TV mysteries


DANTE. “Dante in the Dark.” NBC, Four Star Producions. 30m 13 Mar 1961 (Season 1, Episode 22.) Howard Duff (Willie Dante), Alan Mowbray, Tom D’Andrea, Bert Freed. Guest Cast: Marion Ross, Troy Melton. Created by Blake Edwards. Director: Richard Kinon.

   This late in the season – it lasted only for one and 26 episodes – there was no attempt by the screenwriter or director to fill in any of the general background for the series, but starting with this one, as I did, it was easy to fill in some of the gaps. Howard Duff plays Willie Dante, owner of a nightclub called Dante’s Inferno, and while he and Det. Sgt. Rickard (Bert Freed) obviously know each other well, the relationship is very much a rocky one.

   Which comes into play as a major theme in “Dante in the Dark.” When a customer is gunned down in front of his club, the police are very reluctant to tell either him or the dead man’s fiancée  anything about the case, or even to let the young woman (a most definitely not very matronly Marion Ross) see the body. Even more strange is that the police allow a previously unknown cousin take the body for disposal to a crematorium without telling her.

   All is eventually explained, and it’s a torturous and interesting path getting there, but the good old boys joking around at the end seems even more forced than usual. No matter. It is always good to see Howard Duff in action. I only have to close my eyes and here the sound and cadence of Sam Spade’s voice on the radio with no difficulty at all.

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NOTE: For much more background on the series, including a mention of this particular episode, see Michael Shonk’s in depth overview of the show posted here much earlier on this blog.

NEWTON’S LAW “External Forces.” Australia, ABC TV. 60 minutes. 09 February 2017. Claudia Karvan (Josephine Newton), Toby Schmitz, Brett Tucker, Georgina Naidu, Sean Keenan. Original concept by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger. Director: Jennifer Leacey.

   Another country (Dicte, Denmark, and The Coroner, UK), and another divorced woman trying to make a go of it on her own in her chosen profession, all the while facing the challenges bringing up a teen-aged daughter. The one small difference this time is that the daughter does not into boy friends, but may be something yet to come.

   Claudia Karvan, a well-known Australian actress, plays Josephine Newton, a neighborhood solicitor who is forced to go back to back to work for a large prestigious law firm, much against her wishes. It seems that her storefront office was bombed out by a former and thoroughly disgruntled client she unsuccessfully defended on arson charges.

   Her first case is kind of a set up one. She’s to defend the son of a client who is accused of pushing one of the partners of the firm off the top of their office building. Complicating matters is an eye witness, a nanny who saw the incident through the window of an apartment building across the way.

   It is up to Jane to uncover what was in the dead man’s life that may have contributed to his death, if indeed something is there. Which she does with all of the good humor and charm that a woman (and actress) in her mid-40s can have. The mystery and detective work are both good too. The series lasted only eight episodes, but the basis of this first one, I won’t binge, but I will see if I can’t watch all of them in short order.


MICHAEL SHAYNE “Marriage Can Be Fatal.” NBC, 31 March 1961 (season 1, episode 26). Richard Denning (Michael Shayne), Jerry Paris (Tim Rourke), Herbert Rudley (Lt. Will Gentry), Margie Regan (Lucy Carr). Guest Cast: Patricia Barry, Barbara Nichols, Michael Forest, Robert Harland, Nancy Rennick. Director: Walter Doniger .

   As I’m sure you will recall, I reviewed an earlier episode in this series a while back, that being “Spotlight on a Corpse,” number 15 in this one season show. I expressed some disappointment with the story itself, so I thought I’d try another, one that’s on the same Alpha Video disc of the series.

   I think the story let me down again this time, but not in the same way, and I”ll get to that in a minute. In between the earlier one and this one, there was some shuffling of personnel around. Lucy Hamilton, Shayne’s secretary was apparently being phased out in the earlier show, as she did not appear. She’s been replaced by a new actress (Margie Regan) to play someone named Lucy Carr instead. Tim Rourke has a new cub reporter to mentor (why I don’t know, since Paris has few enough lines of his own), and Will Gentry has a subordinate I don’t remember from before, but who has a part maybe even bigger than Gentry’s. Neither made an impression on me, and they’re not listed in the credits above.

   [WARNING: SPOILER ALERT] The story is a lot more interesting, but as a mystery, it has its flaws. First when a profligate son hears that his father has been taken ill and is in the hospital, he is asked to call the man’s doctor. He starts to, then doesn’t, and calls a lady friend named Topaz McQueen (Barbara Nichols) instead.

   He has a surprise for her: he proposes, and overcome with joy, she accepts. Now what’s wrong with this is that in order to inherit, the son has to be married when his father dies. Well, OK, but why wouldn’t he have called the doctor first anyway, in the hopes he can keep the father alive long enough to get himself married? I sure would, if it were me.

   Then later on, a vital clue (remember the Warning) has to do with a glass door to a gun cabinet being broken into. Turns out, Mike deduces, out of thin air, that it was done by someone using a woman’s shoe, and remembering that a woman must have changed shoes because the new ones didn’t match her outfit, he pins the killing on her. But do we the viewer see the mismatched shoes? The answer is yes, but in only a briefest of shots. I had to go back and look, and yes, it’s there, but I call that a cheat, no way around it.

   The star of the proceedings, I think, is Barbara Nichols, who had her role in movies down pat, that of a brassy blonde bimbo who (at least in this one) shows herself to have totally human feelings too. I also noticed the direction as having a “soap opera” sort of flair to it, so I checked out Walter Doniger ‘s resume on IMDb. I was right. Something like 173 episodes of Peyton Place also to his credit.

MICHAEL SHAYNE “Spotlight on a Corpse.” NBC, 13 January 1961 (Season 1, Episode 15). 60 minutes. Richard Denning (Michael Shayne), Herbert Rudley (Lt. Will Gentry), Gary Clarke (Dick Hamilton). Neither of the characters Lucy Hamilton or Tim Rourke appear in this episode. Guest Cast: Herbert Marshall, Robert Lansing, Constance Moore, Ruta Lee, Alan Hewitt, Jack Kruschen. Based on characters created by Brett Halliday. Director: Sidney Salkow.

   Found murdered on a movie set is the associate producer-writer who also happens to be a notorious womanizer. Mike Shayne is hired by the producer who wants his own investigation done, but the thing is, his current would-be investor actually likes the idea of all the publicity a killing such as this would produce. A killing in more ways than one?

   I wonder how many viewers at the time found the story line interesting. The money and the problems thereof that are involved in putting a movie together isn’t the sort of thing that people even bother to read about in their daily newspaper, much less in a sit-back-and-relax sixty minute TV show.

   Or is that only me?

   What I found far more watchable was a subplot involving the acting pair of Constance Moore (the elderly female lead) and Herbert Marshall (her former director now relegated to being her dialogue coach), who as a team are completely at odds with the young director (Robert Lansing), who thinks their way of making films are completely outmoded.

   As for Richard Denning, he doesn’t fit my picture of Michael Shayne very much at all. He’s doesn’t have the build for it. He’s too cerebral. He’s too pleasant, and as written, too agreeable. He made a great Mr. North, but as Mike Shayne, the tough Irish detective, he’s a complete lightweight. In my opinion.

      —

PostScript: The credits, I believe, claim this episode was based on a Mike Shayne novel. I don’t recognize the story line, but then again, I haven’t read them all. Anyone?

THE CORONER “First Love.” BBC, UK. 60 minutes. 16 November 2015 (Season 1, Episode 1.) Claire Goose as Jane Kennedy, Coroner, Matt Bardock as Davey Higgins, Detective Sergeant, Grace Hogg-Robinson as Beth Kennedy, Jane’s daughter. Director: Ian Barber.

   The story in this first episode is better than average, but as the first episode, it fails badly in introducing the players. A synopsis on IMDb helps:

   “Following the failure of a relationship high-flying solicitor Jane Kennedy returns to the small Devon coastal town of Lighthaven, that she left when she was a teenager. She takes up the position of coroner investigating sudden, violent and suspicious deaths. Jane moves back, with her teenage daughter Beth to live with her mother. In her new role Jane must work alongside Davey Higgins, the boy who once broke her heart, who is now the local Detective Sergeant.”

   There are just the beginning of hints at all this in the episode itself. We don’t get a clear statement as to why Jane Kennedy has moved back to her home town, only that she has, nor what her relationship withe Davey Higgins is and/or was. They are working together, she as the local coroner (and how does it happen she has the job so quickly?), he as a local police office, and (for the most part) comfortably so.

   The mother-daughter relationship, on the other hand, is obviously prickly. There is a lot of that going around. See Dicte, the first episode of which, from 2013, was reviewed here. In fact, the story line is very much the same. Young girl falls for an iffy guy from a faster crowd than her mother wants her to be anywhere near.

   The boy friend in this episode happens to have been the best friend of another young boy who is suspected of committing suicide by jumping off a high stone tower. It is possible, however, that he may have been pushed, and it is up to Jane and Davey to check into it before Jane can prepare her final report.

   In spite of the strong sense of déjà vu on my part, which arose only by the sheer chance of seeing the first episodes of both series so close together, the story itself is well done. This is another series I can see myself spending more time with (streaming now on Britbox.)


REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:


THE GREAT DETECTIVE. “Train of Events.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 02 January 1980 (Season 2, Episode 1). (11th overall of 30 [or is it 35] episodes.) Cast: Douglas Campbell (Inspector Cameron), James Duggan (Sergeant Striker), Sandy Webster (Dr. Chisholm), Sean McCann (McCarthy, the conductor), Maurska Stankova (Klara Elek, the widow), John Grima (Vilmos Elek, the dead man), Richard Farrell (Conley), Patrick Brymer (the cabbie). Producer: Peter Wildeblood. Writer: Larry Gaynor. Director: Rudi Dorn.

   Ordinarily a ride on the Sudbury to Toronto night train is an unexciting affair, but not this evening. Aboard is Provincial Inspector Alistair Cameron, his assignment being to keep tabs on a gold bullion shipment worth $200,000; there has been much anarchist activity of late, and Cameron is there to make sure they don’t get a chance to subsidize their revolution with other people’s money. An unwelcome addition to the passenger load, at least as far as the Inspector is concerned, is Sergeant Striker, who has been assigned to Cameron as his “bodyguard” in case things get out of hand with the anarchists.

   Everything goes well until the train stops for water; then bullets start to fly from the siding, punching holes in windows and woodwork alike — and, it would seem, one unfortunate man in the passenger car. After everything calms down, with the anarchists breaking off the attack, the Inspector insists on inspecting the gold, which is under armed guard in a specially modified combination car near the engine; satisfied that the bullion is intact, Cameron permits the train to proceed non-stop to Toronto, where it arrives with the early morning sun — but without the railway car, the guards, and the gold! Needless to say, the bank intends to have the Inspector’s guts for garters for this …

   And it’s here that the story turns into an impossible crime, and a well-done one at that. Conundrums abound: How did an entire car disappear from a moving train? When the passenger killed during the ambush is autopsied, how can it be that he was shot from no farther than six inches? And what bearing did his profession have on the robbery? In searching the train, now a crime scene, why can’t Striker find any signs whatsoever of bullet damage?

   And what’s the significance of that forlorn lady’s wig found stuffed under a seat? What about those two rather hefty women who bumped into the Inspector when he left the train? After there’s a gas explosion in a shack in the railyard, why, according to the coroner, did the victims perish the way they did instead of being killed in the blast? What about that piece of plywood Cameron and Striker find not far from an over-river railway bridge? And, finally, how did the widow of the man killed in the ambush get to be such a good shot? (Actually that last one is never asked or answered in the show; we were just wondering.)

   “Train of Events” is a model of how to do an impossible crime story on episodic TV: it’s the right length, not too long and not too short (roughly an hour, unlike the usual overly-padded Banacek episode); every element and scene contributes to forwarding the plot; and the characters and tone are lightly tongue-in-cheek without being a distraction. We especially appreciate how the director took great pains to reconstruct the events, nicely adding to the Great Detective’s Big Reveal of the crime.

   IMDb tells us that this series was “based on the first government appointed provincial detective Alistair Cameron, set during the late Victorian Era. He is assisted by his friend Dr. Chisholm, a pathologist. He relocates from Scotland to Canada for his job, takes in a house keeper, and becomes guardian of his niece. He also has a sergeant who assists on his cases.”

   Wikipedia also tells us that The Great Detective was based on the exploits of John Wilson Murray (1840-1906), who was “Ontario’s first full-time criminal detective with the title Detective for the Government of Ontario. He held the position until his death and solved hundreds of crimes.”

   The big three performers in “Train of Events” are Douglas Campbell (1922-2009) as Inspector Alistair Cameron (25 episodes), Sandy Webster (1923-2017) as Dr. Chisholm (20 episodes), and James Duggan (died in 2013) as Sergeant Striker (9 episodes). Early in his career, Douglas Campbell was a stage sensation, scoring big with Shakespeare in the ’50s (being naturally portly and blustery, he made the perfect Falstaff); he once described himself as a “William Morris socialist,” whatever that means.

   Among a lot of other actors doing one-shots on The Great Detective who have achieved notice elsewhere: Geraint Wyn Davies, John Neville, Megan Follows, Maury Chaykin, Sharon Acker, Nick Mancuso, Len Cariou, Henry Beckman, Alan Scarfe, and James Bradford (who played Inspector Regan in three episodes of the show).

   The CBC seems to have developed amnesia about The Great Detective series; we can’t find anything about it on their website.

      —

NOTE: This episode, which was obviously taped off an A&E broadcast (hence the low quality), is available on YouTube, but the individual who posted it there is not allowing it to be embedded on other sites. You can watch it here, at least for now.

ART OF CRIME (L’art du crime). “Une Beauté faite au Naturel: Parties 1 & 2.” France 2 / Gaumont Television / France Télévisions. 17 November 2017. Nicolas Gob (Antoine Verlay), Eléonore Bernheim (Florence Chassagne), Philippe Duclos (Pierre Chassagne). Guest Cast: Miou-Miou, Stéphan Wojtowicz, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Venantino Venantini (Leonard de Vinci). Dircetor: Charlotte Brändström.

   A man who had been stealing a painting from an old French mansion at night is found stabbed to death, his outstretched pointing to a marker stone with name of Leonard de Vinci engraved upon it. Question: Is it possible that an unknown painting by the Italian master is hidden behind the otherwise worthless painting?

   Tackling the case on behalf of the police are two mismatched (of course) detectives, one a street smart cop, Antoine Verlay, now assigned to the department handling crimes of art fraud and theft, and an art historian and authenticator, Florence Chassagne.

   They do not get along especially well, but working on the theory that opposites attract, you just know, deep down inside, they will find working together more than the chore it is in this, their very first case together.

   Art of the Crime was on for three seasons. Even though I didn’t follow all of the details about the world of art, forgeries, I found the story line fascinating. The amount of money that’s at stake is certainly grounds for many more stories like this one. The color photography is absolutely splendid, especially the scenes in the underground areas of he mansion, where Verlay and Chassagne find themselves temporarily trapped.

   And thanks to the latter’s vivid imagination, Leonardo da Vinci himself makes an appearance. What’s not to like?


THE SWEENEY “Ringer.” ITV, Thames Television. 02 January 1975 (Season 1, Episode 1). John Thaw, Dennis Waterman, Garfield Morgan. Guest Cast: Ian Hendry, Brian Blessed, Jill Townsend. Writers: Trevor Preston, Ian Kennedy Martin. Director: Terry Green.

   “The Sweeney” is Cockney slang for London’s Flying Squad, a branch of the Metropolitan Police (short for Sweeney Todd, a rhyming version of ‘Flying Squad’). It was on British TV for four seasons, followed by three theatrical movies. John Thaw (Inspector Morse) played Detective Inspector Jack Regan, while Dennis Waterman (New Tricks) was his second in command, Detective Sergeant George Carter.

   I’m not sure why this first episode is titled “Ringer,” but it’s a good one. A car that Regan has borrowed from a sleep-in girl friend to do some surveillance work for the day is stolen, along with his camera and several photos he’d already taken. (He had, unfortunately left the car unlocked.)

   The brighter of the two thieves has the clever idea of selling the photos to the subject of Regan’s observations, a highly-connected gangster who has some sort of hush-hush operation about the get underway. and he doesn’t fancy the Flying Squad having any idea that something is going on.

   The resulting story has both an abundance of close-up dialogue as well as intense action — not of cars roaring up and down city streets and isolated country roads, as most American cop and PI shows were wont to do — but intense person-on-person action, which is down to earth and certainly a whole lot more, well, personal.

   It is also remarkable how well-cast and effective the actors in this 60 minute play are, every single one of them, big parts or small. I wish that my American ears were more used to British accents (no subtitles on the video I saw), but I picked up more than enough to tell you that I really enjoyed this one.


DICTE “Personskade (Personal), Part One.” Miso Film/TV2 Danmark, 07 January 2013. 60m. Iben Hjejle (Dicte Svendsen), Lars Brygmann (John Wagner), Emilie Kruse, Dar Salim, Simon Krogh Stenspil. Based on characters in novels by Elsebeth Egholm. Director: Jannik Johansen.

   The ending of this one really caught me by surprise. Not because it was a shocker or based on a twist that I didn’t see coming. No it’s a lot simpler than that, and I feel stupid by even bringing it up. I didn’t realize that the story was part one of two, and I wasn’t even watching the clock. Ha! on me.

   But one thing’s for sure. As soon as I get done typing this, I’m going to go watch Part Two.

   This is the first episode of three seasons of Dicte, consisting of five two-parters per season, or 30 episodes in all. (I probably could have left you to do the math). Dicte Svendsen, recently divorced, is a news reporter who has just moved back to her home town of Aarhus with her daughter Rose, a young lady who appears to be in the equivalent of high school in the US. She is certainly young enough that her mother has to keep a close eye on the friends she is making.

   It is by accident, though, that Dicte begins her first brush with a big story. A young girl is found dead, murdered, her body mutilated in such a way that a botched Caesarean must have taken place, and Dicte is the first on the scene.

   Photos taken by the news photographer accompanying her are the bargaining chips she needs for John Wagner, the police officer in charge of the case, to allow her to keep investigating the story.

   There is a theme here. When younger, Dicte was forced by her parents to give up a child a soon as he was born; now Dicte has problems dealing with her daughter’s new male friend. And the girl who died, probably a prostitute, has forcibly lost the surrogate child she was carrying.

   To me, actress Iben Hjejle seems too young to have such a long history behind her, but maybe that’s because I am much older than she. The story is a little darker than Death in Paradise, to take a recent example reviewed here, or The Invisibles, to pick another, but not not as ,much as Dexter or Hannibal here in the US. There will be Much more TV on my agenda this year, I can see that now.


DEATH IN PARADISE “Murder on the Honore Express.” BBC, UK. 10 January 2019 (Season 8, Episode 1). Ardal O’Hanlon (DI Jack Mooney), Joséphine Jobert (DS Florence Cassell), Don Warrington (Commissioner Selwyn Patterson), Tobi Bakare (Officer J. P. Hooper). Created by Robert Thorogood. Director: Paul Logue.

   Death in Paradise is a comedy-mystery set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. The leading characters have changed over the years, but the cast as listed above make up the staff of the police department as of the beginning of the eighth season. (A ninth and tenth season have already been announced.)

   And as far as traditional mysteries are concerned, this one is as good as episodic TV can get. It isn’t quite a “locked room” mystery, but it is a murder such that there is no possible way for anyone to committed it. When a bus makes its final stop, a man sitting at the far back is found stabbed to death. None of the other passengers moved from their seat, and no could have gotten on without one of them noticing.

   The small police force are stopped, but that does not stop hem from following up all the leads they can. Quite curiously, though, all of the passengers are discovered to have motives, including the driver.

   Adding to the viewer’s enjoyment of following the investigation along is the humorous byplay between the main characters, with a new one joining the team next week. Saint Marie may be dangerous place to live for some, but it certainly provides a colorful backdrop to the stories. (The series is filmed in Guadeloupe.)

   This the only episode of any season of the series I’ve seen so far. I probably shouldn’t started with Season Eight. I accomplished that only by mistake. What watching the first episode of this most recent season did do, though, was to convince me to go way back to the beginning. I have a lot of catching up to do!


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