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In my opinion, the two best series of movie murder-mysteries adapted from
books featuring an amateur female sleuth were the 'Miss Marple' treats of
the early 1960s (with the unforgettable Margaret Rutherford) and the Nancy
Drew comedy-thrillers of the late 1930s (with vivacious, lovely Bonita
Granville as the constantly imperilled teenaged heroine). Unfortunately,
only four entries were made in each series, and each and every one are to be
"Nancy Drew--Detective," the first of its quartet, is an unalloyed delight. A wealthy elderly woman donates her fortune to Nancy's highschool (to build a swimming pool) and then promptly disappears. Nancy, spurred to action by the beating of the woman's physician, enlists the reluctant aid of her athletic boyfriend (the extremely appealing and good-humored Frankie Thomas) to find out what happened to the missing lady. Clues are provided by a carrier pigeon, a breathtaking airplane expedition, an ominous gunman who breaks into the Drews' residence threatening them to keep quiet--or else!
Undeterred, Nancy drags Ted on a hair-raising adventure where they eventually track down the missing benefactor to a bogus nursing home on Larkspur Lane (password to anyone trying to enter the front gate is "blueberries"). What makes the film (and its successors) such delectable diversions is, besides the intricate plots, fast-paced direction, and splendid production design and cinematography, is the definitive performances by Ms. Granville, Thomas, John Litel (as Nancy's attorney father), Rene Riano (as the Drews' hyperventilating housekeeper), and a host of first-rate supporting actors.
The Nancy Drew films are as beguiling today as they were over 60 years ago (and, incidentally, depict family life in that era with a sassy sweetness that is truly enchanting).
Don't miss "Nancy Drew--Detective" or any of its three sequels, which TCM has been showing with regularity. These four treasures of yesteryear sparkle with wit, suspense, expert plotting and performances today's movies couldn't recapture if they tried to. The talent so abundant in the studio films of years gone by no longer exists.
Bonita Granville plays smart, courageous, spunky Nancy Drew in this
programmer based on the novels by Caroline Keene. It's been a long time
since I read any Nancy Drews, or since my mother read the books, but
one remembers every detail. The roadster, her friend named George, her
boyfriend named Ned, and the Drew housekeeper named Hannah. For reasons
known only to the studio, Ned is now Ted (guess they didn't like the
alliteration), there's no George (guess they didn't want a girl with a
boy's name) and the housekeeper is named Effie (you tell me why). Nancy
still has her roadster.
The Nancy Drew mysteries are wonderful reads, and this film was fun to watch, even with the little changes. Bonita Granville, who, as Bonita Granville Wrather became the producer of the "Lassie" TV series, certainly looks like Nancy (who in the books was always having "luncheon"). I had always envisioned while reading the books a more sophisticated, less madcap Nancy, but Granville's energetic (almost hyper) characterization fits a film portrayal well. Ned is a little bit of a goof, but a smart one. John Litel was right casting as Carson Drew, Nancy's father, a widower who didn't date.
The plot can be figured out in the first ten seconds, but these movies were for the teen-aged audience who knew the books. Very enjoyable, and a slice of '30s life which is no more.
I have never read a Nancy Drew book, I was more into the Hardy Boy books and the only exposure to Nancy Drew was a television series in the 70's. After seeing this very old version of Nancy Drew starring Bonita Granville, a familiar name involving a dog named Lassie, I vote this film as the best and most interesting story for someone that is unbiased. Granville plays Drew with excitement and girlish energy. A mind that is continuing thinking of "possibilities" when an old lady disappears. John Litel plays Carson Drew which I believe showcases the talent of Litel with poise, wits and fatherly love. Lastly, Ted Nickerson, a boy that Nancy likes and uses is played by Frankie Thomas. This is a solid mystery team for the whole film.
This was the first of the 4 Warner Brothers attempts at filming a Nancy
Drew mystery in the '30's, all of them pretty much revolved around this
standard and all taking liberties with the characters and original
stories, where used. The series of books began to be published in 1930
following on from the success of the Hardy Boys and ghosted mostly by
Mildred Wirt under the name of Carolyn Keene, until 1953 when other
ghosts completely took over. Therefore it's always amused me that the
first book chosen to (liberally) adapt for the big screen, The Password
To Larkspur Lane from 1933 was one written by a man, Walter Karig.
There weren't as many astounding plot co-incidences in his 3 books as
with Wirt's and it shows in the screenplay here.
Nancy ably played by Bonita Granville is intuitively sure a nice rich old lady has been kidnapped for her money, her Dad's not too sure, but her beau Ted grumblingly followed her lead. This involves letting a message-bearing homing pigeon free and improbably following it by car to the nest of gangsters improbably led by otherwise sophisticated James Stephenson. It doesn't matter but it grates a little bit with Ned the confident proto-man changed to Ted the juvenile radio ham, Nancy is played slightly more immature than the stories at the time leading to the cops continually calling her a little girl, Effie was supposed to be 17 not middle aged, and Carson Drew although well played by John Litel never lost his temper like he did in here! But overall it's an engrossing pleasant mystery - good photography got the atmosphere of River Heights just right too.
Not recommended for the serious! Obviously they couldn't be as good as the books but they were all good efforts and solid family entertainment and imho miles better than the 1970's TV series. I wish Warners had made 14 of them not 4!
The first of the four Nancy Drew mysteries that Bonita Granville did
for Warner Brothers finds her trying to find an old woman who donated
some big bucks to her high school for a swimming pool and promptly
Our intrepid heroine to four generations of young girls goes into action to find what's happened to the old dame. The high school benefactor has fallen into the hands of a gang of crooks led by James Stephenson. They've got an interesting way of communicating by carrier pigeons.
When Nancy discovers that she and her ever helpful boyfriend Ted Nickerson go in hot pursuit of the bird. Of course as things developed in the series the biggest pigeon for Nancy was Ted as played by Frankie Thomas.
No heavy drama here, but Granville and Thomas are enormously appealing, though gloriously out of fashion with a new Nancy Drew coming to the silver screen.
While not quite capturing the essence and old-fashioned charm of the
original Nancy Drew novels, Warner Bros. turned out a series of
pleasant programmers starring BONITA GRANVILLE as the teen-age sleuth
who is a lot smarter at solving crimes than her elders.
The Nancy Drew of the original stories came across as a bit more sophisticated in her behavior than she is in any of the Nancy Drew films. And sometimes Granville's girlish behavior borders on brat territory and can be slightly annoying--but overall she's a bundle of teen-age energy in the role and FRANKIE THOMAS as Ted makes an appealing helpmate out of a rather colorless role.
JOHN LITEL, a reliable Warner contract player, is perfectly cast as Nancy's attorney father. The story involves the disappearance of a nice old lady who has contributed a good sum of money to Nancy's school and then promptly disappears from sight. Nancy takes a chance on tracking her down (in some highly improbable ways) and she and her boyfriend are able to solve the case in time for the predictable happy ending.
Based on "The Password to Larkspur Lane", it passes the time pleasantly enough in a modest running time, although it's not without its faults and is clearly aimed at younger viewers familiar with the Drew stories.
Summing up: A fairly good start to the series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mary Eldredge, a wealthy older woman, is prepared to make a substantial
donation to the school Nancy Drew (Bonita Granville) attends. But when
she disappears before the gift can be finalized, Nancy immediately
suspects foul play. And when Nancy witnesses the local doctor being
kidnapped, she's sure she's on the right track. Can Nancy, with the
help of her friend Ted Nickerson (Frankie Thomas), find and rescue the
Honestly, I wasn't expecting to enjoy Nancy Drew Detective quite as much as I did. Sure, I'm a fan of 1930s-style mysteries like the Charlie Chan or Falcon series, but from afar, I've always thought of the Nancy Drew movies too lightweight and fluffy in comparison (though when I think about it, there's nothing deep and meaningful about Chan or any of the other movies I've enjoyed for years). And though Nancy Drew Detective is a breezy affair, it's still very enjoyable. I cannot come up with enough positives to write about Bonita Granville. She has an infectious charm that dominates the entire movie. It's hard to watch her and not have a smile on your face. You just naturally root for her. The supporting players, particularly John Litel as Carson Drew and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson, also add a lot of enjoyment to the movie.
The mystery elements of Nancy Drew Detective hardly matter. It's quite obvious from the start what has happened to the old woman Nancy is looking for. But none of that really matters. The important thing is watching Nancy and the gang get to the final solution. It's just a lot of fun!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nancy Drew, Detective, turns very serious drama campy, which is
actually one of the best ways to handle serious drama. The real novels
in the series depict Nancy as sophisticated, intelligent,
multi-talented, (read: Mary Richards of MTM) and, up until about 1965,
dressed like a model in heels, suits, tailored dresses and hats while
she completes the majority of the legwork for her sleuthing.
The film depicts a less-than-perfect, giddy, and at times, juvenile Nancy. Based on "The Password to Larkspur Lane," Nancy's sidekicks Bess, George (a girl), and Helen, are written out of the movies, in favor of boyfriend Ned (re-named Ted in the films). This obviously promotes a Garland/Rooney type relationship.
The plot unevenly blends in comic relief from the original story, now at an outlandish angle, and makes intelligent sophisticate Nancy into a typical teen. The change in characterization killed all hopes for this series to run for more than the brief four films involved. Fans of Nancy, and, the publishing icon Harriet S. Adams, were both disappointed with Warner Brothers' treatment of the famous teen. So much so, that when Harriet regained the film rights, the famous sleuth wasn't filmed again until 1977.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rather than writing a long review on all four movies, I will be
remarking on the whole series and the individual movies here.
Bonita Granville stars as sleuth Nancy Drew, based on books by Carolyn Keane, though I hear they're not completely faithful as they take out some of her girlfriends, which was probably a good thing, as they want to emphasize on Miss Granville's character and her on-going relationship with supposed boyfriend and partner in sleuthing, Ted Nickerson, played by Frankie Thomas, but against his better judgment. Dad is lawyer Carson Drew, played John Litel, and the law is represented by Frank Orth, a rather inept police chief who takes the easy decisions with less work to it. He is seen in the first installment and the last, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.
I won't be going into the actual plots of each, but I will say that if you want a fun fast-paced mystery, then you should see this mystery series which is out on DVD. Of the four movies, I would rank the third, Nancy Drew - Troubleshooter, as the best with a rating of '9', with some great aerial shots of Nancy and Ted in a plane they can't fly (they were put in that position by the bad guys) and with a subplot of a love interest for her dad. This installment moves very briskly and is very funny. The last one, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, I would rank as '8' and the first one, maybe '8', too. (My favorite two are the last two, but they are all entertaining.) But the weakest in my opinion is the second one, Nancy Drew - Reporter, ranked '6' or '7' tops, due mainly to the presence of two young actors who are too obnoxious to bear, Ted's younger sister and friend.
In almost all of these movies, the killer is already known by the viewer as there are very few suspects. The fun and entertainment is in the case, the chase, and the predicaments that Nancy Drew gets in with Ted. On the whole, the Nancy Drew series does provide Bonita Granville a chance to stand out and shine from her other films and from other stars of her age. And, you get to see Hollywood making some family entertainment that should be enjoyed by all. My rating of '8' at the top is for the whole series. I just wish they could have made more, but maybe Miss Granville or the bigwigs got tired of them. It all ends with a remark that "Ted" is in trouble again, "dad." Ironic, of course, it's because of Nancy Drew, that he got in trouble. Nancy Drew may help her friends and solve murders, but it also has its consequences for others along the way.
The "Brinwood School for Young Ladies" is buzzing about the arrival of
wealthy sponsor Helena Phillips Evans (as Mary Eldredge). Pretty
teenage sleuth Bonita Granville (as Nancy Drew) and the girls hope the
woman's offer of $250,000 will be used to install a swimming pool. When
the elderly woman disappears just before making the donation, Ms.
Granville suspects foul play. Her father, lawyer John Litel (as Carson
Drew), and others try to veer Granville of the case; but, she is
determined to find the missing woman. Granville enlists help from young
wavy-haired neighbor Frankie Thomas (as Ted Nickerson).
The "Carolyn Keene" characters were unfamiliar to this commenter, but this certainly seems like a satisfactory adaptation.
Granville, who made an impression in "These Three" (1936), is an attractive, determined, intelligent, and charming heroine. Unlike most early "teen" stars, Granville appears natural and endearing, even with expressions like "I'll bet you $23.80" and "I should say not!" Mr. Thomas, who made an impression in "Wednesday's Child" (1934), is similarly appealing and unaffected, for a 1930s movie juvenile. Thomas says "Let's keep it clean" and makes the "drag" scene. "Nancy Drew - Detective" shows how well a "small" genre film can be done. Granville and Thomas make a cute team.
****** Nancy Drew - Detective (11/19/38) William Clemens ~ Bonita Granville, Frankie Thomas, John Litel
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