Murder Ordained (1987 TV Movie)
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Keith Carradine is state trooper John Rule who investigates the auto "accident" in which Mrs. Bird is killed. He's not a homicide investigator but he knows accidents and is certain that this was no accident. Rule pushes and pushes his investigation and runs into bureaucratic stone walls. His superiors only get interested in re-opening the case when Williams' husband is murdered along a highway.
The acting in this picture is pretty good and look out particularly for John Goodman, who plays a sheriff investigating the second murder, and future Oscar winner Kathy Bates as a reporter. Carradine plays Trooper Rule with a very plain Kansas doggedness---think of perhaps Sheriff Andy Taylor doing a murder investigation but without any humor or bumbling deputy tagging along.
I've looked up info about the real-life case and the movie. The two killers, Anderson and Bird, served very extended prison sentences but were eventually paroled and then released from any parole restrictions. Both were married and Bird is, weirdly enough, a marriage counselor now. Anderson still insists that it was Bird who killed her husband even though he got acquitted of that murder. Even stranger, Anderson's children are very reconciled to her despite her involvement in the murder of their father.
The movie seems to have been as controversial in Emporia as the murders themselves. The movie came out before Bird's trial in the Martin Anderson murder and the investigators in that case didn't want to participate in any movie lest they ruin their case. So the filmmakers pumped up the role and involvement of Trooper Rule to make him a far bigger hero than he was in the real investigation. The town paper's journalist (the Kathy Bates character) later became mayor of Emporia and she said that Rule's role was extremely overblown and that it was actually a confidential informant who got the insider story to the press, not Rule. Over 25 years later, there still seemed to be a lot of resentment about how the movie portrayed the story. A weird side-note, the then Governor of Kansas appeared in the movie but as an extra, someone walking in at the newspaper office.
None of the Emporia churches wanted anything to do with the movie so the exterior and interior scenes of the church were shot in Lawrence, Kansas. The movie does do an excellent job of picking up and depicting the rhythms of small-town Kansas life. Filmed entirely in Kansas locations, Kansas itself becomes a character in the story in much the same way that the character of the state was the back drop of the earlier true-crime movie, "In Cold Blood". Both movies depict cruel murders being committed by sociopaths and being confronted by the virtuous, pious, quietly hard-working small town Kansans.
This is an excellent movie and one I've seen many, many times. JoBeth Williams as Lorna and Terry Kinney as Pastor Tom Bird are particularly well-acted. Ms. Williams' performance reveals the immature, promiscuous needy woman behind Lorna and Mr. Kinney's performance shows the hypocricy and pride hidden just beneath the veneer of the good pastor. It also shows the transformation from a wholesome, excellent minister to a greedy, prideful conniving man.
The only drawback is that, since it was made in 1987, the same year Lorna was eligible for parole, we have no idea of what has happened to the cast of characters. Tom is in jail and their children are living with their uncle but what about Lorna? Is she still married to the choir singer she met? Are John and Lorraine Rule still together? How are the Bird children doing today - 20 years after their mother's murder? Perhaps this movie isn't the place to find the answers to those questions but I still am curious about this.
In one long flashback that covers the year before the wife's death in a presumed accidental traffic mishap, the script meticulously evolves the sordid relations leading up to the tragedy and the suspicion of one highway patrolman that this was no accident. In time, an ongoing tangle of lurid involvement between the preacher and his attractive church secretary leads others to the same conclusion.
As the truth of a conspiracy starts to emerge and with law enforcement closing in, the confidently smug pastor, Tom Bird (Terry Kinney) reassures his panicky co-conspirator, Lorna (JoBeth Williams) that everything will be okay. "Endureth all things, Lorna ... didn't God test Abraham in the same way?" Of course, his naïve parishioners stand by their man, no matter what.
On-location filming in Kansas adds to the realism, as does court transcripts of some dialogue. Cinematography, production design, casting, and acting are all high quality. Editing is especially impressive. Yes, it's a long film, but the complex story involves conspiracy, murder, hit men, adultery, and possible incompetence in public office.
The subject matter is unusual in that we don't normally think of a preacher as a murderer. That only happens in fictional stories. Yet the unbelievable is precisely what makes this film so mesmerizing. The events really happened. For that reason alone "Murder Ordained" is worth watching.
John and Loraine Rule are still happily married, and both retired.
Tom Bird and Lorna are both on parole now. Feel free to do an internet search. I believe Tom is a family therapist. Go figure.
There was a book written "Caged Bird" I think. John Rule read it, "I am even more convinced he is guilty now" Everyone needs a cause though and I guess Tom Bird was theirs. Good luck to them, we was trust once before. Did not work out too well for Sandra.
Jason Rule "the youngest son"
And no, the part with the window never happened.