(director: James Goldstone; screenwriter: Lane Slate; cinematographer: Michael Hugo; editor: Edward A. Biery; music: Perry Botkin Jr.; cast: James Garner (Police Chief Abel Marsh), Katharine Ross (Kate Bingham), Hal Holbrook (Dr. Warren Watkins), Harry Guardino (County Sheriff Captain Daniel Streeter), June Allyson (Mrs. Watkins), Christopher Connelly (John), Tom Ewell (Walter), Peter Lawford (Campbell), Edmond O’Brien (George), Ann Rutherford (Gloria), Arthur O’Connell (Ernie), Art Metrano (Malcolm, policeman), Jenifer Shaw (Diana), Lee Pulford (Jenny Campbell); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: William Belasco; Warner Home Video; 1972)

Neat atmospheric low-key whodunit.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Neat atmospheric low-key whodunit directed in a serio-comic tone by long-time TV director James Goldstone(“The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”/”Jigsaw”/”Rollercoaster”) and cleverly written by Lane Slate.

In the rural California coastal town of Eden Landing, middle-aged bachelor Abel Marsh (James Garner) is the police chief of the cash-strapped police department (only two police cars, which means sharing cars) who returns from an LA vacation to investigate the murder of the middle-aged promiscuous divorcée Jenny Campbell, found on the beach of her beachfront home with her Doberman pinscher, called Murphy, standing guard by her mutilated corpse. The chief suspect is the vic’s pet dog, until the coroner confirms the cause of death was by drowning in fresh water that was tampered with to make it seem like the drowning occurred in salt water. It’s also learned that the vic was pregnant. Abel visits the veterinarianDr. Warren G. Watkins (Hal Holbrook) to cancel the order to put the dog down and meets in the office his hottie new 30-year-old nurse, Kate Bingham (Katharine Ross), a divorcee from an eastern city. A quirky romance develops between the two best lookers in town. The chief, not a dog lover, ends up adopting the well-trained dog and doggedly investigates the life of the enigmatic dead woman searching for hidden clues. Learning from Jenny’s wealthy urban playboy ex-husband, Campbell (Peter Lawford), that Jenny left him two years ago for another woman, the cop tries to locate that woman through a photo found in the vic’s house, as tension mounts over a few more deaths in the case. Also called in to look over the chief’s shoulder is the county sheriff, Captain Streeter (Harry Guardino), a childhood friend of Abel’s, eager to wrap up the case so that he doesn’t look bad in the newspapers.

The beauty in the likeable pic, which looks like a TV movie, is watching the resourceful and charming Abel navigate his way through the sleepy town that has its fill of eccentrics and through an investigation that calls for turning over all the stones that reveal dark secrets about the small-town denizens rather than making brilliant deductions. While gently goofing on the locals, nevertheless it throws roses at the feet of the small town denizens and turns its nose up at city slickers. It has a bunch of old hands cast in minor supporting roles. One of those former stars, cast against type, June Allyson, acquits herself quite well as the complex wife of the veterinarian.