Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Little Murders" is pretty deadly

Cleveland Press April 2, 1971

"Little Murders" is playing at the Fox Cedar-Center and Detroit. Comedy-drama; adults, older teens. In the cast are Elliott Gould, Marcia Rodd, Donald Sutherland, Alan Arkin. Running time: 110 minutes.

"Little Murders" is based on the play by Jules Feiffer who is better known as a cartoonist than a playwright. In a Jules Feiffer cartoon the characters talk on and on compulsively until they have explained and over-explained. In a cartoon it works. In a movie the technique too often becomes a series of deadly and self indulgent monologs.

"Little Murders" is not so much black comedy as black satire. It is about the madness of modern living and the attempts of individuals to adapt to the madness.

IF YOU MAKE it to the corner without being mugged, be thankful and try for the next block. If one of your children is killed by a sniper get on with dinner there are the others to feed.

In this mad world there is a photographer (Elliot Gould) who is so apathetic he calls himself an apethist. Jumped on by bullies in the park, he lets them beat up on him knowing it will be over soon and he can go on with his work.

His work is rather strange. So many people have so bluntly told him what his pictures look like that he has taken them at their word and goes about photographing excrement though he calls it by its better known four-letter name.

INTO HIS LIFE comes an aggressive woman (Marcia Rodd) who sees in Gould a man she, can mold to suit herself. She copes with daily life in her own way.

The regular phone calls from a non-talking heavy breather are greeted with 'hello, breather." She courts Gould and since Gould is apathetic he accepts her courtship.

The movie tells no story. It is almost an unconnected series of sketches, some funny, others dull, all uneven.

Feiffer says that the degrees of harassment increases -- the muggings, the power failures, the calls from breathers, the sniper killings -- and that you live with it or go mad. Eventually you buy a rifle, not so much for protection as participation.

FEIFFER WROTE his play in 1967, and he was satirizing apathy. The callousness of subway riders as a man covered with blood stands among them unnoticed is one of his scenes.

The trouble with accepting 'Little Murders" as satire is that apathy has turned to fear, that his exaggeration of scattered events of the time have now become routine matters.

It takes the edge from his total concept and what is left are individual scenes that are only sometimes depressing.