Murder 101; Take Two
Sometimes old tricks work best because nobody expects smart people to
use the. Mel Harris as writer Dianna Taylor gets tripped up by and old trick in
The Spider and the Fly ('91). Mark Fuhrman gets way with lots of them in Murder in Greenwich.
Sometimes old tricks work best because nobody expects smart people to use the. Mel Harris as writer Dianna Taylor gets tripped up by and old trick in The Spider and the Fly ('91). Mark Fuhrman gets way with lots of them in Murder in Greenwich.
Six days before Nicole Simpsons final birthday a commercial TV network aired a murder mystery starring Mel Harris and Ted Shackelford with as many parallels to the Bundy murders as Rockin Robin. It has a male and a female victim, a beaten wife, a white woman with blonde hair divorced from a black celebrity, a murdered blonde woman, a murdered Jewish man and a confused timeline. It even has a killer with leather gloves who leaves them on the murder scene along with a ski mask and wet shoeprints. You get a close approximation of the Bundy killers Bruno Magli Lorenzo high-tops above the soles on the killers feet.
Im talking about The Spider and the Fly with Mel Harris as Dianna and Ted Shackelford as Michael, two brilliant murder mystery writers playing a deadly game with each other and a fun game with the audience. It has a movie within a movie that plays a trick on audience members who arent murder mystery savvy by giving them a surprising double homicide and a killer who gets away with it.
In The Spider and the Fly movie within a movie, a killer wearing a black ski mask and leather gloves climbs the stairs of a couples bedroom leaving wet shoeprints on the carpet from the driving rain outside. A man is lying in bed. A woman is in the shower, which drowns out the sound of the brief struggle before the intruder repeatedly plunges his knife into the man on the bed. The woman enters the bedroom. The intruder advances slowly toward her. He lifts the sash of her robe with the tip of his knife, raises the knife as if to strike and takes off his mask. Its done, he says. They embrace.
A gunshot blast kills the mood and wounds the astonished killer. I heard an intruder, smiles the woman with a smoking gun in her hand. She shoots the wounded man in the chest. He falls dead at the feet of the man he stabbed to death. The woman digs in her ear with a Q-tip and says, Now its done. Police arrive. She opens the door with tears in her eyes wearing the pitiful expression of an intended victim who somehow managed to survive. The End. The screen dims. Lights go on. The audience applauds. The first public screening of The Spider and the Fly adapted from Dianne Taylors popular book is an unqualified success.
The woman next to Dianna Taylor gushes about how much she loved the movie. A man Dianna doesnt know approaches her and asks if it was from the first book in a series. Dianna tells him that it is the second in a four-part book series with three already published and one in the works. The Spider and the Fly was the first to make it to the screen.
Murder in Greenwich was the second of three Mark Fuhrman books that had already been published with a fourth book in the works. The post-movie conversation in The Spider and the Fly tells you that the man hadnt read Diannas other books but after seeing the movie he will buy them all. You know that Diannas movie success will boost the sales of all three published books substantially and sell the fourth before its published. This is not idle chitchat. Its a motive for murder.
The Spider and the Fly movie surrounding Dianna Taylors movie should have been produced for the big screen. If you find the ending disappointing because you saw it coming ten minutes before it arrived, you missed the point. The killer didnt see it coming. It had been done so many times in fiction that she couldnt conceive of a gifted fiction writer like Michael Moore being dumb enough to try it in real life. He uses the old bulletproof vest-and-tape-recorder-trick, which Pierce Brosnan as a mystery writer used on the killer cop in Murder 101.
Unpredictably was the cornerstone of the D-Day invasion of France. Few things worked according to plan for the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. But this breakdown in the plan made them extremely difficult for the German army to defend against because no one could predict what they would do. Master assassin Joubert and the marine posing as a mailman had this problem with Joe Turner in Three Days of the Condor.
In Murder in Brentwood Fuhrman calls himself a war and history buff to explain his collection of Nazi memorabilia. The Nazis invented paratroopers. The Allies made better use of them because Hitler saw only the casualties his paratroopers suffered in his early campaigns and the Allies saw their consistent success despite their casualties. Eisenhower used his entire war machine with the same daring that he used his paratroopers. So did Hitler until he lost sight of the difference between apparent stupidity and real stupidity.
The more I looked at the Bundy killings the more they looked like a well planned military ambush. Fuhrman had to know how to set one up . All soldiers and marines learn this stuff in Army Basic Training or Marine Corps Boot Camp. Thats why I expected to see as many references as I did to marines in the Fuhrman collection and why I shouldnt have been surprised to see many Army Airborne references. Ted Shackelfords Spider and the Fly character Michael Moore, for instance, was in the Army's Special Forcers. So was Mel Gibsons character in Lethal Weapon and Jim Browns character in Slaughter. Brown, # 32 was a star running back for the Cleveland Browns. He is a marine in Ice Station Zebra. But that movie has no Fuhrman links. Slaughter with Stella Stevens has plenty of them.
Dennis Franz was a combat soldier with the 82nd and 101 Airborne Divisions in Vietnam. Although he frequently plays characters with Italian names his ancestry, like Fuhrmans, is German. The only direct reference Fuhrman makes to an ex-military man in Murder in Greenwich is to rock singer/guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was born in Seattle Washington near Fuhrmans birthplace of Eatonville Washington. Shortly before Hendrix died of a drug overdose in 1970, he told Johnny Carson, that he served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. Fuhrman moonlighted as a bodyguard for Johnny Carson in 1992.
I looked for Fuhrman links in Jack Webbs Dragnet because I though Webb was a WW II marine as well as a make believe LAPD detective, a successful writer and a cop show producer. I found several links between Fuhrman and Webb but only one strong link to Lee Marvin in one movie, Gorky Park with William Hurt and ex-marine Brian Dennehy. Like Jack Webb's character in a 1952 movie called Halls of Montezuma and Lee Marvin in real life, fought with the Marines in the Pacific in WW II. Rod Serling was a WW II paratrooper who also fought in the Pacific. In an episode of Night Gallery called “Midnight Never Ends” where his screenplay characters come to life in countless rewrites, Serling appears in a portrait as a marine with a guitar. The paratrooper’s badge, worn by all qualified members of the American Armed Forces is also a bird link.
Birds take you to eagles and eagles take you to the sculptured Nazi eagle clutching the swastika in the opening of Leni Riefenstahls 36 Triumph of the Will. They also take you to French connections. Then again, so does anything that can be used as a phallic symbol, as Peggy Lipton, The Spider and the Fly publishers wife Helen Stroud demonstrates with her cigarette holder. Helen draws on it mightily then tells Michael Moore, Madonna couldnt suck a decent drag through this thing. If you saw the first Hildy Southerlyn scene in Murder in Greenwich youll also notice the saxophone music in the background in this Spider and the Fly scene.
The Madonna reference comes from the Madonna: Truth or Dare documentary. You have to see what Madonna does with the bottle of water in the Truth or Dare game she plays with her gay and female dancers to get the full impact of Helens quip. The only straight male dancer, Oliver, has left the area in disgust after seeing two men kissing. At least thats the impression he wants everyone to have. Oliver looks awfully feminine to me and his expressed homophobia sounds an awful lot like Hamlets mother during Hamlets play within a play. Me thinks the lady does protest too much. Mark Fuhrman uses this line in Murder in Brentwood to describe Christopher Dardens complaints about news leaks during Fuhrmans O.J. trial testimony rehearsals.
This is the context in which Fuhrman names his favorite athletes: George Forman, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird from French Lick Indiana.
If you look only at the bobbing and twisting of Madonnas head, her lively tongue and the depth to which she takes the long neck of the bottle into her mouth youll miss the reason for her demonstration. Thats what she wants you to do. This is not the obvious sexual exhibitionism it appears to be. Its a demonstration of power, audacity and superior intelligence. She becomes every blonde who has ever lifted a phallic symbol to her lips in the movies, only more so. Most importantly, she shows that she is in charge of tattooing a multi-million dollar image of herself in the minds of millions of people.
Now you know why Helen Stroud says what she does about Madonna. Its a vital clue to solving The Spider and the Fly mystery. She says this right after telling Michael that Blair Delaney is sleeping with her husband Irwin. Just before then Michael tells Cynthia Belliveau as Blair, Irwins second in command, that she looks appetizing. Blair tells him not to order what he cant eat. His subsequent comment on her wicked tongue might pass for a reference to her wit if it werent for her Then, you already knew that reply and Michaels subsequent conversation with Helen. Her parting line when Michael says something she doesnt like is, Youre standing on a rug and I can still pull it out from under you.
Another vital clue to solving the Spider and the Fly mystery is Michaels answer to Helen about Irwin sleeping with Blair, his vice president.
He tells her, Im sure its just business.
Isnt it always? says Helen.
Helens searching eyes tell you a lot about her past present or hopeful relationship with Michael. His clumsy sidestep to avoid answering the question tells you a lot more. It tells you that the writers of the movie dont want you to be sure of Michaels scruples. In a complex, carefully crafted teleplay like this one, you know that there are no wasted scenes, no wasted shots and no wasted lines. Allowing for commercial breaks, there isnt enough time to spell out everything. The lines have to be set up by the scenes and the shots to allow the audience to read between them and to find something new in repeated viewings.
If you dont believe Mark Fuhrman murdered Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson to frame O.J., you wont think anything of the winged horse logo next to the Columbia logo at the start of Murder in Greenwich. If you believe he did and you believe that he got his ideas from the movies, you will look for a killer wearing leather gloves as soon as you see the horse. Horse links are almost as common as bird links in the Fuhrman collection. Pegasus links come with every Columbia/Tri-Star movie and give you both. Wherever you see a horse in the Fuhrman collections, on a wall painting, a statue in a park, a statuette on a desk or the beast on the hoof, you usually see a killer wearing leather gloves. If you blink you could miss them in The Spider and the Fly, but they are there.
The scene with the white horse pulling a buggy in The Spider and the Fly as Dianna leaves a bookstore and crosses a street is not wasted. She is in view of Michael, who is sitting in a park playing chess with an old man. Every big city has places like this where you can find a good chess game with guys who look like Old Hank in Robocop: The Series and play like masters. They have galleries like the men in blue knit caps standing around Michael and the old man and you can count on some of the same players and spectators being there on a regular basis. The regulars play for money and if you are not a very good chess player you might as will give them your money before you start.
Reading between the lines of dialogue you can guess that Michael goes to this park to play chess with the same men frequently and Dianna has arranged for him to accidentally bump into her. Look closely at Erwin Stroud introducing her to Michael and you can see the setup when he lights her cigarette. Look at her timing and what she does with her hand. She gets to him on a subconscious level when he is too involved in what he wants to tell her to know what happened. Thats why Alanna Hamill and Robert Puccci, the people who wrote The Spider and the Fly, made Helen, Michael and Dianna smokers. They did it so Helen could deliver her Madonna line and set Michael up for her reasons and so Michael would have a cigarette lighter to light Diannas cigarette.
Reading between the lines, you can figure out that Irwin Stroud receives sexual favors from his vice president, his secretary and two interns as a demonstration of power. They bestow those favors to get competitive advantages. Michael used Blair the way she used Irwin. Neither Helen nor the audience can be sure if Michael used Helen the same way. The ambiguity is intentional. You have to lean toward the belief that Michael is a man of integrity but to sustain the suspense that he might be a con artist. Sure, good sex is its own reward, but good sex is not what these sex games are about. They are about power and access to power. Everyone involved knows its mostly just business.
You get the same thing in Mark Fuhrmans relationship with Laura Hart and possibly with O.J.s chief prosecutor Marcia Clark, who left a better-paying, higher-ranking job two weeks before the Bundy murders. Marcia Clark habitually hung out with cops in cop bars and specialized in fixing bad search warrants like the one Det. Vannatter wrote for Rockingham. You have to wonder where Marcia was when Fuhrman was in cop bars telling his sex stories about Nicole and abuse stories about O.J.
Were not talking about brainless people using their bodies to succeed in fiction or reality. Were talking about intelligent people willing and able to do anything necessary to promote themselves. Anything. Ruthless pursuit of self-promotion is the core issue. Sex is only one means to that end. A surer means to that end is murder. But as Eddie Murphy as Quick says in Harlem Nights, the key to success is, who you kill.
The Spider and the Fly gives you a double homicide, an open door of a murder victims house, a possible gunshot wound, a ski mask, one glove by feet of male victim. These are items # 3 and # 17 in Mark Fuhrmans Bundy crime scene notes. Ski mask, one glove by feet of male victim is an exact quote from item # 17, Fuhrmans last entry before he handed his notes to his boss. He also mentions a bloody fingerprint on a turn type back gate lock and a blood trail, which he suggested came from the killers body when the dog bit him.
The leather glove Fuhrman found was wet and shiny with blood. In The Spider and the Fly, the killers gloves are wet and shiny with rainwater. The killer bleeds because a cruel, aggressive woman a bitch shoots him in his left side. Its only a possible gunshot wound until you see the gun in her hand and see her fire another bullet into his chest.
Fuhrman did not note that Nicoles watch was stopped at 10:03. He left that for someone else to discover. Everyone who mattered ignored it.
Nicole was O.J.s ex-wife and O.J. was accused of killing her. Mark Fuhrman got national attention because of his involvement in the case. His book a book authored by a man accused of being a Nazi in a case involving a black celebrity accused of killing his white ex-wife and a Jewish man zoomed to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List.
Dianna Taylors hit movie insured that all of her books in the series would be bestsellers. But the murder of her big-time Jewish publisher, with two popular authors one of whom is Jewish a beautiful blonde widow and a sexy blonde executive as suspects, insures that all of the suspects will cash in big. Blare becomes the next CEO. Helen becomes the biggest stockholder. Sales of Diannas books and Michaels will inevitable go through the roof. Jake Sadoff, Michaels lawyer and publicist couldnt be happier. He says with glee, Never has one murder done so much for so many. Sound familiar?
When someone murders Blair and a gaggle of press people flock around Michael to learn why the police wanted to talk to him, his lawyer gives it a Sherlock Holmes spin, casting Michael as Holmes. The dollar signs in his eyes shine brighter than the headlights of his car. He knows the dollar value of murder involving the right people. Erwin and Blair are the right victims. Celebrity authors Dianna and Michael are the right suspects.
You learn that Erwin and Michael are Jewish less than eight minutes into the movie. You know in the seventh minute that it must have mattered to Fuhrman when you hear Michael call a female chief Nicky, you see cobwebs and you hear Blair tell Michael that hes standing on a rug. Youve already seen a killers knife, his ski mask and his bloody leather gloves like the glove Fuhrman pointed to in Nicoles courtyard and the one he found on O.J.s estate before running into cobwebs. The socks he found on O.J.s rug had Nicoles blood on them. This is why you know Erwin and a blonde female are going to get killed and damning evidence is going to point to an innocent suspect. Following the Fuhrman pattern you figure that you might see a maid, a time shift and a killer cop.
Before anyone gets killed Michael Moore is seething with anger. He knows that his last book flopped because Irwin and Blaire didnt give it the publicity and advertising it needed to reach a large audience. He knows that they left him in the shadows so they could shovel more resources into putting the spotlight on Dianna Taylor. He reminds Erwin that his books made Erwin a successful publisher and tells him that he is going to meet with another publisher. Erwin lets him know that he has already gone to see that publisher and made sure that Michael will get nowhere with any publisher but him. Blaire witnessed the whole scene, which ended with Michael telling Erwin to go to hell and giving him a look that could be interpreted in retrospect as his intention to send him there.
Michael makes up with Dianna a day or two later when his is playing chess in the park and he sees her coming from the bookstore. The famous authors enjoy a pleasant chat over dinner in a restaurant. Michael tells Dianna that a mystery should leave the audience wanting more. He says that the destination isnt as important as getting there, navigating the clues and avoiding the traps. He gives her a riddle that he knows she can solve. By doing so while clearly enjoying the process more than the solution she realizes, too late, that she has stepped into his trap. She has proven his point.
Dianna assures Michael that she likes his books but sees them as essentially puzzles. She strives to connect with her readers emotions, to get them to vicariously experience the pleasure of doing away with the people in their lives that upset them. She believes in perfect murders. Like Charlie Lattamore in Murder 101, Michael does not.
The debate continues in Diannas Jaguar. To her, the high percentage of murders that go unsolved is powerful evidence in her favor. Michael dismisses them as random acts that anyone could pull off because there is no link between the killer and the victim. This is nonsense, of course. As Fuhrman says in Murder in Brentwood, If my twenty years as a cop taught me anything, its that people get away with murder every day.
Dianna puts their positions to the test when she sees a homeless man sleeping in an alley. She goes to her trunk, brings back a pistol, loads it, cocks it and challenges Michael to shoot the man, pointing out that there is no connection between them and no one will miss the victim. She proves her point when Michael refuses. Her point was that he couldnt do it. His counter is that he wouldnt do it. She wins again. In either case he does not step over the line between thought and action.
Unable to admit that Dianna beat him with a variation of the trick he played on her, Michael takes the mind game to a new level. He puts his hand over Diannas, locking her finger on the trigger and points the gun at the man in the ally. With a crazed look in his eyes, he challenges her not to move when he counts to three and squeezes her finger on the trigger. He gets to two. She pushes the gun away, incidentally scratching the back of his hand. Its a superficial cut. She dabs the blood away with a handkerchief and they settle down. Michael pulls out the magazine, unchambers the round and puts the pistol back in the trunk. He never admits that he lost the debate and that he did what he did because he is a sore loser.
The next morning Michael leaves a message on Diannas answering machine proposing a friendlier game and giving her a riddle to solve. She solves the riddle immediately and accepts the challenge. In a slight variation on the assignment that Charlie Lattamore the Murder 101 professor gives his writing students, he proposes that they each try to design a perfect murder. Only this time, the victim has to be someone both of them has a motive to kill. The first one to do it wins the prize of his or her choice. Its a bet that neither of them can lose. They know that whoever wins will demand sex from the other. They knew before they left the restaurant that they both wanted it.
That night while Michael is sitting at his computer struggling to devise his murder, his housekeeper tells him that a police detective wants to see him. The detective tells Michael that Erwin Stroud was murdered and suggests that Dianna Taylor is his prime suspect. He says he talked to Dianna, who told him something that didnt check out but led to Blair Delaney and him. The detective says that he talked to Blair. He asks Michael what time he got home. Michael tells him, 10:36. He knew the time because he saw the bank clock from his bathroom window.
Michael feels a draft and goes back to his study to close an open window. Before he can think about how the window opened, Dianna pops up telling him that Erwin is dead and that the police think she did it. She tells him that she saw the cop car outside and climbed through his window. She swears she is innocent but worries that the police know about their game. Michel shrugs it off as being no motive for murder.
The detective walks in on them and tells Michael that her personal management contract with Erwin is a motive. She explains that the contract Erwin made her sign gave him half of everything she made. Whats more, the killer left her gun on the scene.
As damning as this sounds for Dianna it helps her when the detective begins to hint that Michael is his prime suspect. He tells Michael that the gun was wiped clean except for one fingerprint, Michaels. Then Blair calls to tell Michael that the police know about the row he had with Erwin and asked her for the medical records from his insurance policy. The detective then tells Michael that Erwins killer pulled the plug to his electric clock. He says that Erwins wounds were such that he couldnt have done it and the killer obviously turned back the hand of the clock to 9:43 to give himself an alibi. He says the police found a speck of blood on the turn dial of the clock in Strouds office. It matches yours.
Michael is outraged. He screams that Dianna committed the murder and is setting him up. He tells the detective about the scratch on his hand and Dianna getting his blood from it. He declares, This is armature night. He says he writes this stuff for a living, which he knows the detective knows because he told him he read his books.
Michael appeals to the detectives common sense, saying, Dont you think I would have worn gloves? Unfortunately, that argument doesnt get it. Holing up a plastic bag containing a bloody latex glove that police found near the gun, the detective tells him that there was a tiny hole in one of the fingers. You see him lead Michael away in handcuffs knowing that Dianna did set him up. You dont know that the detective knows it, too. You dont know that its a conspiracy.
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