This is, admittedly, very similar to a previous video, but this one is one hour long instead of two! And it covers how to keep an acquaintanceship ambiguous in order to create space for the two people to get to know each other without having to make rush judgements.
Some day I will break this into several videos by specific subjects, and with God’s grace they’ll be like 15 minutes each…
Published in 1935, Three Act Tragedy was the eighth novel by Agatha Christie to feature Hercule Poirot. It is unusual among (early) Poirot novels in that Poirot is not the main detective in the story.
The basic setup is that Famed Actor Sir Charles Cartwright is hosting a dinner party at which Poirot is attending (I can’t recall why Poirot was in the neighborhood; he might have been retired at this point) and one of the attendees of the party—a charming older vicar—keels over dead with no obvious cause. A few months later, one of the other attendees at the party, a psychiatrist by the name of Sir Bartholomew Strange, keels over dead at a party at his own house in the same way. This time instead of attributing it to heart trouble, it is discovered that he died of nicotine poisoning. Sir Charles and another of the guests, Mr. Satterthwaite, investigate, along with a precocious young woman who goes by the nickname Egg. The three occasionally consult with Poirot during their investigation, which is his involvement until he reveals the murderer at the end.
NOTE: there are spoilers after this point.
This book was very much about the theater, or at least about theatrics. It begins and ends with theatrics, and much of it is taken up with the theatrical personality of Sir Charles Cartwright. It is even divided into three acts which are titled, in theatrical terms, Suspicion, Certainty, and Discovery. It’s a bit hard to relate to this; stage actors are a different breed from movie actors. By 1935 movies were well on their way to replacing the theater as the dominant form of acting-based entertainment, but this novel was not really about 1935. Sir Charles had retired from the stage by now; Three Act Tragedy was about the aftermath of things that had been, not things that are currently.
The most memorable scene, to me, was Sir Charles employing his acting skill to reconstruct what the butler Ellis had done based on clues and to find the sheets of paper which no other detective had found. It’s a vivid scene, but it is diminished in the recollection by the fact that Sir Charles had planted the papers there himself, and Ellis had not, in fact, been interrupted.
The story is well constructed and like most Christies, the plot is original and clever. The murder of the vicar being a dress rehearsal for the murder of Dr. Strange was certainly an original motive for murder and yet a plausible one. Not so plausible when described as Sir Charles following his actor’s instincts and doing a dress rehearsal, but if it’s not presented so theatrically, testing out a type of poisoning which is supposed to go undetected on a victim to whom one has no motive to kill him is reasonable, if diabolical. But demons still have their reason, and it makes sense.
It’s also curious that this book ends with an explanation that was probably much inquired about Poirot:
“You’ll excuse me—” said Mr. Satterthwaite.
“Yes, there is some point you wanted explained to you?”
“There is one thing I want to know.”
“Why do you sometimes speak perfectly good English and at other times not?”
“Ah, I will explain. It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say—a foreigner—he can’t even speak English properly. It is not my policy to terrify people—instead I invite their gentle ridicule. Also I boast! An Englishman he says often, ‘A fellow who thinks as much of himself as that cannot be worth much.’ That is the English point of view. It is not at all true. And so, you see, I put people off their guard. Besides,” he added. “it has become a habit.”
That is not the actual ending, though. A little after this comes the true ending:
Mr. Satterthwaite looked cheerful.
Suddenly an idea struck him. His jaw fell.
“My goodness,” he cried, “I’ve only just realized it. That rascal, with his poisoning cocktail! Anyone might have drunk it. It might have been me.”
“There is an even more terrible possibility that you have not considered,” said Poirot.
On the thirtieth day of October in the year of our Lord 1988, the second episode of the fifth season of Murder, She Wrote aired. Titled A Little Night Work and set in New York City, it features the introduction of the recurring character Dennis Stanton, though he may not have been intended as a recurring character in this episode. (Last week’s episode was J.B. As In Jailbird.)
The scene opens at a party in a hotel. (The party has something to do with celebrating the candidacy for the senate of business magnate Axel Weingard.) Here is Axel and his wife Marta:
They make it clear in a few short sentences that they are both loathesome people, the sort that make one regret that Murder, She Wrote almost never has a double-murder in it.
A couple who they know come over and the woman gushes over Marta’s necklace. The man asks if it’s wise for Marta to actually wear the necklace, especially in New York City. Axel says that normally he would agree, but in this case they live in the hotel (top floor), so Marta won’t be wearing it on the streets.
As Axel walks off, a busboy named Andy looks at him ominously:
I think this puts the probability of one of Axel or Marta being killed at about 99%, and the odds that Andy did it at about 0.1% but the odds that he’s suspected of it at at least 80%.
Next Theo Wexler, played by Klinger Jamie Farr, comes up and introduces himself to Axel.
He’s a literary agent, and, as it turns out, he’s Jessica’s new agent. He calls Jessica over as she walks into the room and introduces her to Axel (one of the businesses he’s in charge of is Windsong House, which is, presumably, a publisher). Axel is delighted to meet her, but when Theo tries to talk business he is very stern that he conducts business during business hours. I’m not sure if the idea is that he is rigorous about enforcing a work/life balance or that he’s trying to get elected to the senate right now and this is not time to discuss other kinds of business, or just that he deals with shlubs like Theo only when he has to.
After Axel excuses himself, Jessica is rather annoyed with Theo because he is not, in fact, her new agent. Her long-time agent just retired and Theo merely bought out his agency. Jessica has not signed with Theo and isn’t sure that she will. I guess that a man who tried to get out of the Korean war by wearing a dress doesn’t seem to be Jessica’s type of agent.
The star of this episode then walks in.
It’s interesting to pause a moment and think of the extras in a scene like this. The woman in green and the man whose arm she’s holding didn’t have speaking parts so they weren’t credited and there’s no way (for me, at least) to find out who they were. It must be an odd experience to go to Hollywood and try very hard to be an actor and to get a part that involves being on screen for all of about two seconds, and that in the background as a character with lines walks in. They act well; it’s as easy as anything to forget that they’re not actually a well-to-do couple coming to this party for whatever reason a well-to-do couple would come here. They do a good job of looking like they know each other and like each other and have the concerns of a couple at a party. The actors may well have just met this day; they could have been assigned together as a couple no more than an hour before. Each may well have taken acting classes and this was the pinnacle of getting to use those skills that they developed. I don’t know whether anyone would consider it worthwhile to go to Hollywood to be an extra in an episode of Murder, She Wrote, but it is important work, relative to the importance of any acting work. We watch for the main characters, but without the extras it would very difficult to suspend our disbelief and enter into the pretend reality of the story.
There is a useful analogy, I think, to the minor characters in novels. Characters with only three or four lines can still be very important to get right.
Back to the story, a man who was standing by himself and looking glum notices Dennis Stanton and walks over, greeting him.
He remembers Dennis from a party at South Hampton over the summer. His name is Miles Hatcher and he’s in real estate. After some banter, Dennis walks off. We then see Miles talking with Theo and Jessica. He tries to push some luxury apartments he’s developing. They’re called Shinnecock Park. Theo says that he’ll run it past his business manager, and they arrange to meet later.
Theo notices someone he wants to try to get as a client and excuses himself. Noticing the opportunity, the busboy, Andy, comes over and offers Jessica some more coffee, then tells her that he’s an admirer of her work, and that he’s writing a novel, and he’d be just so gosh darn golly gosh grateful if she’d take a look at it. He then notices that his boss sees him bothering one of the guests and says he has to go.
This is another actor who wasn’t credited. His one scene was far more expressive than the line of some of the actors who only got one line and are thus in the credits, but we have no way of knowing who he was. Perhaps he, too, took years of acting classes and this was his biggest role. If that’s true, I have no way of knowing whether he considered them worthwhile, but at least he did a good job here. (Or perhaps he went on to be a famous actor I just don’t recognize and this was an important stepping stone in his career.)
Jessica is now alone at her table, but only for a moment. Dennis Stanton walks up, introduces himself, and asks for the honor of this dance. They flirt with each other a bit; he says that it speaks poorly of Theo’s intelligence and upbringing that he’s left the most attractive woman in the room totally alone. Jessica replies that it’s been a long time since she’s been picked up by a tall, handsome stranger. They talk as they dance, and he professes to be a fan of her work. The song ends and a more energetic one begins, and he galantly leads her through it; people on the dance floor begin making space for them.
We then fade to later that evening with Jessica alone in her room. It’s a bit past midnight but the time probably doesn’t matter much because the camera doesn’t stay on the clock long enough for us to see it clearly. As Jessica is getting ready for bed, Dennis Stanton drops down onto her balcony. Well, I say drops down, but he’s actually climbing up over the railing:
He explains that he had been outside on his balcony getting some night air when he discovered that he’d locked himself out. So he dropped down onto her balcony because it was either that or jump, and he’d misplaced his parachute. He goes to leave but before he can get out the door he suddenly comes back in (we hear some commotion outside). He asks Jessica if he can stay longer, which she is not happy about. He then explains that he was actually in the room of a married woman and her husband just returned, though he describes this in very delicate terms. For some reason Jessica is extremely understanding of this. He then checks the door again and the coast is clear, so he takes his leave of her. He says that meeting her has been a delight that he will cherish forever, kisses her on the cheek, and leaves. Jessica just laughs and goes to bed. He really is delightfully charming, and everything he does is done well.
At the bottom of the hotel, as people are leaving the party and being photographed by the press for some reason, we hear the sound of police sirens. We then see Dennis Stanton coming out of the hotel’s underground parking garage. He, too, hears the sirens and looks around the corner, then abruptly pulls back when he sees the police cars coming.
After observing where the police cars went to, he sneaks off in the other direction. Clearly Dennis has been up to something, though equally clearly (because of Murder, She Wrote conventions) it wasn’t murder.
We fade to black and go to commercial break.
When we come back it’s the morning and Andy brings Mrs. Fletcher the room service she ordered. Jessica is surprised to see him and remarks that they seem to work him twenty four hours a day. Andy laughs and says that he bribed the head waiter to let him take her food up. He hopes that she doesn’t mind and Jessica says not at all. When he starts to tell her about his novel, though, she’s distracted by the morning’s newspaper. It has an article with the headline, “Thief makes Off With Million Dollar Necklace.”
Actually, I can’t help but pause here and look at the newspaper.
I doubt that one would have been able to make out the type in the original TV broadcast, it’s quite difficult to do in this still. But here’s the left hand column:
There was a jewel robbery here at the hotel last night. And it was stolen some time between midnight and twelve thirty from Mr. Axel Weingard’s penthouse suite. Craig reside in a facility we could use for [bringing] a wide cross-section of people closer to the museum,” Attiyah said. “The type of individuals who are really able to help us are individuals who appre-ciate the personal touch of being in the director’s home.”
Black’s housing allowance is considered taxable income, and
The columns to the right, also under the headline, are also about the purchase of a house by a museum, and how this probably doesn’t violate applicable regulations. If you look closely, the part about the jewel robbery isn’t even in the same typeface as the rest of the article and isn’t properly formatted with it; this was just pasted on top of some real newspaper article. Thanks to google, I found out it’s an article from the December 29, 1987 edition of the LA Times. I suppose that in 1988 it would have been harder to print off a newspaper page with random text than it would be today. The image was only on screen for a few seconds and there was no real danger of anyone reading the text.
Back to the story, the time of the robbery gets Jessica to thinking. She asks if Axel Weingard’s penthouse would be on this side of the building. Andy thinks about it for a bit and answers that yes, in fact it’s right above her room. Andy then tries to talk to her about his book but she is preoccupied with the theft. She gathers her things, tells him that she’ll talk to him later, and leaves.
As Jessica comes out of the elevator she sees some uniformed police offers walking with purpose, so she follows them. Axel Weingard’s body has just been found in a laundry cart (the body rolled out after the cart was dumped).
The police officer stooping over him is Lt. Bert Alfano. He says that there are bruises all over the corpse’s neck, so he must have been strangled. In another shot we can see that his right hand is bloody, though Alfano does not remark on it.
Jessica comes up and says that she may know something relevant, though she begins by asking questions. Alfano gets her back on track and she tells him about Dennis Stanton’s midnight visit to her hotel room balcony.
The scene shifts to Theo’s office, where Miles Hatcher is trying to get him to invest in the luxury apartments Miles is developing.
Miles tries to convince Theo to invest, but Theo says that he talked to his business manager and he said “better I should invest in igloos in Saudi Arabia.” Miles offers to show him financial reports and Theo says that the word on the street is that Axel Weingard is in for 40% of the apartments but is about to pull out. Miles admits that he’s having trouble with Weingard, but that’s all the more reason for Theo to join in. “For God’s sake, Theo, you hate him worse than I do.” Jessica walks in right as Miles says this.
Theo, spotting Jessica, ushers Miles out. As he ushers Jessica into his office, he tells his secretary to hold all calls, “and if Norman Mailer calls, tell him I’m in conference with Rupert Murdoch.”
Rupert Murdoch, at the time, was the owner of a collection of newspapers, mostly in Australia and the UK, though in 1985 he had bought Twentieth Century Fox (a movie studio). Norman Mailer was an novelist, journalist, actor, director, playwright, etc. etc. who seems to be the sort of Extremely Important Author who doesn’t actually matter at all. As far as I can tell, he wrote two kinds of stuff: “important” (read: bad) that no one read, and sexual-when-it-wasn’t-everywhere that sold well. He’s the sort of person that Jessica should have heartily disapproved of but actually respected because he had cultural cache with the sort of people that Angela Lansbury hung out with, though not with the kind of people that Jessica Fletcher hung out with.
Be that as it may, this lie is quite interesting for several reasons. The first is that he’s telling it to impress Jessica, which is a weird kind of miscalculation. You don’t want to impress your potential clients with your dishonesty. The second reason is that it doesn’t even make sense for its primary purpose. Telling Norman Mailer that he’s in conference with Rupert Murdoch suggests that Jessica is not as important as Rupert Murdoch, while his ostensible goal (apart from the pretense that Norman Mailer might call) is to show Jessica that he thinks that she is extremely important. This certainly does not do that. It actually contains a strange insult to Jessica, because it implies that telling Norman Mailer that Theo is unavailable because he’s talking with Jessica Fletcher would be completely unacceptable.
I also find his secretary interesting.
She doesn’t have any lines, she just gives him this look, so she’s not credited. She communicates quite a bit of disdain, though, which is interesting. Why does he keep her around? You’d expect a man like Theo to have a secretary who’s—at a guess—thirty years younger, and a lot more eager to please.
In his office, Jessica tells Theo that she’s had a long and very comfortable working relationship with her former agent, which makes me wonder if the writers forgot that Jessica is a retired school teacher from Maine who only started writing after her husband died. Jessica is speaking as if he had been her agent for almost half a century, when in reality he couldn’t have been her agent for even a decade. At her age, that’s almost the blink of an eye. I’m only forty three years old and I think of people I’ve worked with for seven or eight years as recent acquaintances.
Theo begs her to not leave him as his business is hanging on by a thread. Axel Weingard recently dropped four of his clients out of personal spite for Theo. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Jessica corrects this to “was” and explains that Axel Weingard is dead. Theo practically jumps for joy, then immediately calls his business manager and instructs him to sell shares of Weingard’s company short. (For those unfamiliar: this means to sell shares in the future which he does not have now but will then; if the market price of the shares is lower at the time of sale than the agreed on price, the short seller makes money.) “I’ll get back everything that S.O.B. has cost me, and then some!”
Jessica is not enthused by this attitude toward murder, and in any event Theo is busy, so she departs. On her way out she runs into Dennis Stanton, who explains his presence by her having mentioned that she had a morning appointment with Theo, so he decided to take a chance. He invites her to lunch, and won’t take “no” for an answer.
Jessica insists on some straight answers, which Dennis does not give. He does mention that he has an alibi for the time Jessica identified him, which is that he was playing gin rummy from 11pm until 2pm on the night in question with his brother-in-law, who is a city counselman. Dennis shifts the subject to lunch, which he observes Jessica is not enjoying, so he invites her to come have dinner at his place where he can cook something really good for her. She declines, citing that she has a 5:00pm flight home. She promises to have a date with him the next time she comes to town.
Later on, as Jessica is packing her clothes, someone drops down from the floor above.
Jessica locks the door, but the person takes off her hat revealing that she’s a pretty young woman and thus safe because pretty young women always have someone else do the violent stuff for them, and then shows her identification.
Her name is Shannon MacBride and she works for the Susquehanna Fire & Casualty insurance company as a special investigator. They insured the diamond necklace which was stolen. She’s sure it was Dennis Stanton who stole it—she’s been on his trail for years, but she’s never been able to catch him. She gives Mrs. Fletcher her card and asks her to tell Dennis that there’s a one hundred thousand dollar reward for the return of the necklace, no questions asked. When Jessica voices her disinterest in passing on the message or ever seeing Dennis Stanton again, Shannon offers Jessica fifty thousand dollars (personally) if Dennis returns the necklace.
Jessica coldly wishes her a good day as the phone rings. It’s Lt. Alfonso. He just wants Jessica to know that he’s arrested Andy for the murder and, he doesn’t want a lawyer, he wants to talk to Jessica. She looks shocked as we fade to black and go to commercial.
When we come back, Jessica is in the police station talking to Lt. Alfonso. When she asks what evidence he has against Andy, Alfonso explains that Andy wrote a book and sent it to Weingard about a year ago. He has since accused Weingard of ripping off his book. To that end, he sent Weingard a threatening letter.
Dear Mr. Weingard,
As you steal my work so you steal my name, my very soul. I beg of you, take your fingers from my throat. I am neither rash nor vengeful but there is something in me, dangerous, which you would be wise to fear.
Jessica then goes to see Andy.
Jessica begins by asking Andy why he threatened Weingard with Shakespeare. I haven’t read every Shakespearean play, so my not recognizing the lines isn’t dispositive, but if this is actually Shakespeare and I just don’t recognize it, I find it weird that if you google any of the sentences in the letter all you come up with is a transcript of this episode. I found it strange that the writers would fake a Molière quote in Deadpan. I find it very strange to fake a Shakespeare quote, since Shakespeare is far better known.
Be that as it may, Andy explains that every time he put his thoughts in his own words it just sounded dumb.
Andy then launches into telling Jessica about his book. It’s set on an asteroid in the year 3001. It’s about a tyrannical father and his four sons. The oldest is is a fortune hunter. He and his father fall in love with the same woman. The old man dies accidentally, but since the oldest son had threatened to kill the father, he’s arrested and put on trial.
Jessica remarks that this seems very familiar.
Andy brushes this aside and says that three months ago Weingard came out with a book, set in the Canadian Yukon, about a logging family which has all of the same characters and plot points. To his impassioned cry that they stole his book, Jessica points out that Andy stole his book from Dostoevsky’s book, The Brothers Karamazov. Andy protests that he didn’t steal from The Brothers Karamazov, he adapted it, and he thought of adapting it first. Jessica’s reaction is apt:
She leaves Andy and goes back to talking with Lt. Alfonso. She asks about how the thief managed to steel the jewels from around Marta Weingard’s neck. Alfonso then narrates a flashback of what happened. Around 11:30pm, Marta Weingard was feeling the effects of way too much champagne.
She wants to go outside. She and her husband argue, then Axel demands that if she goes outside she must at least give him the necklace. She pulls it from around her neck and throws it to him, then goes outside. Axel goes back to his hotel room. When Marta comes back to their suite at 12:30, she finds the safe open and the necklace missing, so she called the police.
Jessica points out that if Andy killed Weingard—which she thinks is unthinkable for some reason she doesn’t explain—the motive would have been revenge, not theft. Alfonso doesn’t even bother to point out that a person can steal after committing murder in order to try to disguise the motive of the crime, and Jessica drops the point in favor of arguing about Dennis Stanton being in her room at 12:30. I find it curious that neither of them brings up that Axel Weingard’s body was hidden in a laundry cart and, as a result, only discovered in the morning. Moving the body through the hotel involved a not-inconsiderable risk of being seen doing it. The killer had to have a motive for that. It’s hard to see a jewel thief having such a motive; his best bet would be to simply get away.
Anyway, Jessica argues with Alfonso about Dennis Stanton—Alfonso doesn’t want to upset city hall by calling the Counselman a liar—but Jessica bullies him into looking into Dennis Stanton as a suspect. Jessica suggests that she accept Stanton’s dinner invitation while wearing a listening device, and Alfonso goes along with this. Jessica calls Dennis on the phone to make the arrangements.
The scene of Dennis receiving the call is fascinating. Here’s Dennis before the phone rings:
There is taste and class, here. The gold-and-ivory telephone with separate mouth piece and ear piece is elegant and has a curious sort of timelessness to it. It looks to be of modern construction. It’s got a vinyl-covered coil cord, which as far as I can tell was first made in the 1940s, but by then phones had moved to smaller and more integrated handles. This may even have been the era when the telephone company owned the telephone and they were all black plastic and nearly indestructible. Dennis’ phone is a callback to the early mouth piece and ear cup designs, though with modern conveniences, and fits very much into Murder, She Wrote‘s theme of appreciating old things.
Also fitting into this theme, as well as into the character of Dennis, is that his leisure is spent reading a leather bound book. The camera panned over it closely enough, for a moment, that it was possible to see the gold letters on the spine proclaiming it to be The Return of the Native. It’s a novel from the late 1800s, written by Thomas Hardy. From reading the description of the plot I’m not sure that it’s a good book—it seems to be, for the most part, a bunch of people doing bad things and then suffering the miserable consequences of their iniquity. According to Wikipedia:
Because of the novel’s controversial themes, Hardy had some difficulty finding a publisher; reviews, however, though somewhat mixed, were generally positive. In the twentieth century, The Return of the Native became one of Hardy’s most popular and highly regarded novels.
The point is that Dennis is reading a classic and highly regarded novel in his leisure time when no one is watching (we don’t count). His erudite manner is no pose; he really is highly cultured.
Jessica tells Dennis that her plans have changed, and they make dinner plans for her to come over to his apartment.
On her way over, Lt. Alfonso goes over the plan, including the listening device Jessica will keep in her purse.
It’s funny now times change. Jessica asks if the transmitter is powerful enough since it’s so small. Looking at it in 2023, it looks huge. Alfonso says that she has guts and it’s not too late to back off. Jessica muses that the murder is the one thing that doesn’t fit (she doesn’t explain why).
She then double-checks about some things in the reports. In particular, a petal from a red carnation was found on the floor with minute drops of blood on it. The victim was wearing a white carnation, so the petal must have come from the murderer’s flower. There were also lacerations on the victim’s right hand. (They had showed us this in a closeup when his body was found; that they’re bringing it up again here shows that it must be a very important clue.)
At dinner, Dennis is charming as always. He asks about the change in her plans, and Jessica replies that she came on business—she conveys Shannon’s offer. Dennis laughs and says that Shannon MacBride is a persistent little terrier with the instincts of a bloodhound. He goes on, “for several years now, she’s deluded herself that I’m sort of modern-day Raffles, the gentleman jewel thief.”
This is rather interesting because, if you look up “gentleman thief” on Wikipedia, Raffles seems to be the first example (in literature). I’ve only skimmed the first of the Raffles stories, and I can’t say that I’m likely to read more. They were written by the brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, apparently for money, and to some degree in imitation of Sherlock Holmes but in, as it were, photographic negative. The reference to Raffles is interesting because it serves to ground Dennis in a tradition, though I don’t know that it’s really important to do so. The “gentleman jewel thief” is a fairly self-defining thing. He must be charming to be able to gain the access he needs to rich high-class people, and he must steal from them because, as Willie Sutton was supposed to have said when asked why he robbed banks: that’s where the money is. A gentleman thief could never support his life style stealing rags and broken cooking pots from the poor.
A gentleman thief must, then, steal from the rich. If he steals from the rich, he must, then, be charming. If he steals from people he knows socially and manages to not be caught for some time, he must also be patient, clever, an observer of human beings, and a decent judge of character. From this it follows that he will almost certainly be well read and cultured, as his intellect will need something to feed upon when he is not stealing.
There are many gentlemen thieves possible, of course, but the point is that we don’t really need a prototype; the moment one hears that a person is a gentleman thief, one knows all this. It doesn’t matter, therefore, that most people will have no idea who Raffles is.
Dennis goes on to reveal his backstory, though in the guise of being hypothetical. Years ago his wife died of a catastrophic illness and the Susquehanna Fire & Casualty insurance company found a loophole and avoided paying anything, leaving him with a quarter million dollars in medical debt (in 2023 dollars, this would be about $630k). He decided to get out of debt by stealing things insured by Susquehanna Fire & Casualty. He did have a code, which is that he would never steal anything that the victim couldn’t afford to lose (which would be most anything insured) and he would never steal anything of sentimental value.
Jessica asks about the murder of Axel Wineguard. Dennis says that not only did he not kill Axel, but, “I fact, I hate to admit it, I didn’t even steal the necklace.” He then recounts what happened. He went to the roof of the hotel and lowered himself onto the balcony. He jimmied the lock and let himself in, when he heard voices. Axel and a woman’s voice he couldn’t identify. They were arguing and at one point Axel shouted, “Put that gun away. Are you out of your mind?” He started toward the bedroom door so Dennis went back out onto the balcony. Axel came in, but then went back out. Dennis waited for twenty minutes, but as he heard nothing he went to investigate. He listened at the bedroom door and didn’t hear anything, so he chanced it and opened the door. There was no one there and the wall safe was open. Just then, Marta Weinguard entered and noticed the open safe.
She ran to the phone and asked the desk to call the police. At this point there was nothing more to be gained by staying, so he left.
Jessica clarifies that he never actually went into the living room, and Dennis responds that he hadn’t. This doesn’t make sense to Jessica because the police report said that a petal from a red carnation was found in the living room. At the mention of the police report, Dennis figures out what’s going on.
“Oh. And are you in the habit of reading police reports?” he asks. For some reason she initially denies it, which I find weird because not only is she in the habit of reading police reports, it’s an extremely natural habit for her to be in. Her reticence tells Dennis what he needs to know, though. He snatches up her purse and pulls the transmitter out, saying, “Forgive me. This isn’t gentlemanly, I know, but this isn’t exactly ladylike.”
He steps to his balcony and observes a surprisingly high number of unmarked black cars. The police start to bang on the door. After telling Jessica, “You’ll understand if I don’t buy your next book,” Dennis leaves by the balcony. Jessica gets up and lets the police in, but it’s too late. Dennis has escaped. Then we fade to black and go to commercial.
When we come back from commercial we’re at police headquarters where Lt. Alfonso and Jessica play the tape from the recording device for Shannon MacBride, for some reason. It’s a meeting that makes no sense—at least one of Jessica and Shannon are out of place here. I think Shannon is here, as much as anything, to express disbelief at Dennis’ story. They wanted someone to do it, and if they use Shannon, that’s one less person to cast. After she leaves, Jessica and Lt. Alfonso talk a bit more. It comes up that he’s put a tap on the phone of Dennis’s brother-in-law. Jessica points out that it looks like Andy wasn’t involved, and Alfonso tells Jessica to “get the kid outta here before I get myself into a lousy mood.” I suppose Jessica has been officially deputized, by this point, so that the lower ranking police officers will take instructions for Andy’s release from her.
In the next scene Jessica is at her hotel and Alfonso calls her. The wire tap on the city councilman’s phone line paid off. Dennis called and said, “I have to leave town, but as soon as I dispose of the merchandise, I’ll send you a piece of the action.”
Jessica then looks at a red flower petal that fell from the rose in her room, considers it, then goes and looks at the newspaper on her desk.
This is from outside the hotel as a press team photographed the guests as they left. I still have no idea why the press photographed people as they left this party. The headline seems to be something like “PROMISES 2.1 MILLION POLITICAL I.O.U.’S.” So I suppose that the picture was supposed to be an illustration of a major campaign event? It all seems more than a little unlikely, especially since this was the sort of party at which pretty unimportant people like Jessica’s agent and a guy trying to peddle luxury condominiums showed up.
Be that as it may, after looking at the photograph in the newspaper, Jessica then figures out who killed Wineguard and picks up the phone as we cut to a bus station.
After a bit of sinister music and some showing to us of someone walking in only by his feet, we then discover that Miles is meeting Dennis.
Dennis complains that Miles is late and Miles says that he got stuck in traffic. “A couple of young hoods tried to rob a liquor store.” Dennis replies, “Crime runs rampant.”
Miles then gives Dennis the diamond necklace and says that this is where it ends. The necklace buys Dennis’s silence. If he ever tries to shake Miles down again, Miles will kill him. The announcement comes on for Dennis’ bus, and he bids Miles adieu with, “I’d wish you good luck, but the fact is, I hope they catch you.”
As he walks off, Lt. Alfonso gets in his way. As Miles tries to inconspicuously leave, the police stop him too.
The scene changes to Miles Hatcher being interrogated in the police station by Lt. Alfonso, Jessica, and Shannon MacBride. Miles protests his innocence but Alfonso tells him to not waste his effort. They have the whole picture thanks to Mrs. Fletcher.
Jessica then explains the evidence against Miles. It’s not just Dennis’ testimony, it’s also the missing carnation. If you look in the newspaper picture, the carnation is missing from Miles’ tuxedo. It was destroyed when Axel Wineguard grabbed out as he was being strangled.
They then give us a flashback to Jessica’s supposition about how Axel’s hand got mangled as he grabbed out in desperation.
Alfonso suggests that if they test Miles’ tuxedo around the lapel, they’ll probably find traces of Wineguard’s blood. This does it. Miles sighs and says that they probably will.
After a recounting of the murder from his perspective, we cut to outside. Dennis walks out of a room with a tall, solemn man. He congratulates Shannon that her tenacity has paid off and his days of larceny are over. She replies, “for ten years, at least” and walks off. Dennis then remarks to Jessica that Shannon will be so disappointed when she finds out. When Jessica asks what, Dennis explains that he is to receive a suspended sentence and a few years probation because of his cooperation in prosecuting Miles.
He then changes the subject. “The thought of pursuing steady employment is absolutely terrifying and it occurred to me that there might be some profit to be made out of lending my name to a book, or a series of books, about a roguish jewel thief. A wonderful idea, isn’t it? I’ve already been contacted by an agent who wants to represent me. In fact, I think you know him—a fellow called Wexler. Says he’s been your agent for years.”
We get Jessica’s reaction, then go to credits.
This was a fun episode. Having said that, my enjoyment of this episode may be colored by how much I enjoyed Dennis Stanton when he was a detective (technically, insurance investigator) in later seasons. I find it impossible to watch this episode except through the lens of it being an introduction to an interesting character. Which brings up the question of how much Dennis Stanton was intended to be a detective in the show. He wouldn’t appear again until the eighth episode of season 6—more than a full season into the future. He wouldn’t investigate a crime on his own until the nineteenth episode of season 6, meaning that if they were setting that up now, they were playing a long game.
Trying to consider this episode without knowing that Dennis would be back, as one certainly would not when this episode first aired: it’s still good. Jessica does very little actual detecting in it but she spends most of the episode chasing a very charming red herring. The murder itself holds together well enough. Miles had a motive, and approximately everyone had the opportunity. Miles’ motive was sufficiently pressing. In fact he was nearly the only person who did have a motive, if we discount the attempt to make Theo a suspect.
I’m not sure that it’s entirely fair to discount Theo as a suspect, but he was never very plausible. His motive would have been either revenge for Weingard dropping his clients, or else to make money off of Weingard’s death. The former doesn’t really work since he now has a new, shiny client (Jessica) that Weingard won’t be able to help but want. Theo is clearly an opportunist who would not hold a grudge where he has the power to get what he wants. The latter motive would have been incredibly risky. Short-selling Weingard’s company would have been excellent evidence that he knew about Weingard’s death, and waiting for Jessica to tell him about Weingard’s death—when it was pure luck that Jessica found out about it before the newspapers did—would have been a ludicrously risky way to make money. When you put it together, he’s just not much of a suspect.
This murder does suffer from what a lot of Murder, She Wrote murders suffer from—the means of inducing decease probably wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as the murderer needed it to. In this case, strangling a taller man from the front with your bare hands is not an easy thing to do. This is not helped by Miles Hatcher being a middle-aged businessman in the 1980s when a businessman playing squash once a week was in the top 10% of athletic shape for businessmen, and Miles probably wasn’t in the top 10%. It’s not impossible to kill someone this way, it’s just very difficult. The person being strangled is close in and at a mechanical advantage, compared to the person doing the strangling who is reaching further away. (This is why effective strangulation is usually from behind.) Also, with Axel being taller than his attacker, he could out-reach him and just push him away—assuming he was being gentlemanly and didn’t attack Miles’ eyes.
All that said, there was nothing about this murder that required strangulation from the front. Axel could have turned his back and Miles surprised him, or else stabbing would have been entirely viable as well. I think, in consequence, this sort of slip-up is easy to forgive.
There are a few parts of the story that don’t hold together well, though in general they’re inconsequential. When Denis was about to leave Jessica’s room, there was no reason for him to suddenly come back in just because he heard some people talking. No one had seem him in the Weingard suite and there was no one it could have been trouble to run into in the hallway. It also was not in Denis’ interest to do this, as it just annoyed Jessica. It doesn’t really matter, but it is a little bit irksome that there is no payoff to it.
It’s also a bit annoying that the joke at the end of the episode, where Denis says that he was approached by Theo Wexler, who claims to have been her agent for years, contradicts Denis’ suave approach to Jessica at the beginning of the episode where he tells her that it speaks ill of Theo’s intelligence and breeding that he left the most attractive woman at the party totally alone. It doesn’t matter, but again, it’s irksome.
That’s about it, though, and for Murder, She Wrote that’s very tight writing.
It’s interesting to consider how the episode handled Andy, the bus boy. He was introduced in a slightly sinister way, then he was a likable youngster, then he was a plagiarizing idiot, then we heard no more about him. He wasn’t any of these things for very long; I suspect that he was just an excuse to keep Jessica in town when she would rather have gone home. But if that’s the case, why have her want to go home? I suppose it does add a little bit of drama—at least a reversal of intention or two—but the episode would have been fine without Andy at all and with Jessica in town for a few more days rather than changing her plans. It’s interesting to consider whether the unnecessary complication added anything.
Another consideration is that every moment Andy was on screen, Denis wasn’t.
Oh well, next week we’re back in Cabot Cove for Mr. Penroy’s Vacation.
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