With this installment, we reach and pass the halfway mark in our single season of Ellery Queen, and I can only express my disdain for NBC, which moved the show around from time slot to time slot and save a little invective for shows like The Streets of San Francisco, which played opposite our hero, drained ratings, and provided the template for the hundreds of procedural series to follow.
EPISODE ELEVEN: THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLUNT INSTRUMENT
(Teleplay by Michael Robert David and Robert Van Scoyk, from a story by David ; original airdate 12/18/75)
An earlier (and far more interesting) prototype for the Kardashian phenomena were the three Gabor sisters, who jointly developed their persona as exotic Hungarian socialites (aided by their equally exotic mother) into celebrity careers. Between Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva, they racked up twenty marriages (but only nineteen husbands: both Zsa Zsa and Magda took a crack at George Sanders), which continually kept them in the gossip columns. All three came to America looking for their Hollywood break, which never came for Magda. Zsa Zsa had the most successful career on the big screen. True, she reached her nadir in Queen of Outer Space (1959), but earlier that same year she had appeared in Touch of Evil and previously was featured in Moulin Rouge (1952) and Lili (1953).
Eva had a small but lovely role in Gigi (1958), the first movie yours truly remembers seeing (sitting on my Grandma’s knee at the Fox Theatre in San Francisco) but, like so many actresses before her and since, she achieved true fame playing Lisa Douglas, a glamorous fish out of water, in Green Acres. You may scoff at all the hillbillies and rubes we watched on 60’s television, but Green Acres, a modern take on The Egg and I and an offshoot of Petticoat Junction, was something. It was Lisa’s husband Oliver (Eddie Albert) who insisted on dragging Lisa to live out of the city and into a life as farmers, despite her protests (“No, New York is vhere I’d rahthah stay/ I get allergic smelling hay/I just adore a penthouse view/Dahling, I love you but give me Park Avenue.”)
As we are discovering, Ellery Queen (and many TV shows like it) found most of their guest stars from the roster of prolific character actors who had amassed hundreds of credits on the big and small screens and on radio. John Dehner was one of these. He was radio’s Paladin on Have Gun, Will Travel and appeared on other notable series, like Gunsmoke, The Whistler and Philip Marlowe – all while acting in over 260 films. In an endless array of television roles, both as a regular and a guest star, the handsome Dehner proved he could play good guys and bad in comedies and dramas alike.
Richard Jaeckel was another actor with a fifty-year spanning career, most often playing tough guys in action films like The Dirty Dozen and its sequel. As often happens in a TV actor’s life, he achieved his greatest fame later in life in recurring roles on Baywatch and Spenser: For Hire. Dean Stockwell, who passed away just recently, had the longest career of them all. He began as a child actor for MGM, appearing in films like Gentleman’s Agreement and The Boy with Green Hair and made intriguing appearance in films and on TV throughout his career, including Blue Velvet, The Player, Quantum Leap and my favorite, the rebooted Battlestar Gallactica.
Ellery has a cold and is suffering so much from the sneezes that he decides to skip the party that mystery writer Edgar Manning (Keene Curtis) is giving himself for winning the Blunt Instrument Award for Best Novel of the Year from the Crime Writers of America. Manning calls Ellery to try and wheedle him to come over so that he can gloat over his win, but during the call a figure enters Manning’s study and kills him.
Despite his ailment, Ellery accompanies his father to Manning’s apartment and examines the scene of the crime, notable for three things: the bloodstained award, a mysterious bruise on the victim’s knee and the fact that his smashed brandy snifter is found on the other side of the room from his desk.
The Queens then question the guests from the party: Manning’s publisher George Tisdale (Dehner) who Manning was threatening to leave for the firm run by his own ex-wife Camelia Justice (Joanna Barnes); Manning’s secretary Mary Parks (Ellen Weston), whom he had once dated and was now threatening to fire for going out with rival mystery author Nick McVey (Jaeckel) who was also a guest; Manning’s mistress Magda Szomani (Gabor), who had confided in him that she was an illegal immigrant who had fled the Nazis to come to America and be an actress; and Manning’s research assistant, Cliff Waddell (Stockwell), a wounded war hero whose knowledge of the Far East had led to him actually writing the award-winning novel – and Manning taking the money and the credit.
A nice complex set of motives, but who actually killed Manning? It takes an attempted suicide by one of the suspects for Ellery to figure out the truth.
Ellery has a cold, which means we have to suffer through a long running gag about weird remedies offered by every character (most of which conform to tired cultural stereotypes: the Jewish M.E. suggests chicken fat, the Hungarian Magda thinks a necklace of garlic will cure the cold . . . or maybe ward off vampires, dahling), as well as Inspector Queen nagging his son to drop the case and go back to bed. (SPOILER ALERT: I called it within the first five seconds that Richard Queen would catch his son’s cold at the end.)
Too much time spent on humor and not enough building a strong case against all the suspects but the obvious one. I’m sure the solution Ellery proposed has logic behind it, but I found it oddly unconvincing. Instead, I used the classic method alluded to in earlier posts that fervent fans have found works for them. The acting is well done, but some of the script is awkward, and the opportunities for dwelling on the meta-world of mystery authors could have been better tapped. The rivalry between a writer in the classic style and a hard-boiled Mickey Spillane type could have yielded more gold.
Bapr ntnva, gur jnl fb znal bs hf cvpx bhe xvyyref vf gb pubbfr gur bar crefba jub fvzcyl pnaabg unir qbar vg. Bapr vg vf rfgnoyvfurq gung Fgbpxjryy’f punenpgre abg bayl jnfa’g va gur ncnegzrag jura gur zheqre bppheerq NAQ qhr gb uvf jne vawhevrf pnaabg envfr uvf nez nobir uvf urnq gb fgevxr NAQ NAQ unf n oynpx oryg va whqb, vg jnf boivbhf gung ur zhfg or gur xvyyre, cnegvphyneyl fvapr zbfg bs gur vagreivrjf qrnyg jvgu zbgvir (n tbbq yvfg bs zbgvirf guvf gvzr) naq cynprzrag va gur ncnegzrag (juvpu oyheerq nebhaq zl urnq naq hygvzngryl qvqa’g znggre ng nyy).
Naq fb, jr’er fhccbfrq gb chg gbtrgure gur snpg gung, hfvat whqb, Jnqqryy pbhyq xvyy Znaavat jvgu uvf srrg, gura qvc gur njneq va Znaavat’f oybbq gb znxr vg ybbx yvxr gur jrncba. Zrnajuvyr, n xvpx vagb Znaavat’f punve sebz oruvaq jbhyq pnhfr gur oehvfvat NAQ gur favsgre sylvat npebff gur ebbz naq fznfuvat. Guvf vf bar bs gubfr pnfrf jurer vg srryf enaqbz, ohg V thrff vg nyy jbexf, naq lrg V qba’g srry fngvfsvrq bar wbg ol gur fbyhgvba.
* * * * *
EPISODE TWELVE: THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLACK FALCON
(Written by Marc B. Ray; original airdate 1/4/76)
I did not grow up in the age of radio, but I became a fan while driving in my car and looking for something to listen to other than the AM/FM dreck there was on offer. For me, it was Jack Benny or detective shows. What struck me about radio was the endless possibilities: you could make anything happen in a listener’s mind without the need for expensive (even impossible) sets or costumes; what mattered was the distinctiveness of the voicework. Five radio detectives had such distinctive voices, and I’ll bet you don’t know what two of them even looked like. Vincent Price (The Saint) and Dick Powell (Philip Marlowe) were movie stars, and the force of their personalities played beautifully on the airwaves. Larry Thor (Danny Clover from Broadway Is My Beat) and my favorite Bob Bailey (Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar) may not have had faces you recognized, but they created indelible, and distinctive gumshoes.
And then there was Howard Duff, who used the radio to springboard himself into movies. He played the titular Sam Spade in a much more light-hearted rendition of the character than I’m sure Dashiell Hammett had in mind. He then went on to many roles in film noir (his debut was in Brute Force, a powerful prison film that I have talked about here) and also had a nice career on TV, including his guest spot here.
Tab Hunter and Roddy McDowall were both legitimate movie stars, albeit with very different careers, who also happened to be gay men in Hollywood. McDowall had a mammoth career, beginning as a child actor in his native England and then quickly establishing himself in America in films like How Green Was My Valley and Lassie, Come Home. He worked extensively on the large and small screen as an actor and director and even achieved some success on the stage. (He was the original Mordred in the musical Camelot.) I’ll bet everyone has a favorite McDowall performance, whether it was Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes series or the deliciously vile Rex Brewster in Evil Under the Sun.
McDowall was circumspect throughout his life about his private relationships. Not so Tab Hunter who, as a young dreamboat who sang as well as appeared in leading man roles, arguably had more to lose. Hunter came out to the public in 2005 when he wrote a memoir discussing his sexuality and the difficulties he encountered in his career. (For example, a longterm relationship with actor Anthony Perkins was cut short by Perkins’ studio.) Still, Hunter seems to have had some fun parodying his own clean-cut persona when he made several films for director John Waters.
By the time Signe Hasso arrived in the U.S. in 1940, she was an established Swedish actress, a mother, and on the verge of a divorce. She signed with RKO who, as you could probably have guessed, promoted her as “the next Garbo.” Then they did nothing with her, so she eventually moved to MGM and made some good pictures there. After her only son was killed in a car accident in 1957, Hasso spent the rest of her life going back and forth between Sweden and America, acting and writing songs and novels.
Finally, even though he did not receive guest star billing here, William Schallert deserved it. If everyone who watched TV in the 50’s and 60’s were given a list of Schallert’s credits and asked to write their own brief bio of it, all of them would be different, reflecting a variety of tastes and the wide range of programs in which Schallert appeared. Mine would go like this: William Schallert was the consummate kindly father figure. He served this honor for Patty Duke (and was selected as one of TV’s “50 Greatest Dads”), Nancy Drew, and he played Dobie Gillis’ teacher. He was cast as one of the better surprise endings on an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, showed up three times on Perry Mason, and guest-starred on “The Trouble with Tribbles”, the iconic episode from the first Star Trek.
One of the most popular night spots in New York is Nick and Eddie’s, where partners Nick Kingston (Lewis Charles) and Eddie Morgan (Duff) entertain swanky guests and even broadcast their own radio show, “Broadway from Nick and Eddie’s.” Tonight’s guest, playwright Tennessee Williams, has backed out suddenly, and so Nick brings in his friend Simon Brimmer, who plans to blow the lid on a current open murder case. Seeking to prevent Brimmer from doing just that, Inspector Queen drags Ellery to the nightclub and demands a table. But before Brimmer can really get started, the show is stopped by the discovery in the wine cellar of Nick’s dead body.
Of course, being on the scene brings out Brimmer’s competitive nature, and he vows to solve the crime before the Queens can. Who killed Nick? Was it his partner? How about one of the entertainers: singer Nancy McGuire (Rosanna Huffman), her pianist and boyfriend Johnny Randall (Hunter), or mind reader The Great Armitage (McDowall)? And what about cleaning room attendant Flora Schumann (Hasso) who has to be one of the series’ best lurkers? Can Ellery figure out the meaning of Nick’s dying message and solve the crime?
Yes, I said dying message, and although, like “Miss Aggie’s Final Farewell,” its significance is patently obvious, here it is presented in a beautiful way, which I’ll discuss in detail in the spoilers section. This is a well-acted episode (Signe Hasso is especially affecting) with a plot that trades on past actions in ways that constantly surprise you. I love the title, a clear homage to another black falcon without being in any way a pastiche of Hammett’s plot. This is also another great episode for Simon Brimmer, who learns . . . well, not humility, but who is made abruptly aware of the consequences of his sleuthing style and, for a moment, has the decency to feel something about that. (It also leads to another good false solution, even though, for me at this point, the real one was staring us all in the face.)
Yrg’f gnyx nobhg gur evtug jnl gb cerfrag n qlvat zrffntr:
Avpx Xvatfgba vf cbvfbarq ol gur crefba jub unf freirq uvz gur jvar (avpr CBI crefcrpgvir) naq gura gnxrf gur obggyr naq tynff, tbrf hcfgnvef naq ybpxf Avpx va gur pryyne. Avpx qentf uvzfrys hc gb gur unatvat cnq bs cncre, tenof gur cra, naq gevrf gb jevgr ohg, va uvf qlvat fgngr, pna bayl fpenjy n yvar. Uvf ynfg gubhtugf ner nobhg gung erirnyvat jvar obggyr ba gur hccre furys, fb ur qentf uvzfrys n sbbg bire naq tenof gung obggyr. Vg vf n pyrne zrffntr – Zbeavatfgne jvar – sbe vg cbvagf qverpgyl gb uvf cnegare Rqqvr jub, hcba neevivat va Nzrevpn, unq punatrq uvf anzr gb Rqqvr Zbetna; gur bevtvany fheanzr, “Zbetnafgrea,” zrnaf “zbeavat fgne.”
Gur pbby guvat nobhg guvf cybg vf gung Avpx qvqa’g xabj gung Nyrknaqre, gur jvar fgrjneq (Fpunyyreg) unq unq gb erneenatr gur obggyrf qhr gb n uhtr vasyhk bs arj jvarf; guhf, gur obggyr Avpx GUBHTUG jnf “Zbeavatfgne” jnf Oynpx Snypba jvar sebz gur Fpuvyyre ivarlneqf. Guvf frag Ryyrel NAQ Oevzzre ba na reebarbhf genvy gung yrq gb Syben Fpuhznaa, nxn Tergpura Fpuvyyre, juvpu yrq gb ure zvffvat fba, abj pnyyrq Wbuaal Enaqnyy. Guvf vf pynffvp zlfgrel ng vgf orfg, jurer sbeghvgbhf pvephzfgnaprf yrnq gb bar snyfr fbyhgvba nsgre nabgure orsber gur vzcbegnag snpg (gur erneenatrzrag bs gur jvar) fuvsgf gur jubyr crefcrpgvir nebhaq.
Nf zl sevraqf jvyy cbvag bhg, guvf fubj jnf abg zrnag BAYL sbe areql nezpunve qrgrpgvirf yvxr hf ohg sbe gur jubyr hajnfurq choyvp, n srj bs jubz ZVTUG xabj gur Trezna jbeq sbe “zbeavat fgne,” gur erfg bs jubz jbhyq or unccvyl fhecevfrq. Gur ernfba V yvxr guvf hfr bs gur gebcr zber guna va “Zvff Nttvr” vf gung gur qlvat zrffntr cerfragrq ng gur raq frrzrq yvxr na nsgregubhtug juvyr guvf bar jnf ornhgvshyyl cnirq sebz fgneg gb svavfu.
11 thoughts on “QUEEN’S GAMBIT: Ellery Queen Episodes 11 and 12”
Signe Hasso was a real trouper as well as a good actress. I saw her in Chicago in the late 1960s in the national tour of Cabaret (the role originated by Lotte Lenya). Almost simultaneously with this episode, she appeared in ANOTHER (homage? ripoff?) of The Maltese Falcon — the would-be-comedic pseudo-sequel The Black Bird, in which (as I recall) she was precise and elegant when most of what was going on around her wasn’t working. She herself never stopped working on TV, guesting on Starsky & Hutch, Quincy, Magnum, Hart to Hart, Trapper John, you name it.
She acts the hell out of this, you’d think she was gunning for an Oscar. Great job.
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SPOILER ALERT !
SPOILER ALERT !
SPOILER ALERT !
In episode 11, I was easily able to guess the culprit since he was the only one who couldn’t have done it physically !
That’s the fan “system” to which I was alluding.
Yes, we saw the same thing in episode 7, where the culprit was the one who couldn’t have done it because of his cast-iron alibi !
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I remember a great episode of REMINGTON STEELE set at a Mystery Writers’ Retreat that had great fun with its various author types, especially as Laura rather fancied the harboiled author (it may have been co-authored by Joe Gores of memory serves).
Though I still have the same motivational difficulty with the plot of Black Falcon (I’m convinced he would’ve spent his every last breath— in denial of his hopelessness— in an effort to get out, as almost every human being in such a situation ever has), I agree that if you’re going to present a dying clue, this is the way to do it, including the unforeseen complication which— as you suggest— is the type of occurrence that provides the genre with much of its greatness.
I also agree it’s a much better use of the trope than Miss Aggie’s Farewell. But my preference for the plot of Aggie is based on the “opportunism” alibi deception, which like many opportunity ploys, is based on the fallacy of division (what is true of the whole must be true of any part— in this case, if a suspect could not be guilty of both attempts, he or she could not be guilty of one of them).
I also feel that Black Falcon, like Mad Tea Party, has a really nice “feel” to it, which I can’t explain. Some of it may be due to superior production design. A particularly good cast doesn’t hurt, either (Signe Hasso is one of the few cast members of the series with the honor of having worked for the Master, Ernst Lubitsch).
Adventure of the Blunt Instrument is an episode I practically never rewatch, it’s plot being of almost no interest to me (now, if Blunt Instrument meant anything like it did in an early Queen novel, that would be a different story…). It’s surprising that the screenwriters didn’t understand the deception expectation principle to at least the extent of realizing that a character with the sole unbreakable alibi becomes an automatic magnet for viewer suspicion.
I wonder whether they really expected anyone not to suspect X? Certainly the motive is old as the hills.
The enjoyment I got out of this one was watching Ellery figure out how X managed it. People get enjoyment out of seeing an unbreakable alibi get broken.
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I would rank the episodes in the opposite order from what you did, but I would consider both so-so. The dying clue in the Black Falcon is motivated in a good way, but I feel it is impossible for viewers to make any deductions about what it means until the end, when it becomes obvious assuming one remembered a piece of dialogue.
For all its drawbacks, the Blunt instrument allows the viewer to play along from the start. I also enjoyed the interaction between Brimmer and the Queens in that one. The solution is a bit underwhelming though, and I still can’t make full sense of what the victim meant by balancing the books. (By the way, though we get flashbacks like that in other episodes?)
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A small thing I noticed in The Blunt Instrument is that the library has its astrology and astronomy sections next to each other. Can imagine that causing some conflict.
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Just back from watching Black Falcon.
I was wondering if you knew that Rosanna Huffman (Nancy the singer) was the real-life wife of Richard Levinson?
What I’m now wondering is whether she did her own singing – something I can’t recall her ever doing in anything else she was in …
This was Rosanna Huffman’s second EQ appearance; in the two-hour pilot, she was the radio actress (opposite Jimmy Lydon) on Simon Brimmer’s show at the start of the movie.
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