Monday, January 10, 2011

The Greatest Show You've Never Heard Of

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This is the greatest vintage television show you've never heard of. Ellery Queen ran for only 22 episodes from 1975-76, but is one of the smartest detective shows you'll ever see. It's also great fun to watch, since the puzzles are fantastic and the characters are great. Every week there's a seemingly impossible murder, a limited number of suspects and the victim usually left a dying clue. None of this fuss with evidence, Ellery just had to figure out if all of the alibis were correct and interpret the dying clue, which was hard since no one thinks clearly when they're bleeding out quietly in the corner.
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The star of the show is Jim Hutton, who you may remember from Walk, Don't Run and Where the Boys Are. In this incarnation, Ellery Queen is a successful mystery writer, but a little absent minded. He also wears sweaters, jackets with elbow patches, Buddy Holly glasses and that funny little hat. And Jim Hutton's son also did his own detective series, which is my second favourite TV show ever.
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David Wayne (of How To Marry a Millionaire and The Tender Trap) plays Ellery's father: Inspector Richard Queen of New York's Homicide department and his three-piece suits. He often calls upon his son to help him with the more interesting or bizarre murders. They live together in a brownstone, but we only ever see the kitchen and the living room/study.
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Assisting Inspector Queen is his right-hand man Sergeant Velie. He calls Ellery "Maestro" and wears awesome ties like that one.
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Going against Ellery in almost every episode are two, I wouldn't say nemeses, but rather confused sleuths. There's Frank Flannigan the star reporter for the Gazette. He isn't so much interested in solving the crime as he is in writing a front page story, whether it be true or not.
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Next we have Simon Brimmer, the star of that popular radio series "The Casebook of Simon Brimmer" and he also fancies himself as a great amateur detective. Even though he usually thinks that the red herrings are the real clues, he is still desperate to solve the murder before the police do and is always livid when Ellery tells him that he's wrong, since it damages his reputation, not to mention his inflated ego.
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Ellery Queen takes place in 1947. Most of the costumes are accurate (just not the ladies shoes), but the hair is usually slightly Seventies -two eras in one show! A lot of episodes also focus on radio and just how important radio was. And there are some inside jokes, like television being just a passing fad.
In every episode there was also at least one famous guest star, usually more. Vincent Price, Betty White, George Burns, Joan Collins, Eva Gabor, Roddy McDowall, Dana Andrews, Eve Arden, Ida Lupino, Donald O'Connor, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians and Ray Milland. Basically more stars than you could shake a stick at.
There were two terrific aspects about Ellery Queen that made it unique and a shame that it was cancelled. First, there was the swell theme and score by Elmer Bernstein:

Then there was what Ellery Queen was famous for. Every week just before the last commercial break, Ellery finally figured out whodunnit and would turn to the audience and sum up the clues and the suspects, even though he was sure that we had solved it long before he had. What makes this surprising is that the creators, Levinson and Link, also created Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, the two easiest detective shows ever. Ellery Queen assumed that the audience was intelligent and not only interested in, but capable of solving the puzzle of the week. This is probably why it was cancelled after one season.

And now, random screen caps:
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After years of bootlegged copies Ellery Queen has finally been released on DVD in Regions 1 and 4! And in probably much better quality then the copies that I used to screen cap, but I am going to buy the DVD. I'm sorry Region 2, you'll have to download the bootlegged copies.


Penny Dreadful said...

I'm region 2, will have to find a torrent or something. I had never even heard of this but it sounds brilliant.

Lisa said...

Simon Bremmer's outfit. The moustache. The ascot. I'm in love. Also, totally into Jim Hutton from the episode of the Twilight Zone he did and all those movies he did with Paula Prentiss. Thanks for all the screen caps, now I'm going to have to check this show out!!

Peter said...

Two of the greatest legacy mysteries of the TV series were:

1) Whatever happened the Mystery of the Eccentric Painting connoisseur who kept his collection FACING the wall. (reference from the pilot NBC Movie).

2) Why, oh why, was Ellery Queen's nick name Maestro? I have wondered about that over the years.

Peter Kelley
St. Paul, MN USA

Millie Motts said...

Thanks so much for the recommendation! Got this for Christmas and am halfway through the set. love it!