Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 4, 2018


Liz Montgomery as Lizzie
THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN (1975 telefilm). Director: Paul Wendkos.

In Falls River, Massachusetts in 1892, Andrew Borden (Fritz Weaver) and his wife, Abby (Helen Craig) are found axed to death in their home. The chief suspect immediately becomes Andrew's daughter, Lizzie (Elizabeth Montgomery), who maintains her innocence both in court and to her sister, Emma (Katherine Helmond). With flashbacks showing the troubled life of the family, the movie shows us the investigation, the trial, and the outcome. The Lizzie Borden story remains one of the most fascinating unsolved mysteries and double murders in history, and this early look at the case, sticking mostly to the facts, makes for a compelling TV movie. It leaves out the fact that a cousin was staying in the house at the time of the murders but he was apparently out of the house during the actual gruesome event. The movie's explanation for how Lizzie did not get blood on her clothing is somewhat suspect, however. The biggest problem with the telefilm is the lead performance, with Montgomery often acting as if she were in rehearsal, and hardly giving what could be called a committed performance for much of the film's length. Helmond is more on the mark as her sister, as are Weaver and Craig, and Fionnula Flanagan as the maid, Bridget. Ed Flanders [The Exorcist III] makes an efficient prosecutor, and John Beal [The Vampire] is fine as a doctor who ministers to family friend, Lizzie. Helen Craig, who plays the unpleasant stepmother, is better in this than she was as the evil nurse in The Snake Pit. This is superior to the Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, (although the fictionalized series that followed, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, was quite entertaining).  Paul Wendkos also directed the excellent telefilm The Brotherhood of the Bell. NOTE: A new Lizzie Borden theatrical film, focusing on the character's lesbianism, has just been released, and it seems based (without crediting him) on Evan Hunter's novel, Lizzie, which also posited the theory that Lizzie and maid Bridget were lovers.

Verdict: Entertaining, but just misses being really special. **3/4. 


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - Has been a while since I have seen this one, but I do remember it fondly. I have always been a big Elizabeth Montgomery fan, and this is one of her best performances. I also have a fascination with the Borden story, as a good friend of mine is from Fall River Massachusetts where the murders took place. My sister and bother in law watched and enjoyed the recent Lizzie Borden Chronicles, but I never did because I was unimpressed with the pilot movie, as you note. Looking forward to the updated versions you mention!

William said...

The Lizzie Borden series was much, much better than the original movie, but it was, of course, all fiction and a little absurd at times. I wonder if the house is still standing?