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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Great Detective Movies (BFS)

Great Detective Movies (BFS)


                                               Picture:     Sound:     Extras:     Film:

They Call It Murder (1970)            C-             C             D           B

Murder Once Removed (1971)      C               C             D           B-

A Tattered Web (1971)                C               C             D           C+



Detective films are slowly making their way to DVD, which is good, because there are more underrated films (including many a TV movie) in that genre than any other.  It was the most popular storytelling when B-movie series arrived in the 1930s, and again when TV discovered how to do feature-length films for broadcast. 


They Call It Murder stars Jim Hutton as The D.A., Doug Selby.  This was the second most successful character created by the great Erle Stanley Gardner, best known for the phenomenally successful Perry Mason.  Of the other seven characters Gardner created, Selby was the only one he decided to do more than one novel over.  From 1937 to 1949, nine full-length mystery books were written and Selby loved reading mystery books while solving the real thing.  Winning his office in a close election in Madison County, California, this D.A. gets on the case and does not let go.


With the Perry Mason series having made a huge star out of already-known Raymond Burr and being an incredibly ling-running hit, it is no surprise all involved hoped lightning would strike twice.  As exceptional as this telefilm is, it very sadly did not.  What is here is one of the best TV detective features still to this day.  Not only does this have a very solid, well-written teleplay by Sam Rolfe (from the 1939 Gardner novel The D.A. Draws a Circle), it has a very strong cast.  Not only is Hutton perfect, you also have Edward Asner, Lloyd Bochner, Leslie Nielsen, Vic Tayback (both before their comic successes), Jo Ann Pflug, Jessica Walters (quoting literature as she later would in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 directing debut Play Misty For Me), Nita Talbot and Norman Burton.  Sam Rolfe developed this as a potential pilot, with Gardner himself as an advisor for Fox.  Hutton never played the role again, but had a little more luck in Ellery Queen a few years later, also on TV.


There are a few unintended hoots, and you have your usual red herrings, but it is a fine showing by producer/director Walter Grauman, who had episodes of The Untouchables, The Fugitive, and The Twilight Zone in their original incarnations.  Though this did not lead to a Columbo-like success for all involved, Grauman soon found himself doing the pilot and many other episodes of the soon-to-be hit police drama The Streets of San Francisco.  Most everyone involved also found more success, including Burton, who became Felix Leiter soon after in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.


Before he was the voice of Charlie for what has developed into a multi-generational Charlie’s Angels franchise and became the ever-bitter Blake Carrington on the nighttime soap opera camp classic Dynasty, John Forsythe was a killer doctor who could have given Jack Kevorkian a run for his money in Murder Once Removed.  Forsythe did the very first TV movie and was only rivaled by Darren McGavin as its early king.  This doctor makes his deadly house calls (no wonder they went out of style) to only the wealthiest of patients.  Joseph Campanella, Barbara Bain, Lucille Benson, and Richard Kiley are among the notable cast.  Irving Gaynor Neiman’s teleplay drags a bit because it takes too long to the next plot point, but it has its moments.  The cast helps it out and it is still better than what TV usually gives us today, and director Charl3es S. Dubin does not hurt either.


Lloyd Bridges always had luck with TV, and A Tattered Web is one of the telefilms he did long after he established himself with the hit series Seahunt.  A Tattered Web has Bridges as a Detective Sgt. Ed Stagg who finds out his son-in-law is no good, going around cheating on his daughter.  To try to keep her happy, his side snooping quickly has him going over the edge. 


Frank Converse, Murray Hamilton, Broderick Crawford, John Fiedler, Val Avery, and Whit Bissell make up the supporting cast.  Fiedler is underused, and that is a glaring problem.  Art Wallace’s teleplay is set up good, but there is no actual mystery here.  It is more like a police procedural with the audience knowing one of them is purposely screwing with the case.  Director Paul Wendkos was also a TV veteran, rounding out this “old school” set of TV movies.


The full frame image is average on all the TV movies, except on the best of them, They Call It Murder.  That has a print where the Eastmancolor is going bad.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on all is also average, with some optical flutter for a few minutes on They Call It Murder.  I do not know what Fox has done with the original materials, but it would be nice if they fixed this one up the way they did the Hour of Stars series shown on their Fox Movie Channel.  There are no major extras, but the usual, limited text pieces (bio/filmographies, trivia) are included.  For the price, this is not bad and those who like this genre will still want to take a look at it.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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