How to watch ‘Murder She Wrote,’ 8 more Angela Lansbury favorites

You’re not alone if you saw the news of Angela Lansbury’s death Tuesday, at 96, and thought about turning on an episode of “Murder, She Wrote,” the beloved mystery series she starred in from 1984 to 1996 as a writer and amateur detective on the coast of Maine. Or, for that matter, the films “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), in which she gave two of her most indelible screen performances — as, respectively, a war hero’s conniving mother and a teapot.

It’s impossible even to scratch the surface of Lansbury’s remarkable film and TV career, to say nothing of her work in the theater, but those and the other six titles collected here are at least a start. We take no responsibility if you wake up singing “Be Our Guest” in the morning, though.

‘Gaslight’

Ingrid Bergman, left, reads a book while Angela Lansbury and Charles Boyer are standing behind in "Gaslight" (1944)
Ingrid Bergman, left, Angela Lansbury and Charles Boyer in the 1944 drama ”Gaslight.”

(Sunset Boulevard)

1944 | 1 hour 53 minutes
HBO Max: Included | Apple TV: Rent/Buy | Amazon Prime: Rent/Buy

From The Times’ 1944 coverage: Four years ago this month a wide-eyed, blond little English girl of 14 sailed up New York Harbor seeking refuge from the London blitz. Now, in August 1944, taller, poised and talented, the same girl is regarded as one of the foremost young candidates for dramatic stardom on the screen.

She is Angela Lansbury, who won unprecedented praise for an initial performance as the cockney maid in MGM‘s “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.

On the basis of her performance as the saucy, scheming servant in “Gaslight,” Angela was given a long-term contract. In “National Velvet” she has the sympathetic part of an English country girl experiencing her first puppy-love affair, in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” she is featured in the tragic role of Sybil Vane, the young actress betrayed by Dorian.

‘National Velvet’

Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney look at a horse in a barn in “National Velvet" (1944)

Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney in the 1944 drama “National Velvet.”

(MGM/UA)

1944 | 2 hours 3 minutes | G

Apple TV: Rent/Buy| Amazon Prime: Rent/Buy

From Norbert Lusk’s 1944 coverage: Everything that was whispered about “National Velvet” in advance of its opening at the Music Hall is true, more than true, and reviews fairly trumpet the virtues of the film. It is a perfect, a glorious holiday attraction, the first picture keyed to the season to reach Broadway, where it will remain long after the holly and mistletoe are taken down.

A new star would seem to have emerged from the new success in the person of Elizabeth Taylor. “Her face is alive with youthful spirit, her voice has the softness of sweet song and her whole manner in this picture is one of refreshing grace,” proclaims a critic. And another reviewer discovers that Miss Taylor is “not only a dreamy kid but a child who ‘lights up’ and has all the integrity of a great passion.”

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

Angela Lansbury wearing a hat decorated with a dead bird in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945)
Angela Lansbury in the 1945 drama “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

(Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

1945 | 1 hour 49 minutes

Apple TV: Rent/Buy | Amazon Prime: Rent/Buy

From Edwin Schallert’s 1945 review: The “flowers of evil” bloom in the screen transcript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” They flourish ebulliently in the conversations of Lord Henry (George Sanders), whose decadent bon mots appear to awaken marked response, especially with the feminine audience.

MGM has brought the fabulous Oscar Wilde narrative of soul-destruction to the screen, but undoubtedly faced the laws, the prophets and the Hays office in its brave endeavor. There are jarring compromises in the production, unquestionably, yet it will rate as one of the most unusual ever brought before the public. For that reason it will arrest the interest of the discriminating audience, even though it may not completely satisfy the devotees of the poet who gave the strange story life.

Dismaying in the film is the actual close with its evidences of contrition on the part of Dorian Gray, and also the earlier grotesque treatment of the idea of the painting. This picture is supposed to show the effects the life of the central character has had upon him, while he himself remains ever young. But the artist reveals neither subtlety nor inspiration in what he has done to unveil the deterioration process. The film falls flat in this and the climax.

Of murder there is the touch when Dorian Gray kills Hallward (Lowell Gilmore,) the artist who has painted him. This is the chiller peak. Gilmore admirably portrays the painter throughout.

Miss Lansbury endows Sibyl Vane, the songstress with virginal charm. She is a remarkable find. Donna Reed appears effectively as the daughter of Hallward, in love with Gray. Peter Lawford, Richard Fraser, Douglas Walton, Morton Lowry and Miles Mander are in the cast. It is well off the hewn track, and therefore interesting.

‘The Manchurian Candidate’

Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey in "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)

Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey in the 1962 thriller “The Manchurian Candidate.”

(United Artists )

1962 | Thriller | 2 hours 6 minutes | Rated PG-13
Kanopy: Included | Apple TV: Rent/Buy | Amazon Prime: Rent/Buy

John Frankenheimer, the director, was well into “The Manchurian Candidate,” which he was filming from George Axelrod’s script, when I asked him what it’s about. Frankenheimer took a deep breath, stammered a few words and then gave up. “You’ll have to see it and figure that out for yourself,” he said. I understand readers of Richard Condon’s novel had something of the same difficulty in trying to describe it to friends. Anyhow, whatever it was that threw readers of the book into incoherencies has been carried over into the picture. I have now looked at the pesky thing twice. I went the second time to see if I would see what I thought I saw the first time.

“The Manchurian Candidate” is not only fascinating because it is so unpredictable as storytelling but also because it reverts to the kind of movie-making that made cinema — sheer “film” — a joy, and an end in itself. But what IS it about? A Manchurian? A candidate? A candidate for what?

Among other things, this is the most frightening picture about brainwashing ever made — and there are moments, particularly in the earlier sequences, during which the viewer may begin to believe he is undergoing a session or two himself. I don’t know how far this fiendish “science” has progressed or that it could do to any human organism what it does here to Raymond Shaw, played by Laurence Harvey. Some will dismiss the concept as sheerest fantasy, or see in Raymond Shaw just a nuclear-age version of that older, less complicated Frankenstein’s monster.

The brainwashers are Red China Communists, the brainwashed several members of an American Army patrol, led by Harvey and Frank Sinatra, who are betrayed by their interpreter, Henry Silva, ambushed and whisked aboard a helicopter to a brainwashing “class” in Manchuria. Here their “instructor” is a squat, fearsome psychiatrist named Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) and what happens to them is like some monstrous nightmare, as diabolically funny as it is hair-raising.

Harvey is hardly the typical GI, but then Raymond Shaw is not like other men. This is one or his strongest performances, as is in turn that given by Sinatra as the major. But the most chilling portrayal is reserved for Angela Lansbury as Raymond’s politically ambitious mother; it will live, as the saying goes, in infamy. (Read more) —Philip K. Scheuer

‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’

Angela Lansbury on a brass bed in "Bedknobs and Broomsticks." (1971)

Angela Lansbury in the 1971 Disney feature ”Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”

(Disney)

1971 | Fantasy | 1 hour 57 minutes | Rated G

Disney+: Included |Apple TV: Rent/Buy | Amazon Prime: Rent/Buy

From Charles Champlin’s 1971 review: Take a well-loved English children’s book about a lively lady with several magical powers including flight, add some beguiling children, blend in live action, animation and some very special special effects, garnish with some songs by the Sherman Brothers and — assuming you are Disney Studios — what do you get? Well, one time you get “Mary Poppins” and the next time you get “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” thereby proving that the most foolproof formula never is. “Bedknobs” is pleasant enough and harmless enough. It is also long (almost two hours) and slow.

The songs are perfunctory (nothing supercalifragiwhateverish) and the visual trickeries, splendid as they are, are too sputtery to get the project truly airborne. By the standards Disney has set for itself, it’s a disappointing endeavor.

Angela Lansbury is a tweedy country eccentric in wartime England, tootling around on a bronchitic sidecar motorbike and receiving mysterious parcels from a professor in London. What she’s into is a study of benign witchcraft, leading (she hopes) to an invention which will help in the war against the Germans. She makes the incantations work, to the stunned surprise of her mail-order Merlin, a London conman played by David Tomlinson.

Three children evacuated from the Blitz complicate her life and the plot, which centers on a quest for the most potent incantation of them all.

The difference between “Poppins” and “Bedknobs” is not the difference between Julie Andrews and Miss Lansbury. Miss Lansbury sits a broom sidesaddle (or sidestick) with a queenly elegance, and she accepts as if it were everyday common sense that a brass bedstead will fly anywhere on command, and of course it will, and does. She is engaging as ever.

‘Death on the Nile’

David Niven, left, Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis seated on on a patio in “Death on the Nile” (1978)

David Niven, left, Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis in the 1978 mystery “Death on the Nile.”

(Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

1978 | Mystery | 2 hours 20 minutes | Rated PG

Apple TV: Rent/Buy| Amazon Prime: Rent/Buy

From Charles Champlin’s 1978 review: When it is done well, there is nothing quite like an escapist entertainment to ease the aches and strains of daily living. Following on the success of “Murder on the Orient Express,” Sir Lew Grade & Co. have gone again to the Agatha Christie shelf and picked out “Death on the Nile,” a work singularly well suited to the movies because it provides a spectacular tour of King Tut’s home ground.

There is a new Hercule Poirot and he is the estimable Peter Ustinov, a casting I suspect is a good deal closer to Mrs. Christie’s intentions than Albert Finney was, good as Finney was.

There is a new galaxy of all-star suspects: Bette Davis, Jane Birkin, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, Jack Warden, George Kennedy, Olivia Hussey, Jon Finch and Mia Farrow, not all of whom survive to the final confrontation, an occupational hazard in murder mysteries.

David Niven, an ongoing study in urbanity, is Poirot’s colleague Col. Rice and Simon MacCorkindaleis the romantic lead, wounded early in the proceedings. Lois Chiles is his rich wife and the victim of murder most stealthy aboard a Nile paddlewheeler en route to Karnak.

‘Beauty and the Beast’

Classic Disney animated version of the tale "Beauty and the Beast"

Classic Disney animated version of the tale “Beauty and the Beast”

(Walt Disney Pictures)

1991 | Animated musical | 1 hour 24 minutes | Rated G

Disney Plus: Included |Apple TV: Rent/Buy | Amazon Prime: Rent/Buy

Fairy tales are not for children only. Faced with a world of painful realities and deferred dreams, what adult, given half a chance, wouldn’t want to cozy up to a story that begins “Once upon a time in a faraway land” and is sure to end with everyone living happily ever after?

“Beauty and the Beast,” the 30th full-length animated feature from the trolls over at Disney and the most satisfying in decades, serves that dual audience with a practiced expertness. Wised-up as well as traditional, with a striking and detailed look and a strong storyline, it is sure to charm a wide audience both now and for a long time to come.

A prologue, illustrated by an exquisite series of stained glass windows, tells the back story of a spoiled, handsome prince turned into an awful beast by an avenging enchantress after he refuses her gift of a magical rose. He will remain so cursed forever, she tells him, unless he can learn to love, and be loved in return, by the time the last petal of the rose falls.

Blissfully unaware of this is the beautiful Belle (voiced by stage actress Paige O’Hara). We meet her strolling the streets of her quainter-than-quaint French village, complaining that “there must be more than this provincial life.” A reader and a dreamer, she yearns for adventure, little guessing how much of it will soon be in store for her.

Belle’s father Maurice, a feckless inventor very much in the Gyro Gear loose mold, gets the plot rolling by getting himself hopelessly lost in the deep woods. He stumbles across a towering, intimidating castle, which he finds to his horror is inhabited by that foul-tempered, roaring Beast, who promptly locks him up on general principles. The feisty Belle retraces her father’s steps and offers to take his place as the monster’s prisoner.

According to the press notes, the reason Walt Himself had given up on an earlier Disney attempt at “Beauty” is that his team couldn’t lick the problem of how to make Belle’s stay at the castle less than claustrophobic. Again, it was Howard Ashman who broke the spell, coming up with the idea of enchanted bric-a-brac, like Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), the candlestick with the personality of Maurice Chevalier, and Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), a teapot with a heart of gold. In fact, one of the film’s animated high spots has all these objects, plus a brace of silverware and all kinds of crockery, go into an elaborate “Be Our Guest” production number that even Busby Berkeley would have been proud to call his own.

Also helping things in the castle is the intriguing personality of the beast. As voiced by Robby Benson (yes, that Robby Benson) and animated by Glen Keane, the Beast is a splendid creation, managing to be both intimidating and endearing, fiercer than fierce when danger threatens from a genuinely frightening pack of wild dogs, but just a big softie with a bad temper where Belle is concerned. And, yes, they do make an awfully cute couple. (Read more) — Kenneth Turan

‘Murder, She Wrote’

Angela Lansbury and Richard Crenna in an episode of “Murder, She Wrote”

Angela Lansbury and Richard Crenna in an episode of “Murder, She Wrote.”

(GENE TRINDL/CBS)

12 seasons, 1984-1996 | TV Mystery Series | TV-PG
Peacock: Included

The best thing about the two-hour premiere of “Murder, She Wrote” on CBS Sunday is Angela Lansbury. She is all mischief and devilment, huggably wise, possessed of an agile mind and a sweet nature as a mystery writer/amateur detective who is always one amiable step ahead of the police.

As Jessica Fletcher (Lansbury) tells us (speaking right to the camera) how she got started writing and sleuthing:

“I suppose I knew then and there that something bizarre was developing. …”

The “scene of the crime” is the weekend estate of publisher Preston Giles (Arthur Hill), where the dastardly Caleb McCallum (Brian Keith) also is in attendance.

Someone is missing. There’s a scream. A body floats to the top of the pool. And it’s, it’s … time to call in the dumb cop (Ned Beatty).

Two more things of note: “Murder, She Wrote” gets a big break by following “60 Minutes,” although other CBS shows have had difficulty holding adult viewers in that time slot. Also, the crack Richard Levinson and William Link, who co-created “Murder, She Wrote” and were executive producers for the premiere along with Fischer, are listed only as “consultants” for future episodes of the series. The effect of that remains to be seen as Jessica Fletcher continues playing those “silly little murder games.” (Read more) — Howard Rosenberg

‘Little Women’

Angela Lansbury, left, is kissed on the cheek by Willa Fitzgerald in the TV miniseries ”Little Women.”

Angela Lansbury, left, and Willa Fitzgerald in the TV miniseries ”Little Women.”

(BBC / Playground )

2017 | TV Miniseries | Drama | TV-PG

Apple TV: Rent/Buy | Amazon Prime: Included

From Meredith Blake’s 2018 coverage: “Little Women” has been adapted numerous times — into films, TV shows, an opera, a musical and even two animé series. The latest incarnation of “Little Women,” a two-part “Masterpiece” miniseries, co-produced by the BBC, was written by Heidi Thomas, creator and showrunner of “Call the Midwife,” another period drama focused on the lives of women. Starring Emily Watson as Marmee, Angela Lansbury as the formidable matriarch Aunt March and Maya Hawke as aspiring writer Jo, it tells a tale of young women coming of age in a fraught period that will resonate with contemporary viewers — bonnets and all.

“Little Women” also marks Angela Lansbury’s first television role since 2005, when she guest-starred in crossover episodes of “Law & Order : SVU” and “Law & Order: Trial by Jury.”

“Any time when one gets to use one’s skills as an actress, you kind of jump at it because certainly at my time of life, the opportunity doesn’t present itself as often as it used to in the old days,” said the actress, 92.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-12/angela-lansbury-murder-she-wrote-beauty-and-the-beast-manchurian-candidate-how-to-watch How to watch ‘Murder She Wrote,’ 8 more Angela Lansbury favorites

Sarah Ridley

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