Father Dowling Mysteries: The Complete Series
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (28th June 2017).
The Film

Developed for television from by the novels of Ralph McInerny by Dean Hargrove (Columbo) and Joel Steiger (McCloud), Father Dowling Myseries (1989-1991) is the kind of light primetime mystery fare meant to appeal to fans of other Hargrove/Fred Silverman (In the Heat of the Night) series like Diagnosis Murder, Jake and the Fatman, and Matlock, as well as the Perry Mason Returns series of TV movies. In the pilot movie from 1987 "Fatal Confession", Chicago-area parish St. Michael's priest Father Frank Dowling (Happy Days' Tom Bosley) suspects murder in the suicidal fall of a young genius toy executive Andy Moore (Major League's Kevin Crowley) who was obsessed with learning the identities of his birth parents. With street smart reformed teenage swindler Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski (Down and Out in Beverly Hills' Tracy Nelson), Frank tries to solve the murder by finding the victim's parents and runs afoul of both a mobster's widow (The Naked Gun's Leslie Nielsen) and a senator (Family's Sada Thompson) whose mob witnesses keep dropping dead. Peter Scolari (Newhart), Stella Stevens (The Poseidon Adventure), and Susan Blakely (The Towering Inferno) guest star. The actual feature-length first episode "The Missing Body Mystery" in which a bullet-riddled man expires in Frank's confessional after some dying words and subsequently disappears when Frank returns with the police feels more like a reboot of the pilot as it shares some common elements like a death tied to a larger criminal conspiracy, an impersonator used to throw Frank off the trail, restating housekeeper Marie's (Sister Act's Mary Wickes) preference for Frank's predecessor (even though he has been dead for fifteen years), and the threat of the Bishop (now Society's Charles Lucia) shipping Frank off if he keeps playing amateur detective. Dowling's police detective nephew from the pilot (Bachelor Party's Robert Prescott) who was meant to inadvertently take all of the credit for solving the cases is replaced with the oblivious Father Prestwick (The Paper Chase's James Stephens) installed by the Bishop as an observer but who Frank and Steve suspect is his intended replacement, while the series would later introduce a regular police presence in Sergeant Clancy (Regina Krueger). While Frank is apt to stumble upon a case as a guest at "The Murder Weekend Mystery", as a freelance art critic in "The Legacy Mystery", or while laid up in the hospital in "The Medical Mystery" but they sometimes come to him as he is taken into confidence by his parishioners such as the subjects of the "The Perfect Couple Mystery", an exotic dancer who witnesses a murder in "The Exotic Dancer Mystery", and a woman who haunted by the ghost of her father (or is she?) in "The Ghost of a Chance Mystery". Sometimes the menace comes from within the church, as in "The Visiting Priest Mystery" and the two-part "The Mafia Priest Mystery" in which a young priest from a Mafia family may or may not be in the parish under false pretenses, while Frank is put in hot water on three occasions by his ne'er-do-well twin brother Blaine, and the good-natured Father Prestwick is the victim of more than one confidence scheme. While Sister Steve's shady past has its advantages in her acquaintances with police officers and local con artists, other figures from her past are also the subject of cases, including an old flame (Falcon Crest's William R. Moses) and her brother (The Gate's Stephen Dorff) who witness murders or another brother (Ulee's Gold's Steven Flynn) "bedeviled" by trickster gangster Harry Deal (Total Recall's Michael Champion). Steve is also willing to go undercover, sometimes as a minor bit to advance the plot but also sometimes as to solve the case, as a call girl in "The Missing Witness Mystery" or switching places with an English princess in "The Royal Mystery" to thwart a kidnapping. Although just as pleasantly formulaic as the other Hargrove/Silverman shows, Father Dowling Mysteries did appear to be more limited by the setup and the series only lasted two abbreviated seasons of seven and thirteen episodes and only one full season of twenty-four episodes before its cancellation. With an insufficient amount of episodes for syndication, the series has largely been unavailable until the original 2012 DVD season sets and the occasional marathons (although standards have changed more recently with the popularity of shorter season series often coming to network television syndication as soon as they wrap), and home video may indeed the best way to reassess the series.
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Video

The series forty-two episodes are spread over ten dual-layer DVDs. Shot on film and finished on early nineties analog video, the image looks fairly stable in closeups and softer long shots, but wider shots evince video noise in areas of fine detail. Program time is roughly three to four hours per disc, but it is doubtful that a higher bitrate and more discs could make the series look significantly better considering the source.
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Audio

Audio is in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with the stereo mix being fairly basic with centered dialogue, some spread to the music score, and occasional directional effects. English SDH subtitles area also included.
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Extras

The only extras are promos for every episode but "The Mafia Priest Mystery: Part 2" on the season one set (IMDb confirms it was indeed originally broadcast as a two-parter and not split up for syndication).
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Overall

Developed for television from by the novels of Ralph McInerny, Father Dowling Myseries (1989-1991) is the kind of light primetime mystery fare meant to appeal to fans of other Dean Hargrove/Fred Silverman series like Diagnosis Murder, Jake and the Fatman, and Matlock.
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