Commentary Magazine


Viewing “Little Murders”

To the Editor:

I saw Little Murders, first in New York City the day after it opened, and more recently in Darien, Connecticut, along with some friends. . . .

The most interesting thing about the re-run for me, in addition to being able to understand the tew mumbled lines of dialogue I had missed the first time around, was the strikingly different response of the suburban audience from the New York one: where the New York house had howled (e.g., at Lou Jacobi’s atavistic courtroom soliloquy), the little theater with the imitation Greek portico was silent; and where the afternoon crowd at the Beekman had been hushed, as for example during the scene of Alfred’s “reunion” with his parents, there was laughter in Connecticut.

The explanation for this reversal of reactions seems obvious above all else. Little Murders is a “New York” film—a film not only made about New York, in New York, and by people who live there (Feiffer, Gould, Arkin), but a film which, I think, can only be appreciated by New Yorkers. William S. Pechter’s review of the movie [Movies, “Jules and Jack,” September] ignored both the significance and the symbolism of this point.

While labeling Little Murders a “belated . . . Procaccino-for-mayor commercial,” Mr. Pechter seemed to be writing an anticipatory Lindsay-for-President spot in his attack on the all too plausible thesis of the film: that New York is going insane and nobody seems to be noticing. Little Murders is a story about the failure of the values cherished by the older generation to work in the modern urban environment, and nowhere is this failure more evident than in our largest city. Lou Jacobi’s brilliant portrayal characterizes the anguish of the second-generation American (“When my parents came here from Russia they had nothing!”) over the rejection of the “work ethic” by the young in the very city where on a clear day you can see Ellis Island. The painful scene of Alfred’s visit to his parents’ apartment—unconvincingly moved to Chicago—represents the intellectual impoverishment of a class, and an idea, born and bred on the West Side of Manhattan.

John S. O’brien
Rye, New York

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