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This has remained one of my favorite movies of all time. Written by
Richard Levinson and William Link, the creators of "Columbo" and
"Murder, She Wrote," the story takes place in an empty theater as
playwright Alex Dennison stages an elaborate plan to reveal the truth
behind his movie star fiancée's supposed suicide. Cast and crew from
her first, and only stage play performance are gathered together a year
after her death under the pretext of a reading of his new play. As the
scenes are read, it becomes evident that Alex has an ulterior motive in
inviting these people for this "rehearsal." When the group learns that
Alex believes Monica was actually murdered, and that one of them is the
prime suspect, it is only through various methods of duress that they
reluctantly go along with his scheme. Very much like a stage play, each
character is introduced, playing what seems to be a stock part: the
ingénue yearning for stardom; the producer keeping his eye on the
bottom line; the stage director trying to make a name for himself; the
embittered ex-lover; the leading man with an eye for the ladies, and so
on. At the center of the story, Robert Preston is perfect as the
distinguished playwright who has suffered a tragic loss; determined to
prove that the woman he loved was murdered. At times, you can't be
certain that he hasn't simply gone over the edge in his grief.
Jeff Goldblum's face is the only one on the DVD cover, and although he was excellent playing the part of supporting actor Leo Gibbs, this movie truly is a shining example of ensemble performance, with great performances by William Daniels, Lawrence Pressman, Patrick Macnee, and Madolyn Smith. The only discordant note is Lynn Redgrave. Admittedly, playing a character that is only seen in flashbacks and manufactured scenes from a play, it is hard to get a sense of Monica Welles' true nature. Still, the movie was not so much about her, but rather about how others may have seen her from different perspectives, along with their possible motives.
There are many twists and turns, but the clues are there for anyone to see, especially in dialogue. The first and most notable one, is when Alex tells the group about his new play. "Unusual form, a mystery," Alex notes, "You take the audience by the hand, and you lead them... in the wrong direction. They trust you, and you betray them! All in the name of surprise." These words sum up the story perfectly and succinctly, and I'm glad I have the chance to give this movie a hearty recommendation.
Whenever you see the names "Levinson" and "Link" in the writing
credits, you can be assured of a well scripted, unique whodunit, with
plot twists that would give Dame Agatha a run for her money.
" ... unusual form -- a mystery -- you take the audience by the hand and you lead them -- in the wrong direction." Those are the prophetic words of playwright Alex Dennison in this Levinson and Link play within a play, called "Rehearsal For Murder". Dennison (Robert Preston) reunites five show-biz friends, ostensibly to get feedback on his new mystery novel. The real reason for the reunion is to unmask the killer of Monica Welles, Dennison's fiancé, who was murdered a year earlier. Which of the five friends is the killer?
"Rehearsal For Murder" is a filmed stage play, which means that the emphasis is on the crafts of script and acting, both of which here are excellent, and production design which in this case is adequate. The multiple plot twists make the screenplay ingenious, if perhaps a little far-fetched. The entire cast gives a fine performance, though I must confess to a preference for Robert Preston, one of the most credible actors of all time.
There's no heavy duty "message" in this film, no special effects, no cinematic gimmicks. It's just an old-fashioned, entertaining murder mystery for viewers who like whodunits. I have long considered "Murder By Natural Causes" (1979) to be Levinson and Link's best work. But "Rehearsal For Murder" is not far behind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Towards the end of his career, Robert Preston was extremely fortunate.
He had demonstrated on Broadway that he was one of the top talents of
his day, after having been buried in supporting parts for most of his
career in Hollywood. "The Music Man", "The Lion In Winter, "I Do, I
Do", "Mack And Mabel", "Ben Franklin In Paris" were just a few of his
And suddenly he was desirable in Hollywood again. When Lucille Ball made her movie version of "Mame", Preston was Beauregard Burnside. Then he was used in two of Blake Edwards' best films, "S.O.B.", as a cynical Dr. Field-good type, and (best of all) as Toddy in "Victor/Victoria". But on television he did a series of television performances that showed his dramatic/leading man abilities. The two best were "Finnigan, Begin Again" (with Mary Tyler Moore and Sylvia Sidney) and "Rehearsal For Murder".
With a script by "Columbo" creators Richard Levinson and William Link, "Rehearsal For Murder" was about an unsolved slaying in the theater world. During the run of a Broadway production that starred his girlfriend Monica Welles (Lynn Redgrave), dramatist Alex Dennison (Preston) is shocked when she is apparently committed suicide by throwing herself from her window. The police make a thorough (or apparently thorough) investigation, only to find that it was suicide. Dennison won't believe it.
A year later, Dennison invites the cast of the show (Patrick Macnee, Madlyn Smith, Jeff Goldblum) and the play's producer (William Daniels) to the theater that Redgrave's last play was shown at. He presents them with scripts and they proceed to read their parts aloud. Each part illustrates a possible motive for the murder (Macnee made a play for her that she rejected - and he resented; Smith as understudy wanted to have Monica's role - and Goldblum, her boyfriend, might have assisted her; Daniels, not too certain that it would be a success, was looking into the insurance value of the life of his leading lady). Naturally they are discussing how each of them could not possibly be the killer - it must be one of the others. Unknown to them, a man is watching from the audience in the back. It is Laurence Pressman, who is a private detective - and has been invited by Preston to observe the suspects. But inevitably the somewhat bemused Pressman is dragged into the rehearsal. And then things take off.
Given the best of the Columbo episodes, one can see that "Rehersal For Murder" was carefully planned as the former were. The surprises keep popping up, until the final one in a darkened theater - when the identity of Redgrave's killer is revealed. And it is not a disappointing solution for a change. This "whodunnit" was the best suspense film that Robert Preston starred in (not appeared in - "This Gun For Hire" is probably that) in his career. And, as I said before, it helped complete that career with a string of dramatic successes for his reputation.
Alex Dennison, Robert Preston, A top Broadway playwright returns to the
theater where his fiancée Monica Wells, Lynn Redgrave, acted in her
first and last performance on Broadway just a year ago in the comedy
play that Alex wrote for her "Chamber Music". Reflecting back to what
became a tragic night Monica, a movie star, was acting in a play on
Broadway for the first time in her career and was very apprehensive and
nervous about how her performance on stage would be taken by the public
as well as the Broadway critics.
When the play ended to the standing ovation of the theater audience the critical reviews coming in on "Chamber Music" were anything but overwhelming and at a party with everyone involved in the play later that night Monica seemed hurt and depressed. Alex trying to make Monica feel good tells her that no matter what the critics say, which weren't all that bad, about the play that she's not to let it get to her, that bad reviews are a part of life on Broadway, and that she'll always be tops with him. With the party over and everyone gone Monica alone with Alex asks him something the seemed to be a bit strange, if he loved her which of course Alex told her that he did. Later that night Alex gets a phone call from Monica that gets cut off in mid-sentence. Rushing to her apartment he finds that she jumped or fell from her bedroom window an was killed. Hurt and almost in shock Alex just couldn't believe that his Monica would have killed herself which led him to personally investigate her dead and what he found out he put into a play that he wrote with the murder suspects all playing major roles in it.
Using the theater as a backdrop to find out who killed Monica Wells and having the police Leut. MaElroy, William Russ who was in charge of the investigation of Monica's death helping him Alex gathered all the suspects together, who had no idea of what Alex had planned for them, to play their parts in the play which in the end revealed the one who killed Monica.
The movie "Rehearsal for Murder" is so well written with a script that builds to such a unexpected final that you'll immediately want to see the film over again. "Rehearsal for Murder" is so good that it makes movies with surprise endings like "The Usual Subjects" and "Se7en" look like high school plays in comparison. It's amazing watching the movie that every word every action and even every movement fit right into the story like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Who killed Monica? was it her co-star in the play David Mathews, Patrick Macnee, who's advances she turned down? Was it the director of the play LLoyd Andrews, Lawrence Pressman, who was in love with her and thought that Monica was also in love with him and felt betrayed by her when she became engaged to Alex? Was it the producer of the play Walter Lamb, William Daniels, who was to lose $600,000.00 of his own money if the play flopped and could only get his money back if Monica who he heavily insured died during it's run on Broadway? Was it Monica's understudy Karen Daniels, Madolyn Smith-Osborne, who would do anything to get top-billing in the play? or her lover and fellow actor Leo Gibbs, Jeff Goldblum, who would do anything to help her get it?
Powerhouse whodunit that for some reason has been forgotten all these years but after seeing "Rehearsal for Murder" you'll wonder, just like I did, why?
This mystery takes on a new twist when Broadway playwright Alex Dewnnison, (Robert Preston), invites the cast and crew of his new play to a cold reading of the script. However, the participants don't know that their get together is a part of a plan to find out the criminal who killed his lover, Monica Wells, (Lynn Redgrave) and made her death look like a suicide by jumping out of a window in a high rise apartment dwelling. You will never be able to figure out just who the murderer is and this film will keep you glued to your seats. Robert Preston and Lynn Redgrave gave outstanding performances along with the entire cast of actors. Enjoy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The title of this movie could not be more appropriate. A group of theater people is reassembled to recreate the last day of a famous actress.The story is superbly well-written and uses flashbacks to enhance the viewers perception of the narrative. As in most thrillers, everyone is a suspect. The idea, however of the main character to recreate his dead wife's last day of life was amazingly fresh, to say the very least.Bearing this in mind, we are left with all their potential suspects following the scripts of a 'play' that actually re-enacts a crime.There is one person who is not part of the original group of people who has to join them.The solution to this puzzle is not only stunning, but outstanding. The cast was well-chosen with sharp performances.Robert Preston and Madolyn Smith had brilliant moments during a very balanced movie for all the cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nice, old fashioned whodunit, made for TV, featuring a good story,
solid acting, and an ingenious surprise ending.
Successful playwright, Alex Dennison gets a double whammy on the opening night of his latest play. First, the play is a flop. Second, his fiancée, Monica Welles (Lynn Redgrave), is found dead in the bushes outside of her townhouse. The police claim suicide, but Alex is skeptical. Monica may have been upset about the play, but she was hardly suicidal, especially since they were about to be married. And then there was the phone call she made to him the night her body was found - a phone call which was abruptly cut off. The police have nothing to go on, and close the case. But Alex still has his suspicions. A year goes by, and Alex writes a new play - a murder mystery. He invites his friends, all of whom were involved in his previous play with Monica, to a reading of the new script. And it seems that every scene reveals a motive for every actor. Will the play be the thing to catch the conscience of the killer?
This is a beautifully crafted mystery, full of misdirection and red herrings. Everyone has a motive, it seems, and yet the identity of the killer when it is revealed, comes as a complete surprise.
The acting was also top notch. Preston is in fine form in this production, absolutely convincing as the grieving playwright. Redgrave is charming as Monica, a character who can be warm, sweet, and lovable, or scheming, conniving, and nasty depending on the scene she is in. Patrick MacNee, Madolyn Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and William Daniels all offer their usual strong performances. And William Russ does a great job with a role that has several unexpected developments in it.
All in all, a beautiful diversion for an evening when you feel like watching a good mystery.
A superior T V movie, has Robert Preston as a playwright, trying to
convince his friends, that his wife has been murdered,and not as
the police think, that she committed suicide. He rents a theatre,
then proceeds to put on a basics of a new play, in order to bring
the killer to justice.
Any film like this with such a good twist in the tail, is well worth
Dostoevsky is claimed to once have said that if a gun is seen in the
first act of a play then it must be shot with by the third...
This was very true of "Rehearsal For Murder" a made for TV film back in the early 80's with a veteran and sterling cast - including a very angular and fresh-faced Jeff Goldblum, pre-Fly.
The man who carried the show was the late, great, inimitable Robert Preston - while known known to have been in some westerns in the 50s, he shone in the original film of "The Music Man," as he did in "The Last Starfighter" and still to my view Robert Preston earned the Oscar in Blake Edwards' version of "Victor, Victoria" with Alex Karras, Dame Julie Andrews and James Garner (perhaps Karras getting Best Actor In Supporting Role).
I digress, yet Robert carried the show as the aggrieved and lovelorn playwright Alex Dennison, who was convinced his fiancée - played by Lynn Redgrave - was in fact murdered and not a suicide as most folk thought in the movie.
In what appears to be a roleplaying manhunt of a whodunit by Preston/Dennison, you are given the impression he already knows who did the deed - or does he? William "St Elsewhere" Daniels, Patrick "The Avengers" MacNee and ex-Wiseguy alumni William Russ all executed their parts with intricate precision in this mystery that will have you turning every which way until the very last minute and even then you may not see where the plot is heading...
A very well-written script from Richard Levinson & William Link - with a long combined history of writing for hit series like "Murder She Wrote," "Columbo," and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" then it's no mystery why this show if done as a book would be a sure-fire page-turner! http://tinyurl.com/3464k/
REHEARSAL FOR MURDER
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Sound format: Mono
One year after his wife (Lynn Redgrave) died in mysterious circumstances, a grief-stricken playwright (Robert Preston) lures several prime suspects - all personal friends - to a lonely theatre where he proposes to unmask Redgrave's killer by reconstructing events on the night of her death...
Wonderful, old-fashioned murder mystery (written by Richard Levinson and William Link) which pulls an astonishing about-face during its final reel, though not before a number of talented thesps (including Patrick Macnee, William Daniels, Jeff Goldblum and Madolyn Smith) have acted up a storm as chief suspects in a tragic crime. Performances and dialogue are crisp and believable, plot-holes are neatly plugged, and the climactic 'reveal' will knock your socks off! Magical stuff, highly recommended, though viewers are advised to see it 'cold' for maximum effect. Directed by TV veteran David Greene (ROOTS, GUILTY CONSCIENCE, THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD, etc.).
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