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Case Number 23275

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Father Dowling Mysteries: The First Season

Paramount // 1989 // 474 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // February 7th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge P.S. Colbert lately finds himself starting most sentences with: "Well, in my day..."

Editor's Note

Our review of Father Dowling Mysteries: The Second Season, published July 22nd, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

"Do five Hail Marys, six Our Fathers, and an act of contrition. And get a new secretary!"—Father Frank Dowling

Opening Statement

I couldn't have been less interested when this senior-friendly sleuthing series began its weekly run in January 1989. After all, I was young, care free, and had better things to do than spend my Friday evenings at home watching a clerical clone of Murder, She Wrote. But now, as my application for AARP membership creeps ever closer towards my mailbox, Father Dowling Mysteries: The First Season debuts on DVD. Coincidence?

Facts of the Case

Saints preserve us! Here comes Father Dowling (Tom Bosley, Happy Days), and where Dowling goes, trouble—usually homicidal in nature—follows. This two-disc set kicks off with the 1987 pilot telefilm, followed by all seven Season One episodes :

• "Fatal Confession" (Original TV Movie)

• "The Missing Body Mystery"

• "What Do You Call A Call Girl Mystery"

• "The Man Who Came To Dinner Mystery"

• "The Mafia Priest Mystery" (Parts 1 and 2)

• "The Face In The Mirror Mystery"

• "The Pretty Baby Mystery"

The Evidence

Although nominally based on a series of mystery novels by Ralph McInerny, this television translation owes its genesis almost entirely to Angela Lansbury's ratings powerhouse on CBS. NBC had a fervent desire to siphon off as much of that large devoted audience as possible, by providing them with basically the same show, only slightly different.

Father Frank is pastor of St. Michael's parish in Chicago, but he might as well be giving last rites at Cabot Cove Cathedral. Make no mistake; the Padre's heart is as big as all outdoors, but the chance of walking out of his church alive is about as good as the chance of surviving a dinner party at Jessica Fletcher's house!

And who better for the title role than Tom Bosley? After a solid decade of playing Howard (Mr. C) Cunningham, the Windy City native had established himself as a patriarchal figure. What's more, Bosley spent five seasons playing Sheriff Amos Tupper on—you guessed it—Murder, She Wrote! The roly-poly actor with the cheerful disposition and the hangdog face is clearly in his element here, and seems to be having the time of his life. And, well…disliking Tom Bosley is surely un-American, if not downright immoral, right?

Ably assisted by street-smart Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski (Tracy Nelson, Square Pegs), the fearless Father Frank takes on mobsters, ladies-of-the-night, gun-runners, kidnappers, baby-snatchers, and perhaps most frustrating of all, clueless and dismissive police detectives, in order to keep his congregation safe from Sunday to Sunday.

Paramount has done a bang-up job, delivering clean and vivid full screen transfers with quality 2.0 Dolby sound, though my battle-scarred ears always appreciate the addition of subtitles for the hard-of-hearing, so additional kudos for including that helpful feature.

There's nothing in the way of extras, but the episodes in this all-too-brief introductory season speak for themselves. I say: MORE, PLEASE!!!

Closing Statement

Ahh…There's nothing quite like a mystery that one doesn't have to solve himself!

The Verdict

ego te absolvo.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 93
Extras: 0
Acting: 94
Story: 90
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 474 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Crime
• Drama
• Mystery
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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