Someone Has Killed Father!

29 Jan
Christina Ricci as Lizzie Borden in Lifetime's  "Lizzie Borden Took An Ax"

Christina Ricci as Lizzie Borden in Lifetime’s “Lizzie Borden Took An Ax”

I finally had an opportunity to watch Lifetime TV’s made-for-TV movie, “Lizzie Borden Took An Ax,” starring Christina Ricci as Lizzie and Clea DuVall as Emma Borden. As I’ve written before, I have always had a fascination with the Lizzie Borden story, and one of the highlights of my touring career was a visit to the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts. The B&B is the actual house in which the murders took place and guests can actually sleep in the room where Mrs. Borden was killed or in Lizzie’s bedroom. It’s a creepy place run by a wonderfully creepy woman named Lee-ann Wilber (who refuses to sleep in the house, by the way).

During our tour of the house, Lee-ann dramatically recounted the events leading up to the murders on August 4, 1892, guiding us room by room. The sitting room where Ms. Lizzie was informed that she was going to be arrested. The parlor where Mr. Borden was killed. The dining room where the Borden’s bodies were laid out on the large dining room table so the medical examiner could do his investigation. The room upstairs where Mrs. Borden was hacked to death as she was changing the linens on the bed. Lee-ann also gave us many hypotheses about not only who killed the Bordens, but why.

There was, of course, the “stranger in the back yard” theory which never really seemed to hold much water. There was the the theory that the murderer was one of Mr. Borden’s clients – he was known to be a very shrewd businessman and it wasn’t much of a secret that people hated him. There were rumors that Mr. Borden was sexually abusing his daughters. And, of course, there was always talk that Lizzie got rid of her parents to have access to the family fortune, which was quite significant thanks to the frugal lifestyle that Andrew Borden forced on the family. No one really knows the true motivation behind the killings – it’s hard to have a motive when you don’t even have a murderer – but I was quite surprised at how well the movie worked all of the possibilities into the storyline. There was the insinuation of an incestuous relationship between Lizzie and her father, though in this version, Lizzie seemed to be the one coming onto her father in a sort of power play to manipulate him.

The outcome of the story is, of course, the same – she’s acquitted – but the writer clearly has an opinion about who committed the crimes. I won’t give anything any spoilers, but…well…watch and find out yourself.

I have to say I actually enjoyed the movie. I thought Christina Ricci was wonderful as Lizzie. Really, my only problem with her was that she was too pretty, which is a ridiculous complaint. Lizzie Borden was not what most people would consider to be terribly attractive – at least not by today’s standards – but Ms. Ricci is beautiful with big doe eyes, a well-defined jawline, high cheekbones and a long, elegant neck. Her waist is shockingly tiny and, in a scene where she’s walking down the street with the rest of the Borden family, she is at least a full head shorter than everyone else in the scene. I think Elizabeth Montgomery was also a little too pretty for the role when she played Lizzie in 1975’s “The Legend of Lizzie Borden,” but they at least tried to make her look a little less glamourous. In any case, Ms. Ricci’s good looks certainly helped make her Lizzie a very sexual being, both with her father and with her supposed lesbian lover, actress Nance O’Neil. The relationship between Lizzie and Nance is only hinted at in the movie, but it is thought that the nature of their relationship was part of what drove Emma Borden, played by Clea DuVall, to leave her sister and Fall River in 1905, when she moved to Providence, Rhode Island. The two sisters never saw each other again, but in a weird turn of events, they died within 9 days of each other in 1927 and are buried side by side in Fall River. DuVall delivered an honest performance of a sister who is desperate to protect her sister, though it becomes fairly clear that she has little doubt of Lizzie’s guilt.

(L-R): Lizzie Borden, Elizabeth Montgomery and Christina Ricci

(L-R): Lizzie Borden, Elizabeth Montgomery and Christina Ricci

One thing that really bothered me, as a Lizzie Borden purist, was the house that they chose as the Borden’s on-screen home. Neither the exterior nor the interior looks anything like the actual building, which leads me to wonder why they didn’t just pay to rent out the Bed and Breakfast to shoot the movie. As I recall, the lots on each side of the house are vacant, which wouldn’t really work when filming the exterior street shots, but that was several years ago and I feel that façades could have been easily and cheaply built. Perhaps the interior shots weren’t filmed in the Bed and Breakfast because of space requirements for equipment, but it seems to me that the most logical place to film a movie about Lizzie Borden would be in her house. Again, I’m being very picky – most people would have no idea that the placement of the staircase and sitting room in relation to the front door were completely wrong unless they’ve visited the B&B, but these things are fairly easily verified. Does it really affect the film? No. Did it drive me a little crazy? You bet. In any case, it wasn’t distracting enough for me to take away from the movie, but I would really have loved for Lee-ann to get the money for them having rented out the building for the shoot.

Overall, this Lifetime movie was far better than their other recent made-for-TV movie, “Flowers In The Attic” and it satisfied me as a Lizzie Borden aficionado. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the story.

And to satisfy any curiosity you may have, here are a few more photos from the actual Lizzie Borden house.

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The parlor in which Lizzie Borden was told she was a suspect in the murder of her parents.

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The foyer of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast – the house in which the Borden murders actually took place. The stairs on the right lead up to the second floor and the guest bedroom where Mrs. Borden was murdered.

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The guest bedroom in the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast where Mrs. Borden was murdered. Her body was found between the dresser and the bed.

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A little Lizzie Borden humor: This sign hangs above the staircase to remind guests not to hit their heads as they descend the steps.

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts is the house in which the Borden murders actually took place.

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts is the house in which the Borden murders actually took place.

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