What are nutshell studies? CSI viewers might recall season seven’s year-long arc of dollhouse miniatures of the crime scene left at each crime scene (“I think Malibu Barbie did it”). Those were based on the real-life models ranging from 1-inch- to 1-foot-scale, made with an über-meticulous attention to detail in the 1930s by the unheralded Francis Glessner Lee.
The doc illustrates how Lee’s 20 nutshell studies were not whodunits to solve, but tools to teach how to look for indirect evidence. It also gives Lee, now long passed, overdue credit outside her small circle of police associations and forensic scientists for her valuable input.
Of Dolls & Murder could approach its subject a tad less scholarly and a little more fun. That makes the narration by movie maverick John Waters, who strikes just the right balance between credibility and morbidity, all the more welcome. The lively soundtrack by John Kurtis Dehn is like an invisible cast member, all “plink plink plink” and strangely inviting. —Rod Lott