making him the narrative’s focal point as both the antagonist anti-hero.

Steiger felt the role of the killer would be the one that would gain the audiences’ attention as well as the critics eye, stealing the show as the flamboyant frustrated thespian with a mother complex and a fetish for red lipstick.

Also a little homage that is close to my heart, is the poster outside the theater using the name William Pratt which happens to be the name given at birth to my beloved grandfather Boris Karloff. Okay okay… he’s not really my Grandpa, but if I did have my wish, he sure would have been the one to read me stories at night with a nice cup of cocoa. And not the kind laced with K9 Liniment as used in that Henry Slesar teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour– ‘What Really Happened.’

Here’s what film critic Vincent Canby had to say back in 1968 upon the film’s release in movie theaters. colorfully articulated, insightful yet a bit harsh & scathing, taking the film a bit too seriously IMHO.

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968) Screen: Farcical Exercise in Murder:Logic Loses in ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ Segal and Steiger Play Hunter and Quarry
By VINCENT CANBY
Published: March 21, 1968

Buried beneath all the outrageous make-up, hairpieces, disguises and belly laughs in “No Way to Treat a Lady,” there is a curious and ironic comment about the land of stifling mother love that once so alarmed Sidney Howard that he wrote “The Silver Cord.” The comment seems to be that whatever makes one man into a psychotic killer may make another into a nice Jewish cop.
So much for what passes as sweet reason.
That commodity is in conspicuously short supply in the farcical melodrama that opened here yesterday at the Forum and Tower East theaters. However, anybody who has been entertained by “Psycho”—or even “Twelfth Night”—knows that sweet reason often has as much to do with entertainment as goodness had to do with Mae West’s diamonds.
Although “No Way to Treat a Lady” has the shape of a conventional suspense tale, the film is at its most entertaining—and, in fact, is only acceptable—as a series of macabre, sometimes broadly funny confrontations of caricatures, all dominated by the presence of Rod Steiger. Here is a dream role for the actor, permitting him a half-dozen masquerades as everything from a garrulous Irish priest, with a platitude for every occasion, to a fearful lady barfly, as full of tears as she is of booze.
Mr. Steiger gives a beautifully uninhibited performance as a hammy. Mom-haunted Broadway producer who undertakes “his own bizarre solution to the problem of New York’s growing population of lonely ladies—maiden, widowed and divorced. Dressed in a variety of disguises, he gains admittance to their apartments, where he promptly strangles them and then calls the police to brag about his handiwork.
Playing mouse to Steiger’s cat is George Segal, the detective assigned to solve the mystery of the stranglings and who is, oddly, as much of a caricature as the flamboyant killer who taunts him. Fresh from his role as a Jewish intellectual in “Bye, Bye, Braverman,” Segal is seen here as a middle-class nebish, dominated by a Jewish mother so extravagantly played by Eileen Heckart that she might drive Georgie Jessel to seek asylum in Syria—and her son to matricide.
John Gay’s script, adapted from the William Goldman novel, makes nothing much of this Oedipean hang-up common to both cat and mouse nor does it offer more than the sketchiest motivations for anything that happens. Instead, Mr. Gay has written an exposition-free, gag-filled cartoon, which is the manner in which Jack Smight directs it. “No Way to Treat a Lady” is all contemporary surface action, with quick cuts between scenes of murder and comedy and sometimes between scenes that combine both. Luckily, despite the fact that it was beautifully photographed in color entirely in New York, it has absolutely no reality.
There is nothing wrong with this sort of sheer sensation for its own sake as long as the gags and Steiger’s masquerades maintain their bold effrontery. When they don’t, however, as happens with increasing frequency toward the end, the mind begins to wander.
One simply must not question why Steiger, apparently a normal, maladjusted. Broadway producer until the film starts, suddenly commences his reign of terror. Nor why Lee Remick, the Minnie Mouse of the cartoon—a beautiful blonde with no visible means of support, a self-described former swinger and the kind of girl who sleeps in her false eyelashes—should fall for the clod detective. (Unless, of course, she is actually the castrating putdown artist she humorously affects to be in her first meeting with Segal’s harridan-mother.)
There is also the peculiar casting of someone who is obviously a female impersonator as one of Steiger’s victims, although nothing is made of this in the plot.
In addition to the wild, eyeball-rolling, lip-smacking, rococo-gestured performance of Steiger, who employs more accents than you might have heard in a year of vaudeville, Smight has got some fine performances from his supporting players, including Barbara Baxley, Martine Bartlett, Ruth White and Michael Dunn.
Dunn is seen as a pint-sized creep who tries to confess to the crimes. “You’d believe me,” he tells the detective waspishly, “if I weren’t a midget!” As with the film itself, there is something both funny and oddly disturbing in this aggressive lack of logic.

No Way To Treat A Lady opens with the unsuspecting woman in peril Martine Bartlett as Alma answering the door to an Irish Priest. The queasiness we feel, the anxiousness and empathy because she is an older lady. The victims could be our own mother, aunt or grandmother and not the evaluated, penalized, sexualized and typified film ‘tramp’ who has somehow brought this wrath down upon herself making the murders particularly vicious. One of the more interesting victims is Sadie, a drag queen who sees Gill dressed in drag himself crying into a hanky in a bar who is scorned by the other patrons contending with nasty homophobic comments. Has Gill chosen this particular victim as a way to destroy the latent homosexuality within himself?

Rod-Steiger---No-Way-To-Treat-A-Lady---film-USA---1968_
Rod Steiger in make up on the set of No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 Ernest Adler ..hair style supervisor and Bob O’Bradovich -makeup supervisor

After each murder Gill meticulously traces the lips of each victim with red lipstick and brands his kiss on their foreheads!

The symbol used as the ‘red lips’ is the hyper representation of female sexuality. The co opting of this image as a weapon is really interesting as it is telling….

various disguises Rod Steiger

The Illustrated Man poster

The Illustrated Man rod steiger
Rod Steiger has never shied away from challenging roles. He is an outstanding actor. Here he is in Ray Bradbury’s-The Illustrated Man.

Steiger as FlamingDorian

Rod Steiger, perhaps one of the most versatile actors, brings to life the flamboyant Christopher Gill who begins his assault on middle aged women in the unsafe jungle of NYC. His chosen victims most representative of dear old mother. Steiger’s assorted guises that he dons in order to gain each ladies trust is not only compelling but darkly funny as his performance which is never superfluous but totally campy psycho candy for the brain. Gill is like a super villain who disguises himself as a parish Irish priest befit with ideal brogue, he’s a German plumber perhaps a nod to the killings attributed to that man in Boston who strangled his innocent female victims. He plays a flaming hairdresser using the ploy that they have won a wig in a giveaway. He becomes a chef and a police officer, and at one point, he eventually does turn up in drag. – He incorporates various accents masterfully, among them he uses the voice of W.C. Fields.

All guises that will draw upon his designated victim’s wish fulfillment. Speaking German to Mrs. Himmel (Ruth White) bringing back her nostalgia for the old country, he enjoys eating her strudel.

Ironically enlisted to help track down and capture this deranged killer of defenseless women is Morris Brummel (George Segal) who is perfect for the part of a man who needs to break free of his cliched Jewish mother’s love… once again I’ll mention portrayed by the marvelous Eileen Heckart.

Morris is under his mother’s thumb, get’s flustered a lot when ever he’s at home or near beautiful women, gets phoned and taunted by the crazed Gill while trying to woo his new waspy girlfriend. Lee Remick plays the blonde shicksa a free spirited liberated woman who used to swing with the beautiful people in Manhattan, and now gives museum tours. She’s sexy and classy and just what Morris needs to shake things up in his claustrophobic life. Heckart is wonderfully overbearing to the point of pushing my own Jewish mother buttons. Pick, pick pick!

Morris and Mother Brummel

It’s no accident that there is a correlation between the two character’s mothers. One, domineering and relentless in her nagging Morris for not being more successful like his lung surgeon brother. While the dead Grande Dame mother of Gills looms largely over him, shown in austere portraits at the theater, having been a great actress herself in the day. A torch her son must carry in order to be as substantial as she was, and why he enacts different personae while he murders her repeatedly in re-enactments, these are his victims, middle aged women who are signifying his mother.

What creates the great interplay between flamboyant fiend and underdog cop is that they are both outliers, who somehow find each other and give their lives it’s meaning for that time. A game of cat and mouse. An oddball commiseration, one giving purpose to the other. A struggle of wills and morals.

Morris Brummel

Steiger another disguise-the chef

Christopher Gill begins another fixation aside from his middle aged female victims, now with his pursuer Morris Brummel. Perhaps he feels a kindred spirit in him. But something about their banter on the phone titillates Gill, it’s almost homoerotic and as we can see by the animosity toward middle aged women, that although he worships the memory of his grande dame mama, he does have deep rooted mother issues. Why else would he be re-killing her over and over again.

Gill is also a classic narcissist. Checking the newspapers constantly to make sure that they are printing the story about him. All the world’s a stage… Gill’s mother was a great thespian. 

He deals with his repressed homosexuality and his engorging Oedipal Complex. The homoerotic fixation that he has in dressing up and using, lipstick as fetish, suggest again that he has a strong anti-mother sentiment. The use of lipstick turning a symbol of womanhood against them.

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The film is pervasive torch song of psycho-sexual prompts as Christopher Gill’s masculinity is challenged, destroying his mother, the devouring mother with each victim of his baleful masquerade.

We sense both men’s alienation Gil and Brummel as they are governed by mother’s with a tight and suffocating grip. It’s a macabre classy thriller, polished and well acted even with the stereo types and remnants of homophobia the 70s film that hadn’t been shaken from their villain’s or bit characters who were either down right crazy, unstable or destined to be a victim of murder or suicide themselves.

In Cynthia A Freeland and Thomas E Wartenberg’s Philosophy & Film chapter The Politics of Interpretation they cite as I like to, once again Kristeva’s theory of abjection of the maternal body from Powers of Horror. Abjection…

“Is an extremely strong feeling which is at once somatic and symbolic and which is above all a revolt of the person against an external menace from which one wants to keep oneself at a distance, but of which one has the impression that it is not only an external menace but that it may menace us from inside. So it is a desire for separation, for becoming autonomous and also the feeling of an impossibility of doing so.”

Kristeva’s notion of abjection is taken to an extreme level, where it is not sufficient enough to annihilate the maternal body seeing it as abject, in order for the child to be free of the maternal restraints. Even on an imaginary level where the maternal body must be killed so that the child will not kill itself. Kristeva suggests that this leads to matricide. And why Christopher Gill must constantly kill his mother in the form of various middle age women, over and over again, yet his psychosis will not allow him to be set free. He is surrounded by her memory. It is as if she is still alive and reigning over his life. He portrait prominent in the theater watching over her son.

The portrait of Mrs Gill comes across with the power of a Sphynx. A monster with the body of a beast and the head of a woman. Perhaps even a bit like a gorgon. Her piercing eyes and outre defined red lips tell of a menacing woman who commanded an audience, especially her son…

From The Sexual SubjectStephen Heath’s chapter-Difference “The historical positions of patriarchy society tell us that ‘women’ are constantly identified as the central focus of oppression constructed and justified in its terms.”

“Woman as sphinx confronting Oedipus and the Oedipus is always underlying. the eternal feminine which menaces the subject, either male or woman.”

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Continue reading “No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 & Man On a Swing 1974: All the World’s a Stage: Of Motherhood, Madness, Lipstick, trances and ESP”