By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Two dead old ladies.
Stan (Hector Elizondo) is married to Vera (Salome Jens) while living in a house that’s owned by Vera’s mother Maud (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Maud and Stan do not get along and she uses the fact that Stan can’t find regular employment as a means to belittle him. She also tries to convince Vera to leave him. Stan is aware of this, but can’t seem to do much about it. Then one day Maud’s friend Ethel (Kate Wilkinson) comes for a visit. She arrives while Maud is upstairs taking a nap, and is greeted by Stan, but since she had to walk all the way from the bus station to the house and suffers from high blood pressure, she promptly collapses once she gets inside. Stand decides to use this as an opportunity to get rid of Maud by claiming to the attending physician (Austin Pendleton) that the dead body is his mother-in-law, so when Ethel is taken away for cremation everyone thinks it’s Maud instead. Stan then buries Maud’s body, who he has killed on his own, in his backyard, but this catches the eye of his nosy neighbor Walter (Joseph Maher) who had always gotten along well with Maud and feels Stan’s explanation of what happened doesn’t add-up.
The story is based on the 1971 novel ‘One Across, Two Down’ by Ruth Rendell and while the plot has a sufficient amount of twists the direction, by first timer Arvin Brown, is lacking. It’s not liked it’s bad direction, but it has no finesse and seems meant of TV. It’s no surprise that Brown ended up doing projects exclusively for TV after this one as nothing here is cinematic and approached in such a sterile way visually that it actually detracts from the proceedings.
Elizondo gives a feisty performance that perfectly captures a bitter man going through life with a chip-on-his-shoulder. His arguments and confrontations with Maud lend for some colorful dialogue, but a meddling, cantankerous mother-in-law is nothing new and if anything seems cliched making the material come-off as second-rate and formulaic.
The crime itself isn’t elaborate. In the ‘Columbo’ TV mysteries we’d see the bad-guy pull-off the murder in a way that was carefully thought-out, so the viewer becomes intrigued trying to figure out what flaw the killer overlooked that Columbo will jump on, but here it works in reverse. The crime is spur-of-the moment with a bunch of things that could easily go wrong that will instantly get Stan caught, which isn’t as interesting. Stan is also not a pleasant person, so the viewer is not emotionally invested in him escaping the clutches of the authorities, If anything you remain ambivalent to what happens, which are ingredients that don’t make the movie interesting.
The film does feature a twist ending, but it’s not something one couldn’t have seen coming as it goes overboard telegraphing it. As an episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ it would’ve worked better, but it gets stretched too thin for feature length. The should also not be confused with the George A. Romero film of the same name that came out 30 yeas later.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: July 20, 1976
Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes
Director: Arvin Brown
Studio: B.S. Moss Enterprises