A Talent For Murder (1984)
Jerome Chodorov (play), Norman Panama (play)
Angela Lansbury, Laurence Olivier, Hildegard Neil
After all his years of acting this was Laurence Olivier's drama debut for the BBC. He had done many acting roles for ITV and US television but it seems he somehow proved to be elusive for Auntie Beeb!
Canadian director Alvin Rakoff has previously worked with Olivier before but the star of this adaptation of this stage play whodunnit is Angela Lansbury who plays a famous crime author, a few months before she landed the lead role in Murder She Wrote.
The film is effectively a stage play set in a New York mansion where wheelchair bound crime novelist is devising plots, drinking too much, watching late night bad TV and getting doddery in old age. Olivier is her personal physician and maybe her one time lover. There is her vulnerable granddaughter (Pamela) who lives with her and there is an Indian housekeeper/driver/electronic expert/ex-con Rashi.
Things take a turn when Lansbury's son, daughter in law and Pamela' seemingly estranged husband arrive for her birthday party with plans to send her to a retirement home in Florida and carve her estate between them which includes priceless Monet's and Picasso's. Of course during the course of events there are twists and turns, chicanery and murder with Lansbury herself looking vulnerable as old age looking it has caught up with her.
The play only opens up when Olivier flies in from France as he is collected at the airport but apart from that its very much staged interiors with the then slightly heavily lit BBC lighting. Maybe this was a good thing as Olivier was the finest stage actor of his generation and you can see the subtle tics he uses in his nuanced performance. Its not Hamlet but even in his 70s, suffering from ill health he still lights up the screen.
The tour de force is actually Lansbury with a strident New York accent with tales of a promiscuous past with artists and bohemians. A journey that has taken her to become a skilled and successful writer but who now has to deal with a grasping family and a not too trustworthy housekeeper but is she more wily than she lets on?
There are plenty of suspects and potential red herrings as to the murder.