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.