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For you Rex Stout readers, I needn't tell you that many fans consider The
Golden Spiders to be a classic in the Nero Wolfe canon. I consider this,
and the series that spun from it, to be solid adaptations of the
As for the user comment prominently featured on the main page:
I see you've never read any of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. As a diehard fan of Rex Stout's portly detective, I can fill you in a little.
Archie Goodwin is indeed the protagonist of all the mysteries, he's the central character, the mysteries are told from his viewpoint. That they are called "Nero Wolfe Mysteries" is not a true incongruency that ought to offend a reader, or a viewer of this film or the subsequent series.
It's my opinion that both this movie, and the series that spun off from it, do Stout's novels justice as well as any video adaptation might. Archie gives the city of New York some flavor and style, and perfectly captures the essence of the 40's and 50's in that city, while somehow simultaneously making the portrayal timeless (the Wolfe novels began in '34 and were written well into the 60's.)
Wolfe is not meant to be *anything* like Sherlock Holmes. Wolfe is irrascible, eccentric, has a very short temper and little tolerance for stupidity, and his relationship with Archie is completely different from that of Holmes to Watson. That Wolfe is in his plant rooms with the orchids from 9-11 and 2-4 without fail (excepting Sundays), never leaves his beloved brownstone residence on West 35th street, and continually bickers with his chef Fritz about every recipe brought into the house, well that's the sort of thing that builds interesting characters. For my taste, Holmes is a dry and uninteresting character, for what it's worth. Wolfe has his flaws, and his share of little perculiar mannerisms, enough to make him interesting.
As for the obligatory scene, where the detective assembles everyone concerned into his office and solves the mystery, well....sure it's not realistic, but it's FUN. At least, for mystery readers it is. Since Wolfe (almost) never leaves his house, and it tickles his enormous vanity to set up such a scene, and Inspector Cramer knows Wolfe can deliver the goods in such a situation, they arrange for one.
I leave this comment so that future mystery novel enthusiasts, and fans of Rex Stout, will know that this film, the subsequent full-length feature (The Doorbell Rang), and the series is indeed quality material worth checking out.
Surprisingly accurate rendition of this "typical" Rex Stout book. Setting
accurately depicted the era (early 50's). Wolfe and Archie nicely
portrayed, including the crucial "multilevel" relationship which they
Very pleased to see Rex Stout's dialog used frequently throughout the production. Hard to improve on his witty and intelligent characterizations. Plot development was orderly and included all the necessary ingredients and characters. A full cast of the principle Stout characters is essential and in this case provided.
Summary: I heartily recommend this film and hope for many sequels. Hopefully the sequels will return to the earliest books of the genre set in the mid to late 30's.
Whatever else might be said about the overall entertainment value of this
production, Rex Stout would not be disappointed by the production decisions
or the casting of this nicely drawn adaptation.
The movie is brimming with gorgeous period details, handsome Studebakers and drab office waiting rooms. The physical characteristics of Wolfe's entire world in a brownstone appear here to be spot on, as though the producers were preparing it for the famously particular sleuth himself. Maury Chaykin brings to his character the thought, care, and gravitas worthy of a King Lear, and manages to present a Nero Wolfe at once psychically wounded, showcat-finicky, masculine, compulsive about his orderly routine, insightful in the workings of others, and a little bit clueless about himself. Although the violence of his angry outbursts seems a little overmodulated, a better choice for the role is hard to imagine.
Archie Goodwin is a less boldly written role, but in this production he seems fully realized and very natural. Timothy Hutton gets the right tone when Archie is dealing with his exacting boss, and it doesn't seem at all odd that this smart aleck would be loyal to a man who routinely tells him where to sit. (The entire snoop team's devotion to Wolfe is palpable, felt not so much in what's said as in what need not be said. All this seems like a minor miracle in a TV movie.) Archie seems very much to enjoy manipulating the hapless participants in the mystery, as though escorting guests out the door before they are ready is wicked fun. (Only Bruce Willis -circa 1988- comes to mind as closer to the ideal Archie - you really don't want to see Tim Hutton's Archie take a punch.)
The plot's something of a tangle, and women characters don't get a chance to shine, but these shortcomings go straight back to Rex Stout. The joys of this story are in the unique and symbiotic relationship of Nero Wolfe and Archie, and in the mystery of a detective whose gifts of insight stop just short of the bathroom mirror.
Nicely done, A&E!
Aside from the shot of the portrait of Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe's father, the opening wasn't promising. Some narration by Timothy Hutton as "Archie Goodwin," introducing the house on West 35th Street, Wolfe's seventh of a ton, etc.
But then it improved, and both Hutton and Maury Chaykin (as "Wolfe") were superior, and Saul Rubinek as "Saul Panzer" was excellent, albeit somewhat out of character when he winks at "Archie" while posing undercover... Rex Stout's Panzer would not have done that.
Chaykin showed a familiarity with the character that neither William Conrad nor Thayer David ever did, and his casting was both surprising and inspired.
Hutton struck the exact right note as "Goodwin," his boss' "eyes and ears" in the world outside the West 35th Street brownstone, and the prodder within who keeps "Wolfe" active on something besides his orchids and eating.
The roles of NYPD's "Inspector Cramer" and "Sgt. Stebbins" were also well-cast and true to Stout's oeuvre.
It is fervently hoped that A&E will continue to present the Nero Wolfe series using this cast most of what they shot was done with interiors, so it shouldn't be too expensive.
This is the first in a television series of adaptations from the
writings of Rex Stout. Unlike previous adaptations in English, this
series was intended to be faithful to the original material. I don't
watch television, so my only experience with this series is this
episode, available complete (in some ten parts) at Youtube, and five
production scripts available on the internet. It is notable that,
visuals aside, the dialog is taken directly out of Stout, which for a
Wolfe fan is a big plus.
Visually, like many such ventures - the Granada Holmes series, the cable TV adaptations of Raymond Chandler back in the '90s - the greatest strength of the series is also its most troubling aspect - a painstaking attention to set design detail and an immaculate lighting, coloring, and camera placement - all of which, however, adds up to: "television." There is nothing truly cinematic here, and it's unclear whether such productions can survive for long after their original broadcast. For instance, this production is certainly visually evocative of New York City in the 1950s, but still lacks authenticity - it is evocative in the manner of those museum dioramas of Native American villages; you're always aware that you aren't visiting the village, but merely looking at a carefully reconstructed replica in a glass box.
The acting throughout is impeccably professional. Of course Wolfe fans can argue about the all-important casting of Wolfe and Archie. Frankly, both Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton are fine. (The notion that the perfect Wolfe would have been Orson Welles I find frightful; and actually, the very best Wolfe appears to have been Tino Buazzelli, judging by fragments from the 1960s Italian TV series I've been fortunate to catch here and there. It is well to remember that Wolfe is Montenegran by birth; that is really very important, for it defines what is most lasting in his personality, and Stout himself was aware of its importance and works it into quite a number of Wolfe stories. Montenegro just across a bay from Italy, it is unsurprising that an Italian could both look the part and act it with aplomb.) However, a good interpretation can substitute for perfection. Sidney Greenstreet's radio interpretation of Wolfe is clearly not Stout's at all, but it is an amiable and believable impersonation of some detective named "Nero Wolfe." (On the other hand, William Conrad's Wolfe "interpretation" was so bad, I shudder every time I think of it.) Chaykin's interpretation is still not Stout's, but it is far superior to Greenstreet's, since it is a real effort to capture the character's irascibility without a trace of parody.
Overall, then, this is a high-quality television adaptation, and while still not perfectly Stoutian or perfectly Wolfean, stands as a good introduction to the novels for those unfamiliar with them. Those who complain about the leisurely pacing and occasionally unwieldy plot-twists would not find the novels interesting; those who find the unfolding of the narrative, with its subtleties of character and clues should definitely make the effort to get acquainted with the original novels; they are addicting and worthy of the legendary status they enjoy among mystery fans.
Nero Wolfe has consistently defied a good translation to the screen, perhaps because so much of the attraction in Rex Stout's novels is the wit of the language. But this is the best job so far. Best casting is Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin, who succeeds in combining the smart alec and hardboiled just like the character in the book. Chaykin makes a good effort as Wolfe; he isn't really BIG enough, so that his high-pitched tirades don't really do justice to Wolfe's bellowing. Wolfe's office is just as you could imagine it, down to the red leather chair. The orchid room, by contrast, is disappointing--need more flowers, more jungle. Not sure why Golden Spiders was chosen as plot--there are perhaps too many characters and the suspects aren't developed enough. Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of films.
As a longtime fan of Nero Wolfe novels, Maury Chaykin, and Timothy Hutton, I had high expectations of this movie. I was not disappointed. I watched it for the first time with some friends that knew nothing of Nero Wolfe and we all enjoyed it. The casting was superb and the sets and props seemed to be authentic for the period. My one complaint is that Saul Rubinek does not make a good Saul Panzer. Granted, he had a well-described character to live up to - one whose abilities the author describes in an awe-striking way. But he is not at all what I had pictured in my mind. A very minor criticism of a very excellent movie.
Nice try to put on screen books of my favorite author. It looks like director loves them too. Of course, events go too fast - the books are pretty thick, and the time for the TV series is strictly limited, nevertheless scenery is the good work too. Maybe characters are not quite as I think of them - Wolfe should be bigger (handsomer :)), and Archie should be a little more attractive, and Fritz little younger. Saul+Fred+Orrie are good, and Cremer is perfect. But it's the best effort of putting the books on screen I've seen. It's made with love and application.
One must watch this film closely or run the risk of missing something very relevant. I watched very closely and still missed the whodunnit part. Like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot [another weirdo dick], big Nero likes to gather all the suspects' together and tell each one how the caper went down and then name the guilty party. Somehow, the big finale went straight over my little pointy head: I still don't have the vaguest inkling who the baddie is. Still, I consider this a very good film: loved the locales and old cars. What a great study Nero had. I'd give a month's pay for that red chair.
The promise of the series has been better than the fulfillment.
Some of the programs, particularly those hour-long ones, have
been ludicrous (A Neronian word?) and chaotic because of the
condensation required to fit the time limits. This particular one
belongs to the better installments.
As has been mentioned before, Maury Chaykin fits the description
of the part but is less than commanding even as Timothy Hutton is
fine. Perhaps Thayer David was the best Nero but he did only one
installment before his untimely death (Perhaps a result of the
previously mentioned physical requirements for the part.). William
Conrad, I thought, was twinkly and simply awful.
The others are fine in their recurring smaller parts and the series
has the proper period feel of the novels.
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