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Bradford Dillman, Peter Donat and Dennis Christopher prove their range
of acting versatility in this episode centering upon a troubled
theatrical production rehearsing at Cabot Cove Playhouse.
Doctor Seth Hazlitt (William Windom) welcomes his old friend, the established and renowned actor David North (Peter Donat), whom Eve Simpson (Julie Adams) is naturally very eager to meet, to the celebrate the reopening of their community auditorium, by staging an historic-flavored Drama.
Kathryn Evans (Maureen Mueller), Jerome Mueller (Keene Curtis) and John (Barry Laws) rehearse among the company, along with David, Eve and Seth, when practice is interrupted by an outburst by Lyman Taggart (Dennis Christopher), who had driven many miles across Maine to audition for a role, for which the powers-that-be deem unsuitable for his offbeat talent and inflated ego, and is forcedly removed from the stage by John.
Eric Benderson (Bradford Dillman in an uncharacteristically intellectually-impaired and unsophisticated role) then appears at the theatre as a former associate of David North, his former Manager, with whom he has been estranged after sharing a falling out of favor, but decides to stay to oversee the production anyway.
Unbeknownst to Seth and the company, David has been experiencing difficult times as his career has spiraled into near oblivion, coupled with a decline in the status of his health, resulting in, or generating from, his growing dependency upon alcohol, causing suspicions to arise during a pre-show cast party, joined by David, Eric, Kathryn, Jerome, Seth, Eve and their good friend and neighbor Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).
When Lyman Taggart crashes this gathering at a Cabot Cove restaurant, Jessica steps in to attempt to calm his neurotic behavior. Lyman then appeals to Jessica to support his need as an unemployed actor to join the cast, but she declines for lack of influence on the matter, and Eric Benderson has Lyman evicted from the premises, causing him to vow revenge upon Eric and Jessica.
Soon afterward, a body is discovered in a backstage dressing room, leading Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak) and Deputy Andy Broom (Louis Herthum) on the trail of the hyperactive and audacious Lyman Taggart, whom they discover fleeing from the Lighthouse Motel, at which Jessica discovers evidence of a mounting fire.
Sheriff Metzger and Deputy Andy, acting on a hunch by Jessica, discover David North, who is overtaken by gas fumes and smoke, in his room, and lead him to safety under the care of Seth.
After re-examining the scenes of the murder and attempted murder, Jessica concludes that the two crimes are connected, but not exactly the way which Sheriff Metzger surmises from his take on the evidence before the "Final Curtain" begins to draw.
The cast is rounded out by Bainbridge Scott as Hostess, John D. Gowans as Relative #1, Bonnie Hellman as 2nd Relative, Don or D.M. Perry as Patient, Ed Morgan as Motel Manager, and Nicholas Shaffer as Bit Player.
This episode marks Julie Adams' ninth of ten "MSW" appearances in the role of Cabot Cove Realor Eve Simpson, this series' most frequent female guest star, as well as Bradford Dillman's sixth of a record-setting eight "MSW" guest roles portraying differing characters. This appearance represents the only television acting credit to date for D.M. Perry, a.k.a. Don Perry. Keene Curtis, debuting in film in 1948, before returning to the stage, then acting on television regularly since 1970, has unfortunately since passed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This episode, in my opinion, is one of the best, if not the best of the Murder,She Wrote series. The performances are excellent, especially Robert Donat as David North. The lines are pitch-perfect creating a brooding, haunted atmosphere which heightens the pathos of North's comeback and inner demons. A play starring the great stage actor David North is being done in Cabot Cove. However, an obsessed fan, money squabbles, and the appearance of David's former manager, Eric Benderson, threaten to ruin the production before it begins. When Benderson is found assaulted backstage and later dies, everyone blames it on the obsessed fan of David. However, Jessica comes to believe a fatal accident years ago is connected to the murder. With a evocative score, the music also deepens the drama. In addition, this episode stands out for alluding to a possible gay relationship in the past, which was scandalous then and still too edgy for national television in 1993. Watch this episode and see why it might be a perfect episode.
Have always been quite fond of 'Murder She Wrote'. It is a fun and
relaxing watch that makes you think as you try to unwind in the
evening. If one wants more complex, twisty mysteries with lots of
tension and suspense 'Murder She Wrote' may not be for you, but if you
want something light-hearted and entertaining but still provide good
mysteries 'Murder She Wrote' fits the bill just fine.
Season 9 to me is one of the weakest and most inconsistent 'Murder She Wrote' seasons, leaning more towards the disappointing with notable exceptions such as "A Christmas Secret". "Final Curtain" is another one of the exceptions. It is occasionally a touch convoluted and occasionally the pace could have been tighter, but it is a very atmospheric episode with one of the season's most compelling mysteries and it is also one of the few episodes of Season 9 and of the latter seasons that is emotionally resonant.
The season has mostly been disappointing for denouements, for every clever one like "The Wind Around the Tower" and "A Christmas Secret" there is also too-easy-to-solve, implausible or poorly acted ones such as (as far as previous episodes go) "Murder in Milan", "The Mole" and particularly "The Dead File". "Final Curtain's" denouement is not only surprising, it is also shocking and actually has both suspense and pathos, one of few cases too where one actually wants Jessica to be wrong and where the killer doesn't come over as that bad a person. It is also a denouement that is solved actually using evidence and not being reliant on coincidence or not-so-clever clues.
"Final Curtain" is also entertaining. The community theatre scenes are intriguingly and entertainingly done and seeing Eve Simpson is always a pleasure, particularly in a scenario that serves the character well and allows her to shine.
Splendid acting also helps. Not just an always terrific Angela Lansbury, William Windom as everybody's favourite curmudgeon doctor, the easy presence of Ron Masak as the never bumbling or pushover Mort and very funny and classy Julie Adams. Bradford Dillman and Dennis Christopher also do great work, but it's a very moving Peter Donat who makes the biggest impression.
Production values are slick and stylish, Cabot Cove is always a pleasure. The music has energy and has presence but also not making the mistake of over-scoring, while it is hard to forget or resist the theme tune.
Writing is amiable and keeps one on their toes guessing, while taking itself seriously at other times without going overboard.
All in all, very good and one of the better episodes of Season 9. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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