The Gun In Betty Lou's Handbag

Director: Allan Moyle
Penelope Ann Miller, Eric Thal, Alfre Woodard

While reading all the reviews at this web site that I have managed to write over the past 21 years, you might understandably come to the conclusion that I have it made - fame, fortune, the whole nine yards. As it turns out, I am very content with my life right now, a large part of it indeed coming from the work I have invested in this web site. The Unknown Movies has been very rewarding for me, and I certainly hope that my reviews have helped you to discover some movies that have been just as entertaining as they have been for me. But it wasn't always this way. Before starting this web site (and indeed for the first few years after starting this web site), I was kind of lost. Though I don't really like to admit it, my life back then was one of where it gave its owner very little satisfaction - if any satisfaction at all. Until I got the idea for this web site, I desperately looked for some kind of solution to my woes. And I have to report that I didn't find much help along the way. One so-called group of wise people told me one day, "Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup and ride that highway in the sky." I thought that was pretty unhelpful advice, especially since one of those people was someone who once subjected their horse - which they didn't even name - to a rough journey thought a waterless desert. Yeah, keep trying... but what if you have run out of ideas? I looked elsewhere for advice, but I didn't have any more luck. For example, whenever I read Dear Abby or Ann Landers, I would usually notice that several times a week they would tiredly repeat the same bit of advice: Get counselling. Even as a kid, I could see that the twins really didn't know and were passing the buck to someone else.

Actually, long before starting this web site, I did one day come across someone's observation on fame, fortune, and other good conditions of life that almost everyone desires. I think I may have mentioned it once before in one of my past reviews, but even then, I think it's worth mentioning again. It's from William Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night. At one point in the play, the character of Malvolio states: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." That statement made a lot of sense to me at the time, and still does. Indeed, some people are born great - just take a look at the royal family of England. And some people do achieve greatness from plain and simple work beforehand - just look at professional sports, for one thing. That last part made a lot more sense than, "Don't give up," and may have been the seed planted in my mind to get me to get up and start this web site. However, I want to talk about the last part of Malvolio's statement, that some have greatness thrust upon them. Over the years I have thought quite a bit about that, and I have come to the conclusion that in order to have greatness thrust upon you, you usually have to do something beforehand in order for the greatness to come around. The fireman who gets a ton of publicity in the media first has to arrive at the fire and go in and save the people inside, for one thing. That's not to say that all publicity is welcome and positive when someone does an action that receives notice; I am sure that George Zimmerman (remember him?) didn't like all the coverage of his actions, for one thing. But it shows that the subject more often than not has to do something in order to get fame, whether that fame is wanted or unwanted.

Of course, there are some people who desperately want to be noticed and get fame and fortune. I was one of those people once. With that in mind, you may understand why the movie The Gun In Betty Lou's Handbag caught my attention, since it involves in a "loser" character making an The Gun In Betty Lou's Handbagaction that gets the attention and admiration she desperately craves. But there were other things about the movie that made me want to review it. It was made by Touchstone Pictures at a time where they seemed to grind out a new movie every two weeks, though not always pushing their movies into theaters - which was the fate of this movie, which didn't get a full-blast release. Also, apparently the only "positive" critic quote Touchstone though they could use on the movie's home video releases was this statement from the Boston Herald: "A SCREWBALL COMEDY!" Yeah, that doesn't exactly sound like a regular critic endorsement...but it did suggest the movie might be a train wreck that could give me enough material for a review. The "Betty Lou" mentioned in the title is one Betty Lou Perkins (Miller, Year Of The Comet). She is an extremely meek woman, stuck in the job of librarian in her small town of Tettley, and her policeman husband Alex (Thal, Six Degrees Of Separation) more or less taking her for granted. When a man is murdered in town, Alex's attentions turn away from Betty Lou even more. When Betty Lou shortly afterwards accidentally stumbles upon the gun used for the murder, she tries to tell Alex and the rest of the police department, but she can't get them to listen to her. In frustration, shortly afterwards she fires the gun in a women's washroom, and she is apprehended by the police... and decides to subsequently confess to the murder, claiming the victim was her lover, in order to get some badly needed attention from her husband and everyone else in town.  It works; soon she is a local celebrity, and all the attention and admiration she gets is a real ego boost to this once shy woman. But she doesn't know that the murdered man was connected to a big time mob boss (William Forsythe, Direct Hit), and the mob, believing Betty Lou has an incriminating audio tape connected to the murdered man, wants to nab her to get the tape back.

Although it is my hope that long time readers of The Unknown Movies feel that I know a lot about movies, I have to confess that there are some kinds of movies that kind of bewilder me, enough that I tend to avoid them either for this web site or for my own personal viewing pleasure. One such genre happens to be "chick flicks". I don't understand women in real life, so you may understand why up to now I have tended to avoid reviewing movies with women characters up front and center. Part of me wonders if I am not qualified to review The Gun In Betty Lou's Handbag. But there's another part of me that smelled a stinker while watching the movie. Before I get to explaining why, let me spend a little (very little) time talking about what's positive in the movie. What's good in the movie is the character of Betty Lou Perkins. With the aid of Penelope Ann Miller's warm and likable performance, the filmmakers manage to make this character pretty sympathetic. Wisely, the screenplay does not at the start make this character a total wimp - that would have been frustrating and annoying. Betty Lou is seen to protest at some injustices served to her, and while she then doesn't have enough backbone to do anything about it, it's clear she does know all this is wrong. She is trying to improve things (like reading a self help book), but she's burdened by outside things not going her way. When she is arrested, we can see she's reached the breaking point, so we can understand why she confesses to a murder she did not commit. That's not to say that her personality is instantly transformed to one that is more confident; the filmmakers wisely show her confidence slowly but surely being increased. And while Betty Lou loves all the newfound attention she is being given, she doesn't totally forget her now-suffering husband. She eventually realizes she still loves him despite his previous neglectful behavior, also seeing that he has been torn up by the recent events happening to her, and she tries to do something about it.

In short, Betty Lou is a woman that does manage to win over the audience. It's a good thing she does, because for various reasons, almost none of the other characters in the movie manage to do so. The only other character that makes a positive vibe is a hooker played by Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull) who coaches Betty Lou in jail. It's a small part, but Moriarty's spunk puts a bright spot in her scenes. Actress Alfre Woodard (Desperate Housewives), who plays the attorney representing Betty Lou, tries also to put some spunk in her role, but she's ultimately defeated by the movie giving her very little to do. As for the men in the movie, Betty Lou's husband Alex comes across as extremely cold, with his neglectful behavior towards his wife seeming to come across as a personal choice despite the fact that it's shown that his policeman job requires a lot of time. You can't believe that this guy at any point loved Betty Lou enough to marry her, despite his efforts to win her back in the second half of the movie. As for William Forsythe's mob boss character, Forsythe at first glance seems to have forgotten that this movie is supposed to be a comedy, coming across as icy cold and completely heartless. But thinking about it, I couldn't really blame Forsythe for this out of place performance, because that's what the screenplay dictated to him. Certainly, there are a number of other places in the screenplay that don't seem to have been thought out well by screenwriter Grace Cary Bickley (High Crimes). Among a number of things that are hard to swallow is the title weapon thrown into a slow-moving river and quickly washing up on shore... Alex not being instantly thrown off the murder case when his wife Betty Lou is arrested for the murder... accused murderer Betty Lou being released without bail at her arraignment... and Betty Lou handily having a book about picking locks in her possession when she has to break into a place in short notice. (That's some small town library she works at!)

In fairness to screenwriter Bickley, there is strong evidence that The Gun In Betty Lou's Handbag was severely tampered with when the movie was in the post-production process, such as how the mystery as to how a fancy car got in Betty Lou's name is explained to the audience by what comes across as a last-minute quick dub-over. There certainly seems to be footage missing at a number of other points. But there are signs that even if this missing footage was restored, it wouldn't help the main problem with the movie: It isn't very funny. For starters, while the movie is supposed to be a comedy, there are a few bits of eyebrow-raising violence, like one man who is bloodily shot in the forehead. When the movie does attempt to put aside the violence and stage some laughs, the results are pretty lame. Unless you find amusing the sight of a dog pulling with its mouth someone's pant leg, or a mousy woman suddenly wearing a sexy dress, that is. A bigger problem concerning the movie's comedy attempts is that there are a lot less attempts at humor than you might think. In fact, there are significantly long sections of the movie where the movie's tone is pretty much serious in nature. Maybe the filmmakers were trying for a more realistic comedy, trying to make the movie believable as well as funny, but they went too far in that direction. It certainly doesn't help that the energy level of the movie is severely low under the direction of Allan Moyle (Pump Up The Volume); scene after scene falls with a thud, whether what is happening onscreen is trying to be humorous or not. Though The Gun In Betty Lou's Handbag is not without merit, in the end I think the reviewer at the Boston Herald made a big typo while really trying to tell its readers, "A SCREWED-UP COMEDY!"

(Posted April 20, 2019)

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See also: Amanda And The Alien, Bunny O'Hare, Maxie