Kind of a low point in the series for me here. Just sayin’ . . .
EPISODE THIRTEEN: THE ADVENTURE OF THE SUNDAY PUNCH
(Written by Larry Alexander ; original airdate 1/11/76)
The big name in this guest cast is Lloyd Nolan who, like yours truly, was born and raised in San Francisco. Nolan had an extensive filmography, ranging from light comedy to action movies, with a nice little run there in a series of films where he portrayed detective Michael Shayne. As he matured, Nolan graduated to “kindly advisor” roles in films like Peyton Place. He co-starred with Diahann Carroll for three years on the groundbreaking sitcom Julia and made many guest appearances on other shows. He is heartbreaking as Mia Farrow’s dad in Hannah and Her Sisters.
For theatre lovers, Robert Alda will forever be associated with his Tony-winning role as Sky Masterson in the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls. He made many films, both in the U.S. and in Europe. His TV work was sparser, but he did appear a couple of times in M*A*S*H alongside his son Alan Alda. Dane Clark who – interestingly for this episode – once worked as a professional boxer – had a more varied career in the theatre than in film, where he was often third billed in war movies and crime films. For mystery fans: when CBS tried unsuccessfully to reboot Perry Mason with Monte Markham in the title role, Clark played Lieutenant Tragg.
It was unfortunately rare for any show in the 70’s, let alone Ellery Queen, to create stories that could feature actors of color; here was a rare exception. Janet MacLachlan’s many TV appearances spanned a career that spanned nearly thirty-five years. Otis Young was only the second African American man to co-star in a television western, The Outcasts. He worked in many films and TV shows as an actor or writer, including a memorable role opposite Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail.
Frank Flannigan is taking in the practice before a championship bout between exciting young prizefighter Brad “Kid” Hogan (Jerry Quarry) and his sparring partner, Joe Adams (Young) when Adams lands a punch and Kid Hogan goes down. The fighter’s manager, Sam Hatter (Clark) rushes to help his boy, along with ring medic Dr. Sanford (Nolan) and his daughter Melinda, who happens to be the Kid’s fiancée. They try pouring a bottle of water down the fighter’s throat, and then they carry him to his dressing room where Dr. Sanford informs Sam that Kid Hogan is dead and sends the manager out to call the police. Kid Hogan has been poisoned!
Suspicion falls on Joe Adams for two reasons: first, Adams lost his chance at a promising career when he was forced to substitute for an ailing opponent against the much bigger, more experienced Kid Hogan. That disastrous fight ended a chance for Adams to have his own career, and so he accepted the Kid’s offer to be his sparring partner so that he could save up money and marry his girlfriend, hairdresser Corrina Ogden (Maclachlan). And then an anonymous caller lets Flannigan know that Joe was enrolled in pharmacy school where he had access to the poison that was found in the water bottle.
There are other suspects as well: Kid Hogan was slapping his fiancée around, a fact she was trying to hide from her father. And Sam Hatter was involved with mobster Frank Anthony (Alda) who had sent his stooge Knucks O’Neill (Dick Bakalyan) to make sure Hogan took a dive at the championship fight. With all of this out-of-the-ring drama going on, who punched Kid Hogan’s lights out for the final time?
This is another example of a trick that is so old that long-time fans of crime fiction will spot the killer before the first commercial. That said, it’s an engaging and reasonably well-acted tale, with a sympathetic killer (although it’s hard to root for someone with the noblest of motives when they then go and frame an innocent person for the crime!) I was intrigued by the layers of truth behind that opening sparring session, and I appreciated that Alda straddled the line between stereotype and charm as a crime kingpin. Nolan, Clark, and Maclachlan are all quite fine in their respective roles. It’s fascinating that some writers made Ellery more comically absent-minded than others, and a close viewing shows that less is always more here. Fortunately, in this episode Ellery is in good form with nary a shtick to undermine his keen detection. (Although I’ll bet Ellery the author used this trick himself, leaving little real detecting to do here.)
Fheryl jr unir nyy ernq gur zlfgrevrf jurer gur ynlvat bhg bs pvephzfgnaprf znfxf gur npghny gvzr jura n zheqre jnf pbzzvggrq. Bar bs gur pbzzba fhofrgf bs guvf vf sbe n crefba – yrg’f pnyy uvz K – gb neevir ba gur fprar naq or va n cbfvgvba gb pbaivapr rirelbar gung n crefba vf qrnq. K gura znantrf gb trg uvzfrys nybar jvgu gur ivpgvz naq gb npghnyyl xvyy uvz.
Gung vf, bs pbhefr, jung unf unccrarq urer: Qe. Fnasbeq fgbbq jvgu Fnz Unggre bire Xvq Ubtna va gur qerffvat ebbz, gbyq Fnz gung gur Xvq jnf qrnq naq gura uheevrq gur znantre bhg gb pnyy gur cbyvpr. Ur gura xvyyrq Ubtna naq fyvccrq fbzr bs gur cbvfba va gur jngre obggyr gb znxr vg ybbx yvxr gur fbhepr.
Lbhe nirentr ivrjre zvtug ertvfgre guvf cbffvovyvgl naq ghpx vg njnl. Yngr va gur tnzr, Fnz gryyf Ryyrel naq gur Vafcrpgbe gung ur qenax sebz gur obggyr jura ur fnj Xvq Ubtna fjvatvat jvyqyl ng Wbr orpnhfr ur fhfcrpgrq gur Xvq unq fyvccrq fbzr obbmr va gur obggyr. Fnz vf neerfgrq ba fhfcvpvba sbe fyvccvat gur cbvfba va, naq Vafcrpgbe Dhrra fvzcyl ershfrf gb oryvrir ur qenax sebz gur obggyr. Gung vzzrqvngryl ryvzvangrf nyy ohg gjb fhfcrpgf: Fnz, jub unf orra neerfgrq jvgu gra zvahgrf bs rcvfbqr yrsg, be gur Qbpgbe. Rkcrevraprq nezpunve fyrhguf jba’g znxr n zvfgnxr urer.
* * * * *
EPISODE FOURTEEN: THE ADVENTURE OF THE ECCENTRIC ENGINEER
(Written by David P. Lewis and Booker Bradshaw; original airdate 1/18/76)
I know I tend to allude to myself far too often on this blog, but how else are you going to know who I had crushes on? (It was a wide and varied list . . . ) David Hedison played the soulful Captain Crane opposite Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson in the highly ridiculous and thoroughly enjoyable Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He might have been a popular stage actor if he hadn’t gotten a movie contract. His most striking film role was the title one in The Fly, and after carrying a torch for him watching Voyage, it was painful to see his final shot in that movie, crying out “Help me! Heellllp meeeee!” in a Munchkin voice as a spider descended upon him!!
Bobby Sherman . . . oh, Bobby! He had a short but successful pop singing career (although I’m not convinced he could really sing), and he was a hit as Jeremy Bolt, the shy youngest brother on Here Come the Brides (although he had a very limited acting range). But those eyes and that hair . . . !!! Late in his acting career, which spanned something like seven years, he appeared in the series Emergency, which inspired him to a thriving career in public service, first as an EMT and later as an L.A. police officer. As Captain Sherman, he spent ten years training thousands of policemen and women in medical procedures.
In the 1950’s, Arthur Godfrey was a household name, a folksy spin on Johnny Carson, who appeared on the radio and TV airwaves up to six days a week in a variety of series where he talked about everything and showcased a group of performers he affectionately called “the little Godfreys.) But the popular host was a dictatorial father, demanding that his employees never sign with an agent or talk to – let alone appear with – anyone Godfrey considered a rival (like Ed Sullivan). One popular singer in Godfrey’s stable was Julius LaRosa, who made the “mistake” of begging off the dance classes Godfrey required of him and for signing with an agent. As payback, Godfrey fired him – on the air! – as punishment for LaRosa’s “lack of humility.”
This was the beginning of Godfrey’s own downfall, as Hollywood turned against his hubris at publicly humiliating the young performer, as well as others Godfrey fired for committing slights against his self-perceived power. If you ever see the film A Face in the Crowd, where Andy Griffith plays a folksy singer turned into a monster by fame, it is partly based on Godfrey. By the time I became aware of the man, he was just . . . a name. Ed McMahon, by contrast, seems to have been as likable on the inside as his outer persona suggested. His greatest claim to fame was as announcer and sidekick to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show for almost thirty years.
Dorothy Malone had the sultry looks to play sexy, maybe bad girls, as she did in The Big Sleep (wearing glasses yet!), but she also had depth, as America saw in her Academy Award-winning performance in Written on the Wind. I grew up vaguely aware of her as Constance Mackenzie in the nighttime soap version of Peyton Place. (Every baby sitter who sat for me watched Peyton Place.) Years later, I watched the first season – Malone was the perfect self-sacrificing soap matron.
I do not know why Dick Van Patten did not receive guest star credit for this episode. True, he had yet to begin his most famous role as the patriarch in the sitcom Eight Is Enough. But Van Patten had been working on the stage and screen since he was a child, debuting on Broadway in 1975. As a teenager, he appeared in one of TV’s earliest comedies, Mama. He left the 8-year run of the series temporarily when he was drafted into the Army. (Some kid named James Dean replaced him.) Van Patten also had a number of small roles in many films, including Soylent Green, Westworld, and High Anxiety.
Lamont Franklin (McMahon) is a wealthy inventor who has long developed weapons for the military. But now he seems to have entered his second childhood, spending most of his time in his workshop playing with a large and magnificent set of model trains. He has even rigged the trains to send messages back and forth from his workshop to the main house; this has become the main way he communicates with his wife Carol (Malone) and any visitors. This onset of senility has caused a shake-up at his company: his second-in-command, Claude Sitwell (Godfrey) has become the new president, while another employee, Roger Woods (Hedison) has also advanced in rank and salary, which pleases Roger’s ambitious wife Emily (Ellen Madison).
On the night that Carol and the Woods are to attend a Broadway performance of High Button Shoes, Lamont welcomes a guest into his workshop – a guest who shoots him dead. Carol’s brother Doug Carmichael (Sherman), who was heard fighting with his brother-in-law earlier that day, insists he spent the entire evening on the family yacht. Everyone has a motive, but the fact that the maid had her eye on the workshop door the entire evening and insists that nobody went in or out suggests an impossible crime!
The notion of an impossible crime is quickly dispelled, and while the mystery is perfectly . . . okay, it’s also pretty dull in every respect. Matters aren’t helped – they never are when a comic subplot is used as padding – by the presence of Ann Reinking (a fabulous Broadway performer in her own right) playing a woman who . . . gosh, I don’t know: I guess she’s trying to get Ellery to help her write a love story. Or maybe she’s trying to get him to help her live a love story. Whatever the case, she is onscreen a great deal, interviewing him, going out for Chinese food, and even assisting Ellery in trapping the killer. As I said, the plot is serviceable, but there simply isn’t much “there” there.
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