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Tim Blake Nelson
Mary Kay Place,
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Lily and her son John live alone in a small town as her husband has been killed fighting the war in France. Or at least that is what she told John, but the arrival of Frank back in the town leads him to find out that she not only has been lying about that but also about the fact that she never married him. When Frank tussles with Lily in her yard she applies for a restraining order, calling on the help of her father (the esteemed judge Stoddard Bell) and his partner (lawyer Harmon Cobb). The case fails and when Frank is found murdered later that night Stoddard is arrested and Cobb has a defence case on his hands.
I decided to watch this film because I quite like TVM mysteries like Columbo and Perry Mason so I figured this courtroom drama would have some of the good qualities I enjoy; also the cast implied that it must have something going for it. The story appears simple enough and indeed that is just what it is the "twists" are dull and the whole thing lacks urgency or indeed any tension or interest. The slow pace and country swagger wouldn't have been a problem if the story had had any depth or vale but it didn't. It is so predictable and obvious rather I assumed that the detail and character must have been important but it wasn't either. A pretty poor outing all round.
The cast that offered so much potential turned out to be unable to raise the material. Matthau essentially trades on the easy, grumpy charm that he always has and is actually enjoyable despite looking as bored by the whole thing as I was. This was his third outing as this character and on the basis of this film I can understand why he threw it in after this. Morgan is OK but is pretty much on autopilot while Zimbalist is reasonably good if not totally convincing. The only one that the script requires to deliver emotions is a young Stahl, who does deliver and is actually pretty good. Hallier attempts to get a chemistry with Matthau (perhaps to ensure she comes back had the series continued) but she falls flat and gives an ordinary performance at best.
Overall this is a poor film. The case has no mystery, tension or urgency and just drifts along slowly. The detail and character is lacking as well, with only the emotional impact on John being interesting. The cast may be famous but only Stahl impresses while Matthau is just reliable. All round a fairly pointless and boring film.
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