In the 1940s, an actress with a dubious past, Ann Arden (Ann-Margret, Pocketful of Miracles), marries a Navy Officer, Billy Grenville (Stephen Collins, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), who belongs to one of New York’s richest families. Anne is perceived by Billy’s family and friends 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), who barely tolerates her daughter-in-law for the sake of appearances. When Ann allegedly kills Billy by accident, The Grenvilles quickly circle the wagons around Ann, but everyone wonders whether she is guilty of murder or not.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Based upon Dominick Dunne’s semi-fictional book of the same name, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, directed by John Erman, is a loose dramatization of a real-life murder case that took place in 1955. Names have been changed (The Woodwards become The Grenvilles), some facts have been altered, characters have been eliminated/added, but the essence of the case is here.
I’m assuming that bestselling 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 “The Shooting of the Century” and I still hope one day someone else would attempt to tell the story as it happened — it’s a fascinating case, “The O. J. Simpson murder case” of the 1950s.
The Two Mrs. Grenvilles originally aired over two nights, on NBC, and the first part establishes the main characters and their relationships. The second part covers the crime, investigation, and trial. Derek Marlowe’s teleplay is good, but the first half is a bit sluggish — I much preferred the second part. Ann-Margret gives an excellent performance, but the program really comes alive when she shares a scene with Colbert — the ladies’ sporadic confrontations provide this mini-series with its most compelling moments.
The part of Mrs. Alice Grenville was a much-sought-after role among elderly 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. The 84-year-old Colbert brings a surprising amount of vitality to the scenes between the two Mrs. Grenvilles — this is Colbert’s last film.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Two Mrs. Grenvilles was made at the tail end of America’s Golden Age of TV mini-series. Next to other shows like Holocaust, Shogun, or The Thorn Birds, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles may not look like much, but it’s an old-fashioned, elegant, and yes, fun program. Fans of the leading ladies don’t want to miss it. Also with Sam Wanamaker (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) as the DA, Siân Phillips (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) as a thinly-disguised Wallis Simpson, and Elizabeth Ashley (Windows) as one of Colbert’s daughters. Beautiful music score by Marvin Hamlisch (The Way We Were and Sophie’s Choice). Color, 178 minutes, Not Rated.