GOD SAVE THE QUEENS (THE NETWORK WON’T): Ellery Queen Episodes 21 and 22

And so it ends, not with a bang but . . . not with a whimper either (although the penultimate episode edges a little close). It’s impossible to believe that Link and Levinson could not have sustained the puzzle plots for at least one more season, and yet what we have here is most pleasurable due to the relationships between the main cast members and the look and feel of the series. More about the ending, er, at the end . . . 

Velie (Tom Reese) guards Juliet Mills and Eddie Bracken


(Story by Robert E. Swanson and Lewis Davidson ; original airdate 3/21/76)

The Cast:

Eddie Bracken was a much beloved comic actor who began performing in vaudeville at the age of nine. His stage credits span 61 years, including a starring role in the original production of Rodgers and Hart’s Too Many Girls, and his 58-year filmography included two starring roles with Preston Sturges, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero

I’ve never much cottoned to the whole vibe around the late 60’s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, set in a German concentration camp and meant to portray the Nazis as comical boobs. But there’s no denying that its star, Robert Crane, had immense charm. By the time he filmed this EQ episode, however, the sitcom had long been cancelled and Crane’s career was in steep descent. Now he is more famous for his private life and brutal murder, which encapsulates the reason I shun true crime shows and gravitate toward series like Ellery Queen

Driving his cab in New York in 1963, Herb Edelman picked up a fare who turned out to be director Mike Nichols, who cast Edelman in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park – the rest, as they say, was history. Edelman excelled at playing sad sacks, whether lovable (Murray the cop in the film version of The Odd Couple) or opportunistic (Stan Sbornak on The Golden Girls). 

Carolyn Jones is yet another talented actor who has been defined by one iconic TV role, that of Morticia Addams on the 60’s sitcom, The Addams Family. She was immortalized in wax by Vincent Price in House of Wax (1953) and was striking whenever she appeared in film or on TV. She guest starred in what I think is easily the best episode of Burke’s Law, “Who Killed Sweet Betsy?” in which she played a set of quintuplets and created five distinctive characters, one of whom was a psychopathic killer. It’s a must-watch experience. 

Juliet Mills, Hayley’s older sister, has had a massive career on stage and screen in her native U.K., so we don’t have to worry about the fact that in the U.S. she is probably best known for two television roles: as the non-magical lead in the ho-hum sitcom, Nanny and the Professor and as the very magical town witch Tabitha Lenox on the utterly bizarre soap opera Passions


James Bevin Long (Fred Beir), president of the Quicksilver Tobacco Company is being pitched a commercial for his cigars that will show on TV.. J.B. has no faith in the new medium and insists that his team go back to the drawing board. That leaves advertiser Jerry Crabtree (Crane), creative director Rita Radcliffe (Jones), copy writer Max Sheldon (Edelman) and J.B.’s assistant Horace Manley (Bracken) scrambling for ideas until Manley and Crabtree run into reporter Frank Flannagan. Crabtree has a brainstorm to give Flannegan his own radio show that will be sponsored by Quicksilver and arranges for Frank to come to lunch the next day and meet with J.B.. 

Ellery happens to arrive at the same time as Frank, looking for information on how he could turn a cigar into a blowpipe for a novel he’s writing (a novel that the real EQ would never write!!!). Frank takes him into Long’s office where the man’s secretary, Florence Ames (Mills) informs the reporter that Long is not available for lunch. The clock strikes one, and a waiter appears to take Long in his lunch, the Tuesday Cold Plate of roast beef, potato salad, custard and coffee. After he leaves, Manley comes out of his office and tells Frank that there will most definitely be a lunch meeting, but when he enters Long’s office, he comes right out saying Long does not wish to be disturbed. The three men go out to lunch without the big boss, and when they return, Manley asks Florence to see if Long is done with his daily nap. When she enters, she finds Long lying dead in his bathroom. 

From there, we enter a Freeman Wills Crofts-ian world of schedules and alibis, along with what might be a second attempt at murder, before Ellery shows up on Flannagan’s new show (now on TV!) to reveal the killer. 

Bob Crane, Carolyn Jones and Ken Swofford . . . trying not to crack up?

My Take:

I heaved a big sigh as I started to write this section because here we have another one of those tricks that every mystery author has used (Christie has used it at least 47 times with variations: I’m thinking of a Poirot short story and at least three late Poirot novels . . . ) Aside from that, the episode is . . . okay. The guest cast performs well, especially Jones and Mills, who add a lot of much-needed life to the proceedings. There’s no sign of Sergeant Velie (maybe he got some time off to recover from having recently been accused of murder), and there’s way too much of Flannagan who constantly hammers home the tired running joke of men who had no foresight as to what a phenomenon television would become. It’s sad to start believing that, as the one and only season winds down, the boys were running out of steam. 


Vg’f gur gverq byq gebcr bs n crefba fgvpxvat gurve urnq vagb gur ebbz, qenjvat vg bhg, naq nfxvat hf gb ohl gurve fgbel gung n yvivat crefba vf fvggvat ba gur bgure fvqr bs gur qbbe. Jr ner gbyq znlor frira gvzrf nobhg W.O. Ybat’f rknpgvat unovgf: uvf evtvq gvzr fpurqhyrf, uvf qrfver gb rng gur fnzr guvat ba gur fnzr qnl, gur ohfvarff jvgu gur qvfurf, uvf unovg bs frggvat uvf jngpu svir zvahgrf nurnq, naq fb ba. 

Gur zbzrag Rqqvr Oenpxra cbccrq uvf urnq va gur qbbe, V gubhtug bs gung uhfonaq va gur Cbvebg fgbel, “Ceboyrz ng Frn,” jub ng yrnfg unq gur fxvyy gb guebj uvf jvsr’f ibvpr guebhtu gur qbbe. (Ubenpr zreryl fnlf, “Ur qvqa’g fnl nalguvat gb zr.”) Gura vg jnf n znggre bs jnvgvat naq jnvgvat . . . naq jnvgvat sbe Ryyrel gb gryy zr jung V nyernql xarj. 

Guvf znxrf zr guvax bs nyy gubfr pheerag Ntngun Puevfgvr “snaf” jub ybir guvf rcvfbqr bs Cbvebg naq gung rcvfbqr bs Znecyr – naq unir LRG gb ernq n fvatyr obbx. Guvf fubj unf qrirybcrq vagb fbzrguvat znqr sbe gurz, gur pnfhny zlfgrel sna jub vf whfg fniil rabhtu gb bppnfvbanyyl fcbg gur gevpx naq srry ernyyl tbbq nobhg gurzfryirf. Sbe gur qrrc qvivat TNQ ybire, gurer znl or fbzr sehfgengvba bire ubj rnfl vg vf gb frr guebhtu fb znal bs gurfr fubjf.

*     *     *     *     *

Sergeant Velie AGAIN guarding Gary Burghoff, Ronny Cox and Mel Ferrer


(Teleplay by Stephen Lord and Robert Van Scoyk, story by Stephen Lord; original airdate 4/4/76)

The Cast: 

Our final guest cast, ranging from old Hollywood royalty to TV one-note wonders, again reflects the eclectic nature of how Levinson and Link cast their shows. 

Walter Pidgeon was the royalty, a two-time Oscar nominee (for Mrs. Miniver and Madame Curie) whose range seemed, to me, frankly, rather limited but who always turned in a solid performance. I especially liked him as Florenz Ziegfeld in Funny Girl. I am also a big fan of the classic game show, What’s My Line, where Pidgeon was one of the most helpless guest panelists. 

Dana Wynter was another of those elegant, lovely women who made a lot of movies and TV appearances and yet achieved a limited amount of fame. I associate her with one role, and it turns out to have been her most famous, that of Becky Driscoll in the original sci-fi hit, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In it, she shows wonderful range, and one wonders why she didn’t become a bigger star.

Mel Ferrer was an interesting figure. He acted, directed and produced but, most famously, was married to actress Audrey Hepburn for a considerable time. They starred together in the epic film, War and Peace. I also find interesting the varied career of Ronny Cox, who debuted as one of the hapless adventurers in the film Deliverance, and played both amiable guys and villains in films and TV. He is still with us but basically gave up acting to focus on music.

Gary Burghoff will be forever associated with the character of Radar O’Reilly, a corporal stationed in a medical unit during the Korean War, in Robert Altmann’s film M*A*S*H. Burghoff reprised the role, transforming and deepening it, for the hit TV series. After that, aside from the occasional guest shot and commercial, he did what a lot of successful series regulars did . . . he faded out of our view.

Dana Winter


In 1942, munitions king Stuart Hendricks stepped into his private plane, the Lady A, with an intimate group, including his wife Alyssa (Wynter), his associate Brandon Childs (Ferrer), and junior executive Gerald Hacker (Burghoff). Piloting the plane was Buck Nolan (Cox), and his girlfriend Norma Lee Burke (xxxxx) was the stewardess. When the plane landed, Hendricks was dead, stabbed and lying in the cargo hold, but there was no sign of a weapon anywhere. 

Ace detective Hamilton Drew (Pidgeon) was hired to investigate, and he determined that the only egress for a weapon was a small window in the pilot’s cabin. Buck Nolan was arrested for murder, and although he was acquitted, evidence arose linking him to the theft of the plans for a new rifle; consequently, Nolan spent five years in prison.

In the present day (1947), Inspector Queen returns from a fishing trip to find a telegram from Drew, who had mentored Queen throughout his career. Before he can contact his old friend, Velie phones to notify the Queens that Drew has been found murdered. What’s more, he was stabbed to death – and no weapon can be found. 

Once again, suspicion centers on Nolan, but Ellery is curious to learn that on the night of his death, Drew gathered all the 1942 plane passengers and crew together at his apartment and told them he had finally solved Hendrick’s murder. He then showed the gathering a metallic object which he identified as a decisive clue – a lead sinker. 

Ellery goes back to the beginning and tries to solve the original crime in order to avenge the death of his father’s dear old friend.

My Take:

A well-crafted drama with a fairly, if obviously, clued puzzle closes out the season and the series. The motif of one detective continuing the work of another put out of commission by injury or death is a time-honored one, ranging from Charlie Chan Carries On to The Maltese Falcon (and yes, I’m well aware that my span here covers the exact same year of published detective fiction, but – oh, you know what I mean.) There are no dying messages and admittedly no surprise endings; well-read mystery fans will probably figure out the basic murder method, which will lead them straight to the killer. I think some clues are either missing or awkwardly presented, particularly those regarding a secondary culprit. What makes this final episode enjoyable is the structure and the drama of it, primarily due to Ellery’s motivation for solving the crime in order to honor and avenge a man dear to his father’s heart. 


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*     *     *     *     *

Whatever you think of the quality of the series, Ellery Queen was probably doomed from the start. Even though Link and Levinson themselves pushed the writers to 1) adhere to formula, and 2) keep it light, this formula wasn’t going to sustain itself in a period of television where, more and more, viewers were looking for relevance and some of the excitement they had to pay for at the movies. More and more people were eschewing the mental stimulation of a puzzle plot for car chases and guns firing. The series was pushed from one day and time slot to another, which never bodes well, and it all came to an end with scripts to spare. 

Some of these were utilized in Peter S. Fischer’s follow-up series,The Eddie Capra Mysteries, which has much in common with Ellery Queen: the same format, even including a challenge to the viewer, many of the same guest stars (Ken Swofford was even a regular), and an even more dismal lack of success (Eddie Capra only lasted thirteen episodes). I think this says a lot about the chemistry between Jim Hutton and David Wayne and the inclusion of John Hillerman and Ken Swofford to add some fuel to Ellery’s fire. As at least one reader here has pointed out, Hutton’s days were sadly numbered; at best, we might have gotten one, maybe two more seasons. 

If I could go back in a time machine, I would have asked the creators to rethink the weekly series and create fewer but longer TV-movies which, like the pilot, took their plot source from the original novels. I fear they would have avoided Cat of Many Tails as they had already written this script and had it ruined by the network. Keeping in mind that the movies would need to conform to the style and relationships set in the series, as well as the vagaries of 1970’s censors (no beheaded crucified bodies, I guess), I would have loved to see most of the Period One novels dramatized with Hutton and Wayne. I say most because I cannot fathom Roman Hat or Egyptian Cross working for this audience, and Spanish Cape is pretty awful in any form. But mysteries set in a hospital, a department store, and a rodeo certainly would work, and I would love to have seen Greek Coffin, Siamese Twin and Chinese Orange put onscreen. (Chinese Orange kinda sorta was in the movies, but it’s terrible.) 

Classic television provided all too few mystery series in the spirit of the Golden Age, and none of them struck me as more dedicated to fair play than Ellery Queen. Both Perry Mason and Burke’s Law embraced the form of the classic mystery and ended with a surprise revelation of the killer. Once in a while, this was even accompanied by a cogent clue as to the culprit’s identity – but never enough times and never with the thoroughness that the EQ writers included here. 

Clearly, the genre has been good for TV and got better after Ellery QueenColumbo was a part of an umbrella of shows that rotated through the seasons, including McCloud, McMillan and Wife and Hec Ramsey, and there were short-run attempts like The Snoop Sisters and The Father Dowling Mysteries. (The Murder, She Wrote formula was repeated with better success by Diagnosis: Murder and Matlock.) As years have passed, the situation of creating more thought-provoking mystery programming has massively improved, both through adaptations of the Golden Age writers themselves and in the form of some clever series like Death in Paradise and Jonathan Creek and, to a certain extent, Monk. 

I feel like Oliver Twist, shyly approaching the producers with my little TV remote in my hands, plaintively begging for more. Meanwhile, it has been a real pleasure reliving this enjoyable relic from the ’75 season. My appreciation knows no bounds for Dick and Billy, those middle school boys who met and vowed that they would go forth together and share their shared love of classic mysteries. And thanks to you for following along with me on this celebration.

*     *     *     *     *

Don’t touch that dial! The series may be over, but we have more business to attend to. First up: I plan to put up a poll to give you a chance to vote for which you consider to be the best out of the twenty-three Queen programs (of course I must include the pilot). I have to work out the details, so I’ll release the poll as soon as JJ teaches me how to do it I complete a special advanced training at WordPress University. 

The good news is that Levinson and Link did a lot more television. God help us all if I announced here that I would be tackling all thirteen seasons of Murder, She Wrote; it ain’t gonna happen, not now, now ever. And if you want to learn about Columbo, you would do well to visit my friend Aidan’s blog, Mysteries Ahoy, where he is covering that series at a far more humane pace than I did here with EQ. As for me, well, there are some great TV movies out there that were written by our clever duo, and here and there I will be covering some of these. 

Stay tuned.

14 thoughts on “GOD SAVE THE QUEENS (THE NETWORK WON’T): Ellery Queen Episodes 21 and 22

  1. Brad, you beat me to it! Two great minds and all that … in my fantasy for a second season, I also thought that it would be great of they adapted the period one novels, which have a great variety of settings, either as part of the Mystery Movie wheel of TV movies (like the pilot) and even as one hour episodes for at least a further 13 episodes, with a hope for a back order of 9 if ratings were good enough. After all, they could have made great episodes from pretty much all the first period novels (there are good things worth taking even in the weaker ones after all) and add HALFWAY HOUSE and DOOR BETWEEN too to reach the 13 – and you know what? Wouldn’t it have been a great vindication for the boys if they could have got to do CAT properly this time? The stuff that dreams are made of … Can’t wait for the poll!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought you’d like that. I definitely was going to add The Door Between, which has its problems but a powerful solution. The other one I meant to add was There Was an Old Woman, which would be perfect for this standout season you and I had in mind!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Margot, I’m so glad you rode along and had fun! It’s nice to spend some time dissecting the memories of things we truly enjoyed, especially when we’re sort of stuck in our houses still, not making enough good memories at the moment . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ditto on the last two episodes. On the whole, I find myself agreeing with your assessments of the entire series throughout, though I have a bit more enthusiasm for Chinese Dog and Judas Tree (and maybe Miss Aggie’s Farewell), and a bit less for Mad Tea Party (and quite a bit less for 12th Floor Express).

    At least for me, I’ve come to believe that much of the appeal of the series is rooted in the way that it recalls the “feel” of the better works of Golden Age fiction. That is, I believe the sense of ‘40’s nostalgia and the challenge to the viewer work a long way toward disguising the fact that most of the puzzle plots are only a bit better than the average Murder, She Wrote episode and not nearly as good as most of Monk or Jonathan Creek. Admittedly, the Hutton /Wayne chemistry is also a key factor of appeal (talented as the cast of Jonathan Creek is, they’re not nearly as welcome company, IMO). And the show undeniably means a great deal to me… but as much for what it represents and recalls as for what it actually is.

    I hope your poll will allow us to vote for more than one episode. Such a poll, I fear, would result in an overwhelming imbalance, probably in near unanimity for Mad Tea Party. If we were allowed to vote for, say, four episodes (even if not weighed for preference), I predict the results would probably still place that episode in the top spot, but give a more accurate picture of those we’d choose as runners up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brad – I have enjoyed your review of the EQ episodes and agree with Scott K hoping your poll will allow for us to vote for more than one. Interested to see which ones are at the top.


  3. In the last episode we get a glimpse of Ellery, the ladies man, which feels like a plot thread they otherwise dropped after a while.

    I did not rewatch all of them, but I voe the the Chinese Dog as the best. A memorable gimmick, and not nearly as common as some of the tricks they utilize in the rest of the series.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Relax, guys! I couldn’t pick just one episode if I tried! I always intended to offer multiple votes: I had been thinking three, but four is a more favorite number. I just have to put it all together, and to that purpose I’m heading to the mall, where they’ve got a Build-a-Poll franchise, and I’m going to bring you all back a nice stuffed ballot.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Brad – Velleic kindly warned me that The Controversial Files has cloned this post and shared it as their content. I deleted the link on my blog (thank you btw – I am looking forward to someday watching this show and reading your thoughts as I go) and reported it as spam but I thought I should let you know just in case.


  6. I always thought that some of the EQ novellas and shorts might have made good TV episodes:
    The first EQ short story I ever read was “The Gettysburg Bugle” in the June 1965 issue of EQMM.
    I’ve since learned that this was originally an episode of the EQ radio show; looking back, I can see what would have had to be “expanded” for a 50-minute TV show, but with the right casting, you might have had a pretty good hour on a Sunday evening.
    Similarly, the EQ novella “The Death Of Don Juan” might have made for a nifty TV movie (if they’d gone that route); I’ve cast many of the parts in this several times over the years (I still do now and then), and it seems to me that it has visual possibilities that would make a winner out of it.
    Those are two examples off the top of my head; others of you might have your own.
    What Might Have Been …

    Liked by 1 person

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