Ellery Queen Mysteries (1975) | Match wits with Jim Hutton’s 1940s sleuth on DVD
…and see if you can guess ‘whodunit?’
During the 1930s and 1940s, the detective-hero Ellery Queen was one of the best-known American fictional detectives. Brooklyn cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee created the character in 1928 as part of a writing contest sponsored by McClure’s Magazine.
As well as naming their lead character Ellery Queen it was also their pseudonym. Their entry won the contest, but the magazine closed before it could be published. But a year later, the cousins’ novel The Roman Hat Mystery hit the stands.
Over 30 novels followed, plus a radio series and four TV shows, including this 1975 series starring Jim Hutton as the mystery writer turned amateur sleuth who helped his New York police inspector dad, Richard Queen (David Wayne), solve baffling crimes.
Set in 1947 in New York City, NBC TV’s series took the novel approach of breaking the fourth wall, in which Hutton’s Queen asked the audience to identify the murderer by reviewing the clues of the case before he gathers the suspects together.
Aside from the sleuth and his grumpy dad (whom he still lives with), the show had two recurring characters that were created to provide the show’s comic relief. They were hammy radio sleuth Simon Brimmer, played by John Hillerman, who’s best known as Higgins in Magnum PI, and news hack Frank Flanagan, played by Ken Swofford. He would later appear in Murder, She Wrote, another mystery show conceived by producers Richard Levinson and William Link.
The big draw, however, were the Who’s Who of veteran Hollywood talent that guest-starred, with many of them playing the murder victims, including Kim Hunter, Tom Bosley, Dr Joyce Brothers, Troy Donahue and Eve Arden. The suspects, meanwhile, included Vincent Price, Betty White, Ray Milland, Joan Collins and that stalwart of US 1970s TV Roddy McDowall.
The show was certainly a great opportunity for these stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age to strut their stuff in their twilight years, and it’s great fun watching the show again on DVD to catch some of my favourite stars from popular old TV shows appearing in the same episode. One example is The Adventure of the Wary Witness, which featured Dick Sergent from Bewitched, Caesar Romero from Batman and Dwayne Hickman from Dobie Gillis. Sadly, it was one of Sal Mineo’s last performances before his tragic murder in 1976. This is pure light-hearted nostalgia with real class and a catchy evocative Elmer Bernstein theme tune that’s so worth a revisit.
The Fabulous Films six-disc DVD collection contains all 22 episodes (uncut, unedited and remastered), plus the series pilot, Too Many Suspects, and an interview with veteran writer and producer William Link.