Monday, January 19, 2015
Must See Streaming TV Movie of the Week: Mrs. R - Death Among Friends (1975)
Original Airdate: May 20th, 1975
Without knowing much of the history behind the pilot telefilm Death Among Friends (the Mrs. R was added later), it would seem that NBC was hoping that putting a gender twist on their trusty ratings lion Columbo would lead to viewing gold... and maybe they were right. Kate Reid is Mrs. R., a dowdy but undeniably kind and smart female police detective, who along with her uniformed partner, Manny (A. Martinez looking all of 20 years old) investigate the murders surrounding a Hugh Hefner type magnate.
With exteriors filmed on a posh four acre estate in Bel Air, and featuring wonderfully indulgent built interiors, the setting is absolutely marvelous and one can get lost in its lushness. But no worries of staring at the wallpaper too much, because the cast is simply delish. Everyone from Martin Balsam to Lynda Day George to Pamela Hensley to William Smith to Jack Cassidy play potential suspects (or, in Balsam’s case, potential victim), and each one is given a little time to look guilty before Mrs. R. moves on to bigger prey. Clearly, the seasoned actors understand the drill, but even better, they seem to really enjoy going through the motions of this likeable, if not particularly brilliant, mystery.
Random trivia: The house used in Death was on the market at the time of filming. Who was the real estate agent? None other than Donna Douglas aka Ellie May Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies!
Mrs. R, which I am assuming was the potential name of the series, definitely follows the Columbo blueprint: Unassuming middle class detective interlopes on the rich, famous and powerful, using under-the-radar-charm in an effort to get the bad guys to let their guard down. Reid’s role as the indefatigable single mother is a nice fit for seventies television though, so comparisons are noted but not a detriment.
She wasn’t the only unpicked up female detective series of this era either. Stella Stevens gave it a go in 1976’s Kiss Me, Kill Me. Barbara Eden also lent her star power to Stonestreet: Who Killed the Centerfold Model (1977), and Donna Mills teamed up with Quinn Martin for the unsold pilot The Hunted Lady (1977). That’s a lot of blondes with concealed weapons!
And, I’m sure that is just a few of the attempts the networks made in their search to perfect the recipe that made Police Woman, and later, Charlie’s Angels such powerhouses. What I really liked about Mrs. R though is that while the settings ooze decadence, the lead character distinctly lacks that glamour (again... Columbo). There is absolutely nothing wrong with Reid (well, despite the frumpy wardrobe), and she’s perfectly attractive. But she also looks like a single mother working long hours as a cop. And I love that the handsome John Anderson plays her affable co-worker/love interest. Even A. Martinez can’t resist this older woman’s charm, and that’s because Reid is the type of appealing that shines through at any age.
A precursor to Angela Lansbury’s similarly matured charisma as Jessica Fletcher, A Death Among Friends is an absolute delight worth discovering or revisiting. It is available on DVD through Warner Archives, and is currently streaming on Warner Archives Instant.