Friday, January 30, 2009

MURDER ON LOCATION by "George Kennedy"

George Kennedy won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1968 for COOL HAND LUKE and was the only actor to appear in all four of the popular, star-studded AIRPORT thrillers of the 1970s, but today he’s probably best known for playing Captain Ed Hocken alongside Leslie Nielsen and O.J. Simpson in THE NAKED GUN comedies. An amiable guy in interviews, with a reputation as a hard-working and dependable actor, I’ve always found him a welcome addition to any motion picture or TV show, even when he’s taking bear-sized bites out of the scenery (FOOLS’ PARADE, anyone? How about that dual role in HOTWIRE?). An avid reader for years, Kennedy supposedly turned novelist in the early ‘80s and penned two paperback mysteries that were published by Avon, Murder on Location (1983) and Murder on High (1984). Casting himself in the lead role as amateur sleuth and setting the action against the backdrop of the movie industry, Kennedy came up with a pair of entertaining celebrity whodunits and even peppered them with well known actors in supporting roles and cameos.

Kennedy actually leaves most of the detective work in Murder on Location to his good friend Mike Corby, an ex-New York City cop whose investigation and eventual capture of the dreaded “Park Avenue Rapist” back in the ‘70s was the basis for the Al Pacino smash hit BADGE OF HONOR; like his real-life counterparts Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, whose high-profile drug busts inspired THE FRENCH CONNECTION, the fictional Corby successfully parlayed his years in the NYPD into a second career as a technical advisor and character actor in Hollywood. Murder on Location puts Kennedy and Corby in Mexico for the filming of THE GODLESS, a $30 million Western starring newcomers Blossom Foster and Alex Keglmeyer and a slew of veterans ranging from Dean Martin, Glenn Ford and Mariette Hartley to Raquel Welch, Genevieve Bujold and special guest Yul Brynner. The production has Oscar written all over it, but when crew members start turning up dead -- either killed in mysterious "accidents" or murdered outright -- it becomes apparent that someone doesn't want THE GODLESS to ever get finished. The bodies pile up quickly, as do the suspects: the snotty TV gossip show host, the Texas oil millionaire who's signing the checks, the uncooperative local police chief, the gay matador, the mother of teen glamour girl Blossom Foster, Corby's new flame Meredy -- practically anyone who set foot on the set could be the killer, Kennedy and Corby included. When both the producer and director die and Kennedy is recruited by the studio to take over the picture, Corby tries to lure the killer out of hiding by calling a phony press conference to announce the killer's identity.

It ain't Agatha Christie but it certainly is a lot of fun, especially if you're a movie buff who grew up watching Kennedy in action during his peak years (Fans of THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT will get a charge out of Clint Eastwood's cameo appearance). And just like Crime on My Hands and Stranger at Home -- the two mysteries credited to actor George Sanders but ghost written by others (Craig Rice and Leigh Bracket, respectively) -- Kennedy's celebrity mysteries weren't written by him at all. The general consensus is that mystery novelist Walter J. Sheldon penned both of them. He did a great job, because I really believed I was inside the mind of George Kennedy for most of Murder on Location, especially during passages like this one:

When we arrived at the location area the caterers already had the breakfast fires burning in the big truck, and we lined up and gave our orders -- for me, a bacon and egg sandwich with lots of onions. The onions were an indulgence; they unsettle my stomach, but I love them and, what the hell, on location one tends to be a little reckless.

Onions so early in the morning, George? I hope you packed your Breath Asure!

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