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The film's title reads "Jules Feiffer's Little Murders." The opening and ending cast credits vary slightly in order, with the opening credits listing Donald Sutherland as "The Minister," Lou Jacobi as "The Judge" and Alan Arkin as "The Detective."
Feiffer's play, as produced by Alexander Cohen and directed by George L. Sherman, opened on Broadway on April 25, 1967 and ran for only one week, not including previews. The show starred Gould as "Alfred Chamberlain" and Barbara Cook as "Patsy Newquist." According to studio publicity, three weeks later, the play was a hit in London, where it became "the first American play selected for the repertory of the Royal Shakespeare Company" and was voted Best Foreign Play of the Year by the London critics. On January 5, 1969, Alan Arkin directed a successful, off-Broadway revival of the play, with Fred Willard starring as Alfred and Linda Lavin as Patsy. Vincent Gardenia, Elizabeth Wilson and Jon Korkes, who played the Newquist family in the 1969 revival, reprised their roles for the film version.
In his audio commentary for the film's 2004 DVD release, Feiffer noted that he wrote several scenes specifically for the film that were not in the play, such as the opening meeting between Alfred and Patsy and the encounter between Alfred and his parents. The role of The Judge, originally played by John Randolph in the previews leading up to the 1967 production, was cut before the play reached Broadway, but was reinstated for Arkin's revival and the film, according to studio press releases. Randolph was cast as "Mr. Chamberlain" in the motion picture.
According to 1969 trade paper news items and Filmfacts, after Gould and his partner, former publicist Jack Brodsky, formed Brodsky-Gould Productions, they obtained the screen rights to Feiffer's play and interested famed French director Jean-Luc Godard in the property. If Godard had directed the film, it would have marked his first American production. According to Gould's DVD audio commentary, Godard refused to commit the project, however, and severed their relationship. Filmfacts adds that while Godard was still interested in the property, United Artists had agreed to finance it and hired screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman to adapt the play. It is unlikely that any of Benton and Newman's work was included in the final screenplay, however, as Feiffer noted in his audio commentary for the DVD that he completely rewrote the script after a first draft by other writers proved unsatisfactory. According to Filmfacts, after Godard dropped out of the project, so did United Artists, and Twentieth Century-Fox, to which Gould was under contract, stepped in to finance the picture.
According to Gould's audio commentary, he first approached Jane Fonda to play Patsy, but then hired noted stage actress Marcia Rodd, the star of the off-Broadway revival, to reprise her role and make her motion picture debut in Little Murders. Gould also reported that he wanted to hire New York Knicks basketball player Dick Barnett to play the partner of "Lt. Practice" but decided against it, as he felt that Barnett was too big of a star for the small part. Both Gould and Feiffer reported that Carol Kane appeared as an extra in an extended sequence of the brawl after the wedding, but that the scene was shortened before the film's release and her appearance cut out. Sutherland, who had appeared with Gould in the 1970 box-office hit Twentieth Century-Fox comedy M*A*S*H (see below), appeared in Little Murders as a favor to his friend, according to Gould's commentary, and received $5,000 for one day's work. In his commentary, Gould also relayed that he considers his work in Little Murders to be his best. Modern sources add Martin Kove to the cast, but he was not discernable in the print viewed.
As noted by the onscreen credits, the resort sequence, in which Alfred and Patsy vacation and play sports, was filmed on location at The Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York. Contemporary sources reported that the rest of the film was shot entirely on location in New York City, with the courtroom sequence being filmed in Brooklyn's Boro Hall Court. According to a June 1970 Variety article, many of the interiors were shot at CBS Studios on W. 26th St.
Little Murders marked Feiffer's first motion picture screenplay, although the 1971 picture Carnal Knowledge was his first original script written directly for the screen. Little Murders also marked the feature film directorial debut of Arkin, who had directed two short films in the late 1960s. Although the picture received mixed reviews and did not do well financially, Arkin's direction elicited much praise. Little Murders was the only film from Brodsky-Gould Productions, and marked the debuts as film producers of both Brodsky and Gould. Gould did not produce another picture until the 2001 Prospect Pictures release The Experience Box, although Brodsky went on to produce numerous other films. Little Murders also marked the first onscreen credit of future producer Barbara De Fina, whose surname is spelled DeFina onscreen. Several reviewers commented that the film's subject matter of urban violence had become even more timely than it was when Feiffer's play first opened, with the Chicago Sun-Times critic, Roger Ebert, calling it "a definitive reflection of America's darker moods."