Friday, July 25, 2008

Men on Film: On the Other Hand, Death - A Donald Strachey Mystery

Today, we have a special double feature review for you today of On the Other Hand, Death, directed by Ron Oliver, premiering tonight on here! TV.

Reverend's Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade:

After being subjected to hunky but straight private investigators on TV for decades (perhaps most notably Magnum, P.I.), we finally have our own, openly gay mystery-solver! His name is Donald Strachey, and he's played by hottie Chad Allen (currently on stage opposite Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead in Pasadena Playhouse's Looped). Strachey's latest adventure, On the Other Hand, Death, debuts tonight on here!, American's premium gay television network.

This is actually the third filmed Donald Strachey mystery, after Third Man Out and Shock to the System. A fourth, Ice Blues, will premiere this fall. I haven't seen the previous movies and so was unfamiliar with the character, who is featured in a series of novels by Richard Lipez, under the pen name Richard Stevenson.

The plot of On the Other Hand, Death is pretty standard stuff for the genre: someone is terrorizing homeowners in an effort to get them to sell their lucrative property as part of a big-money scheme. Even Scooby-Doo has covered this territory. What is unique here isn't only that the investigator is openly, unapologetically gay (and is married to his partner, an amusingly buttoned-up New York State Senate staffer played by Sebastian Spence), but the victims are a lesbian couple.

Margot Kidder of Superman fame plays high school guidance counselor Dorothy, and Gabrielle Rose (a veteran of numerous TV series including The L Word and Eureka) plays her longtime companion, Edith. It's always great to see Kidder, although she makes some disappointingly stereotypical choices -- including wearing all-flannel and foregoing make-up -- in playing a "butch" lesbian woman. Rose gives the best, most nuanced performance in the film as a woman hiding a secret from the past.

Consistent with the genre, there are many suspects with secret pasts and motivations. One is a teenager struggling with his sexuality, although he serves more as an opportunity to plug a real-life GLBT organization, the Trevor Project, than as a significant plot device. The Trevor Project is mentioned repeatedly, as is Dorothy's mantra "We don't pick our fights; our fights pick us." As a result, they can't help but come across as heavy-handed.

Still, On the Other Hand, Death provides a great opportunity to snuggle on the sofa with your honey for 90 minutes and realize P.I.s on TV have come a long way since The Rockford Files.

Reel Thoughts by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine:
Out actor Chad Allen probably never expected to be the here! network’s Jessica Fletcher, but then again, the kind of scrapes he gets into would never have happened on Murder, She Wrote. Allen plays Donald Strachey, a happily partnered private eye who upends stereotypes while solving crimes having to do with outing, ex-gay therapy, and now gay hate crimes and the challenges of GLBT teens, especially in conservative small towns.

Strachey’s husband, New York State Senate staffer Tim Callahan (Sebastian Spence), is contacted by an old flame who has returned to Albany to help his old high school counselor. Dorothy, played wonderfully by the wry Margot Kidder, and her terrified partner Edith (Gabrielle Rose) have been plagued by increasingly violent attacks on their farmhouse ever since Dorothy came out.

In addition, Dorothy finds herself having to defend herself from a vicious band of parents who don’t want her advising their children. The film does a nice job of publicizing the Trevor Project, a valuable resource for gay teens who are contemplating suicide. One of the possible suspects in the latest string of hate crimes may be the father of a boy who Dorothy was helping. As Donald delves deeper, however, he finds that some people may stop at nothing if it means putting money in their pocket, even murder.

Allen plays Strachey with a cool demeanor that makes him a great gay character. He’s completely trusting in his husband’s love and fidelity, even as Andrew, the old flame, seems to be stirring the pot romantically, playing them both against each other. Kidder has grown into such a warm, comfortably gruff older woman; she really makes Dorothy both a force to be reckoned with and a person you would want to protect.

The mystery has enough twists and surprises to keep you totally engaged, while the film feels like a rich, satisfying novel brought to life. If you don’t have here!, then watch for the film to come out on DVD later this year.

UPDATE: On the Other Hand, Death is now available on DVDfrom

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