DVD Review HTF DVD Review: Ellery Queen Mysteries

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Todd Erwin, Oct 1, 2010.

  1. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    Ellery Queen Mysteries


    Pros: All 22 episodes, plus the TV-movie pilot, of this classic series from the 1975-1976 season are included, uncut and recently remastered.

    Cons: The bonus features are very slim, consisting of an interview with co-creator William Link and a 24-page color booklet.

    Movie: 4.5 out of 5
    In a few minutes, this woman will be dead. The question is, who killed her?... Match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you can guess who done it?

    Back in 1975, I would rush to get my homework done before those words came out of the family television set on Thursday nights (I was relieved when the show moved to Sundays after the Christmas break, and aired just after The Wonderful World of Disney). In the mid-70s, there were two things I wanted to be when I grew up; a filmmaker or a detective. The Rockford Files was cool with its car chases, fist fights, and shootouts, but Ellery Queen was something different. It was set in a time I knew very little about (the late 1940s), and the killer was not revealed until the last few minutes of the show. My parents liked it because there was little to no violence, and the show actually made you think and pay attention, challenging you to guess the identity of the killer before Ellery Queen did.

    Created by Richard Levinson and William Link, the team responsible for Columbo, Mannix, and Murder, She Wrote, to name a few, the series began as a two-hour pilot that aired in March of 1975 as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie, a revolving series of feature-length episodes of Columbo, McMillan & Wife, and McCloud. NBC then commissioned 22 episodes and added it to their Fall schedule, debuting on Thursday, September 11, 1975. The show was moved to Sundays on January 4, 1976, and went dark on April 4 that same year, when the show was cancelled due to low ratings. Which was a shame, as this 6-disc set from E1 (licensed from NBC-Universal), which includes all 22 episodes plus the TV-movie pilot, proves.

    Jim Hutton (best known at the time for his role in John Wayne’s The Green Berets) is a real joy as the title character, bringing a great deal of warmth and humor to the famous mystery writer. When Hutton breaks the fourth wall to challenge the viewer to guess the killer right before the final commercial break, it is never jarring or feels out of place. Equally enjoyable is character actor David Wayne (better known as Mad Hatter on Batman, and would later find fame as the Chief of Medicine on the sitcom House Calls) as Ellery’s father, Inspector Richard Queen. The two have great chemistry as a father-son team, and the Inspector really knows how to get his son involved in solving each week’s mystery. The writing was always smart, and the resolution never relied on cheap tricks. All of the clues were presented from start to finish, and it was never some arbitrary character introduced late in the episode. Like many of Levinson and Link’s other series, the producers managed to attract top talent to their roster of guest stars every week, including Ray Milland, Don Ameche, Joan Collins, Ida Lupino, Tom Bosley, Eve Arden, Betty White, Robert Loggia, Roddy McDowell, Vincent Price, Murray Hamilton, Orson Bean, George Burns, etc. Keep an eye open for some of the bit-players, including Dee Wallace as a diner waitress in episode 3, The Adventure of the Chinese Dog. They also attracted some top directors, as well, including Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Creature From The Black Lagoon), David Greene (Godspell, Roots), and Peter H. Hunt (1776). Another highlight to the series is the post-WWII 1940s production design, which made good use of the Universal backlot, and Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score matches nicely with the period look of the show.

    Video: 4 out of 5
    Unlike many of the TV-series sets released by Universal, such as Emergency!, where the episodes were taken from older analogue video sources, E1 has managed to grace Ellery Queen with newer video transfers from clean 35mm prints. The TV-movie pilot and 22 subsequent episodes are spread out over 6 DVD-9’s, presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Colors are vibrant, with accurate and consistent flesh tones, and remarkably good detail for a standard definition DVD. This show has never looked this good, even when it originally aired in 1975-1976.

    Audio: 3.5 out of 5
    The mono Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, encoded at 224 kbps, sound about as good as could be expected for a television show produced in the mid 1970s. The soundtracks were never meant to be played through anything as complex as today’s home theater sound systems, and audio recording technology has come a long way since then, as well. Overall, the audio is lacking somewhat in bass response, but the sound design is impressive for a television show of this vintage. You can literally hear the low murmur of the squad room from within Inspector Queen’s office. Dialogue is always intelligible, but does occasionally sound thin, likely due to the technology of the day. Still, the show likely sounds better than it ever did.

    Special Features: 2 out of 5
    Interview with William Link (18:07): Link discusses his illustrious career in television, what attracted him and Richard Levinson in Ellery Queen, the trademark teaser before each episode. working with Jim Hutton, David Wayne, and the many guest stars, the elements that crossed over to/from Columbo, and working with Steven Spielberg on Columbo. Link, though, may be a bit confused on his timeline during the 1970s, as he often mentions that Columbo came after Ellery Queen.

    24-page Reference Guide: Included are essays by Janet Hutchings, Editor for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Andrew Gulli, Managing Editor for The Strand Magazine, production stills, and episode summaries, along with original air dates.

    Overall: 4 out of 5
    They sure don’t make TV shows like they used to. Ellery Queen was an intelligent mystery series that really made you think. E1 has done an impressive job at bringing what many would consider to be a marginal series to DVD, and presenting it in a first-class fashion.

    Studio: Entertainment One (E1)
    US DVD Release Date: September 28, 2010
    Original Broadcast Year: 1975/1976
    Rated: Not Rated
    Running Time: 1176 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    Audio: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono)
    Subtitles: English
     
  2. Greg Chenoweth

    Greg Chenoweth Supporting Actor

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    Someone posted at another thread on HTF that the pilot episode "Too Many Suspects" has been edited with the NBC Mystery Movie theme put over the top of the original beginning credits instead of the Bernstein music. Is this true? I have written E1 about this issue, but so far, no response. I need this cleared up before I purchase the set.
     
  3. Steve Tannehill

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    Wouldn't the theme to the NBC Mystery Movie be correct?
     
  4. RickER

    RickER Producer

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    It seems the episodes themselves are uncut. I can live with the movie having this change, and is otherwise as it should be.
     
  5. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    No, not for the title credits of the film itself which is supposed to be Bernstein's theme in its longer arrangement that we never heard in the series itself (which used a shorter version). The Mystery Movie theme played over the traditional "flashlight" opening that would show titles for "Columbo", "McCloud" and "McMillan And Wife" and then an announcer's voice said "Tonight, a Mystery Movie special...." The audio is thus presented in the wrong spot.


    I can not believe the master copy has this error and I am convinced that the producer of the set did this tampering on purpose as a way of sneaking in the audio that could not be shown with its original video.
     
  6. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    I couldn't tell you if the Elmer Berstein theme was on the original opening credits of the pilot or not when it first aired. But it is a completely different title sequence than the series. It is possible that, for licensing reasons, this new sequence was created? I'm pretty sure that if the Mystery Movie title sequence was used, fees would have to be paid to Peter Falk, Dennis Weaver, Rock Hudson, etc. (or their estates) for the use of their likeness, since images of them appear in that sequence.


    I do recall, though, that Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan & Wife did not have opening credit sequences, other than the Mystery Movie title sequence. All of the particular episode titles were part of the opening scene for those shows.



     
  7. FanCollector

    FanCollector Producer

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    The opening credit sequence is not new, as I saw several locally syndicated versions over the years. The music change is the only thing that is different on the DVD. I agree with Jack P that it's a strange decision, but apart from that, it's a lovely set.
     
  8. Greg Chenoweth

    Greg Chenoweth Supporting Actor

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    I can tell you that it is not correct because I audio recorded straight off of the TV every Ellery Queen episode when it first aired. I recorded it on cassette tapes and listened to them over and over again. It sounds like the video credits is correct but they edited in the Mystery Movie theme instead of the Bernstein theme. There were opening credits on Columbo, McMillan, etc. but they were shown over the beginning of the episodes with the title of that particular episode (i.e., Columbo Goes to College). I just wish that E1 would acknowledge the error and explain why it was done because it is very strange.

     
  9. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor

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    The NBC Mystery Movie theme is over the original beginning credits of the pilot episode. I guess I am in the minority because I like it. I first saw this as a MM special in March of 1975 and I can not tell you if the theme was over the titles back then or not, but for some reason it seems appropriate.

    Don't let this one item keep you from purchasing the set. I received the set yesterday and ended up watching 4 episodes including the pilot last night. They were much better than anything else on Friday night TV. The transfers are really good and the sound is crisp and clear. It is a lot fun watching for cameo's such as the great Harry Von Zell as Simon's radio announcer in the pilot and the list of guest stars on each episode, almost puts Murder She Wrote to shame. The scripts are thoughtful and amusing and the Jim Hutton, David Wayne scenes show a lot of chemistry. I have not enjoyed a DVD set this much since Burke's Law.
     
  10. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    The problem is it is NOT appropriate over the credits. The credit sequence was designed in the tradition of the time period the show takes place in, and that's why Bernstein's theme is appropriate for it, evoking the late 40s. The Mystery Movie theme is out of the mid-70s and it totally clashes with the visuals of the film's opening credits.


    I watched "Too Many Suspects" many times over the years from a syndicated repeat I recorded in 1986, and there is not the slightest chance that the master copy would have had the Mystery Movie theme. This was a case of producer tampering because they thought they were "improving" it, and that's if anything just as egregious as the "Fugitive" replacements because (1) It wasn't necessary and (2) we lost our only chance to hear the longer version of Bernstein's theme.
     
  11. Greg Chenoweth

    Greg Chenoweth Supporting Actor

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    I think it was a case that the producer did not know how it originally aired and they just took their best guess, knowing that it was originally shown in the Mystery Movie time slot. I appreciate the fact that they are trying to replicate how it was originally aired. However, to correct the problem, I think it would be good to put Bernstein's original music back in where it should be and then put the Mystery Movie soundtrack in between the Whodunit preview and the Ellery Queen opening credits. You do not have to use the Mystery Movie visual if rights issues are concerned. Instead, use words on the screen (with the Mancini music playing) to explain how the pilot was originally presented during the NBC Mystery Movie as a pilot episode, mentioning the airdate and here it is for everyone's enjoyment intact, that would be better.


    By the way, in the title sequence for the pilot does it use the title "Too Many Suspects" or not? Originally, it did not have that title in it.
     
  12. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor

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    Well what about Hec Ramsey? That show took place in in the early 1900's but was introduced with the MM theme. I still don't have a problem with the theme from MM on the Pilot and for some reason it seems to fit time wise and the announcer was the same one on all the MM openings. The other 22 episodes has the Bernstein theme.
     
  13. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    Hec Ramsey would not have been introduced by the Mystery Movie theme either when we're talking about the *episode proper*. You need to stop confusing the *separate* Mystery Movie opening which is the guy with the flashlight walking toward the camera and then we would see the titles of *all* the series that rotated in the Mystery Movie which would always be "Columbo" first and when "Hec Ramsey" was on they put that up second followed by "McCloud" and "McMillan And Wife". It's *after* that mystery movie open that you then run the episode itself and in "Ellery Queen's" case that film is supposed to have Bernstein's theme over the credits.
     
  14. Dan McW

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    What about the credit sequence that begins with McCloud riding down the street on his horse? Was this added for syndication only?
     
  15. Greg Chenoweth

    Greg Chenoweth Supporting Actor

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    They was the opening credits for McCloud when it originally aired. It's the same kind of thing as Ellery Queen. There was a short 30 second preview montage of McCloud, followed by the Mystery Movie theme and then after the commercial break came the McCloud episode and the episode would have started with the credit sequence with McCloud riding the horse.


    Just so everyone understands what Jack P and I have been saying about Ellery Queen, imagine getting a DVD release of McCloud and over that credit opening sequence with him riding the horse is the main Mystery Movie theme song playing instead of the regular McCloud robust theme song. Wouldn't it seem awkward?
     
  16. derosa

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    Yes, i completely agree. It bothers me that these shows get messed with.

    It's really a shame they can't release the same content as originally aired.
     
  17. Tory

    Tory -The Snappy Sneezer- -Red Huck-

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    Hey, I just saw an episode of this on RTN. I want this set it is a now a priority for me. That is, once I get back on my feet which will still be a while but wow, great show. I'm glad it is out.
     
  18. Greg Chenoweth

    Greg Chenoweth Supporting Actor

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    Sorry to resurrect a somewhat old thread, but I found a good bargain on this set. Familyvideo.com is selling this set brand new for $26.99 right now. They are temporarily out of stock, but more are on the way. I went ahead and ordered it anyway. Also, this weekend only (10/16-10/17) if you use the promotion code "Pumpkins" you will get free shipping. This is no joke. Normally, their shipping is only $1.98 for one set or a million. If you haven't ordered yet, this is a really good incentive.
     
  19. younger1968

    younger1968 Cinematographer

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    I have watched i believe all the episodes and i like the set. I like that you have to follow along with the show, especially at some of the more obscure clues. The last 8 mins is neat, because Ellery Queen comes on and says do you know who done it and then says i do.


    The acting of David Wayne along with Jim Hutton is very good. There is some very good actors in the epsiode like Gza Gza Gabor, Dick Van Patten, David Hedison, etc. The scripts are well done and the images are very clear.
     
  20. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    I have been having a terrific time reliving this series. Thus far, I've only watched the pilot and the next three episodes because I'm trying to prolong the joy in finally having this superb set of mysteries in a first class package at long last. (Also, I've been very busy with my own reviews.) I cannot wait to get The Snoop Sisters next year to complete the two mystery series from the 1970s that I have most been waiting for.
     

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