Match wits with Ellery Queen…and see if you can guess WHODUNIT!

Mothers give you life.

And some mothers give you life and love.

And then are some mothers–the best mothers–who give you life and love and Ellery Queen.

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A few months ago, my mom asked me to request the Ellery Queen television series from the library. I did, and, out of curiosity, I watched the pilot episode with her.

And from that moment on, I was irreversibly hooked.

Let me put this in perspective for you: When I requested the series from the library, I had to do so through another library district, which meant that my request was only granted when the item was just sitting on the shelf. Duh, you may be saying to yourself. Now, I understand that local patrons should be given priority, but it was a little frustrating that I could not even be placed on a waiting/hold list. And even more frustrating that once I did get the item, I could never, ever renew it. (I mean I know I am obsessive, but watching twenty-three episodes of an hour-long show in seven days? I’m not that obsessive.)

So I religiously checked the status of every district’s copy every day, waiting for a copy’s status to read “available.” Crazy, right? Maybe to someone who has never watched this show and suffered from severe withdrawals. Fatigued with such withdrawals, I finally requested that my local library purchase a copy of the series so that I could check it out with more ease. (Why buy something when you can have the library buy it for you? This is my life philosophy.) And they approved the request and purchased it and all was well…Until someone else put a request on the copy, and once again I can’t renew it. But it’s okay. I’m accepting that I will have to return the series to the library tomorrow. Tomorrow at 11:59 P.M., of course.

Anyway. On to the show!

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Ellery Queen follows its title character, a mystery writer, as he works with his father, Inspector Richard Queen, to solve murder cases. Ellery Queen, as portrayed by Jim Hutton, is affable, absent-minded (endearingly so), and highly intelligent, although he is never condescending and always modest about his intellect. For example, in the pilot episode, Simon Brimmer, a radio actor who stars in the mystery series “The Case Book of Simon Brimmer”, offers to buy the rights to Ellery’s work so that they can be adapted for his radio program. Ellery denies the offer, and Brimmer tells him he’s making a mistake. Ellery pleasantly replies, “Oh, probably. I make a lot of them.” Later, in the same episode, Ellery explains his deduction skills to his father, “It’s really very simple. I make it a point to be observant and to pay attention to details.”

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Hutton breaking the fourth wall. Oh, Ellery, you look so sharp in your tuxedooooooo. I think I missed the essential clue while drooling. Oops.    

Ellery expects you to pay attention to those details, too. At the end of each episode, Hutton breaks the “fourth wall” and asks if you’ve pieced together the clues and solved the mystery. The mysteries are packed with complexity and suspects, however, and I really only ever solved one case ahead of Ellery. The not-so-easy-to-solve mysteries are only part of the show’s appeal, though. The other part, of course, is the superb portrayals of the principal characters–Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen and David Wayne as his father, Inspector Richard Queen.

Ellery Queen is, of course, derived from the stories and characters created by Ellery Queen, a moniker used by cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, who, in a stroke of genius, made their main character also the author of their mystery novels and stories. I’ve only read a handful of the short stories so far, and they’re great fun, but Hutton inhabits the character so completely, he makes it so much his very own. As does David Wayne, who, I just discovered, is the flirty neighbor in Adam’s Rib

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Inspector Queen! What would Ellery say? Dying of laughter at Tracy’s face. Love that guy. 

The chemistry between Hutton and Wayne is so effective that it is difficult to step back into the real world and realize that Jim Hutton is not David Wayne’s son, and they do not solve murder cases together. Sniffle, sniffle.

Each episode is also crammed with some impressive guest stars, including Tom Bosley, William Demarest, Eva Garbor, Vincent Price, Sal Mineo, Larry Hagman, Dick Sargent, Don DeFore, and Thayer David (you know–Professor Stokes!). And a ton of others. Seriously. If the show has a fault, though, it is in some of the melodramatic acting from the occasional minor character. Jim Hutton, though, was inexhaustibly dedicated to the show. According to the show’s co-creator William Link, Hutton never left the set and virtually lived in his trailer. His dedication and work paid off–he undoubtedly makes the show. Sadly, the show only lasted one season, and Hutton died of liver cancer just a few years later in 1979 at the much, much, much too young age of 45. (When Hutton’s son, Timothy, won his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Ordinary People–one of my favorite movies ever–he paid a nice tribute to his father, who died just a few months before filming began.)

I just love Ellery Queen. The characters, the actors who bring them to life, the recreation of the time period (late 1940s), the brow-furrowing mysteries, and the infuriatingly catchy theme song. Thanks, Mom.

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P.S. Something that was never a mystery in the show was Ellery’s style. He was always dapper. And for fun, I’ve set up a Tumblr blog here to chronicle Ellery’s sartorial choices. Life? Yeah, don’t have one of those.

Au Revoir, Cary Grant, Bonjour Jim Hutton

I don’t know why I’m casually inserting French words in my blog titles now.

It just seemed like something Cary Grant might do. If he could speak French. I don’t know, could Cary Grant speak French? I wouldn’t put it past him. He could do, like, anything, right?

Anyway.

In the past three months, I’ve read two memoirs from two people close to Cary Grant–his daughter Jennifer’s Good Stuff and Dyan Cannon’s Dear Cary, each touching, insightful, and a pure joy to read. In Dear Cary, however, there was mention of Grant’s final film, Walk, Don’t Run, which I had never seen. Cannon describes how increasingly uncomfortable Grant had become with playing the romantic lead as he grew older and how finally, with this film, he had been able to take the back seat in the love story, instead playing matchmaker and leaving the romance to the film’s two younger stars, Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton.

Hold up.

Jim Hutton?

Star of my new favorite thing, Ellery Queen?

Count me in.

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Cary Grant, dapper as ever, plays Sir William Rutland, some sort of English (well, half-American, he reminds us occasionally) businessman who arrives in Tokyo two days early to find himself amidst a housing shortage, due to the 1964 Summer Olympics. Enter Christine Easton (Samantha Eggar), who has placed an ad for a flatmate. When Rutland appears at her apartment, answering the ad, she tells him she prefers a female roommate, citing propriety and her engagement to a stuffy British diplomat. Rutland’s persistence and charm wears her down, however, and Rutland soon sublets his half of the apartment to Steve Davis (Jim Hutton), architect and Olympian. Stringent bathroom schedules, locking out roommates, and, oh, a little romance, of course, ensues!

What else did you expect?

You didn’t expect Cary Grant and Jim Hutton being pampered and bathed, did you?

No?

Well, it totally happened.

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“I’ve never heard of a practicing architect on an Olympic team.”

“I’ve never heard of a grown man being given a bath.”  

The film is a lot of fun, perhaps because I love watching two gifted actors whom I admire work together. Cary Grant is debonair and charming and all those other Cary Grant-isms. His comedic talents are also on full display. Jim Hutton, tall and gangly, is natural, instantly and unequivocally likeable, and a kind of everyman. No wonder some deemed him Jimmy Stewart’s successor. At one point in the film, Hutton’s character turns to Grant and asks, “Why are you so concerned about what I do with my day?”

“Because I identify with you,” Grant replies matter-of-factly.

And that, I think, is a perfect articulation of what makes Hutton so effective as an actor.

As the film progresses, Steve and Christine fall in love, despite their dissimilar personalities and Christine’s engagement, but trouble soon arises in the form of Russian spies (what else? It’s the ’60s!) and, well, Christine’s fiance. Rutland, who has been quietly orchestrating the match from the beginning, is forced to intervene to save their romance in the film’s final–and funniest–moments.

A running thread throughout the film is Steve Davis refusing to ever state which Olympic event he is competing. Whenever directly asked, he evades or simply completely ignores the question.

At the time of the film’s release, however, this gag was slightly ruined by advertisements which clearly showed the event. Luckily for me, I’m watching the film on DVD more than forty years later, so the gag wasn’t spoiled for me, making it that much funnier.

Spoilers ahead!

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“This is the most ridiculous race!”

Yes, that’s Jim Hutton and Cary Grant power-walking. Very, very, very suave.

There’s just something irresistibly funny about grown men power-walking through the crowded streets of Tokyo. Especially when one of them is Cary Grant, stripped to a t-shirt and boxer shorts (but with his loafers intact!)–a fitting end to his elegant and sophisticated film career. Au revoir!