I just saw the musical theater production of "No Way to Treat a Lady" last week staged by Repertory Philippines (which I reviewed HERE). This musical version, with music, book and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen, debuted off-Broadway in 1987. When I found out that there was actually a 1968 film of the same title that covered the same story, I wanted to see and compare the interpretations of both the film and theater versions. Both movie and play were based on a well-reviewed 1968 novel by William Goldman (who also wrote "The Princess Bride").
The story was basically the same, of course. There was a failed actor named Kit Gill who had an oppressive relationship with his Broadway diva mother. Upon her death, his twisted mind turned to killing senior women who reminded him of his mother, wearing various disguises to gain their trust before strangling them to death. Hot in pursuit was a NYC detective Morris Brummell, who was still tied to his overbearing mother's apron strings. There is a side plot of Morris meeting and falling in love with pretty art museum hostess.
The theater version, being a musical, had a heftier amount of lighthearted comedy. I wonder what exactly inspired Douglas Cohen to write this musical version of an atypical subject matter for a musical. This film was definitely a more serious telling, with its comedy so much darker in tone. I found it interesting that the play similarly echoed a lot of situations and lines from the film, especially those that involved the female characters. However, overall, I felt the play actually told the story much better. The ending of the movie felt very contrived, hurried and relied too much on coincidence, unlike the play when the resolution was a lot more logical.
Unlike the stage Kit Gill, Rod Steiger was very sinister as the killer. He was excellent in his various disguises, especially the plumber and wig-maker. Mr. Steiger is really old school hammy in his intense acting style, really over the top, which was actually good in this particular role. The stage Kit Gill (portrayed by Audie Gemora) was more sadly tragic in the sense that his sick attachment to her mother's memory was highlighted from the beginning. You will still feel sympathetic to this character in the play. In the movie, the influence of the dead mother was only revealed towards the end, almost only as an incidental mention.
George Segal does well as the mama's boy Jewish cop. He played it quite laid back, in sharp contrast with Steiger. On stage, Joel Trinidad also followed the same laid back approach to the character. The stereotypical annoying Jewish mom was played with glee by Eileen Heckart. There was basically similar interpretation by the stage Flora Brummell, Ms. Sheila Francisco, since this character is essentially a cliche. Mo's love interest in the film was named Kate Palmer (played by 60s beauty Lee Remick), while in the play the name was Sarah Stone (played by Carla Guevara-Laforteza). The scene where mom and girlfriend meet was a delightful moment in both the film and the stage musical.
One excellent feature, a conceit really, of the musical version (but not the film) was that all the victims of the killer were all played by the one actress who also played Kit's mother (Pinky Marquez)! This of course brings to fore that these victims reminded Kit of his domineering mother, the central psychotic motive of the serial murders.
Now I want to read the book! The reviews say it is better than the book (as usual).
By the way, as a bonus, this film version also features a young David Doyle (of the "Charlie's Angels" TV series) playing a cop! It was good to see him here.