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Ellery Queen Mysteries translate well in modern era

Date: 9/28/2010

Sept. 27, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Only one new DVD is reviewed this week, but it's a good one.

Ellery Queen Mysteries

If you're a mystery buff, the name "Ellery Queen" probably means a lot to you. Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, the two cousins who created the fictional detective and author, wrote novels featuring Queen and his police inspector father for 42 years. The books gave birth to a popular monthly magazine, comic books, radio shows, a string of movies in the 1940s and two television series.

The second series is now out on home video. Produced for one season in 1975, I remembered watching it and liking it. I admit a little trepidation about revisiting it.

Too many times, a television show or a movie is such the product of an era that it doesn't translate very well to viewers in a different time.

At least from my geezer perspective, "Ellery Queen Mysteries," does just fine.

The hour-long shows starred Jim Hutton as the detective and writer and David Wayne as his father. Hutton plays Queen with a sense of humor, but the character is always taken seriously.

That's the best way to describe the shows themselves. The scripts, some of which were based on Queen stories, invite the viewers to deduce the murderer along with the Queens. They don't cheat and Queen is given the same information the audience gets.

The show was set in the late 1940s and the musical score and production values were top notch, especially in a period piece. My only criticism is too many of the actor's hairstyles were far more 1975 than 1948.

The shows became known for its use of guest stars, which included not only very well known performers, but also some of the best character actors in the business at that time.

For instance, "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario" had Ellery and his father on the set of a movie based on one of Ellery's books, when the leading man is shot on camera in front of the entire crew.

The mystery moves at a quick pace and features Vincent Price as the temperamental film director, Troy Donahue as the victim, with character greats Noah Berry, Carole Cook and Don Defoe in supporting roles.

Other episodes featured people such as Joan Collins, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, Cesar Romero, Michael Parks, Victor Buono, Forest Tucker, Howard Duff, Dane Clark, and John Dehner.

The shows represent a Rolodex of American actors from that time.

What also makes the shows a lot of fun is that Ellery talks directly to the audience in the last few minutes, going over the suspects and the case before he reveals the answer to the mystery.

This show is just plain fun. I don't know about you, but I can use some simple amusement every now and then.

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