Reactions to an editorial... Joseph
getting reactions to the article we made after
attending the Centenary. One was from Joe Goodrich. I didn't know Joe,
and he admitted that he missed out on the Symposium itself. Rather
apologetically he added that since then had attended the Ellery Queen
exhibition at Columbia University. He also sent us an essay which, I
believe, clearly complements and amplifies the points we raised in the
editorial. The essay also demonstrates that every new creation of a
Queen-story can inspire a whole generation to re-discover the treasury of
stories... The 'new' medium was set in 1975. And I must admit, as I imagine
others will as well, it kindled a fire within...
A Challenge to the viewer
I first met Ellery Queen in
I recently had the opportunity to watch the pilot and all 22 episodes
thanks to an assiduous home-taper. I wasn't sure what to expect; how would
the series, now viewed through adult eyes, hold up?
elements of appeal to mystery buffs, including elegant
Madrid went on to fault the
series for its lack of danger---Ellery goes about his sleuthing with impunity as if he's playing a parlor game after
dinner ---and a concomitant lack of suspense, concluding that Ellery
Queen was like a gun without bullets. Decorative, perhaps, but
hardly effective. Madrid's point is generally valid; all I would say in the show's defense
is that it was more of a champagne cocktail than a boilermaker, an
exercise in stylish ratiocination that made no claims to 'gritty
authenticity'. As such, there's much to enjoy: the period details that
Madrid mentions, the byplay between Ellery and Inspector Queen and, more
often than not, the twists and turns of the mysteries that Ellery is
called upon to solve.
But to wish for that is to wish that
Ellery Queen had been
something other than what it was, to rue a missed possibility rather than
appreciate what is there. Though the series is set in 1947, well into the
third period of the Queen canon, its format owes more to the golden-age
days (and even more to the EQ radio show) than anything else. The game is
all, the puzzle takes precedence, and a challenge to the reader---or, in
this case, to the viewer---is issued when all the clues to the solution of
the crime have been presented. (It's interesting to note that the only
Queen story used as the basis for one of the episodes was 1934's "The
Adventure of the Mad Tea Party".) The crimes themselves are not
exceptionally difficult to figure out, but they do require keeping a
close eye on the action and a bit of reasoning' A recipe for death in the ratings
then as now.
Levinson and Link kept the books' triumvirate of Queen pére, fils, and Sergeant Velie. David Wayne's Inspector Queen, though missing his print counterpart's silvery mustache and given to arresting suspects on less-than-rock-solid evidence, is indeed superb, and Tom Reese's Velie is a stolid addition to a long line of head-scratching, cigar-chewing Man Fridays. Created for the series to provide competition for Ellery and grief for his father are the stylishly fey radio sleuth Simon Brimmer---played with sardonic élan by John Hillerman---and the pugnacious news-hawk Frank Flanagan, brought to brash and bristling life by Ken Swofford. Brimmer and Flanagan can be counted on to provide the wrong answers to whatever case Ellery is involved in, and their comeuppance is a ready source of humor. No Nikki Porter is to be found lurking about the Queens' brownstone, a blessing or a curse depending on how you feel about Nikki. A few women vie for Ellery's attentions in the course of the series, but he remains essentially the world's oldest, tallest and smartest boy. Dashiell Hammett's famous question concerning Ellery's sex life ("---if any") remains unanswered. The emphasis is on deduction, not seduction.
Little more than a year elapsed from the pilot's first showing to the last
aired episode. Ellery Queen remains---to date---the last time
Dannay and Lee's creation has appeared on the home screen. If only PBS
would do for Queen what the BBC has done for his British counterparts.
Think of, say, The Roman Hat Mystery done up in all the period trappings
of the late 1920s; think of Calamity Town's town square (which was round),
the changing seasons of Wrightsville's weather and the changing fates of
the Wright family; think of the sweltering claustrophobia of the New York
City roamed by the serial killer of Cat of Many Tails; think of
And On The
Eighth Day's isolated desert Eden that comes to know the greatest sin of
them all. The mouth waters at the prospect.