Sunday, October 31, 2010

Strange Bargain

A little B-mystery from the 1940s that got plucked from obscurity in the 1980s is showing up on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET: Strange Bargain.

Jeffrey Lynn plays Sam Wilson, a typical post-War father with a lovely wife Georgia (Martha Scott) and two kids. That, and a growing debt problem: he's been trying to keep up with the Joneses, and his job at a financial services company doesn't pay enough to allow his family to do all the things a family should be able to do. But, he's worthy of a raise (at least his wife thinks so), so he's determined to go in and ask the boss for a raise. Unfortunately for him, he finds that the boss is just as deeply in debt as he is, and that the business might go under. However, the boss has a plan. He's going to commit suicide, but make it look like a murder! This will be enough to keep his wife and kids afloat, and maybe keep the business going. All he needs is somebody to dispose of the gun, who will get paid handsomely for it. Wilson, the boss thinks, is just the man.

Wilson is naturally horrified, and when the boss calls with the code phrase that the suicide is going to go ahead, he heads for the boss' house to try to stop him. He arrives too late, however, and finds the boss quite dead. There's nothing to do but go through with the plan, which at least has the benefit of allowing him to take the money the boss left for him. Enter police detective Webb (Harry Morgan of M*A*S*H, billed here as he often was early in his career as Henry Morgan). He investigates and quickly realizes that things aren't quite what they seem. Poor Sam Wilson understands this means the police are going to come for him, and that he could well face trial on insurance fraud charges, even though he certainly had nothing to do with the boss' death.

Strange Bargain holds up quite well as a mystery movie, and moves fast enough through its 70 or so minutes that it won't bore you. What's probably even more interesting, though, is how it got re-used in the 1980s. Fellow 1940s movie star Angela Lansbury would of course go on to star in the TV series Murder, She Wrote in the 1980s. As a star from the 1940s, she liked to bring back many of the people she had worked with and been friends with back in the day for guest appearances on her show. In the case of Strange Bargain, three of them (Lynn, Scott, and Morgan) were still alive in the 1980s, and Lansbury reunited them for an episode based on the murder in Strange Bargain, with the three now much older stars telling their stories in flashbacks that were depicted using clips from the original movie. The original movie doesn't seem to be on DVD, but the Murder, She Wrote episode is.

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