Lansbury does Hitchcock
Mystery writer Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury - Mrs. Santa Claus) is due in El Paso where she is to give a speech at a lecture and in order to get there she is travelling by train. In the dining cart she sits at a table with another woman who disappears leaving behind her purse. When a tannoy announcement is made for the other woman Jessica responds to it leading to some confusion over her name and Jessica being attacked in her compartment by a man demanding 'it'. Fortunately Jessica is rescued by a man claiming to be a journalist but it spikes Jessica's curiosity as to what 'it' is despite being warned by the FBI to stay out of it as well as a death of a passenger.
When the long running series of "Murder, She Wrote" came to an end it thankfully wasn't the end of Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher as they were followed by a series of TV movies and "Murder, She Wrote: South by Southwest" was the first of these. Now as you can probably guess from the title this TV movie channels some classic Hitchcock from the play on "North by Northwest" and a case of mistaken identity to a missing person on a train. But this is Hitchcock thriller combined with Hitchcock comedy as we have some quirky characters including a husband and wife who from the minute we meet we know they are there for comic release. In many ways combining Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher with some Hitchcock is a match made in light entertainment heaven although I doubt it will appeal to those who were not "Murder, She Wrote" fans in the first place".
Now "Murder, She Wrote: South by Southwest" is simple enough and delivers exactly what you expect which is Jessica snooping. That snooping involves finding out what has happened to the woman, what "it" is that her attacker was after and who is behind it all which includes a murder. And Jessica does all this in typical Jessica manner, being nice to people she meets in order to get a favour or two whilst innocently winding up the law as they try to investigate. Basically it is an extended episode of one of the old shows but it works and it never feels drawn out or slow as it keeps on ticking over with this pleasant mystery for Jessica Fletcher to solve and enough possible characters to keep us guessing.
Of course "Murder, She Wrote: South by Southwest" rests firmly on Angela Lansbury's shoulders to make it work and she seems to have an extra spring in her step with this first TV movie. But whilst Lansbury is as charming as ever the supporting cast are as big a part of what makes it work as Lansbury with the likes of Harriet Sansom Harris and Richard Riehle providing comedy whilst Keith David brings humour to the role of the stressed FBI agent.
What this all boils down to is that "Murder, She Wrote: South by Southwest" is just like a continuation of the old TV series except extended to 100 minutes and with a wonderful touch of the Hitchcock about it.