Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Er Name? (1971)

Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Er Name? (1971)

“Who cares about a whore?”

A diabetic ex-boxer (Red Buttons) and his grown daughter Della (Alice Playten) investigate the mysterious murder of a hooker named Mary.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Murder Mystery
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos
  • Red Buttons Films
  • Sam Waterston Films
  • Sylvia Miles Films

Who Killed Mary What’s “Er Name? passed under the radar of most movie-goers during its theatrical release, but gained a small following when it aired on late night television — the perfect venue for this stylish whodunit starring likeable comedian Red Buttons:

… baby-faced Alice Playten (whose arched eyebrows make her look perpetually astonished):

… and “Diff’rent Strokes”‘ Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain) in an early role.

While it isn’t particularly ground-breaking or unique, this film does possess a surprising amount of suspense, charm, and atmosphere. Director Ernest Pintoff (who seems to enjoy tricky camera work) pays tribute to Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) in a subplot about an aspiring filmmaker (Sam Waterston), whose footage of Mary right before her death may provide clues to her murder. He also makes effective use of seamy New York locales and characters (check out his close-ups of odd-looking old ladies):

to evoke a world where anyone may be a suspect, for any number of reasons.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Red Buttons as the do-gooding amateur sleuth
  • Sylvia Miles, perfectly cast as Buttons’ whore-with-a-heart-of-gold neighbor
  • An impressive array of potential suspects — including an obsessive young filmmaker (Sam Waterston), a religiously fanatic African-American landlord (Dick Anthony Williams), and a priggish John (David Doyle)

  • Effective use of seamy New York locales
  • Clever camera work

Must See?
No, but it’s a good little thriller which deserves a remastered release onto DVD.


One thought on “Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Er Name? (1971)

  1. First viewing. Not a must –

    ~but surprisingly competent for something so low-budget. It starts off particularly well (esp. the opening) and moves along somewhat smoothly for the first half-hour. Then the story begins to simultaneously meander and stay on course; it knows where it wants to go, and (with some impressive camerawork) slowly builds in that direction, but the bulk of the development is mundane. It occasionally feels choppy and certain sections are not all that convincing.

    But even if this isn’t a cult-find waiting to happen, chances are you won’t be bored. Mainly because good ol’ Red Buttons is on board, giving the film class and weight. (I would think he took the chance here to play a lead role, as opposed to something showy but supporting – such as in ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ 2 years earlier.)

    Cute Alice Playten plays nicely against Buttons, mainly because there’s a physical resemblance and a warmth between them (the latter being a nice balance in a film like this). And Sylvia Miles… what a ‘singular’ presence in the film world, my, my. If ya needed a believable whore (‘Midnight Cowboy’, ‘Heat’), who else would be at the top of your dream list?

    [Sidenote: It was nice to see the scene inside the old Elgin theater in the west village. Made me remember going there – to see things like ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Gloria’, etc. Ahh, film fanatic memories…!]

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