On the Other Hand, Death
Cast: Donald Strachey (Chad Allen), Timmy Callahan (Sebastian Spence), Dorothy Fisher (Margot Kidder), Edith Strong (Gabrielle Rose), Andrew McWhirter (Damon Runyan)
Director: Ron Oliver
Original air date(s): 07/25/2008
DVD Date: 02/24/2009
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 85 minutes
Note(s): Screenplay adapted from the novel On the Other Hand, Death by Richard Stevenson.
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Review: On the Other Hand, Death is the third film in the Donald Strachey mystery series produced by here! television and based on the novels by Richard Stevenson (a pseudonym used by journalist Richard Lipez). I have previously watched and reviewed the first movie, Third Man Out, and have watched the second (Shock to the System) but not yet reviewed it. The series stars Chad Allen as gay private investigator Donald Strachey, and is set in Albany, New York.
Strachey and his partner Timmy Callahan are invited to the home of a lesbian couple, Dorothy and Edith, where Timmy's former college boyfriend Andrew is staying. The couple's home has recently been vandalized with hate messages spray-painted around the home and out-buildings. Strachey agrees to investigate and learns that a land developer has been trying to buy up acreage in the community for an outlet mall, but Dorothy and Edith have refused to sell. He wonders if the vandalism is less a hate crime than an attempt to force the couple to sell their home.
Like the previous two movies, On the Other Hand Death tries to incorporate a noir-like quality to the film, with mixed success. The movie is filmed in muted colors, mostly in scenes of browns and yellows or dark grays and blues, with a heavy emphasis on shadows. While it doesn't always work, and for the most part it's unnecessary, it is clear from a production stand-point that this movie is the best of the three filmed to date. From art direction to sound editing, this is a first-rate made-for-television production.
Chad Allen seems more confident with his character here, and it shows in his portrayal of Donald Strachey, an old-fashioned private investigator whose only concession to modern technology seems to be a cell phone. Sebastian Spence continues to play Timmy Callahan as a stuffed shirt. Having read the early books in this series over 20 years ago, I honestly don't remember how his character is depicted by the author, but Timmy here, as in the previous movies, seems out of place and just this side of being annoying. The contrast between Strachey and Timmy is, no doubt, intentional and serves at times to offer comic relief during transitional scenes.
The nearly unrecognizable Margot Kidder is a refreshing, nay inspiring, choice for the role of Dorothy. She portrays an activist guidance counselor for troubled teens and plays the part with both style and substance. Her partner, Edith, is brilliantly played by Gabrielle Rose.
The plot, and it's a good one, may, however, be a bit too convoluted for a 90 minute movie. As in any good mystery, there's a fair amount of credible misdirection and, as Strachey wryly notes at one point, it's hard to overlook the simultaneous occurrence of two disparate events and not be suspicious, so the outcome may be somewhat predicable. But still, the various plot threads all come together too quickly in the final few minutes. For a movie that took its time carefully laying a complex foundation of intersecting storylines, the denouement has a rushed, and ultimately somewhat unsatisfactory, feel to it.
Not unexpectedly, there is a slightly heavy hand by the filmmakers on the importance of tolerance and understanding in the gay community. The film makes a couple of unnecessary detours to explore these issues that add little to the story, time that could have been better spent smoothing out some of the rough edges in the plot.
On balance, though, On the Other Hand, Death with its strong performances is a fine addition to this mystery series.
The fourth movie in the series, Ice Blues, had its television premiere last fall. No date has yet been set for the DVD release.
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