TV mysteries


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.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

HAWAII FIVE-O “…And They Painted Daisies On His Coffin.” CBS, 07 November 1968 (Season 1, Episode 5). Jack Lord (Det. Steve McGarrett), James MacArthur (Danny Williams), Zulu, Kam Fong. Guest star: Gavin MacLeod. Writer: John D. F. Black. Directed by John Peyser.

   A tense, well written episode from Hawaii Five-O’s first season, “…And They Painted Daisies On His Coffin,” has two intersecting storylines. The first and central one concerns Danny Williams (James MacArthur) who, after a night of light drinking, confronts and kills a teenager who he witnessed trying to break into a car. The kid was hardly an angel, having had fired a gun at Dano.

   The problem is: when the rest of the police arrive at the scene and find the kid’s body, the gun has mysteriously disappeared. What Dano and McGarrett (Jack Lord) don’t immediately know, but the audience does know is that the deceased’s seventeen-year-old girlfriend was in the apartment and absconded with the weapon while Dano wasn’t looking.

   A good part of the episode is devoted to exploring the devastating impact that killing a suspect has on Dano. The media has already judged him as guilty. And so, it would seem, has the District Attorney who has him booked for murder. It’s up to McGarrett and his team to find the gun and the girl.

   This is where the episode moves squarely into the realm of what could only be called “hippiesploitation.” McGarrett tracks down the girl he’s been looking for. Turns out she’s a junkie and getting her supply from a flamboyantly deviant dealer named Big Chicken. Portrayed by Gavin MacLeod, who would go on to appear in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and star in The Love Boat, Big Chicken is the type of over-the-top counter-cultural criminal figure omnipresent in late 1960s crime television. It’s a solid memorable performance.

   All told, this episode is a rather cynical exploration of societal darkness in brightly lit Hawaii and still packs a bit of a punch.
   

MIAMI VICE. “Milk Run.” NBC, 04 January 1985 (Season 1, Episode 12.) Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Edward James Olmos. Writer: Allison Hock. Director: John Nicolella.

   If by twelve episodes into the first season, viewers hadn’t realized that they were a long way from Cabot Cove territory, they certainly would have after watching this one. Murder, She Wrote had begun the year before, and while the two shows were never on opposite each other (that I know of), half the country, I’m sure, would have been watching that one, while the other half found a lot more to watch in this one.

   There’s not time for a lot of byplay between the main characters in “Milk Run.” The story begins at the beginning and plays through with no digression to the end. It is assumed that viewers knew who Crockett and Tubbs were when they started watching, and if they didn’t, it was certainly easy enough for them to catch up.

   The main story line involves two young boys who have come down to Miami to turn they life savings into real money. Unfortunately their plan of action requires dealing with a smuggling ring, with one of the two traveling to Columbia, picking up a religious statue filled with drugs, and bringing it back into this country.

   Which is not at all a good idea.

   While the skies in Miami are generally clear and sunny in this one, there is more than the usual sense of darkness and suspense than I think there were in most crime-related television series at the time. The setting, the music, the clothes, all mesh together in a perfectly choreographed tale of crime gone wrong that’s at one time very simple but also very complicated.

   Even better, it’s a story that easily be shown today with very little updating needed.

   

THE BROKENWOOD MYSTERIES “Blood and Water.” Prime, New Zealand. 28 September 2014 (Season 1, Episode 1).. Neill Rea (Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd), Fern Sutherland (Detective Kristin Sims), Pana Hema Taylor, Cristina Ionda, and a large remaining ensemble cast. Writers: Tim Balme (also creator) & Philip Dalkin. Director: Mike Smith. Currently streaming on Acorn TV via Amazon Prime Video.

   When an elderly man who has been grieving the death of his wife for several years is found drowned below the bridge he came to on the same date every year, the immediate assumption is that he committed suicide. But why then, has Auckland almost immediately sent Det. Sgt. Mike Shephard (Neill Rea) to the small town of Brokenwood to investigate?

   With the head of the small local police force stepping out of the picture in deference to Shepherd, it is up to Detective Kristin Sims to deal with Shepherd’s brusque and often unorthodox approach to police work, but (to no viewer’s surprise, including mine, nor should it) she gradually and begrudgingly learns that Shepherd really does know what he’s doing.

   As Mike Shepherd, Neill Rea is really the star of the show, which has been on now for six seasons of four two-hour episodes each. (It comes as no surprise that at the end of the first episode Shepherd has decides to stay on, having come to appreciate the advantages of living and working in a small town filled with quirky characters.) He is overweight, scruffy, has an unspecified number of ex-wives – he admits to three, maybe four – but possesses a quick mind that is always working.

   The detective work is better than average, the setting is often beautiful, but it’s the people in the stories that follow that will have me coming back often, I’m sure.

   

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

   

MURDER BY NATURAL CAUSES. Made for TV movie. CBS, 17 February 1979. Running time: 100 minutes. Cast: Hal Holbrook (Arthur Sinclair), Katharine Ross (Allison Sinclair), Barry Bostwick (Gil Weston), Richard Anderson (George Brubaker), Phil Leeds (Eddie), Bill Fiore (Marty Chambers), Victoria Carroll (TV actress). Producers: Richard Levinson, William Link, Robert A. Papazian, and Pattee Roedig. Writers: Richard Levinson and William Link. Director: Robert Day. Released on VHS tape, and currently available on YouTube (see below), but please be aware the picture quality is not all it should be.

   World-famous mentalist Arthur Sinclair has recently suffered a heart attack but now seems to be on the mend. Arthur’s wife Allison dutifully shows her concern, but it’s all for show, as we learn from her intimate frolics with her lover Gil Weston, a struggling actor trying to make it in local theater. When Gil asks Allison why she doesn’t settle for a divorce, she’s not shy about admitting that she is, in her own word, “greedy” and unwilling to take community property or anything less.

   Although Gil balks at killing Arthur, Allison is able to persuade him to go through with her plot to scare her husband to death — that weak heart, remember? — and the plan is set in motion. The thing about trying to pull off a perfect murder, however, is that it never goes as planned, especially when there are other plans that have already been set in motion long ago …

   We’re not going to spoil things by going further with plot details other than to say that you should anticipate having your expectations subverted — often. This is Levinson & Link at the peak of their powers, throwing in no fewer than four major — and ingenious — plot twists in the last third of the story, with the pièce de résistance being that absolutely perfect, devastating final fade-out line.

   As for the cast: Hal Holbrook is still with us at age 95; he’s best remembered for his one-man show about Mark Twain, with side stops in the occasional thriller like They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), Magnum Force (1973), and The Star Chamber (1983).

   Katharine Ross, also still with us, co-starred with Holbrook, James Garner, and some well-trained Dobermans in the aforementioned They Only Kill Their Masters.

   Barry Bostwick, very much alive, would go on to star as the Father of His Country in the George Washington miniseries (1984) and as a very suspicious character in Body of Evidence (1988).

   Richard Anderson — no longer living, alas — managed to accumulate 190 acting credits beginning in 1947, passing away at age 91 several years ago.

   As you might recall, Robert Day, the director, also helmed In Broad Daylight (1971), featured recently on Mystery*File here.

   Equally as good, if not better, was another Levinson & Link puzzler, Rehearsal for Murder (1982), which was highlighted on Mystery*File eight years ago here.
   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

JARRETT. Made for TV movie, 17 March 1973. Glenn Ford, Anthony Quayle, Forrest Tucker, Laraine Stephens, Yvonne Craig, Richard Anderson. Screenplay: Richard Maibaum. Directed by Barry Shear. Apparently available only on collector-to-collector DVD.

   You don’t get dumber than this made for television pilot released as a feature film. That’s a given.

   Certainly it has more than a little going for it despite its failures. Glenn Ford is Sam Jarrett (a good paper could be written on the number of times Ford played guys named Sam), a former middle weight boxing champ turned private investigator who specializes in rarities, everything from ancient texts to furniture to paintings and comic books (which figure in the plot a bit).

   He’s been hired by a group of scholars to find and authenticate the Book of Adam and Eve, a Biblical text that predates the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also after the scrolls is collector Cosmo Bastrop (Anthony Quayle), an outsized James Bondian villain (not surprising as Richard Maibaum who wrote the screenplay for the early Bond films wrote the teleplay) with a collection of comic book villain assistants and his own private island (Karageorge played by Lee Kolima as a wanna be Odd Job and Joseph Paul Herrera as Ignook Bastrop’s giant Inuit butler).

   The villains, including an Arab in a burnoose and an albino, play like a perverse version of YMCA.

   Bastrop is serious about the scrolls. He already planted a cobra in Jarrett’s Venice Beach home to try to stop him.

   It’s that kind of film.

   Phony Reverend Vocal Simpson (Forrest Tucker) claims to have the scrolls and is founding his church on the idea. When Jarrett shows up at a revival Bastrop is there posing as a film maker trying to buy the rights to the scrolls from Simpson while his men, foiled by Jarrett, try to kidnap Luluwa (Yvonne Craig) who dances naked as Eve with a snake during the revival.

   Next Jarrett heads for Sigrid Larsen (Laraine Stephens) whose father found the original scrolls. She has no idea where they might be but when Bastrop’s men show up all the steal from her home is an old metal frame bed that belonged to her father.

   Shortly after that the scrolls show up in Simpson’s possession only to be brought to Jarrett by Luluwa, but when tested they seem to be fakes.

   Jarrett and Sigrid are led to Bastrop’s island fortress when they figure out Bastrop planted the scrolls on Simpson and faked the test to lead them off the trail. Once there he gives them a tour of his comic book collection (he collects everything) with a special emphasis on his favorite comic book, The Flintstones.

   Leading to the finale when Jarrett in scuba gear returns to the island with a couple of muscle builder friends from Venice Beach as back up to recover the scrolls from Bastrop’s comic book files — guess where?

   Jarrett has one other Bondian trait than being devastating to women, a penchant for gadgets.

   No, it doesn’t make much more sense than that.

   Not for a moment.

   Ford is miscast, Tucker overacts terribly and has some lame line readings, Stephens seems to think she is in a real movie, it all borders on the worst kind of camp …

   And it is for all that, fun in a stupid way, because Ford, Quayle, and Craig all seem to recognize how silly the whole thing is and settle in to have fun. They are relaxed, playful, aware there is nothing they can do to save this, but determined to make it as much fun as they can.

   Whether Maibaum’s teleplay started this bad is another question, because there is some decent dialogue here and there, especially from Quayle’s over the top Bastrop. Maibaum complained the Jarrett role was meant for a much younger actor than Ford and that somehow messed things up, but I can’t see this working just because someone younger than Ford played the lead.

   Frankly the part of this film that halfway works is that Glenn Ford’s easy charm and Anthony Quayle’s playful deliberate over acting along with Yvonne Craig’s campy country seductress they are the only reason to watch this.

   

GRANTCHESTER “Episode 1.” ITV, UK, 06 October 2014. Shown in the US as part of Masterpiece Theater (PBS, 2015). James Norton (Sidney Chambers), Robson Green (Inspector Geordie Keating), Morven Christie, Tessa Peake-Jones. Based on the short story collection Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, written by James Runcie. Developed for television by Daisy Coulam. Director: Harry Bradbeer. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   Sidney Chambers is the Anglican vicar in the small English village of Cambridgeshire. Set in the early 1950s, you might say that the small town is as dangerous place to live as Cabot Cove, since the series is now in its sixth season. Blessed with a honest smile and a sense of who people are, he makes a good partner with local policeman Inspector Keating in tracking down murderers; the latter is a by-the-books detective who resents Chambers’ intrusion on this, their first case, but they quickly become good friends.

   The reason for the initial resentment is that Keating thinks the case is all wrapped up, as an obvious suicide. But after Chambers is persuaded to intercede by the dead man’s mistress (and the wife of his business partner), Keating reluctantly has to agree that Chambers – and his keen eye for items found at the murder scene – is right. It’s a good mystery, but I claim it’s unfair to the viewer to not be able to read what the two detectives do in the dead man’s diary. Well, we do, but you can measure the length of time it’s on the screen in nanoseconds.

   Both stars have engaging personalities, however, and that goes a long way in paving over small little complaints such as this. There is, or will be, an ongoing sub-plot that may prove interesting, that of a platonic girl friend that Chambers has known since they were both were young. But when she announces her engagement to someone else, it appears that both of them are beginning to wonder if their friendship was so platonic after all.

   

   

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. Made for TV movie. ABC, October 16, 1971. Running time: 74 minutes. Richard Boone (Tony Chappel), Suzanne Pleshette (Kate Todd), Stella Stevens (Elizabeth Chappel), John Marley (Lt. Bergman), Fred Beir (Alex Crawford), Whit Bissell (Capt. Moss), Paul Smith (Charlie). Producers: Robert Mirisch and Aaron Spelling. Writer: Larry Cohen. Director: Robert Day.

   It’s graduation day for retired actor Tony Chappel as he signs an autograph and leaves the rehab center. Kate Todd has been assigned as his personal assistant and sees nothing sinister in Tony’s vigorous efforts to reacclimate himself to a more or less normal life, as Tony insists on taking cabs and buses all around town from his beachfront home until he knows the routes by heart.

   Certainly his faithless wife Elizabeth isn’t alarmed, but there’s good reason why she should be: Tony plans to kill her and her lover at the earliest opportunity. Only three things stand in Tony’s way: a common object found in most American households, a smart police detective, and probably the biggest obstacle between Tony and his goal, a fact which we’ve known since the first scene, that he is totally and irremediably blind . . . .

   In a Wikipedia article about In Broad Daylight we learn that writer Larry Cohen thought Richard Boone was miscast, but we couldn’t disagree more. Boone is excellent, watchable in every scene, and interest never flags as the story unfolds, which, considering too many made for TV films, is saying something.

   Richard Boone is remembered primarily for his TV series, Have Gun – Will Travel (1957-63; 225 episodes), but if the script called for it he could be the meanest sonuvagun around (e.g., the John Wayne opus Big Jake, 1971).

   The supporting cast is filled with faces you might know but couldn’t put a name to. You probably remember Suzanne Pleshette and Stella Stevens, of course (who wouldn’t?), but there are great character actors here as well: John Marley (e.g., Cat Ballou, 1965), Fred Beir (well over a hundred guest shots, mostly in television), Whit Bissell (over three hundred appearances!), and, next to Bissell, possibly the most familiar face, Paul Smith, who specialized in memorable bit parts everywhere but did have steady work in The Doris Day Show (1969-71; 33 episodes) and a completely forgotten superhero sendup series, Mr. Terrific (1966-67; 17 episodes), as well as No Time for Sergeants (1964-65; 13 eps), The Gertrude Berg Show (1961-62; 18 shows), and Fibber McGee and Molly (1959; 4 episodes).

   Veteran television director Robert Day would go on to work on one of our favorite Levinson & Link efforts, Murder by Natural Causes (1979), which we hope to get to soon.

   Despite the writer’s misgivings, we unhesitatingly recommend In Broad Daylight. It’s a worthy installment in “The Perfect Murder” subgenre.

   

Next Page »