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Movie Fact #179 - March 30th, 2021


The 1971 film Little Murders may be an urban story about a girl bringing home her boyfriend to meet her severely dysfunctional family, but the backdrop of New York City which is dealing with a series of random shootings, garbage strikes, and electrical outages conveys what screenwriter Jules Feiffer was really trying to say. In fact, he was inspired to write the story by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, quoted as saying the following:

"Which was odd because I wasn't a big fan of his; he was the first actor in the White House. And then when Oswald was shot, I thought there is a madness going on. And because of my politics, I saw that madness in Vietnam, too. So the motive of the play was the breakdown of all forms of authority—religion, family, the police. Urban violence was always the metaphor in my mind for something more serious in the country."

In addition, Feiffer originally wrote it as a novel, working on that version for nearly two years before finding himself unhappy with it:

"Having gone to theater a lot and read plays a lot since adolescence, I realized that if I ever wrote the sort of play I wanted to write, it would close in a week. I felt I'd already done my masochistic years at The Village Voice—eight years of cartoons without a penny. But I felt this grim sense of what was going on and I didn't feel the cartoons could express that fully. I also felt the cartoons were being too easily accepted."

After then discovering an original outline which he thought would make a good play, Feiffer wrote a first draft in three weeks for Little Murders saying, And I realized that whatever the fate of the play, I was stuck as a playwright. I felt as at home with a play as with the cartoon." The play version had various success in a Broadway production in 1967, a London production in 1967, and an Off Broadway production in 1969. The film's director Alan Arkin actually had directed Feiffer's second play The White House Murder Case, which premiered in the theater 1970, and this was how Arkin ultimately came to discover Little Murders and direct the film version. Stay tuned!

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