The Girl In The Empty Grave is a puzzler all right …
… and by “puzzler” it’s meant viewers will find themselves attempting to make heads and/or tails of this Throwback Thursday Andy Griffith mystery from the 70s. Thankfully, the recognizable faces of the cast – despite goofy plot turns they’re forced to endure – make it somewhat watchable.
The Girl In The Empty Grave.
Just as there was the need to dig up the girl’s grave (how else were they going to establish the grave was indeed empty?), it was a mess.
So to gain a little perspective, I went digging into its history. Come to find out, Andy Griffith (protagonist Able Marsh in this telefilm) was on the spy for a television series and this intended pilot was one of those efforts … and a failed one at that. And it wasn’t the first that failed — there were a slew of additional pilots, cropped series and one-off mysteries of the week before Griffith finally cut the mustard with Matlock in 1986. But all of them weren’t dead end disappointments. One of his most surprising roles — as a homicidal baddie in Murder In Coweta County — is worthy of a look for the interesting and uncommon performance he churns out.
Viewing this piece, however, it’s evident why it tanked in the “Hey! Let’s make a series!” department. It’s a virtual story jumble, convoluted and difficult to follow. If you’re in for the mystery aspect of it alone, you’re going to have a tough time. There are tons of other whodunnits out there vastly superior to this. Me? I gave it a go because Andy Griffith starred in the vehicle. I was curious about that. Plus the fact the title sounded intriguing. (Seriously: How can anyone be in an “empty grave” … ??? Hello! No one can! It’s empty … !!! Duh!)
(Of note is the image above with the dead body of Elizabeth’s father sitting and slumped on the left. Marsh and company appear comically oblivious to the fact there’s a corpse in the room. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this scene.)
The film starts off with someone zipping and weaving a muscle car through mountain curves at way-too-fast a clip while the credits for the film roll across the screen. Eventually, the acceleration gets the better of the driver and off the side of a mountain the car goes.
The driver turns out to be Elizabeth Alden, thought to be the titular girl planted in the local cemetery. When one of Police Chief Abel Marsh’s (Griffith) flunky deputies sees Elizabeth toodling through the main drag of town, Marsh is skeptical … until he himself witnesses same. Suddenly, it appears there’s a mystery at hand. So Marsh pays a visit to the girl’s still grieving parents. Shortly thereafter, the two end up getting mysteriously offed themselves. All of a sudden our good police chief has his hands full.
Which would be well and fine except for the fact the story takes a turn for the goofy at this point. The plot gets mired in seemingly nonsensical monkey business, unrelated characters who might or might not be involved with Elizabeth’s “death” (some of whom are throwaway at best) and dialog that leaves you shaking your head and sighing, wondering if you should really continue on with the tale. Fair warning if you decide to venture in: The Girl In The Empty Grave is an exercise in patience.
But, while this subpar mystery did nothing for me in and of itself, the kick in the shins that brought me joy was the players in the game. And what a bevy of familiar faces! Byron Murrow of Colossus: The Forbin Project! James Cromwell! (He was Zephram Cochran from Star Trek don’tcha know! And George Sibley from Six Feet Under! And pain in the ass Bob Gerson from Space Cowboys! Hey … let’s go way back: Remember Stretch Cunningham from All In The Family? Yep … that’s him!) The dashing Dr. Peter Cabe? None other than Edward Winter who I recognized immediately as the Col. Flagg from television’s M*A*S*H. And, surprising of all, wow … Cortland Gates was played by none other than Jonathan Banks! You’ll recall he was the methodical Mike Ehrmantraut of Breaking Bad and (you might not recall) Victor Maitland’s psycho-stare right hand man in Beverly Hills Cop. What a fun cast bumbling about in a hokey teleflick. Truth be told, these actors (and other recognizable faces) are what made the film for me.
If you’re an Andy Griffith aficionado, you’ll want to include this in your collection. His effort might be passable but the plot is not. Some may find it a nice piece of their Griffith puzzle … but this reviewer is not one of those.
This DVD boasted a bare bones 91 minutes of standard format playback with no extras, trailers or commentary. No surprise there in that it was a television production. At least there’s the eye-catching and drowned-in-blood-red cover of the disc case to ponder over.
The Girl In The Empty Grave was generously provided by the Warner Archive Collection for CliqueClack’s review.