East Texas murder movie to premiere at Austin festival

"Bernie" (Photo source: Millennium Entertainment)
"Bernie" (Photo source: Millennium Entertainment)

By Melanie Torre - email

CARTHAGE, TX (KLTV) - The story about East Texas mortician Bernie Tiede, and the elderly woman he cared for and eventually murdered, will premiere as a movie next week at South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin.

The film was shot in Carthage, where the story takes place, and even has East Texas natives popping up on the big screen.

The movie tells the story of Carthage's Marjorie Nugent... how no one saw her for 9 months and no one seemed to care until the town's beloved resident Bernie Tiede was charged for her murder.

"When she was finally found and Bernie arrested, the townspeople came to the district attorney and begged him not to prosecute Bernie because he was the nicest guy they had ever met," says Skip Hollandsworth.

Hollandsworth wrote about the murder in Texas Monthly magazine in 1998. His story caught the attention of Austin director Richard Linklater. The two spent 14 years co-writing the film.

"I knew this story had elements that you would not find in any traditional murder story," says Hollandsworth.

Hollandsworth says taking the murder of an 81-year-old woman and turning it into an on-screen comedy was like walking a tightrope.

"There is, in a very dark way, a comic story about Bernie's cover up of the murder. But in the end, it's sill a murder story," says Hollandsworth.

It's a murder story those raised in Carthage know well. Carol Biggs grew up in Carthage and moved to Tyler. She is an extra in the film. "I got excited because I know the story about the whole thing and it's so unbelievable," she says.

Her mother worked for the Nugents and Carol has stories of her own. "When Mrs. Nugent was walking down the sidewalk, everyone would hop to the other side to walk. No one wanted anything to do with her because she was that mean," Carol says.

Travis Blevins lives in Chandler and has a speaking role in the film. "My part, I talk about how she was just so mean she took a broom to, I think it was a mail carrier, she took a broom to his backside and ran him out of there," he says. Blevins says he loved every minute of being on the set.

While some East Texans say they're worried the movie will make Carthage look silly, those who were on set say the story isn't about Carthage as much as it's about a bizarre tale that had to be told.

"What happened to her, no one would believe it, but I'm saving that for the movie," says Carol.

The movie, Bernie, starring Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey is scheduled to open in Texas theaters May 4.

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