No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

Synopsis:

A deranged madman (Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night) begins murdering middle-aged women and it’s up to a stressed-out New York police detective (George Segal, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) to stop him.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Shrewdly directed by Jack Smight (The Illustrated Man), No Way to Treat a Lady is a black comedy that features two parallel narratives. First is the story of a serial killer on a killing spree. The second is about the detective investigating the murders and his courtship with an eyewitness. One is perversely humorous, the other one is wryly romantic: American Psycho meets When Harry Met Sally.

At first, I thought this was a case of “contrast of opposites,” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the two story-lines aren’t as disimilar as I initially thought. The narratives mirror each other and function to push the idea that the cop, played by George Segal, and the killer, played by Rod Steiger, are two sides of the same coin.

Based on William Goldman’s 1964 novel of the same name, No Way to Treat a Lady tells the story of two men whose lives have been shaped by domineering mothers — you get two versions of the “Oedipus Complex” for the price of one. The film does remain a bit vague about the killer’s motives — we never find out the reason for the sudden bursts of violence — and that’s fine because it’s fun to try to fill in the gaps.

For me, at least, the most interesting aspect of No Way to Treat a Lady is the connection between the killer’s “modus operandi” and the stage world. He is not only the son of a theater diva, but also a successful and respected Broadway producer/director.

The killer’s knowledge of theater allows him to assume different identities in order to ensnare his victims. It’s a twisted and perverted rendition of Shakespeare’s “the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” You also get to see Broadway in the 1960s — there is even a scene inside the famous Sardi’s (a popular restaurant among theaterphiles) located in New York’s Theater District.

Believe it or not, No Way to Treat a Lady is also a great romantic comedy. Eliminate the killings and you are left with an amusing and quirky rom-com. Lee Remick as Kate Palmer and George Segal as Detective Brummel got something here that’s unique and irresistible. Their exchanges are clever, witty and very romantic.

It’s a modern (re) interpretation of old the Doris Day & Rock Hudson comedies — the formula is tweaked to reflect changes in the mating game. Remick is straightforward and sexually aggressive, while Segal is timid and kind of asexual. This inversion of gender roles creates many funny moments. This is all happening as the bodies start piling up and that’s off-putting, but extremely interesting. I also loved Eileen Heckart (Butterflies are Free) as Segal’s overbearing mom, Murray Hamilton (Jaws) as Inspector Haines, and Michael Dunn (Ship of Fools) as a serial confessor.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

No Way to Treat a Lady is bound to offend some viewers — you are asked to chuckle as women are brutally murdered. Maybe it didn’t bother me because I’m always game for genre-bending movies. Plus, I loved Rod Steiger’s performance — it is, in my opinion, his best screen work ever (he’s clearly having a blast!). Interestingly, No Way to Treat a Lady was turned into a stage musical in the 1980s. Color, 104 minutes, Rated R.

P.S. This is my contribution to the Broadway Bound Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room.

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14 responses to “No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

  1. Thanks for reminding me about this – I saw it once many years ago and have been hunting down the novel forever! I loved the film then and want to see it again after reading your take on it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Broadway Bound 2019: Day Two – Taking Up Room·

  3. I knew nothing about the movie beyond its title and am now very intrigued. Thanks for telling us about the strengths in its cast and script.
    – Caftan Woman

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve been watching and reviewing quite a few movies of late that I’ve never even heard of, but sound like ones I should really be checking out. This is another one; at first, while reading your synopsis, I naturally assumed this was a serious murder mystery, but I was surprised to soon read it was a comedy. Very interesting…I’ll keep an eye out for this, but sorry, I will NOT be paying seventy bucks for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to echo everyone else here–I want to read the book, too. Guess I’ll look at the library, though. No $70 price tag for me, lol. Thanks for joining the blogathon with this intriguing review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Sally, Please note Jeff Goldblum Blogathon which will be held on the 15th, 16th and 17th August 2019. As ALL JEFF GOLDBLUM BLOGATHON ENTRANTS… Due to popular demand Emma and I are running this event for one extra day! from Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews

    Liked by 1 person

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