TV mysteries


CHANDLER & CO. “On the Job.” BBC1, UK. 12 July 1994 (Series 1, Episode 1). Catherine Russell as Elly Chandler, Barbara Flynn as Dee Tate, Peter Capaldi as Larry Blakeson. Written by Paula Milne. Director: Renny Rye. Available in the UK on Region Two DVDs. This episode can be seen online here.

   Over the course of two seasons Chandler & Co. tells the story of a two-woman detective agency in London, starting of course at the beginning, with “On the Job” being the first episode. There is a little bit of back story that needs to be told ahead of time, though, and while it’s complicated, here it is: Elly Chandler is now divorced from her ex-husband, while Dee Tate is the man’s sister, who suggests to Elly (there are still close) that starting their own agency might help her through the breakup of her marriage.

   They realize that they are rather new at the game, however, so they call on Larry Blakeson to mentor them through the rough patches as they get started. Larry is the PI who Elly hired to get the goods on her now ex-husband. We’ve all been in situations such as this before, haven’t we, so we can relate.

   Their first two cases in “On the Job,” as they test their wings, involve marital infidelities – the kinds of cases that male PI’s always say they don’t take, and after watching this first episode, you can see why. The two ladies decided to take up the PI business because they like helping people, but after getting themselves involved in other people’s lives as much as they do in these two case, they are not so sure how much help they provided. In fact, there is a rift between them at the end of the show that is so severe that it makes the viewer wonder if there will be an episode two.

   But of course there was.

   All three of the main characters were extremely well chosen for their roles, and their roles were extremely well defined — an excellent show all around. It makes you wish that more episodes were available, just to be able to see the three of them in action more often. (In fact Peter Capaldi is not on often enough in this one.)

   It is also an interesting episode in another regard, which is to say that it starts out in semi-comedic fashion. The two women are klutzy at first, and getting some assistance from a real PI is obviously sorely needed. But as the episode goes along, the comedy aspects gradually disappear, as their choices of a new career start to look as though it were a big big mistake.

   Or in other words, very very interesting.

   

SUSPECTS “Alone.” Channel 5, UK, 12 February 2014 (Series 1, Episode 1). Fay Ripley as Detective Inspector Martha Bellamy, Damien Molony as Detective Sergeant Jack Weston, Clare-Hope Ashitey as Detective Constable Charlotte “Charlie” Steele. Director: John Hardwick. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

   If you prefer your standard gritty police procedurals on TV to concentrate on the case and nothing but the case, then Suspects may be the show for you. Of the three main stars and police officers they portray, there is nothing in this first show to explain who they are, what their backgrounds may be. There is even no personal interaction between them.

   They are fellow officers in the same London police station, otherwise not identified. This first case involves a young girl, a toddler only, who has been taken from her bed overnight while everyone in the house was sleeping: her father and her older brother. Other suspects are her mother, now separated from her father, her grandmother, and the clerk at a beverage shop down the street who has a prior record as a sex offender.

   The filming is done documentary style, beautifully photographed, and (I am told) with much of the dialogue improvised. It certainly makes for a forceful, haunting viewing experience, that I can vouch for personally. So much so that I doubt anyone would care to binge watch this show. Certainly not I.

   The show did prove to be popular, though. It consisted of five series, ending in August 2016, with only one major cast change for the final season.
   

MR. & MRS. MURDER “Early Checkout.” Network Ten, Australia, 20 February 2013 (Series 1, Episode 1). Shaun Micallef as Charlie Buchanan, Kat Stewart as Nicola Buchanan, Jonny Pasvolsky as Detective Peter Vinetti, Lucy Honigman as Jess Chalmers. Director: Shirley Barrett. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime (until January 31st.)

   As detective mysteries on TV go, or even books, it’s a premise that’s a natural, but even so, it’s one I don’t recall ever being used before, except maybe in comic books. Who’s job is it to come in and clean up the murder scene after the cops and crew are done with it and the victim removed? Charlie and Nicola Buchanan, that’s who, having set themselves up as specialists who do exactly that.

   Of course it helps to have helped a homicide detective on previous cases, even though “Early Checkout” is the first episode of thirteen of the cases they help solve. In this one a natural hero turned self-help guru (if, as noted, that is not a contradiction in terms) is murdered in his hotel room. As a detective story in and of itself, it’s a good one, with an abundance of clues, suspects, motives and opportunity.

   But what makes the difference between this and other series with same desire to make a successful detective mystery series is the sprightly rapport between the two leading players. Imagine, if you will, a married couple who actually like each other, with plenty of cheerful banter between them and playfully zapping each other and appreciating it when one gets the better of the other, if only for the moment.

   I will do my best to watch the other twelve episodes before Amazon pulls the plug on the series at the end of the month. If there were only 13 episodes in the series, I can only hope it was because the writers ran out of settings for possible stories for murder clean-ups to take place in. If Australian audiences didn’t care for the series and stopped watching it, then boo on them.

   

MR. & MRS. NORTH “Weekend Murder.” CBS, 03 October, 1952 (Season 1, Episode 1.) Barbara Britton (Pamela North), Richard Denning (Jerry North), Francis De Sales (Lt. Bill Weigand). Guest Cast: Margo Wood, Rita Johnson, Paul Cavanagh, James Kirkwood. Writer: DeWitt Bodeen, based on the characters created by Frances & Richard Lockridge. Director: Ralph Murphy.

   The TV version of Mr. & Mrs. North lasted for two seasons, the first on CBS from 1952-53, and the second, only 18 episodes long, on NBC in 1954. They were also on the radio from 1942 to 1954. Alice Frost and Joseph Curtin had the title roles for most of the run. And of course before that, there were the books, 26 of them, before Frances Lockridge’s death in 1963. After her passing, her husband Richard continued writing, but he never produced a Norths novel on his own.

   It surely must have helped that so many people knew who the Norths were, because this, the first TV episode jumps right into the story without so much of an introduction. (I think this was common, however, back in the early days of television.) In any case, it is Jerry, a book publisher who has to be persuaded by his wife Pam to take a weekend off and spend it at a famous actress’s country home, somewhere outside Manhattan and their usual city environs.

   But as chance would have it, when they all arrive, the housekeeper is missing and there is a dead man in the kitchen closet. As in all the books and their other adventures, it is Pam who decides that she needs to solve the case. Jerry would just as soon let the police handle it. I don’t know whether (or how many) other married sleuths tackled their cases in this same particular way, but this was the usual Norths’ modus operandi, with Pam always sticking her neck out a little too far along the way. And so it is here.

   I don’t think that most readers of the books had too much to complain about in terms of the casting. Richard Denning does ham up the comedy a little too much for my tastes, but that’s just me. As for the case itself, the clue to the killer is way too obvious, although the writer does try to gloss it over as it happens. Not enough so for a long-time TV crimesolver such as myself, though.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID FRIEND:

   

COLONEL MARCH INVESTIGATES. Criterion Films, UK, 1953. Starring Boris Karloff as Colonel March. Screenplay by Leo Davis, based on three stories written by John Dickson Carr. Director: Cyril Enfield.

   The master of the locked room mystery was, inarguably, John Dickson Carr, one of the most popular crime writers of the Golden Age. His masterpiece, The Hollow Man (1935), retains an almost legendary status among crime fiction fans, but he is now sadly forgotten by the wider public. The books have long been out of print in the UK, and I’m always hoping that some publisher will bring them back.

   Perhaps they are so obscure because Carr’s most famous sleuths, Dr Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, never made it to the screen. One of his lesser characters managed it, however, in the early 1950s, with the television series Colonel March of Scotland Yard.

   Carr had used the character only in his 1940 short story collection The Department of Queer Complaints, in which there is a subdivision of Scotland Yard that specialises in crimes of a curious or apparently impossible nature. The series was financed by the Americans and starred international film star Boris Karloff – famous for playing the Chinese-American detective Mr Wong and, of course, even more so, Frankenstein’s Monster.

   At this point in his long career, Karloff was a frequent guest on American radio series and even had his own show for children in which he read stories and told riddles. In 1952, he returned to England and made three episodes for ITV which acted as pilots for a longer series. Eventually, twenty six were produced, all of which were a brisk 25 minutes long.

   The first three made were stitched together for release to cinemas in 1953. This was not uncommon for a TV show at the time and the practice would continue into the next decade, particularly with The Saint.

   Colonel March Investigates is a taut 70 minute anthology of three slight, though entertaining, mysteries with the twinkly-eyed Karloff. He gives the character an eye-patch, which he didn’t have in the stories, but it adds something to the character, as we can imagine he may have lost it in the First World War. This, perhaps, is someone who has witnessed untold horrors and has come to terms with the world by engaging with its more whimsical wonders.

   Unsurprisingly, there is a framing device which helps tie the three tales together, in which March stands in his office and inspects a cupboard stocked with souvenirs of his cases before leading the audience into the corresponding story.

   The first of these, aired as “Hot Money,” revolves around a bank robbery in which a clerk is incriminated. He follows the criminal to an office, where the money is seemingly stored. However, when the place is searched, the money has apparently disappeared. Despite the clerk being framed in the silliest of ways, the resolution is pretty decent, but nothing too special. Joan Sims appears here in an early role, and March reveals a John Steed-like umbrella sword!

   The second story was aired as “Death in the Dressing Room,” which is probably the weakest of the three. Set in a nightclub, it features an exotic dance routine which acts as a clue, while the always reliable Richard Wattis plays the manager. The running time to these is so short that there is virtually no time to set up a number of suspects, so the culprit tends to be the person who has been in it the most.

   No matter, as it’s all about how March gets his man, which he does here in a tense confrontation. As usual, March’s sparring partner is the Scottish Inspector Ames (Ewan Roberts), though you wonder why he’s there as March seems to be a famous genius.

   The third story, intriguingly titled “The New Invisible Man,” features a peeping tom who has apparently witnessed a pair of animated gloves committing murder, and a scene of a crime with no evidence of a crime. It’s the best one, I think, though there are a couple of problems. We get the opportunity to see the gloves in action ourselves, but it doesn’t look much like the way it’s shown to us in the reveal.

   The trick is good, nonetheless, and it certainly had me baffled. The reason behind it all is pretty shaky, however, and involves stolen paintings and, eventually, a kidnapped March. It’s all good fun, though, which is what I’d call the film as a whole. And an interesting peek, as ever, into bygone England. Eight episodes of the series itself are available on DVD. It’s just a pity the complete series isn’t available.

Rating: ***

FRONT PAGE DETECTIVE. “Murder Rides the Night Train.” DuMont, 1951 (Season 1 Episode 14). Edmund Lowe (David Chase). Guest Cast: Lyle Talbot, John Sebastian, John Harmon, Pamela Blake (as Pam MaGuire), Angelo Rossitto. Screenplay: Herbert Moulton, Robert Leslie Bellem. Director: Arnold Wester.

   As the star of Front Page Detective, Edmund Lowe was 61, but to me he looked older. The series lasted only a year and on a minor network, so it isn’t one even fans of old TV shows bring up to talk about amongst themselves. Several individual episodes do exist, probably because it series went into syndication after its initial showing.

   Lowe played David Chase, a newspaper columnist who always ended up helping the police catch criminals and other members of the underworld. There were (I believe) other members of the recurring cast, but none of them appear in this episode, almost all of it taking place on a train taking a former gangster to Washington to tell all to a congressional committee. The problem is, others still in the mob are not interested in having him do any of the talking he intends to do.

   Although he is warned off, Chase chooses to take the same train, and in spite of a bodyguard close at hand, the subpoenaed gangster is shot and killed. The problem is, the dead man was alone in his train compartment with Chase right outside the door.

   With only 30 minutes to tell the story, the “locked room” aspect of the story gets short shrift. It’s not set up properly for the viewer to have a chance to solve it, for one thing, and the fun of doing so is the only reason why killers do their work in such silly, complicated ways. I won’t tell you how it was done, but I will give you a hint. If you recognize the right name in the cast above, you will know all.

   The rest of the cast consists of some semi-familiar character actors playing crooks of one kind or another, save for the welcome addition of Pamela Blake (under an assumed name) as a purported gun moll who is there only so the show doesn’t consist solely of a bunch of guys playing with guns. The locked room aspect was a nice surprise as well, even if it was mostly a dud.

   

McDONALD & DODDS. “The Fall of the House of Crockett” ITV, 01 March 2020 (Season 1, Episode 1) . Tala Gouveia as DCI Lauren McDonald, Jason Watkins as DS Dodds. Guest star: Robert Lindsay as Max Crockett. Creator/writer: Robert Murphy. Director: Richard Senior.

   I don’t know about you, but I’m always interested in yet another pair of mismatched homicide policemen, whether British or American. I love watching how their differences play off each other, how get to know each other, and maybe even get to respect each other. Old and worn out stuff, I know, but when the show is well-written, which it is in this case, and when the players are perfectly selected, even more so this time around, well, to sum it up, I enjoyed this one.

   DCI Lauren McDonald, is young, black, female, and ambitious. DS Dodds is not so young, white, male, and has just spent the last eleven years behind a desk. Why then, when McDonald is sent from London to Bath, and the first case she’s assigned to is a break-in and a homicide, why is she assigned Dodds as her second-in-command? The answer comes directly from her new commanding officer: see if she can’t nudge him into retirement.

   Dead is one of what is at first assumed to be two burglars who broke into wealthy businessman Max Crockett’s manor house. Outwardly Dodds appears to be almost a doddering old fool, but in reality he’s as sharp as ever, only a bit slower and rusty at the game of old-fashioned detective work. Nonetheless he manages to prove that the target was Max Crockett himself, as arrogant a man as a self-made millionaire can be.

   There are plenty of suspects. He has three children plus their significant others, but only one of his three daughters will soon be announced as his sole heir. The motive is clear. The only question is which one. It takes all of ninety minutes, without commercials, for McDonald and Dobbs to figure this one out, but the time goes very quickly. (You should also keep in mind that I have not told you everything.)

   The first season consisted of only two episodes, televised back in March. The show proved popular enough that a second season has been announced, this time of three more.

   

THE BROKER’S MAN. BBC One, 17 June 1997 (Series 1, Episodes 1 and 2). Kevin Whately as James ‘Jimmy’ Griffin, ex-detective now a PI working cases of fraud for insurance companies; Annette Ekblom as Sally Griffin, his ex-wife, Danny Worters as Dominic Griffin, his son, Holly Davidson as Jodie Griffin, his daughter, Al Hunter Ashton as Vinnie Stanley, his assistant; Sarah-Jane Potts/Charlotte Bellamy as Harriet Potter, his secretary; Michelle Fairley as Gabby Rodwell, his one-time lover (and maybe still). Written by Al Hunter Ashton & Tim O’Mara. Director: Bob Blagden. Available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime.

   Nearly as much time is spent in these first two episodes with PI Jimmy Griffin’s domestic problems as it is in solving the case he’s hired to solve, that of a huge batch of digital tapes that have been stolen straight from the shipping company’s warehouse. Ordinarily that would be a huge problem, but not in this case, nearly coming in as an afterthought in terms of what Griffin is up against.

   He’s separated now from his wife, who is hounding him for months’ worth of back child support, and he’s able to see his two children only on specified days and times. The problem with this, of course, is that his investigative work takes him to both France and the Netherlands, and if he doesn’t crack the case, he won’t earn the money for what his wife is on his back for. The continual business-oriented presence of the woman that caused the breakup between Jimmy and his wife in the first place does not help either.

   Getting back to the case itself, I did not find it particularly interesting. The financial dealing and wheeling I found largely over my head (you may or may not have this same problem), and the identity of the gang and their inside enablers are not at all hidden from the viewer, nor does Griffin have much difficulty sussing them out himself.

   No, it’s the character of Jimmy Griffin and his rough and tumble ways that will have you coming back for more, or not. There were only two seasons, the first consisting of three double-part stories, and the second of six individual episodes. I’m planning on watching the next two-part story of season one, and then see where I might go from there.
   

THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER: THE MURDER AT ROAD HILL HOUSE. 90+ minutes. ITV, UK, 25 April 2011. Paddy Considine (Detective Jack Whicher), Tom Georgeson (Superintendent Foley), Peter Capaldi (Samuel Kent), Alexandra Roach (Constance Kent) and many others. Based on the real-life Constance Kent murder case of 1860, as interpreted by Kate Summerscale in her 2008 book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House. Director: James Hawes. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   This historical based crime film takes place in 1860, and Inspector Jack Whicher is sent from Scotland Yard to give assistance to the local police in finding the killer of a young boy whose body is found in the privy of a large manor house. His presence is resented by the superintendent previously in charge of the case, claiming as an outsider does not know the people in the area as well as he does.

   Whicher is supremely confident, however, and is sure that a proper investigation is bound to bring out the truth. His hubris takes a severe beating, though, when after a long series of questioning and logical deductions comes to a complete halt when he cannot produce the evidence he needs to convict the person he is convinced is the killer.

   Need be he returns to London in disgrace, his career in shambles. (I am giving very little away. This is shown in the prologue to the story in the first five minutes.) I don’t know how closely the teleplay sticks to the actual story, but whether or not, it’s a fascinating one. I did not know any of the players, but between the direction, photography and the actors, the 90 minutes plus running time went by very quickly.

   The remaining three episodes in the series are purely fictional as they follow Mr. Whicher’s career as a private enquiry agent:

      The Mr. Whicher series –

1. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Murder at Road Hill House
2. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: The Murder In Angel Lane
3. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: Beyond the Pale
4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: The Ties That Bind

   

GET SHORTY. “The Pitch.” Epix, 13 August 2017. Chris O’Dowd as Miles Daly, an enforcer for Amara De Escalones, a casino owner and gang boss in Pahrump, Nevada, who looks to escape his criminal lifestyle and enter into the film industry; Ray Romano as Rick Moreweather, a film producer; Sean Bridgers as Louis Darnell, Miles’ partner; Lucy Walters as Katie Daly, Miles’ wife; Carolyn Dodd as Emma Daly, Miles and Katie’s daughter. Miles’ pet name for her is “Shorty.” Lidia Porto as Amara De Escalones. Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. Writer: Davey Holmes. Director: Allen Coulter. Currently streaming on Cimemax via Amazon Prime.

   Once again I am indebted to Wikipedia for the list of characters, the actors who play hem, and their roles in Get Shorty, the TV series. While the movie (1995) followed the book (1990) fairly closely, the TV series bears only a passing resemblance to either. Only the general idea stays the same: that of a professional hitman trying to improve his life and/or using Hollywood and the lower level movie business to launder money for the mob.

   This, the first episode of the TV series, which lasted for three season of nine episodes each, consists largely of setting up the characters and the basic premise. There’s no standalone story line to go with it. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone watching this would go away not knowing what the future of the series would be like and whether or not they’d be likely to following along.

   The appeal so far, though, is in the characters, and in the black tongue in cheek attitude the two partners in the hitman business have toward their business. Miles Daly, more or less the featured player in this large ensemble show, would like to get out of it, however. He’s separated from his wife, who doesn’t care for the business he’s in, and that interferes greatly with Miles’ wish to see and be with his daughter Emma.

   The other star is Ray Romano as minor league (very minor) Rick Moreweather, who as the series begins is grasping at straws so that he can finish his (very) minor film epic. Obviously when Miles comes knocking at his door, it will be a match made in heaven.

   

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