A wealthy former mental patient goes home to her estate to rest and recuperate. While walking the grounds one day she hears the screams of a woman coming from underneath the ground who has ... See full summary »
Olivia de Havilland,
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There have been a number of excellent films about murder and mayhem occurring in small towns. "They Only Kill Their Masters, "Sherlock Holmes & The Scarlet Claw", "Winter Kills", and "Five Card Stud" come to mind, and this 1973 ABC movie-of-the-week has got to be one of the very best ever made.
An increase in the death rate among the older residents of a small New England community is initially labeled as being due to natural causes. But something about it doesn't feel right to Daniel Barnes, the local chief of police. Barnes, (excellently played by Alan Alda) refuses to believe the official findings and begins an investigation to prove there's something rotten going on in his little town.
The excellent supporting cast includes Will Geer as a nicotine addicted coroner, Louise Lasser of "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" fame as the police station's wise-cracking receptionist, and Ruth Gordon cast to type as a dotty old lady who may be in danger of becoming the next senior to sign off.
Directed by John Badham of "WarGames" fame, the film maintains a superb balance between both the story's darker aspects and the folksy charm of the familial setting and characters. The method of murder alluded to in the movie's title is refreshingly unique and the film's tense climax features some surprising character revelation. There's even an action-packed car chase that, appropriate to the film's setting, takes place in a corn field.
Lane Slate's script is as funny as it is intriguing, and he clearly has a great feel for small town characters. The undeclared courtship between Alda and his receptionist, Lasser, is particularly fun to watch as they joke and natter away about bird watching and other mundane things because neither is willing to risk declaring to the other their true feelings. It's as endearing as it is amusing and the chemistry between these two actors is remarkable.
David Shire's score effectively captures the feel of the rural setting while injecting the right note of menace to reflect the darker and at times melancholy aspects of the story.
ABC Movies Of The Week were quickly shot and a mere 90 minutes in length, but for some reason the 2 hour TV-movies we get today seldom approach the quality of a little classic like this, and that truly is shocking.
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