Friday, November 5, 2010

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)

In the years between his TV triumphs on Maverick in the ’50s and The Rockford Files in the ’70s, James Garner enjoyed an admirable career on the big screen, mostly in action flicks and light comedies. One of the pictures from this period, They Only Kill Their Masters, is of unique interest because it offers an early glimpse at the easygoing-detective vibe that made Garner so appealing as Jim Rockford. A slight (and slightly sleazy) whodunit with the offbeat gimmick of treating a Doberman Pinscher as a suspect, the picture takes place in a small coastal town in California, where charmingly grumpy Garner is the sheriff who keeps locals and tourists in line. When a woman is found in the ocean with her Doberman’s jaws clamped onto her body, Abel Marsh (Garner) believes the canine went crazy, but then a deeper mystery unfolds involving adultery, group sex, and, worst of all, out-of-towners. The salacious storyline helps the movie overcome its TV-grade production values, as does the presence of several big-screen regulars: Katharine Ross is alluring as a veterinarian who steers Garner away from rushing to judgment, Peter Lawford is pompous as an L.A. smoothie slumming in the small town, Harry Guardino scowls as a state cop eager to claim jurisdictional authority over Garner, and Hal Holbrook is wonderfully sympathetic as a character whose role in the mystery is, well, a mystery—at least until the surprising conclusion. FYI, the Abel Marsh character resurfaced in a pair of 1977 made-for TV movies, Deadly Game and The Girl in the Empty Grave; for those projects, Andy Griffith took over the role originated by Garner. (Available at

They Only Kill Their Masters: FUNKY

1 comment:

Tommy Ross said...

pretty decent mystery flick, the first two Doberman Gang movies are better though...