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Little Murders (1971) - Plot Summary Poster

Plot

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Summaries

  • Pitch black comedy about a young nihilistic New Yorker coping with pervasive urban violence, obscene phone calls, rusty water pipes, electrical blackouts, paranoia and ethnic-racial conflict during a typical summer of the 1970s.

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  • An idealistic girl, Patsy Newquist, saves a young photographer, Alfred Chamberlain, from a gang of hooligans. She falls for him, but he turns out to be a nihilist consumed with apathy. They hook up anyway, and she brings him home to meet her parents. All this happens against the background of random shootings that had just begun in NYC at the time the play the movie is based on was written. Her family had already lost a son, so they accept him. However, when the girl tries to change him and get him to find meaning in life, things go horribly wrong in a cruel twist of fate.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Patsy Newquist (Marcia Rodd) is a 27-year-old interior designer who lives in a New York rife with street crime, noise, obscene phone calls, power blackouts and unsolved homicides. When she sees a defenseless man being attacked by street thugs, she intervenes, but is surprised when the passive victim doesn't even bother to thank her. She ends up attracted to the man, Alfred Chamberlain (Elliott Gould), a photographer, but finds that he is emotionally vacant, barely able to feel pain or pleasure. He permits muggers to beat him up until they get tired and go away.

    Patsy is accustomed to molding men into doing her bidding. Alfred is different. When she brings him home to meet her parents and brother, he is almost non-verbal, except to tell her that he doesn't care for families. He learns that Patsy had another brother who was murdered for no known reason. Patsy's eccentric family is surprised when she announces their intention to wed, then amazed when their marriage ceremony conducted by the atheistic Rev. Dupas (Donald Sutherland) turns into a free-for-all.

    Determined to discover why her new husband is the way he is, Patsy coaxes Alfred into traveling to Chicago to visit his parents. He hasn't seen them since he was 17, but asks them to help with a questionnaire about his childhood at Patsy's request.

    Alfred ultimately agrees to try to become Patsy's kind of man, the kind willing to "fight back". The instant that happens, a sniper's bullet kills Patsy, again for no apparent reason. A blood-splattered Alfred goes to her parents' apartment, New Yorkers barely noticing his state. He descends into a silent stupor, Patsy's father (Vincent Gardenia) even having to feed him.

    A ranting, disturbed police detective, Lt. Practice (Alan Arkin), drops by, almost unable to function due to the number of unsolved murders in the city. After he leaves, Alfred goes for a walk in the park. He returns with a rifle, which he doesn't know how to load. Patsy's father shows him how. Then the two of them, along with Patsy's brother (Jon Korkes), take turns shooting people down on the street.

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