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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

VHS Vednesday: Scene of the Crime

SCENE OF THE CRIME (1984/85). Directed by Walter Grauman and Harry Falk. Starring Orson Welles, Kim Hunter, Markie Post, Dennis Franz, Alan Thicke, and Ben Piazza.

This week's not-on-DVD rental is an interesting little time capsule. It's not a movie, but a collection of three segments from the short-lived television series Scene of the Crime. From the background information I can gather from the IMDB, the series had a most unusual format: Each episode consisted of two stories, the first a play-fair mystery that challenged the audience to identify the murderer, and the second a straightforward suspense narrative in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It's not unreasonable to suppose that this split-personality format contributed to the series' brief run; it might have lasted longer if it had stuck with one or the other.
The VHS compilation features two of the interactive mysteries and one standard story, all introduced by Orson Welles' dry, bemused narration. In the first segment, a manipulative gold-digging bride (Night Court's Markie Post) is found murdered on her wedding day, drowned without any sign of water nearby; in the second, a backstabbing politician (Edward Winter) is bludgeoned to death in his campaign headquarters. The cast of suspects in the two cases include such familiar and diverse faces as Kim Hunter, Henry Jones, Bibi Besch, Dennis Franz, and Alan Thicke. Yes, Alan Thicke.
One interesting feature of the first episode which had apparently been abandoned by the time of the second: After we've heard from all the suspects and have seen all the clues, we hear from a panel of celebrity "guest detectives" offering their deductions. In the newlywed murder case, David Hasselhoff and Merv Griffin share their guesses, while Angela Lansbury (holding one of her J.B. Fletcher books from Murder, She Wrote) declines to reveal who she suspects (on the grounds that it might be embarrassing if she were wrong). Hasselhoff's rambling, nigh-incoherent explanation of the case is perhaps the highlight of the episode.
The final segment, "The Medium Is the Murder" is a more conventional tale, starring Ben Piazza as an advertising executive driven to the brink of madness by his suspicions of his wife's (Playboy Playmate Kathy Shower) infidelity. A decently directed and acted story, but nothing too remarkable.
I much preferred the viewer-challenge mysteries, and wish the series had focused exclusively on them. Perhaps they should have gone even further and made it an actual game show, bringing in contestants (and not just celebrity guests) to try solving the mystery. (Indeed, there had been a reasonably successful '70s British game show along those lines called Whodunnit, although the American version was even more short-lived than Scene of the Crime.)
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Alan Thicke. ALAN-freaking-THICKE!



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