Ellery Queen (1975–1976)
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Ellery would tell whoever else he was with that he'd be right with them, then stop, turn and face the camera. "Now that was an important clue! Did you get it? Now I know who killed the victim. Do you? Was it so-and-so, or so-and-so/ Or could it have been so-and-so? Let find out." So marvelously entertaining! And totally unique to television, regardless of era.
It's cast, stories, plots and guest stars made for a guaranteed good time at least one hour a week without fail.
Jim Hutton (Timothy's dad) was ideal as the absent-minded genius mystery novelist. Veteran David Wayne was letter perfect as Ellery's father, NYPD Homicide Inspector Richard Queen. The two made quite a team, playing off each other brilliantly. There was definite screen chemistry at work and, one get's the impression the actors shared a genuine friendship and respect for the other.
The only thing that didn't fit was star Jim Hutton's insistence on wearing clothes and hair far more in line with the years the show aired (1974-75)than post WWII. Cordoroy flair pants simply were not anywhere close to being in fashion back then, but they sure were in 1975.
If they'd only bring back shows that had that kind of pure fun! And what fun!
I look forward to seeing this show again and hope that someone out there gets the smarts to make this available on home video.
Perhaps my view is colored by nostalgia -- I was 13 years old when the show aired. The show is rarely repeated -- the last time I caught a rerun was more than 20 years ago. It's hard to know whether my viewpoint would be different today, though I certainly wish I had the opportunity to find out. (Universal Studios, take note: Here's one guy who would buy the DVD box set.)
Let me add a story here. I remember going door to door one night in 1976, collecting payments for my newspaper route, and I noticed that a family was gathered in the living room, watching "Ellery Queen."
"Heck," I said. "I started watching that show, but it was so easy to figure out, I decided I might as well go around banging on doors instead."
They looked at me, a little dumbfounded. "You figured it out?"
"Sure," I said. "The killer had to be someone who had a copy of the updated movie script. There was only one person who had the copy, and that was..."
Well, I can't remember the actual name of the villain, not all these years later. But I remember these people looking at each other, and saying it made sense, and darned if I might be right, and they'd have to stay tuned to see if I really did figure it out. And of course I was right. For weeks, every time I saw these people, it was all they could talk about. How on earth could I have figured it out? Of all people, their 13-year-old paperboy?
I never did tell them the episode was a repeat.
Netflix has the entire series. I just received disc 1 today. The recording quality is good, and each disc contains three or four episodes.
"In a few minutes, this woman will be dead. The question is, who killed her? Was it the philandering . . . ." That is how each episode begins. As a kid, I loved this show and couldn't wait to hear that line each week. I remember thinking that the show was smart and sophisticated. Watching it now, 35 years later, it is still quality viewing.
I would give it a 10 if it weren't for the anachronistic clothes, hairstyles, etc. It is supposed to be 1946, but it looks more like 1976.
I just watched "The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer" featuring the late Ed McMahon who played an inventor considered formerly brilliant, but now considered senile, working in his electric model train workshop in a quest to engineer automation into the economy. The dialogue spoke of "toy" trains (which hearkens back to another memorable quote in "The Flight Of The Phoenix" (1965) concerning "toy" airplanes). The engineer "programmed" (their words) the trains to stop for gate lowing and open switches, and used a spur to send messages with the main house.
Anyway, my two cents.
The producers, Richard Levinson & William Link got an inspiration for this series for a simple reason. They were producing another show, Columbo, where they always told the audience the murderer at the beginning of the show and then amazed the audience entertaining it by showing Columbo doggedly trying to find the person we already knew did it.
This shows starts off by challenging the audience on who Kiele the victim. It starts with a teaser dangling the victim & the suspects. Then it goes through the show with Ellery issuing a final challenge near the end of the show, and then reveal the killer in the finale. It is as opposite of Columbo as you can get.
The casting for this show is perfect. Jim Hutton is perfect as Ellery Queen. David Wayne is perfect and Inspector Richard Queen, his father. The interplay between these actors has an irresistible chemistry. The guest casts were major league. The stories were good. That leaves us with the mystery, why did the show fail? Did NBC hire a bumbling rating agency that gave this show low numbers to kill it? Did the NBC execs put it in a bad time slot trying to kill it? Did Levinson & Link just develop this as practice before they got Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) hired to take the same format to higher ratings on CBS? Was there somebody else trying to kill it? Did the Love Boat need to borrow the guest casts the show was using? Was it somebody else like Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford? One thing the show does is recreate the 1940's atmosphere very well for a television show. What is left is a show that is great program that could have been more popular. Sadly, we are still looking for the killer.
Much like the very popular decades old board game "Clue" there are usually five (5) or six (6) murder suspects introduced in each weekly episode and as the clues are gradually provided to the audience we are challenged along side Ellery Queen to figure out who murdered the victim who gets knocked off within the first five minutes of the weekly episode and with which weapon did the murderer use? There are numerous cameo appearances by stars such as Don Ameche, Joan Collins, Ray Milland, Jim Backus, Lynda Day George, Eva Gabor, Rhonda Fleming, and Betty White to name but a few of the cameo appearances.
Not only was the concept of watching a murder unfold before our very eyes interesting but so were the changing cast of characters each week and Ellery's interaction with his TV audience. Mrs. Shullivan and I were engaged in the program and enjoyed playing along side in determining how the mystery writer Ellery Queen and his detective father Inspector Richard Queen (David Wayne) would gather clues and they would interview the ensemble of movie stars who provided cameo appearances to a successful conclusion within the hour. Ellery himself plays a successful mystery writer, who although in his late 30's still lives with his father the Inspector Richard Queen. Ellery appears to be a bumbling and forgetful individual on the surface who always seems to have his nose buried in a book, but his unique ability to assist his father in solving murders and the warm on screen relationship he has with his father shows through seamlessly on this small screen TV series.
I was fortunate to recently purchase the 1975 Ellery Queen TV series on DVD format at a very reasonable price and so Mrs. Shullivan and I are in the process of watching this excellent TV mystery series commercial free. We have been reminiscing about the series regulars such as gumshoe detective sidekick Sergeant Thomas Velie (played by Tom Reese) and radio host Simon Brimmer (John Hillerman) who are also trying to match wits with Ellery Queen and his father Inspector Richard Queen in finding the killer(s).
In case you have not seen this wonderful mystery series it was the pre-cursor to the more successful 1984 Murder She Wrote TV series. I am not sure why the series was cancelled after the first season other than during the 1970's TV audiences may have found some other action/drama series that were more violent, sex infused and drug infested more appealing.
As for Mrs. Shullivan and I this 1975 weekly mystery series that was set after World War 2 in the 1940's with vintage cars and like scenery provided us with 22 episodes of high caliber entertainment and intrigue that challenges your recollection for what appear to be minor incidents but in fact if you pay close attention these details will provide all the clues necessary to help solve the weekly murder(s).
It is too bad we only have one (1) season of 22 episodes of Ellery Queen available and even more unfortunate that the series star Jim Hutton sadly passed away from liver cancer at the young age of only 45. Maybe Jim Hutton's own son 1981 Academy Award winner, Timothy Hutton who is now aged 56 will consider resurrecting this terrific mystery series in a remake. Wouldn't that be great?
I give this excellent but short-lived mystery series a 9 out of 10 rating.
But the thing I was surprised at were the guest stars each week. As a kid I had no idea who Eddie Bracken or Ann Reinking were but after watching every episode on dvd I amazed that every episode has big name guests.
If you're a fan of dark mysteries this may be too mild for you. But in the end it's a good clean fun for the entire family.
The stars of yesterday from movies and radios were dangerously close to has-been status, if they hadn't already crossed that line (Mel Ferrer, Arthur Godfrey, Eddie Bracken, Donald O'Connor, Farley Granger, Ray Milland and even George Burns, in the same year his career was inexplicably revived in "The Sunshine Boys").
"Stars of Today" were mostly picked off recently-ended or then ongoing television shows (Bob Crane, Eva Gabor, Gary Burghoff, David Doyle, Gretchen Corbett, Pernell Roberts, David Hedison, Ken Berry, Dick Van Patten) while others were famous for appearances in game shows, guest-shots on TV shows or commercials (Eugene Roach, Orson Bean, Barbara Rhoades, Jesse White, Lloyd Bochner, Simon Oakland, Roddy McDowell, etc.).
"Rising Stars of 1975" barely merit a mention since few of them caught fire. Some of us who were in school then might have asked "Whatever happened to" some of the big has-beens who lived off and fed on these shows, but the real "Whatever happened to" people are the "rising talent" of 1975. Whatever happened to Ann Reinking, Renne Jarrett, Brad David, Erica Hagen or Susan Stafford?
The mysteries were sometimes quite obtuse. In the interest of fair play all the relevant clues were presented. Two rotating characters, a news reporter (Ken Swofford) and a radio mystery solver (John Hillerman, later of Magnum--a legitimate rising star), neither of whom appear in Ellery Queen stories, run their own simultaneous investigations, naming false suspects and weeding them out.
The catch to "Ellery Queen" (as with many of the books written under that name) is that near the climax of nearly every show star Jim Hutton (Timothy's dad) turns to the camera and challenges the audience in the nicest possible way to name the killer ahead of him, even handing us pertinent clues we might have missed.
Killing for fun plays a little differently on television than in books by masters like Christie, Allingham, Carr, etc. "Ellery Queen" softened the blow when some of the biggest stars appearing on the show were the victims. These days, however, when we have viewers who know not Tom Bosley, Eve Arden, Ed McMahon, Rudy Valee or Walter Pidgeon, the killings may seem more cruel than when "Ellery Queen" was produced. Back in the day it was fun seeing Johnny Carson's sidekick or Ronny Howard's second TV-dad knocked off.
The show was lavishly produced (which might have spelled its doom) with great period cars and clothes circa 1947. It's one of the loveliest shows ever on air.
But the beating heart of "Ellery Queen" was the relationship between gawky, absent-minded mystery author Ellery (Jim Hutton) and his no-nonsense police inspector dad (David Wayne). They have an obvious fondness for each other, and they bat the clues back and forth in jovial banter. The show also makes the most of their height differential, Hutton being 6'-4" like the Republican Lincoln, Wayne being 5'-7".
The show had style, a great family relationship between the two leads, and tons of familiar faces for fans of old movies and TV shows. One or two shows stray into serious territory, and some of its writers make ill-advised 1970s political statements when they should have kept their traps shut. Mostly, however, the shows are classy and fun for people of all ages and political orientations. If you like you may keep a scorecard of clues (or what you think are clues) or you can just sit back and enjoy it for Jim Hutton's winsomeness and the relationship he has with his father, which is even better bonded than Jim Rockford's. I was a schoolboy when it first aired and I still watch the DVDs with my father, who is closing in on 90.