TV's obsession with murder gets another feeding with a four-hour telefilm "inspired by a true story," as the legend goes. It boils down to a good cop swamped by corruption trying to nail a prominent, powerful Chi lawyer for the murder of his wife. Thanks to forceful Brian Dennehy as the bulldog policeman and to Embeth Davidtz as the victim, the first, dizzying two hours of "Deadly Matrimony" are an attention-grabber; after that, it's flatfoot work.

TV’s obsession with murder gets another feeding with a four-hour telefilm “inspired by a true story,” as the legend goes. It boils down to a good cop swamped by corruption trying to nail a prominent, powerful Chi lawyer for the murder of his wife. Thanks to forceful Brian Dennehy as the bulldog policeman and to Embeth Davidtz as the victim, the first, dizzying two hours of “Deadly Matrimony” are an attention-grabber; after that, it’s flatfoot work.

The storyline plays familiar, with an explosive Treat Williams as the lawyer-husband who’s jealous, self-centered and off his feed.

The character, strutting around with most of the Windy City’s top cops, judges and politicians in his pocket, goes into fits over imaginary and not-so-imaginary acts by his charming wife Davidtz.

The four-hour exercise never intros Williams’ first wife, whom he divorces to marry and torment Davidtz. She’s never quizzed, never visited, never even seen in the course of the investigation of the crime; rough, tough Dennehy should have had some questions to ask.

Program starts off sordidly enough by Davidtz’s decomposed corpse turning up in her car trunk at the bottom of a canal. The flashback rings in a bigtime mobster (George Morfogen), Williams’ client and sponsor in the crime world; it also brings in naive Davidtz, who falls for suave Williams.

Four of Davidtz’s experienced girlfriends–among them Lisa Eilbacher, the chief’s doll– warn Davidtz about his style, but Davidtz believes in Williams.

Near the end of Part I Davidtz finds Williams in the family bed with a blonde , which enrages her so much she indulges in adultery with Terry Kinney. The brutal Williams smashes her skull, with police chief John Jackson supplying the coup de grace; it’s up to Dennehy in Part II to unravel the case in spite of bribe offers, crooked cops, a bought judge and no witnesses.

On top of the hindrances, Dennehy’s wife, Susan Ruttan, badgers him because she thinks the dead woman reminds Dennehy of a long-lost love (“What’s driving you, sergeant?”), a point she wears thin.

The indomitable Dennehy, occasionally bursting forth to make a point, pushes through most of the action with the mien of a man assured he’ll win.

Williams gives a taut, commanding perf in a stet role and Davidtz is a pleasure as the pigeon. Xander Berkeley as a P.I. fares well, and Eilbacher’s brave friend is a good entry.

Lois Smith, playing Davidtz’s blind mother, hits the target, and Ron White as one of Dennehy’s colleague, James Blendick as a crooked judge, Robert Bednarski as Dennehy’s son, Jackson’s police chief are impressive in a surprisingly routine telling of the case scripted by Andrew Lasko and directed with little invention by highly respected John Korty.

Telefilm’s tech credits are pro.

Nbc Sunday and Monday Night at the Movies Deadly Matrimony

(Sun. (22), Mon. (23), 9-11 p.m., NBC)

Production

Filmed in Toronto by Steve Krantz Prods. and Multimedia TV Prods. Exec producer, Steve Krantz; co-exec producer, Tony Etz; producer, Stephanie Austin; co-producers, Stan Neufeld, Andrew Laskos; director, John Korty; writer, Andrew Laskos; based on unpublished manuscript "Shattered Vows" by Barbara Schaaf.

Crew

Camera, David Herrington; editor, James Oliver; sound, Doug Ganton; music, Lee Holdridge; production designer, Jo-Ann Chorney.

Cast

Cast: Brian Dennehy, Treat Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Xander Berkeley, Lisa Eilbacher, John Jackson, Kerrie Keane, Terry Kinney, George Morfogen, Robert Picardo, Lois Smith, Susan Ruttan, Sean McCann, Ron White, James Rebhorn, James Blendick, Carolyn Scott, Claire Cellucci, Lupe Arenas, Catherine Ashby, Janet Bailey, Robert Bednarski, Lerah Black, John Bourgeois, Lally Cadeau, Desmond Campbell, David Clement, Corinne Conley, Henry Czerny, Andy Dann, Angela Dohrman , Michael Donaghue, Len Doncheff, Alexe Duncan, Michelyn Emelle, Alden Jones, Jody Kamen, Brenda Kamino, Karen Kennedy, Peter MacNeill, Christopher Marren, Tony Meyler, Diana Rajsic, Michael Reynolds, Michael Ricupero, Don Ritchie, Robbie Rox, Joe Sealy, Cathy Smith, George Sperdakos, Carlton Watson.
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