Tag: Angela Lansbury

Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: Death Takes a Curtain Call

Jessica goes to a performance of the Russian Ballet in Boston along with her friend Leo (Hurd Patterson) and there towards the end of the performance she finds out that Leo is attending so that he can help his great niece and her boyfriend defect. They get away but their plans are complicated when a KGB Agent is murdered backstage with them being the prime suspects.

Jessica believes the couple is innocent and sets out to prove it while getting Ethan to hide them back in Cabot Cove. To keep the couple safe, she’ll have to stay ahead of Major Anatole Karzoff of the KGB (William Conrad.)

What Works:

William Conrad is great as Karzoff. He manages to maintain the right combination of charm and menace. On one hand, he’s almost a flattering admirer of Jessica’s work, even though she receives no royalties because, as Karoff explains, ripping off authors is a Communist value.

At the same time, it’s clear Karzoff is a tough man to be reckoned with. He has the local police arrest Leo at one point just to rattle Jessica. Conrad had a long history of playing Russians and KGB men going back at least to the radio series I Was a Communist for the FBI and his Russian accent was never much better than so-so. However, he always sells it through his authoritative voice tone.

Conrad and Lansbury have wonderful performance chemistry and that makes this episode very fun to watch.

For her part, Jessica takes everything in her stride. It’s part of what makes her character work. She finds herself plunged into hiding two suspects from the FBI and KGB, is followed by a KGB man, and has her phone bugged, and she adjusts. One of my favorite scenes is when she decides to place a call and someone asked her why she didn’t use a closer phone, she responded calmly, “That one’s not tapped.”

This sort of character can becoming annoying or a Mary Sue but Jessica doesn’t because she’s not cocky or over-the-top, just calm and cunning. She just keeps her head about her and pushes through each new challenge.

Her outsmarting the FBI in the search for the missing couple makes perfect sense given that it’s been established that she knows Cabot Cove better than anyone including Sheriff Tupper.

I also think the KGB is at just the right threat level. Karzoff is ruthless, but in the United States his efforts are limited. A lot of Cold War films portray the KGB operating far too brazenly to be believed on American soil. This felt more grounded.

Sheriff Tupper is played mostly for comic relief, but he does work. He’s clearly in over his head with dealing with international intrigue, and mainly helps to expedite some matters for Karzoff and the FBI with his local knowledge. A search warrant is executed for the missing couple and Tupper evidently thought they might be in Jessica’s latest pie as Tupper cut off a piece just to be sure. I do suspect he was trying to frustrate the official investion just a tad, though that’s open to interpretation.

What Doesn’t Work

The story has an over-the-top anti-communist protester who storms onto the stage and disrupts the ballet performance shouting about communist plots. She seems to be in this story for two reasons. First, for the showrunners to say, ‘Yes, Communism can be terribly oppressive but we’re not crazy like this lady.’ The second is that she’s alleged to be the killer. The first reason doesn’t justify such a shrill and annoying character. The second doesn’t work because she’s an obvious red herring.

Of Note:

Dane Clark (Crime and Peter Chambers) appears as the FBI agent investigating the murder but is overshadowed by Conrad.

This was Claude Akins last appearance as Captain Ethan Clagg in the series.

Overall thoughts

This is easily my favorite Cabot Cove episode so far.  William Conrad is great, the mystery is pretty good, and Jessica has a lot of great moments. This tale of Murder, She Wrote meeting the Cold War is well-worth watching.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

AWR0082: NBC Star Playhouse: Cashel Byron’s Profession (Summer of Angela Lansbury)

Amazing World of Radio
A wealthy Victoria lady (Angela Lansbury) becomes fascinated by a new neighbor, who (unknown to her) is a professional fighter.

Original Air Date: December 6, 1953

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Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: It’s a Dog’s Life

While Jessica is visiting her horse-trainer cousin down South, her cousin’s wealthy employer dies and bypasses his money-grubbing relatives to leave the bulk of his estate to his beloved dog. The dog is then accused of biting a neighboring farmer and then the dog is accused of a bizarre murder.

What Works

Dan O’Herlihy is only in this a few minutes as the wealthy patriarch who dies, but he plays a likable if eccentric old guy who’s beset by vultures. His delivery and timing in the video gives maximum impact.

Jessica remains likable and shrewd in her method of solving the crime. Suspicion her cousin is the murderer gives her a solid incentive to be involved in the case.

While the whodunit is made obvious, the how and why of the murderer’s plan are more interesting and Jessica unravels those well.

With Southern stereotypes abounding in this episode, I appreciated a scene where one character told another to stop acting like a stereotypical hillbilly.

Fans of A Life in Your Hands will appreciate when Jessica acts as Amicus Curiae at a Coroner’s Inquest so she can confront the murderer in a Perry Mason style.

What Doesn’t Work

The episode does rely a bit on stereotypes of Southerners including the somewhat dense Deputy Sheriff.

While in each of the previous episodes, I’ve commented (mostly positively) on Jessica’s police foils, the Sheriff in this story doesn’t make any impression at all. He’s generic (we don’t even learn his name) and aloof, and little more than a dumb local cop Jessica has to clean up after.

The same could be said of most of the characters. Even good actors like Dean Jones and Forest Tucker are given little material to work with. Other than the deceased millionaire, no character stands apart from stereotypical murder suspects. The most interesting character is the supernaturally-obsessed Morgana (Cathryn Damon.) However, she could easily become annoying if overused.

The identity of the murderer was obvious with every red-flag clue calling out one person. It didn’t help that the will made the SPCA the secondary beneficiary if anything happened to the dog. So while I could believe most of the family would gladly kill a family member or frame a dog for a few hundred thousand dollars, the entire situation made motive less plausible. Though not much less plausible than the motive we were given.

Interesting Note:

Two former cast members from F-Troop: Tucker (Sergeant O’Rourke) and James Hampton (Corporal Dobbs) appear together in one scene.

Overall:

Did Murder She Wrote go to the dogs in this episode? No It’s a serviceable hour of mystery which highlights Angela Lansbury’s ability to engage even on a weak script.

However, this episode is the weakest so far. The script and characters feel mailed in when compared to more interesting and better-developed episodes that preceded it. Still, thanks to Lansbury, it still offers a decent forty-five minutes of entertainment.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

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AWR0076: MGM Theatre of the Air: Stramboul Quest (Summer of Angela Lansbury)

Amazing World of Radio

A female German Spy (Angela Lansbury) falls in love while having to complete a dangerous wartime mission in Turkey.

Original Air Date: August 11, 1950

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Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: Hooray for Homicide

In “Hooray for Homicide,” Jessica is surprised and mortified to find out one of her books is being turned into a trashy horror movie.

She visits the set of the film to persuade the movie’s much-loathed producer Jerry Lyndecker (John Saxon) to cancel the film or make it match the book. Lyndecker refuses and Jessica has an attorney pull her original contact only to find out Lyndecker is sleezy but within his rights. Rather than going home, tail between her legs as most people would, Jessica goes to the studio to apologize only to find Lyndecker dead and herself a prime suspect.

What Works:

This is a solid plot. The idea of the proper Jessica Fletcher having her novel turned into a typical horror movie gives her all the motivation she needs, and provides great comedic moments as well. It’s also a cautionary tale for writers about making sure their rights are in order.

The episode also takes some digs at Hollywood of the 1980s, many of which would apply just as much today. Jessica has a lot of foils to battle on the set in search for truth and its marvelous to watch her battle through them.

Lieutenant Mike Hernandez (Jose Perez) is a different sort of character. The short, disheveled, unassuming detective reminds me of Lieutenant Columbo, only if Columbo’s goal was to get someone else to solve the case. His belief only Jessica can solve the case is not realistic, but based on the way the character’s written is quite believable.

Hernandez makes Jessica go downtown but doesn’t book her. After that she’s banned from the studio as a disruptive influence but manages to sneak back in by just putting on a hat and disguising herself as an elderly tourist. It’s an idea that makes sense while also being humorous.

The episode features a great chase scene with Jessica pursuing a man who broke into a trailer. However, the denouement is  unusual, with Jessica providing a subdued and compassionate confrontation of the killer.

It should also be noted that Hollywood legend Virginia Mayo makes an appearance, which is a big highlight for fans of classic motion pictures.

What Doesn’t Work:

Jessica gets her entertainment lawyer to help her with the investigation by telling him he’ll have to defend her in a murder trial and him acquiescing instead of saying, “Well actually, I’ll have to refer you to a criminal lawyer.”

Basically, Jessica’s threat is that if she’s not able to clear herself, she’ll hobble her own defense by having someone completely out of their depth represent her. That’s just a bit too silly.

Overall:

We get a good solid plot to bring Jessica Hollywood, a great mystery for her to solve, and a lovely list of suspects. The show offers a small dose of social commentary on the entertainment industry that fits just right for Murder She Wrote. This one is my favorite episode so far.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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