Friday, February 20, 2015

They Call It Murder

One of my favorite actors when I was growing up was Jim Hutton. He wasn't everywhere like some actors so it was always a treat to see him. He was quirky and funny and almost always seemed to be thinking. In 1969, someone got the bright idea that Jim should front his own TV series.

Erle Stanley Gardner's PERRY MASON had been popular for years in books, movies and a perpetually rerun classic TV series begun in the late 1950s. Along with his defense lawyer, though, Gardner also did a lesser-known series of novels about a District Attorney. It seemed like a good fit. 

THEY CALL IT MURDER was made in 1969 as an adaptation of Gardner's book, THE D.A. DRAWS A CIRCLE. It didn't sell and was burned off as a TV movie in 1971 during the height of the TV movie years.

The cast included numerous TV regulars of the time including future comedic superstar (which would have surprised him no end at this point) Leslie Nielsen, Jessica Walter (who would soon get her own mystery movie series, AMY PRENTISS), Jo Ann Pflug (who scored in M*A*S*H the year this was made) and Ed Asner (not long before MARY TYLER MOORE.)

Asner's role is minimal and could almost be described as comic relief if it were actually funny and yet he's played up in latter day releases, even at the expense of Hutton not being listed at all in one case! That one also misspells Jo Ann Pflug's name...and not, as expected, the "Pflug" part!

The problem with the whole thing is that the writing is confusing. I don't know how it compares to its source material but in the end, the D.A, has to explain everything in flashback, with some foreshadowing of Hutton's later (and much better) ELLERY QUEEN. He's the best part here, as the easygoing small town DA, but it's hardly his best work. Sadly, he would die far, far too young at only age 45 just a decade later.

Bottom line, if you liked the stars, it's a mildly enjoyable time filler but you really won't care whodunit (which was easy enough to guess anyway, using standard TV tropes).

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