An actress with a dubious past, Ann Arden (Ann-Margret, Tommy), marries a Navy Officer, Billy Grenville (Stephen Collins, TV’s 7th Heaven), who belongs to one of New York’s richest families. Anne is perceived by Billy’s family as nothing more than a gold-digger. Ann’s biggest critic is her formidable mother-in-law, Mrs. Alice Grenville (Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night). When Ann allegedly kills Billy by accident, everyone wonders whether she is guilty of murder or not.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Nobody believed me except the Grand Jury.”
Based upon Dominick Dunne’s semi-fictional book of the same name, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles is a loose dramatization of a real-life murder case that took place in 1955. Names have been changed, some facts have been altered, characters have been eliminated/added, but the essence of the case is here.
I’m assuming that author Dunne was trying to avoid a lawsuit and that’s too bad because the real events were even more sordid than this faux true crime drama. I’m an avid true crime fan so I’m familiar with what Life magazine nicknamed “The Shooting of the Century” and I still hope one day someone else will attempt to tell the story as it happened — it’s a fascinating case, “The O. J. Simpson Murder Case” of 1950s.
The Two Mrs. Grenvilles originally aired over two nights on NBC. The first part establishes the main characters and their relationships. The second part covers the murder, the criminal investigation and the sensation trial. Playwright and novelist Derek Marlowe’s (A Dandy in Aspic and The Disappearance) teleplay is good, especially the section dedicated to the investigation, but the first half was a bit sluggish.
As usual, Ann-Margret gives an excellent performance, but the program really comes alive when she shares a scene with the legendary Claudette Colbert — the ladies’ sporadic confrontations provide this mini-series with its most compelling moments.
The role of the elder Mrs. Alice Grenville was a much-sought-after role among movie legends — Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis actively campaigned for it — but the producers convinced Colbert to come out of retirement. Neither retirement nor advanced age had diminished Colbert’s acting abilities — she steals every scene she’s in. Eighty-four-year-old Colbert brings a surprising amount of vitality to the scenes between the two Mrs. Grenvilles — this is Colbert’s very last film.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Two Mrs. Grenvilles was made at the tail end of America’s Golden Age of TV Mini-series. I will admit that next to other shows like Roots, Shogun or The Thorn Birds, this TV show may not look like much, but it’s an old-fashioned, elegant, and yes, fun program. Fans of Ann-Margret and Claudette Colbert don’t want to miss it. Recommended. Color, 178 minutes, Not Rated.