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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Because she's the one who gets herself into the most trouble here, by impersonating one of the two long-lost daughters of a rich man with a shady past; after seeing her father's ad in the paper, the REAL daughter travels all the way from Tahiti to America to meet him, but she runs into Nikki first, and when Nikki sees a strange letter that warns the real daughter NOT to return, she decides to take her place and find out what's going on. Ellery Queen is unaware of most of this, but a double murder soon brings him (and his father, of course) to the same household. This film marks a turning point in the series, as William Gargan replaces Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen; to be honest, the change is barely noticeable, as both actors are agreeable without really bringing much personality to the role. As usual for this series, it's Nikki Porter who steals the show; Margaret Lindsay, this time getting to pose as a French-speaking girl, is the best thing about this dense but rushed mystery. ** out of 4.
When William Gargan took over the role of 'Ellery Queen' from Ralph
Bellamy (with the rest of the steady cast remaining the same), the
series obviously became more serious again after the comical
'intermissions' especially of "Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring".
Murder DID become a serious matter again - and not only for the people
involved in the case Ellery for once takes over as a private
investigator, but also for our beloved protagonists themselves...
An old country house on an isolated island is the ideal setting for a rather complicated plot with a father searching for his long-lost daughter - and just when Ellery is on his way there to start his investigations, the daughter DOES turn up, and tells her story to Nikki whom Ellery has left behind in his office. And Nikki, curious and fearless as ever, decides to play the daughter's part and head for the island by herself to see what's going on there; and not even SHE can imagine what perils are waiting for her there!
Although the story doesn't sound too convincing, it's still immensely imaginative - and suspenseful... And Nikki, with her false identity, becomes of course the center of interest - and of danger! This one's for mystery fans with strong nerves, no doubt; but it's absolutely worth watching - if you feel up to it...
"A Close Call for Ellery Queen" is a snappy mystery put out by Columbia
in the good old days of 1942, and it's still as watchable as ever
because it's complex and moves swiftly.
In those days, mysteries were brief. This one runs 63 minutes in the print I saw. Actors delivered their lines in a straight ahead way, quickly, and without long filmed pauses and emoting. Emotional states changed quickly and naturally, to be understood by close observation. Viewers have to be on their toes to understand a person in these movies. In this one, you can tell exactly how Margaret Lindsay feels when William Gargan tells her not to follow him into his case, and you know how she feels when she plots to interfere anyway. Gargan is less expressive, but we still know how he feels about her activities. And we are with him as he gathers visual clues. I've always liked Gargan's no nonsense approach.
The supporting casts in old movies often have surprisingly good depth, and this carried over into much of television productions later on. This one has Ralph Morgan, Edward Norris and Charley Grapewin as the main support. All are recognizable presences that make an impression without going overboard and without being assigned grotesque characters by the script. They all have distinctive voices and screen presences.
There's a good deal of comedy. It's not slapstick or silly. It fits the comedy-mystery mixed genre.
The print I watched is missing about 3-4 minutes, and part of this occurs in some slight jumps where dialog goes missing. Also it looks like there's a jump when Gargan is in a motorboat and gets shot at. Overall, it still is watchable. I'm glad it has survived the 71 years.
William Gargan takes over the role of Ellery Queen as the mystery
writer turned detective in A Close Call For Ellery Queen. He has a
couple of close calls, but it's Margaret Lindsay who really puts
herself in jeopardy with a masquerade.
Edward Norris private secretary to millionaire Ralph Morgan asks for Ellery's help in getting rid of a pair of unwanted guests who have planted themselves at Morgan's estate. Norris suspects blackmail of some kind, but before Gargan can go to work the guests Andrew Toombes and Charles Judel wind up shot to death in the back room of a waterfront dive.
Lindsay insinuates herself in the case by masquerading as a long lost daughter who with her 'sister' Kay Linnaker stands to inherit a fortune from Morgan. Still yet another murder occurs before all is revealed.
A Close Call For Ellery Queen is one of the best of the series. Gargan acquits himself well in the part though I do like Ralph Bellamy better. Though none of the screen Queens fit the author's conception of the part as Jim Hutton did on television, I still like the structure and direction of this film and the performances the director got from his cast.
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