Ellery Queen

The Adventures of Ellery Queen
Dumont, 1950-1951
ABC, 1951-1952

EQ: Richard Hart, Lee Bowman
Inspector Queen: Florenz Ames
Announcer: Rex Marshall

This series was broadcast live, with Lee Bowman taking over for Richard Hart in January of 1951 when the latter died suddenly of a heart attack.

The Adventures of Ellery Queen
Syndicated, 1954-1956

EQ: Hugh Marlowe
Inspector Queen: Florenz Ames

Ames was by now familiar with his role, and Marlowe had played EQ on radio, so their portrayals should have had a certain degree of authenticity. But reportedly the production values were nil and the storylines poor. 32 episodes were filmed. The show was renamed Mystery Is My Business when rights to use the EQ name expired.

The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen
1958-1959 NBC, 1958-1959

EQ: George Nader, Lee Philips
Inspector Queen: Les Tremayne

The idea was to do actual Queen stories, and six of the first eight were adaptation of the novels. Other writers' mystery stories were dramatized by making Ellery the hero character. The show was telecast live from New York, but when the series switched to production on the left coast, Philips took over the EQ role and the Inspector was completely dropped. Now they did original scripts only, and the show was produced on videotape rather than live.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Terror at Northfield
NBC, 11 Nov 1963
Source: Terror Town (Argosy, August 1956)

Dick York, Jacqueline Scott, Jim Boles, R.G. Armstrong, Katherine Squire, Dennis Patrick

EQ doesn't appear in this story, but it is a genuine Dannay and Lee article, adapted from a story story first published in Argosy magazine. It's a suspense tale rather than a mystery, at least in Hitchcock's adaptation, but there’s a creepy bassoon-oriented score from Bernard Herrmann.

Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You
NBC, 19 Nov 1971 (96 minutes)
Director: Barry Shear
Source: novel Cat of Many Tails

EQ: Peter Lawford
Inspector Queen: Harry Morgan
Dr. Cazalis: E.G. Marshall
Mrs. Cazalis: Colleen Gray
Celeste Phillips: Stephanie Powers

There are some positives to this much-maligned tv-movie. It makes effective use of actual New York locations, and the plot structure of Cat of Many Tails is faithfully rendered. Unfortunately, all of the story's subtleties and insights are tossed aside. The casting of Ellery is preposterous: Lawford plays him as an overaged, mod ‘Swinging London’ hipster. Poor Harry Morgan, well-suited as the long-suffering Dad, has been rewritten as a long-suffering uncle! This was reportedly planned to be an element of NBC's Mystery Movie wheel, only to be replaced by McMillan and Wife. However, that claim seems to be more of an urban myth.

Ellery Queen
NBC, 1975-1976

Regular cast:
Ellery Queen: Jim Hutton
Inspector Queen: David Wayne
Sgt. Velie: Tom Reese

Recurring Characters:
Simon Brimmer: John Hillerman
Frank Flanagan: Ken Swofford
Deputy Commissioner Hayes: Arch Johnson

Ellery Queen is arguably the greatest fictional detective of American creation, but despite several attempts in diverse styles, he has never been accurately portrayed in movies or on television. The great complexity of plot and depth of character that marked the extraordinary series of Queen novels almost never survived in attempts to transfer them to visual formats, and the part was often played for comedy (one of the first movie Queens was comic Eddie Quillan).

The character of Ellery Queen was refashioned for the NBC series as well, but there were legitimate bases in the books for most of the characteristics that Jim Hutton displayed in the role. More importantly, Hutton's charm and natural manner played perfectly against David Wayne's crusty Inspector (though Wayne lacked the mustache so often mentioned in the books, his is otherwise the definitive depiction of The Old Man). The show had a sense of good humor, and its setting in 1947 made nostalgia a welcome element.

The producers introduced two recurring characters who were not a part of the canonical writings, but were memorable in their own rights and contributed to the series's success:

Simon Brimmer, radio sleuth and Ellery's implacable rival, wanted nothing more than to best the Queens in an investigation. Sometimes he turned up valuable clues; usually he fingered the wrong man. Simon held a high opinion of his own fame, sophistication, and deductive skills. In one episode, he recited with reverence the words to a new theme song for The Casebook of Simon Brimmer:
Policemen snoop, without a glimmer;
To solve the case, call Simon Brimmer...
Meanwhile, at the New York Gazette, news hawk Frank Flanagan pounded out his column, writing and speaking in Flanaganisms like ‘superrific!’. (The similarity to Walter Winchell is probably not coincidental.) Flanagan had sources everywhere, especially when he was willing to fork over a sawbuck for a hot tip, and delighted in printing information Inspector Queen wanted kept under wraps. For all his ridiculing of the police in print, when the chips were down he was there if the Inspector or Ellery needed his help.

Before Elmer Bernstein's 1940s Big-Band-style theme music plays, each episode starts with a clever opening montage,. The announcer, using his best 1940s radio voice, says something like:
This famous song-writer is about to be murdered. Who is guilty? Is it ...
Each suspect is shown in a brief clip, speaking a short phrase (sometimes excerpted to look off-beat or humorous), then:
Match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you can guess WhoDunit!
The episodes seen in syndication have been cut by several minutes each, with this sequence eliminated entirely. Next came the stylish opening credits; the perfect mood is set with the montage of chess pieces, period glassware, murder implements, and, of course, Ellery's essential typewriter.

Adding to the authentic feel of the series is the ‘challenge to the viewer,’ where Hutton as Queen turns to the camera and invites the audience to add up the clues and name the guilty party. This is a direct visual analogue to the ‘Challenge to the Reader’ that appeared in the earlier Queen novels just before the solution was revealed. Only sometimes Hutton gives too many hints!

The syndicated versions also trim a few minutes of program content from within each episode itself, which is unfortunate because the amusing by-plays between Queen and his Dad are usually the first things to go. Even edited, however, this is as fine a mystery series as American television has given us. Though the episodes varied in quality, none was poor, and even the weakest of them (probably Chinese Dog, which takes the meticulously-drawn town of Wrightsville from several novels and turns it into a rural hicksville) are redeemed by the plots, the production values, and the marvelous casts.

Beginning in August of 1995, uncut episodes of the series aired on the Encore:Mystery satellite/cable channel--the first time these programs had been seen in their complete form since the original network broadcasts. After a few years, uncut episodes disappeared from Encore. The Retro TV Network (most often seen on local stations' digital subchannels) ran uncut episodes for a while but then reverted to edited shows.

The complete series is available on DVD, with all episodes full length and uncut. The quality is fine (though a full restoration would sharpen things up a bit); the only problem is the replacement of Elmer Bernstein's opening credits music for the pilot episode (Too Many Suspects) with the NBC Mystery Movie theme. (None of the other episodes has been tampered with in any way.) It's a must-buy for all EQ fans.

episode guide:

Ellery Queen
23 March 1975
Syndication Title: Too Many Suspects
Source: novel The Fourth Side of the Triangle
Director: David Greene
Ray Milland, Monte Markham, Kim Hunter, John Hillerman

Pilot film for the series that followed. The novel was simplified and the most important clues significantly altered in this otherwise handsomely mounted and well-played production. Even at 96 minutes the script contained very little padding, though it did short-change EQ’s plot a bit as it had to establish the series. As part of that process the writers introduced recurring character Simon Brimmer, a radio mystery sleuth with an insatiable desire to best Ellery in a real murder case. His show was called The Casebook of Simon Brimmer, sponsored by Vita-Cream.

The Adventure of Auld Lang Syne
11 Sept 1975
Joan Collins, Ray Walston, Thayer David, Guy Lombardo, Barbara Rush, David Doyle

David Greene directed one more time for the first show of the series proper. This story of a murder on New Year's Eve is charming and smart, one of the best in the series, with even a couple of touching moments, and a clever, but completely fair, dying clue.

The Adventure of The Lover's Leap
18 Sept 1975
Don Ameche, Jack Kelley, Ida Lupino, Craig Stevens, Anne Francis, Susan Strasberg, John Hillerman

A woman reading an Ellery Queen book finds that events in the story are happening to her in real life. One of the in-jokes the writers used here was naming all of the episode-specific characters after well-known mystery writers: Marsh, Chandler, etc.

The Adventure of the Chinese Dog
25 Sept 1975
Orson Bean, Eugene Roche, Murray Hamilton, Geraldine Brooks, Robert F Simon

Not the strongest episode by any means. A wealthy man is murdered, struck by an ornamental dog figurine.

The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader
2 October 1975
Tom Bosley, Lynda Day George, Donald O'Connor, Joe Maher, Ken Swofford

Ellery is a suspect when the publisher of an Ellery Queen comic is murdered. (There actually were Ellery Queen comics, by the way.) It didn't help that this episode aired around the same time as the movie Murder on the Orient Express was released. Introduced recurring character Frank Flanagan, columnist for the New York Gazette.

The Adventure of the 12th Floor Express
9 October 1975
Pat Harrington, Dina Merrill, Ruth McDevitt, Paul Stewart, Kip Niven, Ken Swofford

Murder in an elevator, with no one inside but the victim. A crafty plot that will test the mettle of the best whodunit fans. And the key clue is right up there on the screen, for anyone who can recognize it.

The Adventure of Miss Aggie's Farewell Performance
19 October 1975
Eve Arden, Bert Parks, Betty White, Paul Shenar, John Hillerman

A radio soap opera star is killed and most of the cast are suspects. Another first-rate episode, with the radio backdrop and vintage cast adding to the nostalgia value.

The Adventure of Colonel Nivin’s Memoirs
23 October 1975
Lloyd Bochner, Robert Loggia, Pernell Roberts, Rene Auberjonois

A tell-all book about wartime collaborators gets its author killed. A sub-plot involves Soviet agents up to no good, not a PC topic in 1975 but it probably was on peoples’ minds in 1948.

The Adventure of the Mad Tea Party
30 October 1975
Source: short story The Adventure of the Mad Tea Party
Edward Andrews, Jim Backus, Rhonda Flemings, Larry Hagman, Julie Sommars

The only series entry based on an actual Queen story, it is the finest of the episodes, and is regarded by many as the best filming of Queen ever. The script is faithful to the original story, and even surpasses it in clearing up a few logical loopholes. A classic plot makes for a classic episode.

The Adventure of Veronica's Veils
13 Nov 1975
Julie Adams, George Burns, Jack Carter, William Demarest, Hayden Rorke, Barbara Rhoades, John Hillerman

There's an overabundance of ‘comedy relief’ in this tale of a killing in the midst of a burlesque-revival show. But a great cast.

The Adventure of the Pharoah's Curse
12 Nov 1975
June Lockhart, Ross Martin, Simon Oakland, Nehemiah Persoff, John Hillerman

Who can resist a story about mummies and curses? A pretty good whodunit, too. An odd moment at the start of the last act suggests John Hillerman could not be present for the filming of that scene. Instead, a brief bit with Brimmer is tacked on to the end of the episode.

The Adventure of the Blunt Instrument
18 Nov 1975
John Dehner, Eva Gabor, Richard Jaeckel, Dean Stockwell, Joanna Barnes, Keene Curtis

The familiar setting: a convention of murder mystery writers. The winner of the ‘blunt instrument award’ is bashed in the head with it. But Ellery is home with a bad cold, and everyone wants him to try their home remedy.

The Adventure of the Black Falcon
4 January 1976
Howard Duff, Signe Hasso, Tab Hunter, Roddy McDowell, William Schallert, John Hillerman

A better than average outing: one of the partners in a restaurant is found dead. Why did he grab that bottle of wine just before he died? Roddy McDowell delivers a great line of dialogue to Inspector Queen.

The Adventure of the Sunday Punch
11 January 1976
Robert Alda, Dane Clark, Lloyd Nolan, Janet MacLachlan, Ken Swofford, Otis Young, Terrence O’Connor

A boxer dies during a training bout, but it turns out he was poisoned. Ellery is invited to ‘take a ride’, and Frank Flanagan provides a vital clue.

The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer
18 January 1976
Ed McMahon, Arthur Godfrey, David Hedison, Dorothy Malone, Dick Van Patten, Bobby Sherman

A great electric train set, but its operator is killed, and there's more involved than just toys.

The Adventure of the Wary Witness
25 January 1976
Michael Constantine, Dwayne Hickman, Sal Mineo, Michael Parks, Cesar Romero, Dick Sargent

One of the most serious episodes of the series, and one of the best. Can Ellery help the accused find the missing witness who can prove he didn't kill the mobster? The clues are discreetly, but fairly, dropped, and the twists nicely devious. Sal Mineo was killed shortly after this episode filmed.

The Adventure of the Judas Tree
1 February 1976
Dana Andrews, Bill Dana, Clu Gulager, George Maharis, Diana Muldaur, James Shigeta

Who killed the wealthy industrialist, and why was his body dragged out of the house and hung from a tree, with a crown of flowers on his head?

The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario
8 February 1976
Noah Beery, Don DeFore, Troy Donahue, Vincent Price, Barbara Rush

An interesting concept: the Queens go to Hollywood to watch the filming of a Queen movie. Guess what: someone gets killed! Considering how Inspector Queen and his son complain about the lack of authenticity of the production they are watching, one can only guess how they would have reacted to the Ralph Bellamy movies!

The Adventure of the Two-Faced Woman
29 February 1976
Theodore Bikel, Joyce Brothers, Forrest Tucker, Vera Miles, Victor Buono, Edward Mulhare, John Hillerman

A painting is a clue to past mysteries and a present killing; once again Simon Brimmer fingers the wrong person.

The Adventure of the Tyrant of Tin Pan Alley
7 March 1976
Rudy Vallee, Polly Bergen, Albert Salmi, Ken Berry, Norman Fell, John Hillerman

Was the payola scandal already underway in 1947? It plays a role in the story of a songwriter who is killed at a radio station. Take a look at the episode title as it appears on the screen. Can you spot the goof?

The Adventure of Caesar's Last Sleep
14 March 1976
Jan Murray, Eddie Albert, Stuart Whitman, Kevin Tighe

A mobster who is going to be the star witness for an ambitious prosecutor is killed, and the finger of suspicion points to Inspector Queen's right hand man, Sgt. Velie. An unusual subplot attempts to look a little more seriously at the Queen father-son relationship and how it plays against Dad's role in the police department. In fact, this time Dad spots the crucial clue (although it's clear Ellery sees it first) and gets to do the final ‘exposure of the killer’ scene.

The Adventure of the Hard-Hearted Huckster
21 March 1976
Eddie Bracken, Bob Crane, Carolyn Jones, Juliet Mills, Herb Edelman, Ken Swofford

The new world of television is the backdrop for this murder yarn. Frank Flanagan gets a tv show, but it doesn't last long. He is cancelled and replaced by Ed Sullivan, who did make his television debut in 1948. (FF scornfully calls him ‘old wooden face’ and adds, ‘That zombie won't last two weeks!’)

The Adventure of the Disappearing Dagger
4 April 1976
Walter Pidgeon, Mel Ferrer, Dana Wynter, Gary Burghoff, Ronny Cox

The final episode deals with the killing of a private investigator looking into an old murder investigation. Both cases are closed by the end of the show, though I've seen more convincing resolutions.

The Tragedy of Y
Fugi, 1978
Japanese title: Y-no-higeki
Director: Shigemichi Sugita
Source: novel The Tragedy of Y

Nango (Drury Lane): Koji Ishizaka
Inspector Sahara: Nobuo Kaneko

A six-part miniseries for Japanese television unearthed by Kurt Sercu, whose interview with the chairman of the Japanese Ellery Queen fan club revealed several other productions from The Land of the Rising Sun:

  • The Best Japanese Mysteries: The Cat-House Murder Case (1980; source: short story The Adventure of the Seven Black Cats)
  • The Lonely Hunter (1982; source: novel Cop-Out)
  • The Three Widows (1993; source: short-story The Three Widows)
  • Documentaries: Ellery Queen Centennial (2005), Ellery Queen, Mystery from A to Z (2009)

Murder, She Wrote: The Adventure of the Grand Old Lady
CBS, 8 October 1989
Angela Lansbury, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Dane Clark, June Havoc, Robert Vaughn, Paxton Whitehead

This was not a real Ellery Queen episode, but it almost was. This script was written for Jim Hutton's EQ series but not used. It was revised with Jessica Fletcher introducing the story, which was set, like the Queen series, in 1947, and dealt with murder on board an ocean liner. The thinly-disguised EQ characters were all there, including Ellery (now called ‘Christy’ and an author of...crossword puzzles!); his Dad, a police Homicide cop; and a famous radio mystery sleuth (Vaughan) with a show called The Chancellor Casebook. Available on DVD.

Leverage: The Ten Li'l Grifters Job
TNT, 3 July 2011
Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Aldis Hodge, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf, William Russ

In this episode Hutton's crew is out to obtain incriminatory blueprints from a crooked businessman. To do so they have to show up at a Mystery Weekend where everyone dresses as a famous detective. In a tribute to his Dad, Tim Hutton takes on the persona of Ellery Queen (‘the world's greatest detective’). Even though the hat isn't exactly right, the father/son resemblance is remarkable. Coming to DVD.