Ellery Queen

The Spanish Cape Mystery
Liberty, 1935 (65 minutes)
Director: Lewis D. Collins
Source: novel The Spanish Cape Mystery

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.

The Mandarin Mystery
Republic, 1937 (65 minutes)
Director: Ralph Staub
Source: novel The Chinese Orange Mystery

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).

Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery
Columbia, 1941 (69 minutes)
Source: radio play The Three Scratches (13 Dec 1939)(

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.

Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime
Columbia, 1941 (67 minutes)
Source: novel The Devil to Pay

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).

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring
Columbia, 1941 (70 minutes)
Source: novel The Dutch Shoe Mystery

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).