Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (1971)

In a better universe than ours, The Golden Girls wasn’t a sitcom, but an hour long detective comedy/drama with the four old biddies solving any variety of capers, their tart retorts flummoxing bad guys into confessing to an incredulous local police force. It would be like Murder She Wrote, but funnier. And times four!

Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate is a like a pale echo of all that and not as amusing. For instance, in this version a prisoner at the police station whispers something nasty to one of the women causing her to faint dead away. Heh. If this was The Golden Girls Detective Hour, Sophia would whisper something right back causing the convict to pass out! Hilarious! (Someone at NBC must have thought enough of this basic concept though since two of the four actresses were brought back to play similar characters in the short-lived 1973 series, The Snoop Sisters.)

Four old gals (headlined by Myrna Loy and Helen Hayes)  get mixed up in the murder of a hooker of all things! Fatally hampered by a lengthy and dull set up that somehow also manages to not use that time to flesh out any more than one of the elderly ladies into something approaching a character (fthe only way I knew who Myra Loy’s character was was because I knew who Myrna Loy was!), the film also suffers somewhat jarring tonal shifts.  Sometimes we’re chuckling (or at least supposed to be) at the goofy antics of the old timers but then we’ve got the increasingly deranged killer Mal clubbing a hooker with a candlestick and talking to himself nonstop about how some girl who jilted him is going to pay.

Mal Weston (Dr. Ben Casey himself Vince Edwards) looks exactly like a 1970s movie killer would look with his sweaty face, big glasses and bad hair.  If you were a single lady in a bar and this guy walked in and you didn’t make for the nearest exit, well that’s just you having suicidal ideations!

We first meet Mal when he’s trying to rape a girl while she’s in his car right in front of her house!  This is a 73 minute movie with four protagonists. Nuance is going to be treated like a prostitute who had the bad luck to run into an angry john holding a candlestick!  I mean, the scene of these four old birds trying to order lunch seemed to take up about thirty percent of the movie alone!

As is surely stated in some part of the Bible or at least in a AARP brochure, bored septuagenarians are the Devil’s workshop.  So it is that they decide to sign up for one of those new-fangled computer dating things.  Any hope that lots of laughs would be had by the 1971 level computer dating tech are dashed as all the girls do is complete an application, send it in and get some matches to correspond with. (If this scheme doesn’t exactly generate excitement in the viewer, at least the movie isn’t about the one they did before this one – registering for draft.  That’s surely treasonous since sifting through such bogus sign ups from crazy old coots probably played no small part in why we  lost in Nam!)

The ladies’ fake profile  gets a letter from Mal and when they communicate (first by mail and then by phone when the obsessed Mal tracks down their phone number), he won’t take no for an answer and sets up a meeting at a bar with the fake person.  The four women go to the bar to check out Mal and he leaves with a hooker thinking she’s his computer date.  He murders her in a rage when she demands money for her services and he realizes she isn’t the woman he thought she was.

Once the women see in the paper she was murdered, they begin to investigate.  It isn’t much of an investigation as they go to Mal’s house and he isn’t there.  Eventually Mal tracks them down to one of their homes and confronts them, leading to perhaps one of the most ignominious captures any screen killer has ever endured – four old women sitting on top of him, holding him down and screeching for help. Hey Mal, they were straining pretty hard so you better hope these grandmas’ Depends are extra strength!

It’s hard to be too involved in what (barely) happens since first of all, these women caused all this to happen in the first place and second, and the killer’s antics rarely make sense.  Killing a woman because you were too stupid to realize she was a hooker?  And then even as you are on the run from police and worry about getting caught, you spend most of your time trying to track down your computer date so you can get some weird revenge on her for standing you up?  And then you can’t even threaten four old ladies effectively?  (He was held at bay with a hat pin at one point!)

Oddly, it is only a minor character, the hapless detective played by John Beradino (Dr. Steve Hardy from General Hospital) who provides the best moments.  His perfectly delivered expressions  of restrained exasperation dealing with the old women can’t help but elicit knowing chuckles from an audience feeling exactly the same way about everything that’s happened in Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate.

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