Tag Archives: mystery

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

“I can’t listen to too much Wagner. It makes me want to conquer Poland.”

Manhattan Murder Mystery, a 1993 film from Woody Allen, is one of the titles I tend to forget when I recall this director’s impressive list of films. While it’s not as profound as many other of Allen’s films, it’s definitely very good and very, very funny.

manhattan murder mysteryThe film, set in Manhattan, of course, begins with husband and wife Larry and Carol Lipton (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) coming back to their apartment building and running into some neighbours, Paul and Lillian House (Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen). While Larry was looking forward to watching an old Bob Hope film, Carol drags him back to the neighbours’ apartment for coffee and a late night chat. The next few boring hours are spent with the Houses discussing their exercise equipment and Paul House’s stamp collection.

This seemingly uneventful evening becomes strangely significant when Lillian House dies of a heart attack shortly afterwards. Carol’s suspicions are aroused by the fact that Lillian never mentioned heart problems when discussing her exercise equipment, and her low-grade doubt is flamed into action when Carol sees the new widower, Paul. In Carol’s opinion, he’s just too happy, and so much to Larry’s dismay and discomfort, Carol begins to “investigate.”

Since Larry won’t cooperate with Carol’s intense interest in Paul and the possible murder of Lillian, Carol turns to old flame, playwright, Ted Alan Alda). Not only does Ted encourage and participate in Carol’s investigation but he also becomes involved in her long-held dream of opening a restaurant.

Meanwhile Larry begins to confide in a sexy and somewhat obnoxious author, Marcia Fox (Anjelica Houston), and when she advises him to pay more attention to Carol, Larry finds himself on a stakeout.

On one level, Manhattan Murder Mystery is the story about whether or not a murder has been committed, but on another level, there’s a moral to the tale. Larry was very reluctant to meet the neighbours because, after all, meeting neighbours leads to relationships which can often be messy. Larry’s worst fears begin to come true–not only is it possible that he’s living next to a murderer, but he gets mixed up in the possible crime. But even worse than that is the idea that he may lose his wife to someone willing to listen to her theories.

The film presents a world that Woody Allen is extremely familiar with, and it’s a world of affluent intellectuals who discuss their lives and their problems with their shrinks, but it’s also a world in which people may have a little too much time on their hands. Are Carol’s suspicions correct or is she just letting her imagination run wild? Is Paul a murderer or he is just “this guy who gets his jollies licking the back of postage stamps”?

Many of the film’s hilarious scenes allow full scope for Larry’s neuroticism and anxiety as he finds himself getting dragged deeper and deeper into a very uncomfortable situation. He should have stayed home and watched that Bob Hope film. Manhattan Murder Mystery concludes with a homage to Lady from Shanghai.

“Not everyone is up at 1 am watching the porn channel.”

“Claustrophobia and a dead body: A neurotic’s nightmare.”

“I like this woman. She’s lurid.”

“I can’t bluff or lie without giggling.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be cured with a little prozac and a polo mallet.”


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Thursday the 12th (2000)

 Thursday the 12th is a made-for-British television drama that examines the same story through the eyes of four main characters:

Marius Bannister (Ciaran Hinds), an affluent dentist and up-and-coming politician
Nina Bannister (Maria Doyle Kennedy), his unhappy wife
Candice Hopper (Elizabeth McGovern), Nina’s conniving sister-in-law
Martin Bannister (Jim Sturgess) Marius and Nina’s adopted son.

12The film is split into four segments beginning on the day of a swanky party scheduled to take place at the Bannister home. We know from a news report on the morning after the big party that someone in the Bannister household has died under suspicious circumstances; we just don’t know who or how….

Each of the film’s four segments reveals the events of Thursday 12th from early morning until the party that evening. With each segment told through the viewpoint of a different character, we get four slighty different versions of the same events. For example, in one segment, we see Nina running off, but we have no idea where she goes. This information is revealed in a subsequent segment. Also there’s the ‘he said/she said’ scenario. We see the world according to Marius, and then we see his wife’s side of things.

This presentation of alternate ‘truths’ works fairly well for most of the film, but some of it becomes rather repetitive since we go through more-or-less the same incidents four times. While we get the occasional bombshell or revelation through each new telling of the tale, for the most part, the segments are too alike, and after the second segment (Nina’s), I became a bit bored. Also if the ‘he said/she said’ aspects could have been emphasized, the film would have been more intriguing. This tactic would have pursued the idea of exactly what the ‘truth’ is a bit more, but as it stands, Candice (a highly unpleasant character), for example, is unpleasant in all the sequences. We have her number in the first segment, and that really doesn’t change–even when Candice tells her own story! Marius and Nina’s versions had some nice contrasts, but Ithink the film fell down on Candice’s version. Also, there was also a storyline regarding Marius’s relationship with a patient that took up a chunk of the plot but went nowhere.

If you enjoy British television and/or mysteries, Thursday the 12th is worth catching, but I found it less than engrossing–interesting, decent entertainment, but nothing I’d care to see again. Ultimately, all the main characters were a fairly unpleasant selfish lot of tossers, and the four segments became too repetitive to justify their inclusion.  From director Charles Beeson.

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A Mind To Murder (1995)

“Your personal feelings are irrelevant.”

Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh (Roy Marsden) is ordered to investigate the murder of an employee which occurs at the prestigious Steen Clinic. The clinic caters to the wealthy and the privileged, and houses both those with chemical dependencies and those with serious mental problems. With a handful of brittle suspects, Dalgliesh tries to solve the crime. He’s hampered in his efforts by superiors who clearly want the case wrapped up as quietly and as quickly as possible.

A Mind to Murder is one of the least satisfying Dalgliesh mysteries, and this is mainly due to the plot. This made-for -elevision film begins with a tragic event, and then moves onto the seemingly unconnected murder at the Steen Clinic. The plot contains several holes, which are never explained to one’s satisfaction. Another problem with the plot is its setting–a clinic full of troubled patients very quickly boils down to one suspect, and while this character’s acting is good, the character’s problem itself seems a little too blatant and simplified for my tastes. A Mind to Murder–based on a P.D. James novel– at 101 minutes is also considerably shorter than most of the other Dalgliesh mysteries. The tangled truth at the bottom of all the disruption at the clinic is vastly interesting, and it certainly raises some questions for discussion, but A Mind to Murder does not possess the quality of other Dalgliesh mysteries. Ultimately, some aspects of the film seem somewhat hurried, and the over-the-top ending is a bit silly. If you’re a newcomer to Dalgliesh, I recommend starting with another, more enjoyable episode first.

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An Unsuitable Job for a Woman Set 1 (1982)

For British mystery fans

When private detective Pryde commits suicide, he leaves his business to protege, Cordelia Gray. Cordelia (Helen Baxendale) struggles to maintain the business and solve the cases brought to her. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (set 1) is composed of 2 stories on a total of 3 videotapes. The total viewing time for these tapes is 330 minutes.

Fans of British detective made for television films and/or mysteries should prepare themselves for a treat. In the first story, Sacrifice Cordelia is employed to investigate the suicide of a young man named Mark. Mark dropped out of university and took a job as a gardener at a remote house. A few weeks later, he was found hanging in a cottage–an apparent suicide. Mark’s father, a researcher, employs Cordelia to establish the reasons for Mark’s suicide, but Cordelia isn’t so sure that Mark committed suicide. She soon sniffs the possibility of murder.

In the second episode The Last Embrace, the female owner of a huge, fancy hotel employs Cordelia. The hotel owner claims that her husband is a monster, guilty of harassing female staff and then buying them off when they dare complain. Divorce is in the air, and evidence of chronic infidelity will determine who gets possession of the hotel. Cordelia is employed to go undercover working at the hotel, and essentially, she is bait for the husband. The husband is quite a charmer, and he swears his wife is the one with the fidelity problem. Soon, a corpse pops up, and Cordelia’s loyalties are in question.

The title, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman says it all. Early on in the series, a man tells Cordelia that the career of a private detective isn’t very suitable for a female. And that idea remains a tantalizing idea throughout the series. Cordelia isn’t a perfect private detective–in fact she makes mistakes–rather big ones. And these mistakes usually occur when she allows her heart (which isn’t exercised very much in her personal life) to overrule her head. And it’s her head that’s supposed to be running things here. In the first story, Cordelia finds herself becoming inordinately involved in Mark’s death. She realizes that she would have really liked him had she ever had the opportunity to know him, and this makes her leave her objectivity behind. Cordelia also manages to alienate people she questions. Her questions are usually rather naked and invasive. People who could help Cordelia find her annoying or repellent. She remains something of a curiosity to others. Cordelia is a young, attractive woman. In other circumstances, she should have a social life, friends, boyfriends, and family. But Cordelia has no one–nothing, and this exposes her vulnerability. At one point, she visits a university, and it’s a poignant scene. The Elysian days of scholarly pursuit are not for Cordelia. Not a word is spoken about this, but we realize that Cordelia recognizes that she never had this opportunity and never will.

Cordelia does have a faithful sidekick, of sorts. Edith Sparshott (Annette Crosbie) is her secretary–rapidly promoted to the position of personal assistant. Edith plays a protective, motherly figure. She’s savvier than she appears, and what she doesn’t know about Cordelia, she accurately guesses. An Unsuitable Job For a Woman is the sort of mystery in which the mystery itself isn’t of paramount importance; it’s the characters that matter. The stories and characters are based on PD James novels–although apparently, the author does have some problems with the manner in which her literary creation of Cordelia Gray is handled. Fans of British mysteries should really enjoy this well-acted series, and the actress Helen Baxendale delivers a great, yet subtle, performance as Cordelia.

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Original Sin (P.D James–Adam Dagleish Mystery) 1997

 “Do you believe a building can be infused with evil?”

original sinOriginal Sin is a made-for-television Inspector Dalgliesh mystery based on a P.D. James novel. The mystery begins with a suicide that occurs at Peverell Press, a respectable London based publishing house. Dalgliesh is called in to investigate the hate mail received by the partners of the firm. Peverell Press partners include the timid Francis Peverell (Amanda Root), James de Witt (Jonathon Coy), Gabriel Dauntsey (Ian Bannen), a former WWII pilot and one-time poet, Claudia Etienne (Cathryn Harrison), and her brother, Gerard Etienne (James Wilby). Peverell Press has been in existence for more than 200 years, and it is located in the splendid Venetian style palace, Innocent House. Innocent House has a tragic and sordid history, and it seems that more tragedies have yet to occur there. The partners are at odds with one another when it comes to determining the future of Peverell Press. Most people are very unhappy with the involvement of Gerard Etienne. Gerard is particularly loathed by those at the press–and this includes long-time author Esme Carling (Sylvia Sims), and Gerard’s pitiful secretary, Miss Blackett (Carolyn Pickles). Gerard is cruel and dictatorial. He has many enemies, and he certainly isn’t worried about creating more. In spite of the fact that Dalgliesh is involved in the case, the body count mounts …

The plot is through and well developed. All the suspects are interesting characters, and the acting is top-notch. The mystery is intense until the end of the film. The ending raised many questions; this is somewhat unfortunate. The majority of the film was excellent, and I was rather intrigued by the thought of all this murder taking place within the publishing community. Oh well, most of this 150 minute long DVD was great entertainment, and fans of British mysteries should enjoy the film.

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The Blackheath Poisonings (1992)

 Victorian mystery

The 3 hour-long BBC television production The Blackheath Poisonings is a period piece set in Victorian England. It concerns the Collard and Vandervent families–joined by marriage and a toy manufacturing business. The extended families all live together in the sumptuous family mansion, and the matriarch, Harriet Collard (Judy Parfitt) rules everyone with a rod of iron. Harriet has three children: Beatrix who is married to Roger, Georgie who is married to Isabel, and old maid Charlotte. Charlotte cast her eyes on the unreliable adventurer, Robert Dangerfield–a match most members of the family find quite unsuitable.

blackheath poisoningsThe atmosphere in the Collard/Vandervent mansion is suffocating and oppressive at best. All the inhabitants find methods of release, and some of the habits are inevitably destructive. It seems two of the family–related by marriage–are indulging in a passionate love affair under the very noses of everyone else. But just as the affair may be revealed, one of the family members dies a horrible death. Is it “gastric misadventure” as the puffy, old family doctor announces, or is poison the cause of death?

The sets, costumes and acting of this BBC production are all, as always, impeccable. The plot is initially very strong and compelling. Everyone is a suspect, everyone has a motive, and this makes for a fascinating story. The plot very cleverly plays with all the suspects, so that at first you think perhaps it’s one character, but then suspicion shifts to someone else. However, the denouement is far too rapid, disjointed and choppy. After the truth is revealed, the explanation seems preposterous. Many unanswered questions remain and consequently one is left with the lingering feeling of disappointment.

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Malice Aforethought (2005)

 “I miss your healing hands.”

maliceThere is a point in all unhappy marriages when a certain pleasure is derived from making one’s spouse miserable. Dr. and Mrs. Bickleigh have reached that point. Set in the picturesque coastal British village of Wyvern’s Cross, Malice Aforethought is the story of the Bickleigh’s miserable marriage, and how Dr. Edmund Bickleigh (Ben Miller) decides to free himself from it.

It is the consensus of village gossips that Julia Bickleigh (Barbara Flynn) married beneath her. Julia, a rigid snob, who never fails to mention her family connections, agrees that her husband is a lowlife. Every chance Julia gets, she exposes her much younger husband to ridicule and public humiliation. It’s a way of making him behave. Dr. Bickleigh may have his professional status, but his roots are humble. Julia’s continuous insults always reach their target, and Bickleigh engages in a series of affairs as a form of defiance. The Bickleighs’ bad behaviour–her insults and his affairs–serve as a balance system in their relationship.

Bickleigh’s current amour is Ivy Ridgeway (Lucy Brown), and their affair is common knowledge–although Bickleigh and Ivy imagine it’s their little secret. Into this domestic maelstrom enters Madeleine Cranmere (Megan Dodds)–a glamourous bohemian whose artistic pretensions match Bickleigh’s. To Bickleigh’s smitten heart, Madeleine makes Ivy look like a dull country maid. Bickleigh promptly dumps Ivy and pursues Madeleine.

Madeleine, however, isn’t as naïve or as plaint as Ivy, and she also states that she can’t possibly marry a divorced man. Bickleigh concludes that Julia is standing in between him and happiness ….

If you are a fan of British mysteries (this one is set in the 20s), then you won’t be disappointed in Malice Aforethought. Bold characterizations mix with strong drama and a touch of black humour to produce 180 minutes of solid entertainment. The acting is excellent, the sets splendid, and the village scenery quite beautiful. But it’s the small touches that make this an excellent film–the maliciousness of the village gossips–two seemingly innocent elderly ladies, for example who parrot each other’s condemnations of the local doctor. Another humourous aspect is Dr. Bickleigh’s perception that he’s well thought of in the village. The Dr. and the seductive vamp, Madeleine deserve each other. The film is based on a novel by France Iles. If you enjoy Malice Aforethought, I also recommend Dandelion Dead.

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Summer’s Lease (1989)

“We hear you’re going bush in Tuscany.”

In Summer’s Lease, Molly Pargeter (Susan Fleetwood) responds to an advertisement for a villa for rent in Tuscany. The advert stresses that the villa is ideal for a family with three girls–and since the Pargeters have 3 girls, Molly feels that the villa is somehow destined for them. Molly overrules her husband’s disinterest and reluctance and insists they lease the villa for the summer. Husband Hugh (Michael Pennington) doesn’t want to leave his mistress, so he resents the holiday and sees it as a test of his endurance. Molly’s elderly father, lascivious columnist Haverford Downs (John Gielgud) wheedles his way into the family holiday–much to everyone’s dismay.

When living in the house that belongs to another, there’s a temptation to begin assuming you understand its previous occupants. Molly immediately feels a bond to her absent landlord, Mr. Kettering. His taste in art echoes her own, and Molly becomes so curious about Kettering, she decides that she’d like to meet him. But there’s a mystery afoot. Mr. Fosdyke (Leslie Phillips), a member of the bizarre ex-pat British community appears in Kettering’s place to collect the rent, and no one seems to know where the Ketterings have gone. When Molly discovers a cryptic note hidden in one of Kettering’s books, her curiosity is piqued.

The mystery of the Ketterings’ disappearance is set against the domestic life of the Pargeters. Hugh’s affair causes disaffection and lack of involvement with his family, and as a result, Molly becomes distracted by her interest in the Ketterings. Her marriage problems are too elusive and painful to face, so instead she embarks on solving the mystery at hand.

Based on the novel by John Mortimer, Summer’s Lease is composed of four 55-minute episodes. This BBC production is well acted for the most part–although several of the Italian characters are a little overdone. John Gielgud as Molly’s old rake father delivers the best performance, and adds some tasty, witty moments to the film. He can be relied on to say the most insufferably inappropriate things at precisely the most embarrassing moments. As he wisely observes, “the truth is probably the least important thing about us.” The main problem with Summer’s Lease is found with the mystery portion of this drama. The mystery drives the plot forward, and yet it remains overly complicated, muddled and ultimately unsatisfying. But in spite of its flaws, for lovers of British television, Summer’s Lease is worth watching. From director Martyn Friend.

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