The Legend of Lizzie Borden is a made-for-television movie produced by Paramount Films. The first time it aired on television was on February 10, 1975. Directed by Paul Wendkos and screenplay from William Bast, the leading lady in this movie is Elizabeth Montgomery.
Most of us remember Elizabeth Montgomery from her 1960s comedy sitcom, Bewitched. But, with this movie she has yet again proven that her talents aren’t limited. She was famous for her versatile roles and had the ability to make any role her own. That is exactly what she did when she played Lizzie Andrew Borden in this film. Elizabeth Montgomery is quoted to have once said: “The minute someone says, "Oh God, you could never do that; you can't get that kind of stuff on the air!" . . . that's the kind of stuff I want to do.” ~Elizabeth Montgomery
It seems as if she was talking about roles like Lizzie Borden. This story was based on the real-life murder of Andrew and Abby Borden on August 4, 1892, father and step-mother to Lizzie Borden. Lizzie Borden was the prime suspect. This story relates most of the real events as were discovered from the recollections of the court. Following the murder, Lizzie had been arrested and was in jail till her trial and verdict in June 1893. The court declared her innocent due to lack of evidence. But, like general consensus, in this film she is shown to be involved in the murder.
The movie starts on the day of the murder, when the bodies are apparently discovered by Lizzie Borden. Without wasting much time the story moves on to the trial of the case where witnesses recount their recollections of the events. The scenes of the court trials are taken from the actual records and it is evident throughout the trial scenes. The writer has woven his magic by writing flashback scenes that Lizzie sees from time to time. These flashback scenes fill in the blanks, any questions that may arise in the mind of the viewer.
Katherine Helmond plays Emma Borden, the older and long-suffering sister of Lizzie. Ed Sanders plays the Hosea Knowlton the prosecutor in the trial.
Katherine Helmond’s acting is as always astounding, as she portrays the role to the bone. Though, she doesn’t receive as much screen presence as one would have liked to see. The first thing she asks her sister when she returns to town is “Did you kill father?” It just sets the mood for the movie leaving us to wonder why Lizzie’s own sister would ask that of her. Yet, that is how the movie ends, with Emma Borden still asking Lizzie this very same question leaving us to wonder yet again.
Fionnula Flanagan plays Bridget Sullivan, the Borden family’s house maid. She plays the Irish maid beautifully, who is essentially a liar. It is apparent from her recollections in court. From start to finish it becomes difficult to guess whether Lizzie actually murdered her parents or not. Just like the original case, Lizzie is declared not-guilty in the court verdict on June 20, 1893 and released. Though, the writer does present a whole new possibility for how she could have murdered her parents if she actually did so, which she sees in a flashback. Still, it is not apparent whether Lizzie is remembering from her memory or just thinking that this is how she would have done it, if she had murdered them.
This movie was nominated for 5 Emmy Awards and won 2 of them in the category of Outstanding Costume Design and Outstanding Film Editing. The other three nominations were for Best Art Direction, Sound Editing and Outstanding Lead Actress. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1976 in the category of Best Motion Picture Made for Television.
Legend of Lizzie Borden may be a classic film, but it can hold its ground against any crime drama thriller movie of our time. The acting is amazing; editing is surprisingly good for its time and the costumes just take you right into the 1890s. All in all, this is definitely worth the watch for all the crime drama and thriller buffs out there.