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)