Two of my favorite movie detectives are men who pass over a good woman for a woman who is…“complicated.”
For the “We Love Detectives” blogathon, let me not make it a personal psychotherapy session with twisted detectives, and just go the traditional route: a detective who solves murders ~ ( and not becomes a crime to himself ) ~ with the help of his very capable assistant.
That detective is ELLERY QUEEN.
Ellery Queen was written by two cousins, Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky who were co-authors of a series of more than 35 detective novels. The Queen character is a crime writer basing his detective stories on crimes his father, police Inspector Queen, is investigating. He first appears in the movies played by Donald Cook in 1935’s “The Spanish Cape Mystery” and then 1937’s “The Mandarin Mystery” starring Eddie Quillan. The series was given a serious re-boot by Columbia with actor Ralph Bellamy in the lead.
I’ll look at the four films Bellamy did. But first, I want to point you to other entries in this week-long blogathon. Please check out Hamlette’s Soliloquy’s blog by clicking onto this banner:
L – R: DICK TRACY, SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE THIN MAN, CHARLIE CHAN, THE MALTESE FALCON, HERCULE POIROT, COLUMBO, SHAFT, CHINATOWN, DIRTY HARRY, PHILO VANCE, MICHAEL SHAYNE, MR. WONG, BULLDOG DRUMMOND, THE AVENGERS, ELLERY QUEEN, CRIME DOCTOR, MR. MOTO, MISS MARPLE, THE PINK PANTHER, HONEY WEST, THE BIG SLEEP
♣. ♣. ♣. ♣. ♣.
I promise NOT to reveal who the murderer is in any of these mysteries. What would be the fun in revealing them. Click on the movie poster below to direct you to the movie on YouTube for your own viewing pleasure, and my movie title caption line will lead you to IMDB. All of these movies are just a little over one hour long. Bite-sized morsels of lovely 1940’s ‘B’- fare. But I warn you, the quality is very poor.
Ralph Bellamy adds gravitas to Ellery Queen. 6’2″ in stature, deep gravelly resonant voice, he doesn’t do that ‘shy guy’ bit he’s had to do opposite Cary Grant in “The Awful Truth” and “His Girl Friday.” He’s assertive. And teaming up with him is one of my very favorites: Margaret Lindsay. I call her (one of the) Queens of the 1930’s. She did so many movies throughout that decade. She has a smart mien, not frilly and girlie and helpless. She had a profession in many of her films though also playing the arch socialite and supporting role to either her film’s leading man or the quickly emerging Queen of Warner Brothers: Bette Davis. I think the 40’s has her in a much more relaxed posture. She still has that great alto voice of hers, but not with the clipped mid-Atlantic accent. She and Bellamy are perfect foils for each other with quick peppy patter and good looks. They have chemistry.
There’re very recognizable character actors in this movie: Charles Lane, Charley Grapewin – really very good as the no-nonsense police Inspector Queen, Douglas Fowley, James Burke, Marion Martin, you know her…that atomic blonde, and Byron Foulger.
This initial Ellery Queen (re)entry gets pretty tricky, with mistaken identities, stolen corpses. The kingpin of a health nutrition empire is informed he has an incurable disease with only a month to live. Bitter about the diagnosis, he informs his employees that he is changing his will and leaving them with bupkis which, of course, creates a plethora of angry suspects. There’s a loopy caretaker, a kind of a shady lawyer, and Douglas Fowley…who you know if you see him in a movie, some crap went down. And what a wonderful delight to see a very young Marsha Hunt in this movie. She plays the estranged daughter of the murdered health kingpin, who has fallen in love with the doctor on her father’s staff. I like the meet-cute between Ellery and promising writer Nikki Porter ( Lindsay ). Ha! Why, she’s so good she winds up being the lead suspect in this murder! And even Ellery hides her…under his own roof, ( and father’s nose ) in a cute turn of events. There is an attraction between Ellery and Nikki, but Ellery only asks her to be his secretary. The writing is smart in this one.
If you’re interested in seeing this movie, ( don’t you want to know who the murderer is? ) you can find it at these links:
I found this second foray into Ellery Queen interestingly intricate with a tale starting in China…and ending in murder.
Chinese Nationals want to smuggle jewels out of China to sell in America so they can raise money for clothing and food for people in the war back home. (I’m now thinking of poor Ukraine). They hire an old ventriloquist entertainer traveling the Orient, to smuggle the jewelry out. The duty will be paid by contacts in America and the jewelry is to be sold in New York.
While staying in a NY hotel, the ventriloquist (played by Noel Madison) reaches out to his contact there to make the exchange. But before he can make the exchange or even let his daughter know he’s arrived back in the States, he is murdered and stuffed into one of his steamer trunks. Oh yeah, the jewels have been stolen, too. Who done it?
For a “B”-movie programmer, the writing and acting in this is top notch. We’ve got a slew of suspects in this fast-paced 69-minutes. Since the cast credits don’t show up ‘till the end of the movie, it’s a nice surprise to see what character actors show up in the movie. But if you see the movie as I hope you will, I must warn you the print is terrible.
Again we have Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen who insists he’s NOT a detective but uses these cases as story ideas. He works in tandem with his Inspector Dad ( Charley Grapewin ). Bellamy comes off as an erudite man, but he’s not smug; nor is he a mug. He works very methodically. He has a secretary Nikki Porter. I am thoroughly fascinated by her as played by Margaret Lindsay. As I mentioned already, if you’re familiar with Ms. Lindsay from the 1930’s (“G-Men” “Bordertown” “House on 56th Street” “The Law In Her Hands” “Dangerous” and probably her most famous picture: “Jezebel”) she does a full 360-degree turn in screen persona and it’s a joy to see. Where she usually was rather arch, stiff…here in Ellery Queen she’s loose, snarky and does a physical bit or two. They are no lovey~dovey Nick & Nora. They spar as Nikki tries oneupsmanship in her effort to give him the help he stubbornly doesn’t want. Nikki has a nice moment where she reclaims her own autonomy even if she does work for him.
But the reality pretty much between Ellery and Nikki is she’s an ersatz girlfriend for him ( without the ‘benefits’ ). And yes she ****-blocks him at every turn whenever there’s a pretty girl Ellery might give the once over. But when she quits, she deals with the murdered man’s daughter on her own, trying to figure out this case. As she questions…and paces…and has her thumbs in her jacket pockets, my head exploded: SHE could have played Ellery Queen!!!
So, who killed the ventriloquist and where are the jewels?
The cast includes:
Richard Loo is the Chinese National and respected, honorable boss of getting this whole plan hatched. Ann Doran is the murdered man’s daughter. I heard her voice before I recognized her face partially due to the poor print. Russell Hicks booked the ventriloquist for this gig with a plan to double cross him. He all has a great speaking voice, and I think I started crushing on him. In fact, HE could ( almost ) pull me away from my Sammykins ( Samuel S. Hinds ). There’s something elegant about Hicks. Eduardo Ciannelli doin’ what he do – playing the clenched jaw gangster with the menacing demeanor who is NOT going to let Hicks set him up for murder. “Get me?!” My man, Mantan Moreland. He’s the butler for Hicks who sees a lot but don’t wanna know nuthin’ about nuthin’. Yes, he does do his trademark schtick: bulging eyes and frenetic head movements. And offers just the slightest of comic relief. Mantan, I ain’t mad at’cha. You were there Sir, and that’s important. Frank Albertson is the hotel bellboy, who is our first suspect in all this. Probably didn’t like his tip.
And then there is her: Anna May Wong
When she enters the movie, you just want to bow at her quiet elegance as she glides onto the scene. She’s the contact the ventriloquist called from his hotel before he gets bumped off. She’s skulking outside the penthouse to look for the jewels when she sees Margaret Lindsay has beat her to the punch. She is no quivering lotus blossom. Nor is she some ‘Dragon Lady’. She speaks up for herself and is a normal suspect just like everyone else.
This moment is what my Guest Writer-pal, Wendy Merckel, has called Wong’s “0x-Bow Incident” when she calmly corrects the white man’s erroneous assumption about her:
Insp. Queen: “When did you arrive here from China?”
Miss Ling: “I was born in New York. I’ve never been to China.”
♣. ♣. ♣.
A flood is about to destroy a town along with the power company tasked with getting it power. The head of the company ( Douglas Dumbrille ) receives this devastating news…and decides to dump his and his son’s stock quick, fast and in a hurry. He tips off his attorney ( Sidney Blackmer ) who decides to sell now as well. H.B.Warner plays one of the major investors. He has such a kind and courtly manner and asks how things are going…what’s the report on what’s happening with the flood. He’s concerned about his investment and the investment of the people he convinced to buy in. Dumbrille paints a rosy picture of lies, and reassures his investor that all is well.
When the dam breaks, all investors lose everything. Staff must be fired, possessions and properties are sold. It’s just a catastrophic mess for everyone involved…except Dumbrille. His son ( played by John Beal ) wants nothing to do with his crookedness. Dumbrille is found murdered and Warner ( with the most to lose ) is the chief suspect. Ellery is tasked with sifting through this case, again with actress Margaret Lindsay as his plucky secretary/assistant Nikki Porter ( or as Ellery’d probably annoyedly say: the thorn in his side ).
Could Warner be the murderer? He’s such a nice guy, yet does have motive. Maybe it’s the shady lawyer played with unabashed shadiness by Sidney Blackmer. ( Who hasn’t he tried to stiff in his movie career? Didja ever see “Rosemary’s Baby”? ) There was no love lost between Dumbrille and his son ( Beal ) who loves Warner’s daughter. Could he have murdered his own father? And what about Spring Byington? Oh yeah, she’s in this entry as Dumbrille’s ditsy sister~in~law, but Byington has an uncharacteristic moment of bitchiness in the film that I’ve never seen in her performances. ( Gurrrrrrl, I didn’t know you had it in ya!! ) She could have killed Dumbrille and have the murder pinned on his son so she can collect his inheritance and marry Blackmer.
This is another easy breezy entry into the Ellery Queen series, with Bellamy and Lindsay in a playfully contentious relationship. There are no tricks up anyone’s sleeve. Just good solid detective work from Ellery and attempts by Nikki to solve the murder first. Charley Grapewin is back as the gruff Inspector Queen and James Burke back as the dopey cop.
THAT monkey looks suspicious to me. But hey, I’m no detective.
A wealthy demanding woman does not trust the head doctor at the hospital she owns. She also has a contentious relationship with her son and daughter. When an accidentally on purpose hit and run accident lands her in her own hospital, she never walks out. She’s strangled to death.
This is my least favorite outing. It really kind of looks like it was done on the cheap. Takes place in one setting, not a lot of time with Ellery and Nikki and too much time with a couple of oafs as hitmen ( Paul Hurst and Tom Dugan ). The film also stars Mona Barrie ~ a British Kay Francis, Leon Ames ~ before we meet him in St. Louis and George Zucco ~ with not a Wanna leaf in sight.
I’m not sure what made Bellamy leave the series. His next film after this was “The Wolfman.” The next actor to take over the role is William Gargan, with Margaret Lindsay continuing as Nikki. I may give it a whirl. I hope you enjoyed following my little breadcrumbs along the Ellery Queen trail. For more crime-solvers, please click on the banner below to read more entries on detectives we love.
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