Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
If it weren't for its bright and winning performances, No Way to Treat a Lady would be
a standard whodunnit. It is an early serial killer show, and better than some in its mechanics,
but the charm is in what George Segal, Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart do with their
characters. Rod Steiger's showcase performance, adopting a score of personalities and voices to
perfect his diabolical disguises, gets the most attention.
Mad killer Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) uses a variety of guises and accents
to gain the confidence of his victims, before strangling them and painting lipstick on their foreheads.
He monitors his progress in the papers and frequently calls detective Morris Brummel (George Segal)
to boast or threaten, which not only puts Morris in a bad way with his superiors, but upsets his
mother (Eileen Heckart). Morris starts a relationship with an early murder witness, Katherine Palmer
(Lee Remick), but it soon gets tangled up in the strangler's game of cat and mouse.
The serial killer subgenre has become very popular in the last 15 years or so, evolving into a horror
staple that strives for realistic chills, even as the plots become more bizarre and the psychology
more dense. Savant is waiting for the kid's film about a 6 year old detective 'channeling' the psyche
of a demented killer: demonic figures of madmen like Hannibal Lecter have supplanted less credible
boogeymen like Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Cultural analysts 50 years from now will
probably look back on these frightened years and say that fear icons like Lecter represented the terror
of the times.
So it's kind of refreshing to see a thriller about tracking down a mad strangler, made before we were dunned by
amateur terrorists (like the Beltway Sniper) amusing themselves though mass murder. The strangler in No Way to
Treat a Lady is such a novelty to George Segal's pleasant office of workaday detectives, and the rest of the city
is so stable and secure, that confidence man Rod Steiger's deadly antics seem almost quaint. Segal isn't
alterted to any particular danger when a known murderer makes bizarre calls to his home phone. This perpetrator
understands phone tracing, has a diabolical knack for knowing when he's safe and when he's not, and a personal
interest in detective Segal, but Segal never thinks that his mother or girlfriend might be in danger.
If Jack Smight dwells lightly on the hardboiled aspect, he gives lots of attention to his characters. Virtuoso actor
Steiger has the center spotlight, and makes the most of his Irish brogue and his mincing gay wig salesman, and
pretty much takes care of himself. His victims, played by an assortment of adorable old ladies (Martine Bartlett,
Barbara Baxley, Ruth White) make for a variety of cute scenes, all ending in bloodless murders that are
practically benign compared to the nastiness of Buffalo Bill & company. A couple of years after this,
The Honeymoon Killers took the details of merry widow killing to even greater lengths, in a more realistic
vein. For the record, Steiger's derangement is explained by a rather theatrical mother complex.
Clearly aware that their roles needed to be fleshed out, veteran Remick and relative newcomer Segal give it their
all. Jewish detective Morris Brummel, a nice guy with a harping mom, is Segal at his most winning. He's impossible not
to like, shy around Remick and bubbles with enthusiasm when he thinks a phone conversation with her has gone well.
Remick gives her vivacious Kate character the works - at first we don't know if she's a nut or a hooker, but she
just turns out to be a very spirited woman. The teasing and awkwardness between them looks generated from
chemistry and improvisation; Segal is intimidated by her at first but learns how to assert himself, on a sweet
'yacht' ride on an NYPD boat, and kidding her by flashing his gun while she's trying to conduct an art tour.
All of this - the romance, Eileen Heckart's engaging mom and Steiger's Killer Lite - is so refreshing, that when
the film finally gets down to the third act suspense, it isn't all
that suspenseful. Frustrated by the mutual manipulation between cat and mouse, Steiger targets the detective's
girlfriend (surprise!) and stretches his luck too far, allowing the cops to trace him down. The perfunctory finish
shows off Steiger's star moves, and not much else, but it's still a
pleasant and diverting picture.
Michael Dunn has an amusing scene where he tries to turn himself in as the killer. The movie cheats a little bit in
one spot, by substituting Segal's voice for Steiger's when the killer is presenting himself as a cop to a prospective
victim in an apartment doorway.
Paramount's DVD of No Way to Treat a Lady is another of their plainwrap but nicely transferred discs, never
a bad deal. The color and framing are fine and only a few shots have much in the way of grain. There's no title tune
(the pop song is unrelated and came a few years later) but the soundtrack has a nice 60s NY feel, and there's always
Savant's favorite game to play in urban movies like this, freezing the picture to see what's playing on the movie
marquees on the New York streets.
A lot of people remember this as a favorite show from when it was new, and the disc will certainly please them.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
No Way to Treat a Lady rates:
Movie: Very good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 20, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson