Made-For-TV: The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1975, Dir, Paul Wendkos)

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I’ve always wondered why certain crimes get more notoriety than others. With serial killers it’s understandable, they’re the most evil of evildoers and that fascinates us, but what of people who only kill one person, or a small group, and never kill again? Is it the murder, or the murderer, or both? Take Lizzie Borden’s 1892 ax murder of her father and stepmother. I’m sure she wasn’t the first woman to kill another human being with an ax, so why does she go down in infamy when others don’t?

Slow news day?

The weather?

The townsfolk?

If she was alive in the 20th or 21st century and performed that exact murder, would she have made the news 24/7? Most definitely. Nowadays we eat up these kinds of crimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The last time we had a notorious woman killer all over the news was a few years ago with Jody Arias and she killed her ex-boyfriend. Lizzie took out two family members. Both Arias and Borden’s murders were savage.

I was six when this TV movie aired and I distinctly remember never watching it. In fact the airing of this movie might have been the first time I ever heard of Borden. I never remember seeing it air ever again. Not sure I would have watched it anyway had it been. Monster movies were my thing back then not “human” monsters.

As I grew up though it was one of those TV movies that I remembered existing and have always wanted to see it.

I was also well aware of who played Lizzie Borden—Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of Bewitched (1964-1972). That was a show I loved when I was a kid, and Montgomery will be forever remembered in my mind as Samantha from it. I’m not sure I would have been able to “accept” her in that role of Lizzie had I seen it when it came out. A good modern day analogy would be like watching Jim Carrey play Jeffrey Dahmer, or something. But now that I’m gown and Bewitched has been out of my mind for decades it wasn’t that hard to separate her Samantha role from her Borden portrayal. I actually have more respect for Montgomery now after having seen this movie. I didn’t know she could so thoroughly make me forget about Bewitched. No mannerisms at all from that character carried over. For all intents and purposes she was Lizzie Borden.

The movie starts right off with her father, Andrew (Fritz Weaver) and stepmother, Abby’s (Helen Craig), murders. We don’t see them happen, we come in on the aftermath, like minutes after with the maid, Bridget (Fionnula Flanagan), finding Andrew first, then the stepmother moments later. It’s at the funeral that Lizzie begins to become a suspect for her manner of clothing, not befitting for a burying loved ones, and lack of remorse, get her put on the very short list of suspects.

It’s at the coroner’s inquest, which feels like a mini-trial in and of itself, where she’s formally charged. Apparently, she says all the wrong things and again shows very little remorse.

It’s at the actual trial where we get flashbacks to what life was like in the Borden household and I have to say Montgomery’s portrayal reminded me an awful lot of Jody Arias, only difference being Borden isn’t much of a talker, but the almost subtle and not so subtle psychopathic characteristics she plays with kept giving me flashbacks to the Arias trial. There are moments, however, where you can momentarily sympathize with Lizzie and her father, but then you see their other sides and can almost understand how this murder came about.

Lizzie had an older sister, Emma (Katherine Helmond), who was a character you could totally sympathize with all the way through. The stepmother’s portrayal, however, was vile from the start.

It’s towards the end where the verdict is about to be announced that we finally see Lizzie thinking about how she killed them. And here in this version it’s postulated that she may have stripped naked, so as to not get blood on her clothes, before she killed. And a quick shot of Montgomery’s nipple had me wondering if that was a mistake. Remember this is a ’75 TV movie and nudity was not a common staple for TV as it sometimes is now. At any rate you can see the nipple shot when she’s killing her father.

TV movies from back in the day are tough to come by on legit DVD, most times you have to go bootleg to get them, but in the last several years some have been making their way to it (i.e. Killdozer, The Horror At 37,000 Feet, The Possessed), well, now, you can add this film to that hopefully still growing list. Cinedigm released the movie this past Tuesday, and the 1.33:1 transfer was really good. Certainly better than any bootleg you might come across, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound was good too. Sadly, like those aforementioned other titles there are no special features, but that’s okay, just having this movie on legit DVD is special enough.

And there are no subtitles either.

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