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The Legend of Lizzie Borden

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Elizabeth Montgomery in The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)


The fullframe, 1.37:1 color transfer for The Legend of Lizzie Borden looks close to how I remember it...and I originally saw it on a crappy 13 inch black and white portable, so.... The color looks muted (on purpose), while the image is reasonably sharp (that haze is on purpose, too). Screen imperfections are occasional but not intrusive. Overall: pretty good. Now as to that running time...which the back of the DVD case lists at "approximately 100 minutes" (sounds like someone in Copy didn't actually do a time check). I've seen several sources list the movie run time at 100 minutes (I wouldn't trust an IMDB run time, though, as far as I could throw the internet), with the "European cut" being four minutes longer. And yet...I've seen no hard proof or even reliable sources for that latter time. Were four minutes added for the European release? No idea. But particular version of The Legend of Lizzie Borden actually runs 96 minutes and change. Now, that would allow about six minutes of commercial air time per half-hour of a two-hour broadcast slot. That's slightly longer than the five minutes you would assume was the norm in '75 (and which would match the 100 minute runtime). However...it wasn't unusual for a minute or even 30 seconds of local ad time to be sold as well, per half hour, and most official run times don't take into account network intros and bumpers and their own promos run during a particular broadcast, as well-- during "sweeps," when such network promotion was increased. And The Legend of Lizzie Borden was shown during "sweeps" as a special movie event (nor do PAL conversion issues seem to be relevant here, either). So...is anything cut here? I don't have a photographic memory, particularly after 39 years, so...who knows? But nothing jumped out as "missing" from my memory when I watched this version--it all seemed there to me (unlike, say, the disc version of , which immediately smelled wrong in a few parts). If anybody has solid proof otherwise, by all means send it to me, and I'll gladly amend the review.

I'm certainly no expert on the Borden case, but having read a little bit about it, The Legend of Lizzie Borden sticks reasonably close to most of the facts of this still-unsolved crime. Some events and characters are eliminated or shuffled around, but that's to be expected with any biopic. Its central explanation for Lizzie committed the murders is that she did them completely nude (she subsequently washed off the blood), thus eliminating any evidence on her clothes (from what I've read, though, it doesn't sound like she or her clothes were checked for bloodstains by the cops, anyway)--a proposition ripe for TV exploitation when the beautiful Montgomery is the one doing all the hatchet hacking (and yes, there apparently really a "European cut" that did include full frontal nudity of Montgomery when The Legend of Lizzie Borden was released in theaters there...and , we're not getting that version on this disc--more about the movie's runtime below). In the end, though, it doesn't matter at all if The Legend of Lizzie Borden is reasonably accurate to the historical record or complete fantasy--it's a frequently dazzling work of art that conveys multiple "realities" that are far more "true" than the dry facts of this particular case. An intricate puzzle of exposition that's expertly fractured and re-arranged to give a startlingly subjective impression of the crime and its (maybe) perpetrator, by the end of The Legend of Lizzie Borden, we're not sure of , of what's real or imaginary, and particularly: the guilt or innocence of Lizzie...or for that matter, the state of her mind. Aside from what we see outside of Lizzie's perspective, are her flashbacks of memory actual recollections of the crimes she committed? Are they morphine-induced hallucinations (we learn that from the day of the crime until the end of her trial she's been given hefty daily injections)? Or are they the wishful fantasies of an angry, possibly psychotic--but innocent in the end--daydreamer? Scripted by William Bast (, The Valley of the Gwangi, The Betsy), The Legend of Lizzie Borden refuses to reassure us on any of these scores; we're left uneasily on our own to sort out if what we're seeing is true or not. Completely unreliable--and therefore, quite unnerving--The Legend of Lizzie Borden turns out to be far more "true" to the nature of this heinous, bizarre crime than a "straight" factual imagining could ever be.

The Legend of Lizzie Borden (TV Movie 1975) - IMDb

  • The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)
  • The Legend of Lizzie Borden - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I'm certainly no expert on the Borden case, but having read a little bit about it, The Legend of Lizzie Borden sticks reasonably close to most of the facts of this still-unsolved crime. Some events and characters are eliminated or shuffled around, but that's to be expected with any biopic. Its central explanation for Lizzie committed the murders is that she did them completely nude (she subsequently washed off the blood), thus eliminating any evidence on her clothes (from what I've read, though, it doesn't sound like she or her clothes were checked for bloodstains by the cops, anyway)--a proposition ripe for TV exploitation when the beautiful Montgomery is the one doing all the hatchet hacking (and yes, there apparently really a "European cut" that did include full frontal nudity of Montgomery when The Legend of Lizzie Borden was released in theaters there...and , we're not getting that version on this disc--more about the movie's runtime below). In the end, though, it doesn't matter at all if The Legend of Lizzie Borden is reasonably accurate to the historical record or complete fantasy--it's a frequently dazzling work of art that conveys multiple "realities" that are far more "true" than the dry facts of this particular case. An intricate puzzle of exposition that's expertly fractured and re-arranged to give a startlingly subjective impression of the crime and its (maybe) perpetrator, by the end of The Legend of Lizzie Borden, we're not sure of , of what's real or imaginary, and particularly: the guilt or innocence of Lizzie...or for that matter, the state of her mind. Aside from what we see outside of Lizzie's perspective, are her flashbacks of memory actual recollections of the crimes she committed? Are they morphine-induced hallucinations (we learn that from the day of the crime until the end of her trial she's been given hefty daily injections)? Or are they the wishful fantasies of an angry, possibly psychotic--but innocent in the end--daydreamer? Scripted by William Bast (, The Valley of the Gwangi, The Betsy), The Legend of Lizzie Borden refuses to reassure us on any of these scores; we're left uneasily on our own to sort out if what we're seeing is true or not. Completely unreliable--and therefore, quite unnerving--The Legend of Lizzie Borden turns out to be far more "true" to the nature of this heinous, bizarre crime than a "straight" factual imagining could ever be.

    If The Legend of Lizzie Borden was only that--a stylized piece of surreal terror--it would be a noteworthy entry in the made-for-TV horror genre (I'd love to compare it to another M.I.A. MTV horror outing I remember with fondness: Spielberg's Something Evil). However, there's substance beneath The Legend of Lizzie Borden's flash. ABC may have been correct in exploiting in their promotions the then-rather remarkable shots of Montgomery stalking around in the nude (as glorious as that prospect is...only a brief side shot can be deduced: your mind is doing the rest here), but there's far more going on beneath the surface...and all of it most unpleasant. Scripter Bast postulates that Lizzie Borden was "special" ("psychologically disturbed" seems to be the final diagnosis) in a seriously screwed-up family on the brink of shattering apart. A manipulator (Lizzie's step-mother knows her game) and petty thief with an angry streak a mile wide, Bast's Lizzie has been shaped by an unnatural, destructive relationship with her father. As a child, she puts her favorite ring on her widowed father's wedding ring finger, and kisses him full-on--a memory that's immediately followed by another flashback where Lizzie, in a nightgown/wedding gown, sensuously kisses her dead father's cold lips. Later, she sees her father, in this flashback an embalmer, resisting the urge to look at a naked corpse...before , as the camera pans away to young Lizzie's shocked face (how got by Standards and Practices I'll never know). Sex and death are further linked in Lizzie's mind when her father tries to calm Lizzie's fears about her mother's death, when he forces her to touch a dead body, remarking on how enjoyably cool the skin is...before the embalming tube comes loose, spraying a screaming Lizzie with blood (do you know how all this was to a 9-year-old kid back in '75?). The Legend of Lizzie Borden's all-but-open insinuations of perversion in the Borden house run throughout the movie, with Montgomery and Fritz Weaver exchanging heavy glances as they trade loaded lines: "Would you like to take a before before dinner?" she suggestively asks her prone father, as he smiles knowingly at her, before a flashback where he exclaimed, "We were always so close... close," to her pointed return stare. This quietly corrosive undertone of sexual deviancy runs throughout the movie, further wedding the narrative to the horror elements' framework.