“A man your age has no business having pimples. Eat your eggs.”
Rod Steiger’s recent death reminded me of what a fine actor he was and also how overlooked he became. Aside from his work with Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront and with Sidney Poitier in In The Heat Of The Night (for which he won the Best Actor Academy Award), and as Komarovsky in Doctor Zhivago, one tends to forget how many other excellent films he contributed to in the 1950s and 1960s, from Jubal (1956) to Cry Terror! (1958) to The Pawnbroker (1964) to The Illustrated Man (1969). His later years were less memorable, partly due the bouts of depression through which he suffered, and probably contributed more than anything else to his being overlooked if not forgotten. Although he was active right up until his death, 1999’s Schwarzenegger entry — End Of Days — is probably the last high profile film in which he appeared. Certainly one of his earlier films that has been largely forgotten is 1968’s No Way to Treat a Lady, a black comedy gem that Paramount has happily just made available on DVD.
A succession of murders of middle-aged women is carried out by a priest, a plumber, a gay hair stylist, and a policeman. Except that all the murderers are actually the same person — a theatre impresario named Christopher Gill who is a failed actor and master of disguise eager to live up to the reputation of his actress mother. When the detective assigned to the case (Morris “Mo” Brummel) inadvertently praises the elegance of the first crime in the newspapers, Gill makes a connection with Mo and proceeds to warn him about the later murders by telephone. A game of cat and mouse between the two follows, but the stalemate appears to be broken when Mo attempts to smoke out Gill by trying to pin an unrelated murder on him. Gill responds by stalking Mo’s own girlfriend, Kate Palmer.
This one hooks you with the opening pre-credit sequence. Although you can surmise almost immediately that Rod Steiger dressed up as a priest with a pronounced Irish accent is really someone up to no good, it’s still a wonderfully juicy performance by Steiger and one that whets the appetite for whatever’s to come despite the distasteful nature of what his priest does. The juiciness indeed continues as Steiger portrays each succeeding version of the murderer with a broadness that verges on hamminess, but never quite goes over the edge. This is entirely within the spirit of the whole film whose story and characters all tend to have a humorous side to their words and actions no matter how serious the actual events and situations. The film’s overall success is due to the balance between both sides being kept barely in check throughout.
George Segal is another actor who seems to have disappeared into the woodwork after a number of successes in the 1960s and early 1970s (King Rat , Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , A Touch of Class , The Terminal Man ). He was always best suited to fairly lightweight comedic or cynical/dramatic characters and he finds a very appropriate blend of both in the intrepid Mo Brummel. Interestingly, he’s third-billed in this film despite the fact that his character is one of the two main ones. Lee Remick gets second billing indicating her status in the acting pecking order of the time. One of the most beautiful and classy actresses ever, she could usually fashion something interesting out of the slightest material. She is certainly successful in doing so for the Kate Palmer character. Her exchange of banter with Mo’s mother is a classic. Speaking of the latter, Eileen Heckart’s reading must be close to a benchmark when it comes to portraying Jewish mothers. Every cliché you’ve ever seen or heard about them is played to the hilt by Heckart, and as such is entirely within the spirit of the film’s broad blend of humour and the macabre.
The film was adapted by John Gay from the novel of the same title by screenwriter William Goldman. I’ve not read the actual book, but the literature suggests that the adaptation does it justice. Gay is not well-known to me, but he has apparently been active since the late 1940s when he was involved in early television writing and had a pretty decent start writing for the big screen with two solid 1958 pictures — Run Silent, Run Deep and Separate Tables. Since the early 1970s, Gay has focused his attention on writing for television once again. His efforts on No Way to Treat a Lady resulted in a smart and literate script that probably made for an easy decision when the main players were considering whether or not to take on their roles.
Principal photography was carried out on location in New York City. The resulting look combined with the clothing styles and dialogue give the film such a ’60s ethos that you’d never mistake it for a product of any other time. That’s not necessarily bad, but if you’d never heard of the film before but knew it was a 1968 release, you might be inclined to dismiss it knowing that that period was not exactly one of the brighter ones in Hollywood history. That would be a mistake in the case of No Way to Treat a Lady.
As it typically does, Paramount put all its DVD effort into the image transfer and little else. We get a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that looks very pleasing for a 34 year old film that hasn’t received any full-blown restoration. There are a few knicks and speckles and occasionally the image is a little dark, but overall I don’t think one can be unhappy with results. The image is quite crisp and colours appear natural. Shadow detail does suffer a little in the darker scenes. Edge enhancement is minimal.
The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix available in both English and French. Dialogue is clear, and free of age-related hiss or distortion. Otherwise the results are unremarkable. English subtitles are also provided.
Supplementary content is non-existent. That’s particularly disappointing given that the film was reportedly one of Rod Steiger’s favourites, so it might have been possible to have had some involvement from him on the disc. With his passing, that’s an opportunity now lost forever.
No Way to Treat a Lady is well worth your attention, particularly as it probably is a little-known title to most. Excellent performances highlight a black comedy that really works, plus any opportunity to see the beautiful Lee Remick is welcome indeed. Thanks are due Paramount for making the title available though I continue to be unhappy with the company’s efforts on supplementary content.