Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun mysteries and characters
Cons: Pacing is a little slow
The Bottom Line:
A priest, mysteries
Tad slow, but still delightful
With two charming leads
Introducing Father Dowling
Somewhere along the line, I caught a few reruns of the Father Dowling Mysteries, and I found them fun. I’d always been curious to see more, and thanks to TV on DVD sets, I can do just that. Season 1 was short, but it was also a good introduction.
This set actually starts with the movie that introduced the viewing world to Father Frank Dowling (Tom Bosley). He’s a priest at St. Michael’s church in a poorer neighborhood of Chicago. He’s assisted in his ministry and his sleuthing by Sister Stephanie “Steve” Oskowski (Tracy Nelson). There’s also his housekeeper, grumpy Marie Murkin (Mary Wickes), who always seems to find something to complain about. The movie finds Father Dowling investigating when one of the grown-up boys who had grown up in his church commits suicide by jumping from the ledge of his successful company’s top floor.
Thanks to the 1988 writer’s strike, the first season was short, featuring 7 episodes, although one of them was a double length episode. Over the course of these episodes, a bride-to-be is killed and her fiancée framed just two months before their wedding at St. Michael’s. Sister Steve’s old flame comes to them for help after he witnesses a murder someone wants to cover up. A dead body vanishes between when Father Dowling finds it and the police arrive. The duo must figure out who left a baby behind in the church. And Father Dowling’s twin brother shows up in town and causes havoc for the priest.
These episodes originally aired during the winter of 1989, and the date definitely shows in some of the costumes and music. Yet the stories themselves are still interesting. I appreciate the fact that some of the mysteries don’t start with a dead body; there are other mysterious things happening before the dead body shows up. It creates a nice break for the formula.
The characters are wonderful as well. Those familiar with the series looking for James Stephens as Father Phillip Prestwick might be surprised to remember that he was only in two episodes this season. He would join the cast full time in season two. Marie is only in a few scenes, often providing some comic relief in a sub-plot, but her scenes are always fun. That means as far as main characters go, Father Dowling and Sister Steve have to carry the show, and they do a wonderful job of it. Their relationship is absolutely charming. The two obviously care for each other deeply, but it is a father/daughter relationship. We aren’t told for sure, at least here, but I suspect that Father Dowling had much to do with Steve not going into the ways of her former friends from the bad neighborhood where she grew up. She has some surprises in her thanks to that background that the writers use to help solve the cases. The actors are perfect at bringing this relationship to life, and you have to smile at some of their exchanges.
My only real complaint is that the show tends to be a bit slow. It’s a pacing issue. I don’t feel it is a matter of when the show was made because I didn’t notice it when watching the first season of Murder, She Wrote earlier this summer. Instead, I think it is a stylistic choice made to set this series off from the other mystery shows of the day. Either way, it is a minor issue.
As I said, season one was short, so it isn’t a surprise that this set only has two discs. The seven episodes plus the movie are preserved in their native full frame and stereo sound. Given how old the show is, both are in good shape and very watchable, although you won’t find the perfection of a show being filmed today. The only thing we have in the way of extras is episode teasers. By my count, the only episode that doesn’t have its own promo is the second part of a two parter, and the teaser that is included really covers both episodes.
With only three seasons, the Father Dowling Mysteries have fallen off many radars. If you’ve missed the show, it is worth finding the first season set and enjoying these cases.
(Or you can do like I did and skip to the complete series set.)
Season 1 Episodes:
Fatal Confession (Original TV Pilot Movie)
1. The Missing Body Mystery (Double length episode)
2. What Do You Call a Call Girl Mystery
3. The Man Who Came to Dinner Mystery
4. The Mafia Priest Mystery (Part 1)
5. The Mafia Priest Mystery (Part 2)
6. The Face in the Mirror Mystery
7. The Pretty Baby Mystery