Murder, She Wrote 8.20 “Angel of Death”

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Jessica is in her New York City apartment when she gets a call from a friend and playwriter who asks her to read his latest play. Rather than letting Jessica simply give her feedback remotely, he talks her into coming for a visit to his estate in Carmel. (This is one of those rare occasions — outside of episodes that take place in major metropolises — where the location is not completely fictional. There are plenty of clues to support the fact that the episode takes place in Carmel-by-the-Sea in Monterey County, California.)

Despite the episode clearly being set in Carmel, the exterior shots of the estate show it was filmed at Gulls Way Estate in Malibu. According to IMDb, the same estate was used as a filming location for the episode “Death in Hawaii”.

The title of his latest play is “Angel of Death”, and Jessica soon learns that the reason for the hopeless tone of the play is that the playwriter is plagued by visions of his dead wife, Vivian, a former actress who had killed herself by cutting her throat with a straight razor in his bathroom.

Note: This episode is not to be confused with Season 2’s “Reflections of the Mind”, which also finds one of Jessica’s friends haunted by her dead husband.

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Philip Stoddard, Vivian’s daughter’s husband!
Click to reveal the killer It was Alex Ericson, Vivian’s brother!
Click to reveal the weapon Philip was stabbed with a knife that Lisa Ryder uses to cut her terracotta clay!
Click to reveal the location He was found dead in the cottage Lisa Ryder lived in!
Click to reveal the motive Alex Ericson wanted to avenge his sister’s death! When he saw Philip going into Lisa’s cottage, he assumed it was actually Martin Tremaine, whose affair with Lisa is what caused Vivian to kill herself.
There was also a non-fatal attempt… Martin Tremaine, the playwriter, was drugged by his step-daughter, Courtney, who gave him anti-depressants instead of sedatives in order to drive him mad.

Cast of characters:

The main character in this episode is Jessica Fletcher’s playwright friend:

  • Darren McGavin plays Martin Tremaine, Jessica’s writer friend. McGavin was known for playing the lead in detective series such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Mike Hammer, as well as lesser-known series The Outsider and Small & Frye.
  • Austin Pendleton plays Barney Gunderson, the director of Martin’s play.
  • Sondra Currie plays Carol Kendall, the actress playing the lead in Martin’s play.

We also meet the members of Martin’s family and his houseguests:

  • Doran Clark plays Courtney Stoddard, Martin’s step-daughter (daughter of his dead wife Vivian). This is Clark’s third and final appearance on MSW; she previously appeared in Season 2’s “Trial by Error”.
  • Michael Canavan plays Philip Stoddard, Courtney’s husband and the manager of Martin’s investment portfolio. This is Canavan’s second and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in Season 1’s “Murder to a Jazz Beat”.
  • Ken Kercheval plays Alex Ericson, Martin’s brother-in-law (Vivian’s brother) and the family lawyer.
  • Maria Mayanzet plays Lisa Ryder, Martin’s former typist who went blind as a result of a car accident that Martin was responsible for. She now lives in the cottage on Martin’s estate grounds and sculpts. This is Mayanzet’s second and final appearance on MSW; she previously appeared in Season 3’s “One White Rose for Death”.

The remaining cast members include some local law enforcement and a neighbor:

  • Noble Willingham plays Sheriff Pat McAllister, who is in charge of the murder investigation. Willingham went on to have a recurring role on Walker, Texas Ranger.
  • Stephen Bogardus plays Officer Joe Connors, who is Lisa Ryder’s friend and also works with the sheriff on the murder investigation.
  • Ray Reinhardt plays General Avery Stark, Martin’s very territorial next-door neighbor. This is Reinhardt’s first of two appearances on MSW.

Final thoughts and other trivia:

While watching the episode, I was struck by some of the apparent sound mixing issues, as it seemed like certain lines in the episode were dubbed. This is most clearly seen at the beginning of the episode where Martin is on the phone with Jessica and it sounds like someone else’s voice saying the phrase “slip out” is dubbed over whatever Darren McGavin was saying. (On the DVD, this happens at approximately 3:47 into the episode, and Darren McGavin’s lips look like he’s actually saying something beginning with an /f/, like “flip” or maybe “fly”.)

Similar to what I noted in my episode summary for the previous episode, I’m always fascinated by images of non-active characters that are shown in a given episode. In this case, there is a portrait of Vivian prominently displayed in Martin’s house. Beyond being curious about who modelled for the portrait, I’m also curious about the artist who painted it. My suspicion is that it was painted by Jaroslav “Jerry” Gebr, who made a career out of painting for Hollywood and whose most famous painting is arguably that of Columbo. However, I haven’t been able to confirm this — this is just my guess based on the similar painting style.

The painting of Vivian shown in the episode.

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