Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Murder On Ice" - Quincy, M.E. - 1983

“Murder on Ice” brings a veteran cast together in a snowbound lodge in this episode number 19, season eight of Quincy, M.E., fun for the familiar faces and the tightly written whodunit.  Star Jack Klugman as the intrepid medical examiner is on his honeymoon with his bride, played by Anita Gillette.  There’s nothing like a romantic getaway full of unexpected guests and a few murders to put the damper on romance.

Broadcast March 9, 1983, here Ann Blyth, 54 years old when she played the role of a court psychiatrist, is married to a judge.  They own the mountain lodge where the episode takes place.  The judge invited Quincy to use the vacation home for his honeymoon.  When Jack Klugman and bride arrive—via a horse-drawn sleigh driven by longtime stage and TV inebriate Foster Brooks, they do not expect Ann to be there, and she, trudging through the snow with her skis over her shoulder, did not expect them.  She shakes her head in knowing chagrin, as her husband the judge, a hail-fellow-well-met sort of guy, is always pulling surprises like this, inviting guests without telling her.  But it’s a big place and there’s plenty of room in this rustic hideaway with its wood paneled walls, rough beams, log railings, fireplaces everywhere and a wood box for kindling every three feet.  Very cozy in a do-it-yourself sort of way.

The three of them are, in turn, surprised by arrival of Lola Albright and Robert Alda, also invited by the judge.  I like Miss Albright’s line about Jack Klugman’s entrance on a sleigh, “I might have known it was you arriving like Dr. Zhivago.” 

Mr. Alda, 69 years old here, thought he was going to get to do some hunting, and Miss Albright, a lovely 57 years old here, thought the judge had set her up for a job interview.  Pretty soon, Dane Clark, 70 years old here, shows up, another surprised guest, thinking he was invited for a seminar.  I mention their ages because it’s so refreshing to see an older cast not playing “old,” but playing people dealing with careers, marriages, fun, sorrow, envy, lust, greed—which most TV and movie roles seem to feel are situations best left to younger people, as if people over 40 years old are utterly without dimension.

Lola Albright still twinkles with those big blue eyes and sly smile, a lot of Edie the sultry jazz singer from Peter Gunn ever charmingly present.  Ann’s reddish-brown fashionably curly perm complements the confident, professional woman she plays.  It’s amazing how drastic the change in hair and makeup from only the four years’ difference between this Quincy episode and the one we discussed last week here, shot in 1979, in which she appeared fey and matronly.  Everything’s fashion-forward in the new decade.  All the women and men are dressed in stylish sport clothes to cue us that the casual drapery of the 1970s has been booted out for an entirely new and vibrant makeover.  These folks are not playing retired has-beens; they’re the movers and shakers of their professions.

So far the story begins a little like the Agatha Christie ploy in And Then There Were None, where a group of strangers arrive at a remote location, all invited by the missing host.  The difference here is the characters are not strangers.  They have all met before as professional colleagues in the court system.  

And their host is not missing.  He’s dead.

The episode was filmed at Lake Tahoe, so we get some snowy scenery, and with the roads blocked (aided by a snow cannon that causes an avalanche) they are sufficiently isolated—and sufficiently trapped, leaving them at the mercy of a killer.  The judge, found buried in the avalanche, is soon suspected by Jack Klugman, who just can’t stop being a medical examiner even on his honeymoon, of being murdered by something else.  As his distressed bride exclaims when he wants to examine the corpse, “What is this, a busman’s holiday?”

Still puzzling over why the judge should have invited them all here for different purposes, it’s Lola Albright who figures out that they all have a particular connection with each other:  They are all united by their involvement with a specific criminal case.  In a high-stakes white-collar crime caper, they all helped in one way or another to put an embezzler in jail.  Lola Albright was the prosecuting attorney.  Robert Alda and Dane Clark were the investigating detectives.  Jack Klugman testified in court as a forensics expert, and the deceased judge tried the case and sentenced the bad guy to prison.

And the bad guy escaped from prison a year ago and has been on the run since.

Which explains the shadowy figure in a dark ski suit we see sneaking around.  He’s back for revenge.

But wait, there’s more going on here.  Ann Blyth and Lola Albright are decidedly cool with each other.  Ann’s late husband, the judge, was a notorious philanderer and had an affair with Lola.  Ann, not as much the grieving widow as the bone tired widow: “He certainly gave me enough reasons over the years to stop loving him.  I doubt that he ever loved me.”  She is stony and resigned.

Mr. Alda carries his hunting rifle to bed, and sits awake, flinching at every noise in the night.  There is some professional jealousy afoot.  He complains that his colleague Dane Clark is a hotshot who grandstanded for credit in the old case.  We will eventually learn that neither detective, nor even the judge, was squeaky clean when it came to the embezzlement investigation.  They each succumbed to bribes and a cover-up.  

We have our middle of the night everybody-running-around-in-their-jammies-and-bathrobes scene when the power goes out, and at one point Quincy’s bride boots him out of the bridal chamber so Ann Blyth can bunk with her instead, since it’s not safe in this lodge when another dead body is found.  There will be more gruesome discoveries before the episode ends, and they realize that, though the escaped convict, played by Raymond Mayo, finally makes his chilling appearance, he is not the only killer loose.  One of them is also a killer.

Is it Ann, the not-so-grieving widow?  Or Lola Albright, who was thrown over, many times, by the judge for other mistresses?  The rivalry of Dane Clark and Robert Alda, each with something to hide?  Or did the mute caretaker, played with gentle shyness by Henry Gibson have something to do with it?  He rides off in an exciting snowmobile chase with the escaped convict.

And then the judge’s overnight bag turns up with an interesting document inside for which one or more of them are willing to kill.

Just as we discussed in last week’s episode, I don’t normally give the ending away in a mystery, but I’m going to here again.  Muhwa-ha-ha-ha-ha. After the break of the next several lines, I’m going to talk about the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers, run away now.  Put your snowshoes on.  Hurry up.  C'mon, c'mon, c'mon.


Still here?  

Okay.  It’s Ann.

Which, once again, is probably why she took this gig.  “I get to kill again?  Sign me up!”

It’s those quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for.

She makes a formidable opponent for Jack Klugman because she is intelligent and fixed things up pretty cleverly, except for the misplaced grocery receipt, which was stupidly careless, either of her or the writers.  But Jack gathers the remaining suspects together and calmly unravels the plot.  Ann’s whimpering cry, burying her face in her hands is the picture of despair of a woman whose one attempt to get the better of her unfaithful husband, not just to murder him, but to top him for spite over stolen diamonds, has come crashing down around her.

Quincy, M.E. season eight is not out on DVD yet, but probably will be eventually.  Right now you can watch it on Netflix.  Sorry about no screen caps this time around.

Come back next Thursday when we celebrate Halloween with an eerie episode of The Twilight Zone from 1964, where Ann pulls out all the stops playing a flashy, mysterious woman who does not seem to age, no matter the fashions or the decade.

Times-News, (Henderson, N.C.) , February 28, 1983,  p. 12.
Bon Voyage to Ann Blyth and all the happy wanders currently on board in this year's TCM Classic Cruise.

Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.

Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.
 THANK the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.
TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

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