Usually, we expect small towns to be peaceful quiet places where nothing really exciting happens. But that is not the case in the two television movies we will examine in this Movies of the Week article. First we will look at 1971s Dr. Cook’s Garden were the utopian town of Greenfield, Vermont hides a deadly secret, and 1973s Isn’t it Shocking?, where a small New England town is slowly dying, and so are several of their elderly residents.
Dr. Cook’s Garden (1971): Dr. Leonard Cook (Bing Crosby) has been the doctor in the idyllic town of Greenfield, Vermont, for what seems like forever, but his health is beginning to fade. Dr. James Tennyson (Frank Converse) returns to his hometown to see if he couldn’t convince his mentor and friend to finally retire and let him take over as the town’s doctor. But when a couple deaths occur within the town that seem suspicious to Dr. Tennyson where he begins to notice that only bad people seem to be dying. People who in some way or other are hurting the town or it’s residents. The investigation takes a startling turn which changes the course of the town and the lives of both Dr. Cook and Dr. Tennyson forever. Who is the murderer and who will survive? Watch and find out!
The film is based on the 1967 stage play by Ira Levin and Bing Crosby was praised for his dramatic acting as Dr. Cook. This was only the second non-comical singing role that Bing Crosby did, the first was in The Country Girl in 1955. Frank Converse is also very good as the idealistic and morally upright Dr. Tennyson whose abusive father died when he was a child and was basically raised by Dr. Cook. And Blythe Danner is appropriately cast as Tennyson’s love interest and daughter to one of the victims. I am a fan of Ira Levin’s work (Rosemary’s Baby, Deathtrap), and this does not disappoint. The story is intriguing and poses questions pertaining to morality in a type of vigilantism when murder is for the betterment of humanity.
Isn’t It Shocking? (1973): Daniel Barnes (Alan Alda) is the Chief of Police in a small town in New England. The town itself seems to be on its last legs and most of its residents are elderly or at the least, not young. The death of a woman and her husband a few days apart from each other raises Daniel’s suspicions, but he is assured that they were both from heart attacks and it isn’t uncommon for spouses who have been together for a very long time to die close to each other. But when his friend and fellow police officer, Jesse Chapin (Lloyd Nolan), is also found dead of a heart attack, he knows something isn’t right and orders an autopsy. This leads him and his receptionist, Blanche (Louise Lasser) on the trail of a serial killer who has a list of very specific victims. Can Daniel and Blanche save the remaining people on the list? Watch and find out!
Written by Lane Slate, this film was actually meant to be a series pilot and sequel to the 1972 movie They Only Kill Their Masters. The series was not picked up, and Slate attempted several more times to get similar series on television. The plot is interesting and unlike other mysteries, the audience knows who the killer is from the get-go, but it is the “why” that becomes the mystery to unravel. The performances of Alan Alda and Louise Lasser were very good and had a subtle at times and not so subtle humor to it. Their comical interactions between their characters had a feel of realism and genuine affection. The writing was also witty with its own sense of style. The plot moved at a good pace and had a nice rhythm and the mystery was intriguing and a little sad in the end.
Both these movies reveal death and betrayal within a small town, one being a moralistic view into how far would someone go to make the world a utopia, how many people would you kill? The other shows a town already dying and a serial killer trying to help things along. Each of them is equally as entertaining.
Both of these films are available to watch on You Tube.
Movie of the Week: Small Town Murders
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