most successful series of detective stories ever written, the Ellery Queen
mysteries rank as one of the least successful film series.
Dannay and Lee spent much of the 1930s in Hollywood, working as screenwriters for
Columbia, Paramount, and MGM. They never received screen credit, but they did gather
material for two novels and several short stories wherein the fictional Ellery suffers a
similar fate. The cinema has not been kind to Dannay and Lee's creation. Ellery
Queen was most often portrayed on screen as just another wisecracking private eye
type. No theatrical film has ever depicted Ellery with anything like his literary
personality, and the plots have, as often as not, been wildly rewritten for the screen.
Still, for the fan, there's usually something of interest to be seen in even the clumsiest
of these efforts, and there's always reason to hope that a great film will be made about
this character. Lee was sometimes credited as Ellery Queen I, Dannay as Ellery
Queen II. Both Ellery Queen's 1935-1936 movies were wretched, and Columbia
Pictures' series, first starring Ralph Bellamy and later William Gargan, wasn't much
better. When, in 1942, their producer Larry Darmour died, the series disappeared with him.
The 'movie scene' wasn't to become Ellery's turf and it must have been a relieve for Lee
and Dannay when the series was abandoned, the latter describing them as: '...each one more
dreadful than the others...'
few scattered attempts to film Queen stories in the 1930s with Donald Cook and Eddie Quillan never aroused much interest. Then in 1940, Columbia began a series starring Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen, Charley Grapewin as his Inspector father, Margaret Lindsay as his Girl Friday Nikki, and James Burke as Inspector Queen's dim-witted aide. The very first entry, Ellery Queen, Master Detective, belied its title by making Bellamy an incredible "comic" bumbler, an inexplicable characterization that lasted through all of Bellamy's films in the series.
Heavy doses of comedy relief in entries like Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring were not offset by solid mystery angles, and the films, though only one hour long, moved like molasses. A switch in casting making William Gargan the lead character in 1942 did not help matters, with the actual suspects becoming more obvious than ever. Gargan's three efforts as Queen were undistinguished, and his last episode, Enemy agents meets Ellery Queen, was also the last in the short-lived series. Consistent top-quality casting with character actors like Eduardo Ciannelli, Blanche Yurka, George Zucco, Leon Ames, and former director Fred Niblo could do nothing to offset the lifeless scripts and turgid direction. None of the films in the series is really worthwhile, a distinct disappointment to the mystery fans who came to regard the Ellery Queen stories as top-grade in the mystery genre.
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
A Study in Terror (1965)
Ten Days Wonder (1972)