Review: They Only Kill Their Masters

[Originally published in Movietone News 21, February 1973]

Winning, Red Sky at Morning, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Each one more atrocious than the one that went before. Which tends to raise the question: how does James Goldstone, the most conspicuously untalented director of the past ten years, get financed (Ernest Lehman of Portnoy’s Complaint is exempt, being very talented—as a writer)?

Admittedly, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight was just about the yelpingest dog even Goldstone could sire, so he has had no recourse but to turn to symbolic self-parody: a dog becomes the focus of his new film. But even here, incompetence tells, if only grammatically: they may only kill their masters, but only one dog, a gorgeous Doberman named Murphy, appears in the film. So does Garner, as a ’round-the-turn-of-40 police chief in a seaside California town, and so do at least six old-style stars in roles ranging from element-of-the-decor through specialty-gargoyle to lethal walk-on. None of them can do much with a script that permits characters privy to inaccessible information (e.g., the dispatcher in Garner’s office knows what drug a veterinarian has just injected into Garner’s arm even though neither she nor any other police agent was present besides the man drugged, and she tells him what it was just so we can squirm with the information it can kill him) and insists on walking its prime murder suspect through the unlikeliest, most capture-inviting behavior since Flowerbelle Lee set her cap for Cuthbert J. Twilley.

RTJ

THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS
Direction: James Goldstone. Screenplay: Lane Slate. Cinematography: Michel Hugo.
The Players: James Garner, Katharine Ross, Christopher Connelly, Tom Ewell, Ann Rutherford, Harry Guardino, Hal Holbrook, Peter Lawford, Arthur O’Connell, Edmond O’Brien, June Allyson.

Copyright © 1973 Richard T. Jameson