This crafty variation of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians never takes itself too seriously. That attitude extends to its two stars, both of whom were past their prime by the late 1960s. Dean Martin is ideally cast as the befuddled professional gambler pressed into service as the de facto detective. Robert Mitchum, an obvious choice for the enigmatic reverend, gives an acceptable performance, but the role requires little effort on his part.
With a resume that includes creating Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, William Link and Richard Levinson know a thing or two about the mystery genre. And, like Agatha Christie, they're not above breaking the rules of mystery fiction (see S.S. Van Dine's famous Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories). After all, these are the two guys who revealed the killer's identity in the opening scene of each Columbo episode. Still, Rehearsal for Murder requires one's careful attention--even after a character notes that a well-written mystery "takes the audience by the hand and leads them in the wrong direction."
Robert Preston stars as playwright Alex Dennison, who assembles a group of actors in an empty theater to do a reading of his latest work. It quickly becomes evident that his actual intent is to unmask the person who murdered his fiancee the previous year. In flashback, we're shown that stage star Monica Welles (Lynn Redgrave) apparently took her own life on the opening night of her latest play. However, the evidence is sketchy at best--her final words were typewritten. But why would anyone want to kill Monica?
The stage setting provides Link and Levinson with the opportunity to play with the construct of murder as a form of acting. After all, isn't a killer acting when he or she lies about an alibi? And isn't adding a suicide note to a crime scene similar to creating a stage setting for a play? In both cases, the killer plays the role of playwright, trying to convince the police and others (the audience) that they have seen or heard something different from reality.
|Lynn Redgrave plays the murder victim.|
Still, there's enough here to warrant a viewing, though I'd steer Robert Preston fans to another 1980s outing that featured the classic film star: the surprisingly entertaining The Last Starfighter.