EQ: Donald Cook Inspector Queen: Guy Usher Stella Godfrey: Helen Twelvetrees Godfrey: Frank Sheridan Captain Kidd: Richard Cramer Sheriff: Harry Stubbs Judge Macklin: Berton Churchill
The first Ellery Queen film takes some liberties with the classic plot (the naked victim is accorded a set of swimming trunks; Spanish Cape is relocated to the West Coast) but the story emerges fairly unscathed. Too bad that Cook's flirtatious Ellery is unrelated to any EQ novel, and the blustery Sheriff is the worst kind of comic relief. The rights to the film belonged to its distributor, Republic, who many years ago issued it in a truncated form for local television stations. The opening sequences (the only part of the film in which the Inspector appears) were deleted and not seen until a recent broadcast on Encore's Mystery Channel, which restored the missing footage.
EQ: Eddie Quillan Inspector Queen: Wade Boteler Josephine Temple: Charlotte Henry Mellish: Franklin Pangborn Martha Kirk: Rita La Roy Dr. Alexander Kirk: George Irving
Casting comic Eddie Quillan as Ellery was a fatal misstep (though at least they got the initials right!). While the film contains the bare bones of the book it was played for laughs, and the childish acting and ineffective direction brought the first series of EQ films to a halt after just two entries. Like Spanish Cape it was heavily edited for television and an uncut print will probably not materialize until a full restoration is done from the original footage.
The Crime Nobody Saw
Paramount, 1937 (60 minutes) Director: Charles Barton Source: stage play Danger, Men Working
Nicholas Carter: Lew Ayres Kay Mallory: Ruth Coleman Horace Smith: Benny Baker Babe: Eugene Pallette Ambrosia: Hattie McDaniel
EQ collaborated on a play with Lowell Bretano; when it died a quick death, it became The Crime Nobody Saw (referring to the stage play, perhaps?). With a script by Bertram Millhauser (who worked on the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series) this comic mystery should have been an interesting little film, but the emphasis was clearly on (strained) comedy rather than any deductive logic (the killer is finally identified with the decidedly un-EQ-like cliche of the ‘surprise witness’). A fine cast helps a little.
Ellery Queen, Master Detective
Columbia, 1940 (58 minutes) Director: Kurt Neumann Source: novel The Door Between
EQ: Ralph Bellamy Inspector Queen: Charley Grapewin Nikki Porter: Margaret Lindsey Sgt. Velie: James Burke Dr James Rogers: Michael Whalen John Braun: Fred Niblo Sr Barbara Braun: Marsha Hunt Doc Prouty: Charles Lane
To kick off a new series of B-movie adventures with EQ, scriptwriter Eric Taylor took The Door Between and radically changed its setting, even moving a major surprise twist of the book--revealing it early on in the film. Light comedy was the watchword, and the ‘funny’ sequences of the corpse that kept being stolen or removed overshadowed the plot. Ellery is so smitten with Nikki that he makes a daring proposal to her at the fade out: ‘Will you be my...secretary?’! Not bad as a B-movie light mystery, but it isn't the real EQ. A novelization (by non-EQ hands) was published (later re-issued as The Vanishing Corpse).
EQ: Ralph Bellamy Inspector Queen: Charley Grapewin Nikki Porter: Margaret Lindsey Sgt. Velie: James Burke Lois Ling: Anna May Wong Count Brett: Eduardo Cianelli Sanders: Frank Albertson Doc Prouty: Charles Lane
The influence of MGM's successful Thin Man series was obvious, as Ellery and Nikki engage in more comic squabbling than in sleuthing. The plot dealt with Chinese jewels being smuggled into the US; it has an interesting cast, but that's about it. Like all of the remaining Columbia entries, it was written by Eric Taylor based on a story idea (fragment, line of dialogue from a radio script, whatever) from EQ, and directed by James Hogan. A novelization was published, but the cousins did not write it.
EQ: Ralph Bellamy Inspector Queen: Charley Grapewin Nikki Porter: Margaret Lindsey Sgt. Velie: James Burke Carlotta Emerson: Spring Byington Ray Jardin: H.B. Warner John Mathews: Douglas Dumbrille Anthony Rhodes: Sydney Blackmer Doc Prouty: Charles Lane
This should have been the best of the Columbia Queens, since it played fairly straight with the storyline of the novel, even while totally changing its setting and characters. But while the plot was there, at least sketchily, EQ is given little opportunity to reason anything out, capturing the killer in a simple chase scene. As one review pointed out, this obviously wasn't the ‘perfect crime’ since Ellery solved it. The script was novelized and published (but not written by EQ).
EQ: Ralph Bellamy Inspector Queen: Charley Grapewin Nikki Porter: Margaret Lindsey Sgt. Velie: James Burke Miss Tracy: Mona Barry Page: Paul Hurst Thomas: Tom Dugan Dr. Janney: George Zucco John Stack: Leon Ames
This bastardization of The Dutch Shoe Mystery is borderline painful to watch. Slapstick comedy, with Hurst and Dugan as a couple of incompetent hit-men, switched bodies, broken legs, and other knee-slapping idiocies. It's no wonder Ralph Bellamy called it quits after this one.
A Close Call for Ellery Queen
Columbia, 1942 (65 minutes)
EQ: William Gargan Inspector Queen: Charley Grapewin Nikki Porter: Margaret Lindsey Sgt. Velie: James Burke Alan Rogers: Ralph Morgan Margo Rogers: Kay Linaker
Gargan lacked Bellamy's charisma, but at least he was allowed to approach the role in a somewhat more serious vein.The story is about a missing heir, an imposter, and...well you can guess the rest. The budgets were getting even thinner, but it was definitely a step up from Murder Ring. Columbia must have liked the title as they re-used it four years later with A Close Call for Boston Blackie.
Desperate Chance for Ellery Queen
Columbia, 1942 (70 minutes)
EQ: William Gargan Inspector Queen: Charley Grapewin Nikki Porter: Margaret Lindsey Sgt. Velie: James Burke Norman Hadley: John Litel Adele Belden: Lilian Bond Ray Stafford: Morgan Conway Mrs. Norman Hadley: Charlotte Wynters
EQ and Nikki travel to San Francisco to check out a man, thought dead, who is seen alive. Before long, someone is dead, and that's about as surprising as this film gets. Lilian Bond as a burlesque queen adds a little spice to this entry.
Enemy Agents Meet Ellery Queen
Columbia, 1942 (64 minutes)
EQ: William Gargan Inspector Queen: Charley Grapewin Nikki Porter: Margaret Lindsey Sgt. Velie: James Burke Mrs. Van Dom: Gale Sondergaard Paul Gilette: Gilbert Roland Heinrich: Sig Rumann Commissioner Bracken: John Hamilton Reece: Ludwig Donath Morse: Ernst Doetsch
It had to happen: EQ battles the Nazis. This isn't even a mystery plot per se, and the title gives away most of the story! Still, the guest cast is full of entertaining character actors who give delightfully hammy performances, and it's a fast 64 minutes.
Ten Days' Wonder
Boetie/Levitt & Pickman, 1972 (101 minutes) Director: Claude Chabrol Source: novel Ten Days' Wonder
Theodore Van Horn: Orson Welles Helen Van Horn: Marlene Jobert Paul Regis: Michel Piccoli Charles Van Horn: Anthony Perkins
Possibly the weirdest EQ adaptation of all, this one wrenches the tale out of Wrightsville and into French wine country. Ellery isn't in the film at all, replaced by ‘Paul Regis’ and the whole thing is a bizarre, incoherent mishmash. Costumes suggest the 1920s but the time is the present. The plot of the book is fairly well duplicated (with one or two unnecessary alterations) but the many obscurities and clumsy dubbing make this a disastrous (temporary) farewell to the big screen for Ellery (who's probably glad he wasn't in it!). Available on DVD.
Haitatsu Sarenai Santsu no Tegami
Japanese, 1979 English Title: The Three Undelivered Letters Director: Yoshitaro Nomura Source: novel Calamity Town
Our congratulations to Kurt Sercu whose relentless research turned up the details on this film. Nevins’s book noted that Fred Dannay travelled to Tokyo and attended the premiere of a movie based on Calamity Town; now we know what movie he saw. Video: entire film (in Japanese).