Dick Van Dyke and company return to CBS in an all new “Diagnosis Murder” mystery movie. “A Town without Pity” explores ethnic racism in the wake of Sept. 11 and the extremes to which some are willing to go to express their hatred. Van Dyke (“Mary Poppins”) reprises his role as Dr. Mark Sloan in this new television movie. This doctor and amateur murder investigator takes his show on the road to Nevada in search of his missing daughter Carol.
Dr. Sloan receives a frantic phone call from his daughter asking for help during his son”s birthday party. The connection on the cell phone is bad so he does not understand her very well. He becomes worried and sets off to make sure his daughter is safe. Dr. Sloan travels to Nevada and finds a gas station attendant who informs him that he sent a young woman and her foreign friend to a near-by town to have their car repaired. When he arrives in town, the entire community countinually tells lies and tries to force him back to Los Angeles. Dr. Sloan”s son Steve (Barry Van Dyke, “Battlestar Galactica”) follows his father to the town in search for answers to Carol”s disappearance.
Unable to find Carol, they eventually call on their friends, the medical examiner Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell, “The Young and the Restless”) and fellow young doctor Jessie Travis (Charlie Schlatter) to help. With the entire cast reunited, they attempt to uncover the prejudices the town desperately tries to keep secret. The town totally turns against them and they fear the worst for Carol and her traveling companion. They meet a couple non-hostile townies that help in the investigation. Steve even assists the young blonde deputy when a woman from town just accidentally turns up dead from a car accident.
Because this is part of the television series “Diagnosis Murder,” there is of course at least one murder. This one hits close to home for the Sloans and brings a new set of emotions to the usual ambivalence to death the show has had in the past. Dick Van Dyke turns in a good performance while commenting on a recent social problem. The supporting cast is there to move the plot along and to give Dr. Sloan the expert knowledge necessary to actually solve the crime. It”s just convenient that his son is a detective.
The plot moves at a steady pace and the constant distraction of two dim-witted men hanging around the mechanic”s garage provide comic relief to the serious message. They sell so-called fossils they find to out-of-towners as souvenirs. Their purpose involves a major discovery that leads Detective Sloan to the murder.
The movie centered on the worst hate crime possible and the snowballing effect that can occur. The hate of the foreigner, who turns out to be of Arab descent, by the town, shows that hate crimes not only affect the victim. The plot has relevance to the times and not only keeps the viewer guessing until the end, but teaches tolerance through entertainment. Dick Van Dyke stretches the limits of his acting to make a public statement against violence and the need for acceptance.