The Twelve Dames of Christmas, part twelve.
It’s the last of these today, and who better to oversee the well overdue killing off of this feature than the queen of murder-solving herself, Angela Lansbury.
It isn’t quite true that Jessica Fletcher only got one Christmas special in twelve seasons. [episode 09 09, A Christmas Secret] Lansbury actually made two. The other, A Christmas Bloodbath, was filmed in 1996 and was intended to be the first of several Murder, She Wrote movies. Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, filmed in 3D, and seventeen hours long, A Christmas Bloodbath is something of an outlier in the Murder, She Wrote back catalogue. It was rejected by CBS because executives who viewed the film thought the radical change in style from that established in the popular television series was, “clearly a mistake.” Occasionally, pirated copies surface on the dark web but as so few people have seen it, I thought I would give you an outline of the plot.
It begins in a small office above a fish-and-chip shop in Fleetwood. Jessica is having a meeting with her agent. He suggests that she take a break from writing crime novels and have a go at a horror novel. A raised eyebrow of incredulity is enough to bring him to tears and, between bouts of weeping, he explains how he has been stealing from an international cocaine smuggling operation for years and they have given him two weeks to pay back the money before they break his legs. He hasn’t got the money. However, a new horror publisher connected to a film studio has recently contacted him and offered Jessica a huge advance for a novel. His 10% of that advance could save him a beating. Jessica tells him she isn’t really a big fan of horror but that for his sake she will give it a go. [During this scene, some comedy is derived from the fact that the agent is played by Stephen King but not as much as you might think. Opinion is split on whether King was a late addition to the cast and the jokes were an afterthought, or if the producers were worried his face wasn’t as well known as his name and were afraid to commit to a bit.] He thanks her profusely, breaking into tears again. As she leaves his office, she passes his next client at the doorway. A well-dressed old lady walking six wolves on red patent leather leads. The camera follows Jessica as she descends the stairs to a fire exit that opens into a dining area in the back of the chip shop. A girl behind the counter shouts, “Got plenty of scraps if you want any, love!” to Jessica who says thanks but no thanks in a friendly way and heads out onto the street. Outside, she pauses to look at the window of the office she has just left. A sound that might be a wolf howling but could just be a car horn or an ambulance a few blocks away is heard.
The next scene is disturbingly graphic footage of the wolves attacking, killing and eating Jessica’s agent and the well-dressed old lady. The scene is sixteen and a half hours long. It is hard not to agree with the executives at CBS who found the length of it, “excessive”. Even if you take into account Jodorowsky’s argument that, “we shouldn’t shy from showing the full horror of events as they occur, and to do so would be to insult the audience,” not a lot actually happens after about thirty-five minutes. Once the wolves have eaten their fill they mostly just loll about. There is a brief scuffle over an arm about nine hours in but it is very brief and almost entirely without dramatic interest. Seven hours after that the screen fades to black.
The words “Epilogue: A week later…” appear and the scene changes to a roadside diner in the Californian desert where Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) and Jessica are eating banana splits.
“So that’s why I didn’t call you this time,” he says. “It was obviously the wolves that killed them.”
Jessica laughs and says, “Well, Amos. I guess this time I didn’t write a fucking thing.”
Merry Christmas Everyone!