Revisiting an old friend: “Ellery Queen” TV series

12 04 2011

At last, a show I love that came and went too quickly in the 70’s, “Ellery Queen,” is out on DVD. I had given up searching for it on Amazon, so I actually didn’t find out that it was released last year until I ran across the boxset at Sam’s Club.

the definitive onscreen portrayal of Ellery Queen

The series, which aired during the 1975-76 season, is as wonderful as I remember…terrific cast headed by Jim Hutton and David Wayne, great production values, lovely period setting, fabulous guest stars. It’s a crime (and I use that word on purpose) that the show only lasted a season, killed by stiff competition (the hit show “The Streets of San Francisco” over on ABC). But even if it had caught on with the public, it wouldn’t have lasted much longer, since Hutton died of liver cancer in 1979, at the tragically young age of 45.

David Wayne and Jim Hutton

I tuned in to “Ellery Queen” because I liked Jim Hutton, who had appeared in a couple of the movies he made with John Wayne, including one of my favorites, “Hellfighters.” He and David Wayne, as Inspector Richard Queen, had perfect chemistry; the scenes between Ellery and Richard are some of the highlights of the episodes.

Jim Hutton with artwork used in "The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader"

The attention to period detail was rich, and the stories, done as “fair-game” mysteries in which all the clues to the murder of the week are presented for viewers paying close attention, were beautifully written. And, in a unique device for the time, Ellery broke the “fourth wall” late in the story to challenge the viewer to solve the mystery before he did onscreen– a device used in the Ellery Queen novels.

The show was created by the famed TV writing/producing team of Richard Levinson and William Link, who are also responsible for series such as “Columbo” and “Murder She Wrote” (the latter show even used a script originally penned for “Ellery” for the season 2 that never materialized). Levinson and Link were longtime devotees of Ellery Queen, and their love for the material shows.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this great show, go rent it or buy it. It’s a treasure.