Jan Manning has taken over her husband’s dress shop, but business is not going so well. If sales don’t improve, she might lose the shop the same way she lost her husband — to another man; in this case, a banker. OK, maybe her husband died; I was dozing off during part of this.
Salesman Mel stops by the shop, mostly to check out Jan’s gams as far as I can tell. After checking her out making a literal display of herself in the store window, he enters and greets Jan and her assistant Evy. He has that swagger, smarmy demeanor and big insincere smile that women hate; wait, I mean that women fall for every time. When she says she is not buying, he replies, ” Anyone starting out with your physical assets ought to be worth a cool million by now.”
Jan takes Mel in the rear. He can see that she has junk in the trunk, and don’t get me started on her and Evy’s overflowing racks. Of excess inventory, I mean — come on! As Mel is making his move, a tea kettle begins whistling. Jan has inventively wired up an alarm clock to a hot plate and tea kettle to automatically make her tea every afternoon at 1:00 PM.
At the bank, the manager tells her she has too much money tied up in inventory. He advises her to advertise, “That’s the way to get people in and move your stock.” As she is already selling at 50% off, this does not seem like the solution or the problem. Mel is waiting in the lobby and takes Jan to lunch.
He orders a couple of double martinis. Mel suggests there is a way out of her financial problems. “There’s nothing wrong with your shop that a good fire wouldn’t fix.” And he knows a guy who knows a guy. And that guy knows a guy fieri (which, I believe is Italian for arsonist).
He starts talking about her alarm system and her skylight. He describes a scenario where a burglar might break in and carelessly drop a cigarette butt onto some papers. The “burglar” would get a cut. Mel’s reward would be a partnership in the store; you know, the one they plan on burning down, so I’m not sure what a piece of that burnt pie would be worth.
Mel advises her to have her accountant take the books home with him so her records are not destroyed if there happens to be a fire. If Hillary Clinton were this diligent about protecting her records, she wouldn’t be indicted.  Back at work after her ti martooni lunch, she tells her assistant to have the auditor take the books home, then leaves with her sister.
At 4:00 am that night, she gets a call from the fire department. They say Evy got 3rd degree burns going back into the shop to get the records. Jan walks through the burned out store and sees the skylight busted just as Mel had theorized. Overcome with remorse, she tells her insurance man the whole story about the arsonist. He points out that it was her alarm clock tea maker that started the fire. But now that she’s mentioned arson . . .
Ralph Meeker as Mel was just so unctuous that I was irritated whenever he was on the screen; but I must say, he played the part very well. Nancy Olson was quite attractive as Jan. The ending seemed a little muddy, though. We know what happened, but the insurance man’s perspective is not clear. Did he originally think the fire was an accident and Jan’s arson talk changed is mind? Or did he always think she set up the fire with her gadget and was letting her talk her way into jail?
Or do we know what happened? Was the gadget the arsonist’s way of starting the fire? It fired up at 1 am instead of 1 pm, and Mel did have an opportunity the fiddle with the timer. Mel acts as if his plan was carried out, but the insurance man said the skylight was blown out by heat, not as a means of breaking in. I’m going with Mel in the back room with a tea maker.
Certainly not a titular Total Loss, but maybe those 50% off signs apply here.
-  Pffft — she could set fire to them on the steps of Congress surrounded by reporters and not be indicted.
- AHP Deathwatch: The Manning sisters are still with us.
- Two characters use the term Dutch Uncle.
- Mel states Jan’s zip code as being 40470 which would place her in Dusselfdorf.
- Correction, that was the last 5 digits of her phone number. What was it with people not using the first two digits of phone numbers back then? I know the cliched Klondike-5 means 555, but why not just say 555?
- Available on Hulu (which sucks). I’ve been saying that for some time, but now they’ve put all 4 seasons of AHP behind the firewall.