Who Killed Mary Whats’ername? (1971)

who killed mary 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who killed the prostitute?

Mickey (Red Buttons) is a retired diabetic boxer who is appalled to learn that a prostitute was killed in her apartment and no one seems to care. He decides to do the investigation himself and even moves in to her old place. He inquiries about her amongst the locals and begins to get a few leads including that of a young filmmaker named Alex (Sam Waterson) who may have inadvertently filmed her leaving with her eventual killer. Soon Mickey’s grown daughter Della (Alice Playten) and Val (Conrad Bain), a man he meets at a bar, are helping him in his quest, but the things they learn only reinforce how unpleasant and dangerous a hooker’s life can be.

I commend the attempt at taking a gritty look at a seedy lifestyle and its open-minded approach to the women who are in it, but the film’s poor execution makes the whole thing come off as quite amateurish and even laughable. Why a man in his 50’s would become so obsessed with finding the killer of a woman he has never known and only reads about in a newspaper is quite hard to fathom. There are probably hundreds of prostitutes that share similarly sad fates, so why get so revved up about this one? The fact that he is able to get his grown daughter and another man he meets randomly at a bar to help him investigate seems equally unbelievable and the way they are conveniently able to find clues and connect-the-dots before solving the case comes off as too easy.

The action sequences, especially the opening one in which we see the prostitute getting killed, are poorly staged and filled with chopping editing that makes it hard-to-follow and phony looking. When the 50-year-old Buttons takes on a gang of young bikers, which are led by Earl Hindman who later became famous for playing the neighbor on ‘Home Improvement’ whose face was always obscured by a fence, it becomes downright silly. Sure the Buttons character has a background in boxing, but that still doesn’t mean he can take on four guys who are twice his size and the sound effects used for the punches are overdone and cartoon-like.

A similar issue occurs when Buttons saves a prostitute from an abusive pimp while Alex films it. The first time this occurs it is mildly diverting, but then when he saves another one, who is being beaten up by some of the old ladies in the neighborhood, it becomes redundant and corny.

The resolution, in which the killer turns out to be someone no one suspected, is flat and forgettable. It is also poorly thought out as he admits to the Buttons character that he killed the two women because he didn’t want any potential witnesses, but then doesn’t bother to kill Buttons or at least make sure he is dead even after he divulges his secret to him. The killer then just casually walks away without ever allowing the viewer to know if he was caught and charged with the crimes.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Ernest Pintoff

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: None at this time.

One response to “Who Killed Mary Whats’ername? (1971)

  1. I must disagree with you about whether or not the culprit is actually captured. It may take much attention on our part, even though we’re easily focused on how upsettingly our sleuthing hero at the final moment is at his weakest. I really liked Red Buttons in the role and it was interesting to see David Doyle (Bosley of Charlie’s Angels) as one of the suspects and quite a despicable one. As for the whodunnit format in this case, it seems to fall into place via all the human dramas rather than any actual clues. But for a message on how caring for a murder victim, who may otherwise seem neglected by everyone else, can count for something, it holds up for me personally. Thanks for your review.

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