A forerunner to both Murder, She Wrote and The Golden Girls, the 1971 TV-movie Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate stars Helen Hayes, Sylvia Sidney, Mildred Natwick, and Myrna Loy as ladies who not only lunch, but occupy their idle hours by pranking people, in the case of this film, by inventing a fictitious woman to enter into a computer dating service in order to find some voyeuristic fun in exposing and manipulating strange men’s emotions and desire.

Their geriatric, proto-catfishing makes me feel hopeful that my own twilight years may be filled with crafting mayhem and engaging in semi-malicious larks alongside likeminded seniors. I have always cultivated friendships with such promise; only now do I understand the end game.

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True to ladies in their seventies during the decade of the seventies, the group never slacks off in fashion. In fact, there are never slacks at all. All four make a point of putting themselves together; it’s Sylvia Sidney, however, who repeatedly cuts the most stunning figure, here in this smart emerald green dress, accentuated by the brooch, black belt, and matching black hat. She always wears a hat.

Their dating scam draws the initial interest and eventual ire of a psychopath, whose internal monologues we are treated to at astounding length via urgent voiceover whispers as the actor fumbles about his apartment, marches angrily down city streets, broods inside phone booths, and takes languorous bubble baths.

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Bearish Vince Edwards gets his lone smiling moment as he lounges in a bubble bath and hatches a plot against a fictitious dating profile.

The ladies inadvertently incite murder after they start conversing over the phone with the psychopath and end up going to a tavern just to get a gander at him being stood up by the fake profile. (I told you they were fun!) A Three’s Company-level identity mix-up ensues with the throaty-voiced resident bar hooker being mistaken for the non-existent date, ending with a bludgeoning that falls less squarely into a Three’s Company farcical tone.

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Phone funnies in the golden years with Helen Hayes (center) as the ringleader. Myrna Loy (right) casts a disapproving glare while Sylvia Sidney (left) listens in eagerly. Sidney is generally more amenable to the increasingly elaborate caper, but she’s also the fondest of drink. Here she dresses to the nines for pranking in a striking striped number with white gloves, enormous silver earrings, a hat with coordinated band, and scarlet red lipstick.

At this point the ladies switch into high gear as super sleuths, not exactly Jessica Fletcher, but paving the road for her arrival a decade in advance. They even visit the police station, where in the waiting room they catch the eye of a detained pervert, who upon being escorted out, whispers non-sweet not-nothings into the unprepared ear of stuffy Mildred Natwick, here prim in pink, who responds with a fainting spell. The actual words causing her loss of consciousness remain a secret, one that Helen Hayes tries mercilessly to unlock. Note: Natwick’s dramatic fainting plays a later role in capturing the villain!

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Mildred Natwick reacts to privately murmured obscenities before spilling onto the police station floor in a state of sexual shock. The curious viewer and the even more curious Helen Hayes never ascertain the exact wording of the pervert’s whispers. We can therefore use our imaginations. My own mental acuity is sharply refined in respect to dirty talk, and I’ve accorded a five-star line of invented dialogue to the scene. Like the proper lady Natwick, I keep the degenerate words private.

The denouement is spectacular as the psychopath confronts his four elderly tormentors, who in turn threaten him with quickly improvised weapons such as a hatpin. (Guess who brandishes that one!) Chaos erupts when the villain attempts an escape, resulting in a much unanticipated WWF-like pile-on.

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The quartet manages a trip-and-tackle move to bring down the psychopath. The editing here is stupendous, and please note the showcasing of Sylvia Sidney’s hat in the melee.

I would be remiss if I did not celebrate the score by seventies stalwart Jerry Goldsmith. I was already quite familiar with his work for Chinatown, Planet of the Apes, and the synthesizer-mad, glorious Logan’s Run, but who knew he was also busy with Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate?

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Jerry Goldsmith’s score ranks as classic in the genre of made-for-TV movies.

My fondness for this movie may spur me on to undertake The Snoop Sisters, the short lived series not based on but inspired by Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate. Hayes and Natwick play the snoopy sisters, and I’m hoping the penchant for pranks carries over!