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Film / The Legend of Lizzie Borden

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If there's a definitive screen version of the Lizzie Borden story, it's probably this Made-for-TV Movie from The '70s. It's certainly the one that subsequent versions are copying.

The Legend of Lizzie Borden originally aired on ABC on February 10, 1975. It is perhaps most famous for being the first movie that portrayed Lizzie committing the murders in the nude. Lizzie herself is played by Elizabeth Montgomery, who incidentally was Lizzie's sixth cousin once removed. This is a coincidence, by the way, as their familial connection wasn't discovered until after Montgomery's death.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: John Morse, Lizzie and Emma’s maternal uncle who was visiting the Bordens at the time of the murders and was one of the early suspects, is omitted entirely in this dramatization.
  • Asshole Victim: How the film portrays Andrew Borden and, to a lesser extent, his wife Abby.
  • Creepy Children Singing: They deliver the "Lizzie Borden took an axe" rhyme at the end. You had to know they'd fit it in there somewhere.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: We briefly see a sign reading "Irish Keep Out" in a store window. In another scene, Hosea's wife starts getting a bit feminist, and he replies, "I've never heard you talk like this. Next you'll be asking for the vote."
  • Description Cut: Bridget assures the court that she never saw any quarrelling in the Borden household. Flashback to Bridget witnessing a heated argument between Lizzie and her parents. Later, Alice Russell says that Lizzie didn't know who killed her pigeons, which is immediately followed by a flashback in which Lizzie sees her father doing the deed.
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  • Females Are More Innocent: A Discussed Trope. It's made clear that a man in Lizzie's position would doubtless be found guilty, but she can get off scot-free because of the expectation that this trope is true. When Hosea gets mad that Lizzie is "hiding behind her skirts," his wife replies "you men have only yourselves to blame if women hide behind their femininity as a last defense. After all, you cast us in this role."
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Lizzie commits the murders in the nude so that she won't get incriminating blood stains on her clothes. This theory had circulated as rumor since at least the 1930s, but it was this movie that popularized it. Despite using this trope, the film keeps in the fact that Lizzie was suspected in part because she had burned a dress that might have had blood stains on it, playing it as a Red Herring.
  • The Gay '90s: Set in 1892-93, as per when the events really happened.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Bridget testifies that she never saw any quarreling at the Borden household, it immediately cuts to a flashback of Bridget witnessing a particularly ugly argument between Lizzie, Andrew, and Abby.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with the discovery of the Bordens' dead bodies. As the investigation and trial unfold, the events leading up to the murders and ultimately the murders themselves are portrayed through a series of flashbacks.
  • Incriminating Indifference: Lizzie complains that she is suspected based on the perception that she hadn't been emotional enough about her parents' deaths.
  • Kick the Dog: Andrew decapitates Lizzie's pet pigeons just to spite her.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The epilogue states that the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden officially remain unsolved.
  • Shoulders-Up Nudity: You didn't think they were actually going to show her naughty parts in a 1970s TV movie, did you? Apparently, there's a more explicit version that received a theatrical release in Europe.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Lizzie's potential notives are greatly emphasized in this dramatization, painting her in a particularly sympathetic light.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Tracie Savage plays a young Lizzie in flashbacks to her childhood.
  • Widow's Weeds: Subverted. Lizzie is noted for failing to wear black to her parents' funeral.

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