Steve Catlin discovered a sure way to deal with his problems with women: He poisoned his wife, one of his ex-wives and his mother. As the colon in its title would imply, “Poisoned by Love: The Kern County Murders” is based on a true story, ripped from the pages of … what, the Fresno Bee? Larry Peerce’s direction of solid script by Caliope K. Brattlestreet and Stephen Glanz soft-pedals the sensational aspects, resulting in a well-made but slow-moving film.
Harry Hamlin plays Catlin, a good ol’ boy who seems to spend most of his time stealing from his small-time employers, getting married and womanizing.
Stripped of his “L.A. Law” threads and frequently shirtless, Hamlin is reasonably convincing, as is Faith Ford, cast against type as one of Catlin’s ill-fated spouses.
As one of Catlin’s three living ex-wives, Helen Shaver suspects that something is up when one Mrs. Catlin after another bites the dust.
She calls in a sympathetic cop (William Lucking), who persuades her to try to discover evidence linking Catlin to the crimes — it seems that, showing more imagination than the wives might have expected, he has been slipping Paraquat into homemade ice cream and spoon-feeding it to the women.
All the principals seem to be having a fine time. Shaver turns in a strong performance as the woman hell-bent on seeing her former husband in jail; Terence Knox is a bit wooden as her current husband, at first resenting all the attention she’s paying to Catlin, but winding up supportive.
Daphne Ashbrook is OK as Catlin’s final wife.
Lucking keeps a clenched jaw as Detective Harris, who allows Shaver’s character to do most ofthe investigative work, explaining that he doesn’t want to arouse suspicion by actually showing up near the scene of the crimes. “That man isn’t gonna kill his mom,” scoffs Harris, who evidently hasn’t seen “Hamlet.”
Show’s strongest assets are veteran actors in salt-of-the-earth supporting roles: Ed Lauter and Frances Lee McCain as Ashbrook’s parents, Eileen Brennan as Catlin’s unsuspecting mother, and Juliette Marshall and country singer K.T. Oslin (who began her career in musical theater) as two other living ex-Mrs. Catlins, who regularly meet at local beauty parlor to laugh at their former spouse.
At various stages of production, film was also known as “Blind Angel” and “Murder So Sweet.”