Wilder Is Milder in A&E Mystery

The main problem with A&E Network's The Lady inQuestion, starring Gene Wilder, is that we never really forget we're watchingcharacters in a play, so the murder mystery never truly grips the viewer.

Moreover, even though the movie is subtitled A CashCarter Mystery, Wilder's Carter character contributes surprisingly little to thesleuthing until the last half-hour.

Instead, it's Mike Starr (The Bodyguard), asblustery police detective Tony Rossini, whose questioning narrows the suspect list, whileCash observes.

Carter is an ex-Broadway director who, after his wife isslain, flees to the more peaceful surroundings of Connecticut (actually Toronto). Now acommunity-theater director, he relies on gut instinct in helping Rossini to"read" suspects. The trouble is that Carter comes across as too detached.

Not only is this movie (one of a series) set in an earliertime (1938), but it also resembles old-fashioned films and TV shows in which suspects aregathered in a sitting room as the detectives use a process of elimination to nail theculprit. It's such a throwback that it should be shot in black-and-white.

While this variation on that theme is pleasant enough, it'shardly riveting television.

As in the first movie, Murder in a Small Town,Carter is drawn into a murder case. This time, his fiancée, Mimi (Cherry Jones), gets himinvolved. As a stewardess aboard a plane, she meets the woman of the title, Emma Sachs(Claire Bloom), who's using her fortune to help Jews escape Hitler's Germany.

The movie, co-written by Wilder and directed by JoyceChopra, devotes too much time to smarmy business traveler John Wheeler (Michael Cumpsty),who strikes up a conversation with Emma and Mimi -- and who the viewer already knows is aNazi.

After Emma and her companion, Rachel (Barbara Sukowa),arrive at her mansion for dinner, we meet her dysfunctional relatives and staff -- allsuspects once she's poisoned to death.

Prime suspect Wheeler, a.k.a. Klaus Gruber, eventuallyturns out to be a red herring. That leaves Rachel, the German maid; Emma's niece, Dorie;her nephew, Rudy; and her secretary, Paul -- who's Dorie's current lover and Rachel'sex-lover. Once Rossini narrows that field, Carter probes for the motive.

The movie's final, superfluous scene would be more suitablefor one of Wilder's comedy films.

A&E's The Lady in Question is due Dec. 12 at 8p.m.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.