A lost classic of a mystery tv show. The creators went on to make Murder She Wrote which was far more commercially successful although this series starring Jim Hutton which lasted for only one season is still better in my opinion. Mysteries on TV are hard to pull off and really rely more on the lead actor to deliver compelling stories instead of a genuine whodunit. Jim Hutton does his best to flesh out character of the legendary Ellery Queen. The setting of the 1940's was probably to remote and distant for the target audience at the time, now it appears quaint and adds to the allure of the series.
The best mystery series around. It makes you use your grey matter and is non violent.
You could call it “Murder He Wrote.” Nine years before Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher started her 12-year run as a true-crime solving mystery writer, Jim Hutton set the formula as Ellery Queen. I fondly remember this show and its catchy theme music as a kid when it’s one season of 23 episodes ran in 1975 and 1976. It’s nice to see the show finally on disc, but the 2010 DVD set includes no extras whatsoever. Set in New York in the late 1940’s, Hutton’s Ellery Queen is somewhat absent-minded, a successful mystery writer, and the son of a famous New York homicide detective played by David Wayne who is frequently called in “unofficially” to help solve crimes which baffle the police. Kinda makes one wonder how dad keeps his job and how Ellery gets any writing done. The chemistry between Hutton’s Ellery and his on-screen dad is good although their facial features aren’t very similar and I have trouble believing the very tall Hutton is related to the very short Wayne. Wayne’s age and his character’s general veneer of gruffness remind me of Harry Morgan’s Col. Harry Potter in M*A*S*H. Likeable Hutton, who I first discovered in the John Wayne film, Hellfighters, spends a lot of time scratching his head and acting like he’s thinking really hard. It’s sad to think that Hutton died at age 45 of liver cancer just four years after this series ended. A hallmark of the show is that at the end of every episode, Ellery “breaks the fourth wall” and talks directly to the TV audience, basically saying, “now you have all the clues, have you figured it out yet?” Like Murder She Wrote, each episode ends with a gathering of all the suspects where Ellery explains what the pertinent clues mean and exposes the murderer. The show runs on a couple of recurring conceits – that murder victims almost always spend their dying breath trying to leave a cryptic clue as to the identity of their murderer, and once cornered, murderers always come clean and confess. To mix things up, Ellery has two would be crime-solving rivals who alternate in and out of the episodes. One is a smarmy crime show radio show host named Simon Brimmer, played by John Hillerman who went on to play Higgins in Magnum P.I. The other is a pithy reporter named Frank Flannigan played by Ken Swofford, who went on to play Mr. Morloch in the two-season TV version of Fame, as well as a slew of other television roles throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. Ironically, both actors later played recurring roles in Murder She Wrote. A lot of the fun of this show is seeing all the stars of the time who show up – George Burns, Joan Collins, Vincent Price, Larry Hagman, Dean Stockwell, Rene Auberjonois, Ed Mc Mahon, Ray Walston, Dick Van Patton, Jim Backus, June Lockhart, Betty White, Roddy McDowell (as a guy from New Jersey with a German accent no less), and many others. Chances are, if you don’t know who any of these people are, this probably isn’t your show. There’s not a lot of action in Ellery Queen and the series relies on some moody skyline shots to remind viewers this show is set in the 1940s. Unfortunately, they use the same shots over and over and if you’re watching the series back to back on disk, you’ll get tired of seeing the same grainy video again and again, as well as the same exterior shots of the brownstone where Ellery and his dad live. Overall, an entertaining diversion, but probably too dated for younger viewers.
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