Movie Villainess 101 Rank #4

Murphy’s law doesn’t apply here – nearly everything went right with this villainess


Murphy’s Law (1986)

Charles Bronson movies are fairly typical gusto hero stuff, but this offering provides us an excellent psycho villainess to ramp up the enjoyment factor. Jack Murphy is a tough cop who prefers to shoot bad guys instead of reasoning with them, but he’s met his match when a recently paroled female killer sets him up for murder. There are many other lesser goons for Murphy to deal with, ranging from a mafia boss to a rural gang operation. All of these mini-battles usually end up with gunfire, dead bodies and/or explosions, and Snodgress’ kill scenes are so excellent these distractions don’t dilute her contribution.

Kathleen Wilhoite makes her feature debut as Arabella McGee, a punk with a loud mouth and very creative vocabulary. Nearly every other word she utters is an insult, which adds some humour amidst the violence. Arabella does makes the mistake of stealing Murphy’s car as early as the title credits, but he soon catches up to her after some wild driving and a spectacular crash. Still, Arabella is much better at kneeing a guy in the balls and escapes. Murphy is better prepared for a later encounter with Arabella in a women’s restroom, leading to a tirade of expletives as he restrains her.

What else is happening in the Los Angeles? A mob boss’ brother becomes a murder suspect due to physical evidence found at the crime scene, but refuses to go quietly. Confronted at an airport, the bad guy takes a hostage and kills her once she slows him down. Murphy takes no chances when the suspect points a weapon at him. With the mafia boss out for blood and separated wife filing for divorce, it’s no wonder Murphy is a depressed alcoholic.

Things are about to get even worse for the hero when Joan Freeman arrives in town. The paroled murderess meets with a private investigator to obtain information on her targets: various men in the police force and legal system who put her away. Joan gets to demonstrate just how psychotic she is when the PI negotiates for more money. Perhaps he shouldn’t have followed Joan from the public park meeting place to a secluded underpass. The villainess points a gun at the man, demands he open his mouth wide, and blows his brains out. Face covered in blood, Joan is a terrifying killer about to enter Jack Murphy’s life.


Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress)

Murphy’s wife happens to be a dancer in a strip club, which provides opportunity for some gratuitous nudity in addition to attempts by Murphy to smooth things over which don’t go well. Murphy follows the wife to watch her romance some other guy, but Joan is also watching and plotting her next move. Late one night, the villainess knocks out Murphy in his car, and uses his weapon to blow away the couple while the hero sleeps it off. The framed cop has no idea how he ended up back home, but finds out soon enough when his colleagues show up to arrest him.

Murphy curses his luck when he’s locked in a cell with Arabella, but doesn’t endure her insults for long before he stages a fight and makes a run for it with the hancuffed loudmouth in tow. Murphy reaches the police station roof and uses a helicopter to make a dramatic escape. Unfortunately the chopper is low on fuel, forcing Murphy to crash into a drug farm. Just a few more punks to deal with, then.

Murphy suffered injury during all that, but makes it to a remote cabin when a crippled ex-cop is there to help. Arabella is in way over her head now and not happy about it, and the old man offers Murphy some friendly advice. They seem to like each other, and any savvy viewer knows that spells certain doom for the friend, especially since Joan has him in her personal scrapbook of targets to kill. After Murphy leaves with Arabella, the leather-clad Joan pays the cripple a visit, takes one of his many shotguns, knocks him to the ground, and doesn’t say a word as she pulls the trigger.

Joan’s next target is a prominent judge, so the villainess puts on a redhead wig, dolls herself up, and acts the seductress as she sits alone in a restaurant. After the other customers leave, the judge flirts with Joan despite feeling her face looks familiar. He should have trusted those instincts, because the insane Joan reveals her evil intent and drowns the man in a bathtub. Easy to make it seem like an accident when there’s a lamp on a balcony above to drop into the water.

Murphy suspects the mob boss is behind the murders, so he and Arabella trick their way into a private suite. Murphy confronts the man – a scared wreck without his henchmen – and tries to make him confess at gunpoint. Evenutally the hero realises the boss is innocent (of these crimes, at least) and has a police contact research other leads. That’s when Murphy learns who his true enemy is. Despite being a secondary villain the mafia boss still wants Murphy dead and offers a bounty.

The next of Joan’s victims is her psychiatrist who she kills for the hell of it, strangling her with a power cable after pumping weights. Murphy and Arabella arrive too late, but do find Joan’s scrapbook which leads them to a remote property. Once more, the heroes are behind Joan as the occupant is already dead, suffocated with a plastic bag. The murderess surprises Arabella from behind and sedates her with chloroform, before leaving a message in lipstick to set up the final confrontation.

That showdown takes place in the Bredbury building, which makes a great location with its winding dark staircase and antique elevator. Joan has already gagged and restrained Arabella, and has a loaded crossbow and many bolts to fire in Murphy’s direction. The mafia interrupt proceedings, and Joan is happy to hide and eliminate the occasional man while Murphy gets into a shootout with the criminals. After taking out the boss’ henchmen through a combination of heroism and luck, Murphy confronts the main man and finishes him off with a one liner.

Now it’s Murphy against Joan, with the hero dodging bolts as the murderess proves an expert markswoman. Disarmed by the villainess’ sharpshooting, Murphy races downstairs to save Arabella from being crushed under the descending elevator. Joan shoots the woman (non-fatally) to lure Murphy back upstairs. Out of bolts, Joan arms herself with a fire axe and attacks, slicing Murphy’s chest.

With the villainess off balance, Murphy takes advantage and knocks Joan over a railing. She clings in desperation to the axe (trapped in the rails) and pleas for Murphy to help. This isn’t a man for noble actions, so he watches Joan loose her grip and retorts to her “Go to hell” comment with the catchy “Ladies first”.

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