As close to three hours with the Founding Fathers as one can conceivably make it.

Canby condescended, Ebert deplored, Halliwell gave it a star.


The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader
Ellery Queen

The cartoonists revolt—not the maven who dictates panel by panel to his secretary the elements of his comic book empire, but the men on his assembly line—the man who draws the figures, the one who draws the backgrounds, the guy who does shading and coloring, they’ve had enough of his berating them over palm trees in South Dakota, “you wrote palm trees, I drew palm trees”, instead of the elms he obviously meant. They buy bullets for a prop .38 at the office, and drill the guy.

Not only does the innocent letterer take over the shop, he’s got a new line of comics, Swamp Critters. “Kids aren’t buying detectives anymore,” he explains. “The superheroes are dead, they’ve been replaced by cute, lovable little critters from the swamp.” This is so true, it’s absolute prophecy.

The script by Robert Van Scoyk has Ellery Queen turned into a comic book character thanks to a loophole in his new book contract. “It doesn’t even look like me,” he complains. The figureman replies, “does Mickey Mouse look like a mouse? It’s a cartoon, it could be anybody!” The maestro, angry as never before, tells the cartoonist, “you are not gonna use me to grab dimes from children!”

The letterer shows his Swamp Critters sketches to the cartoonist, who justly observes, “that’s the most dull-witted, badly-drawn comic I’ve ever seen.” The joke, and who could have known, is that Swamp Critters is precisely in the Spielberg cartoon style.

After the murder, Frank Flannigan of the Daily Gazette arrives with a photographer. “If you’re Armstrong’s secretary,” he tells her, “I’d like a front page photo. Stand up and take a deep breath.” Flannigan’s column (“Broadway Beat”) implicates the maestro, the Deputy Commissioner replays the Commissioner’s wrath to Inspector Queen, who says, “you tell the Commissioner not to believe everything he reads on the bottom of a bird cage.” What about public opinion? “Public opinion can go fly a kite.” The maestro turns himself in, and spends his time reading comic books.

Someone sends Flannigan a copy of The Adventure of the Purloined Gun. He opens it and stares. His secretary asks, “F.F., when’s the last time you read a book?” F.F. answers, “when the guy who ghosted my autobiography sent me a copy. Couldn’t get through it.” He persists. “I have a feeling there’s something in here that’s gonna singe my eyebrows.”

The cleaning lady at Capricorn Comics is the wife of a Flannigan informant. “Last night,” F.F. is told, “my wife Millie couldn’t finish her floor, so she had to come to work today.” F.F. says, “Flannigan’s heart bleeds.” Millie observed a confab of the suspects, Flannigan joins in. “Where were you,” he asks, “on the night of the murder?”

“At Bleek’s, where all the artists hang out.”

“And you?”

“Yeah, I was one of the artists he was hanging out with.”

More comic books are brought to the maestro in his jail cell (the sergeant on duty remarks, “I hate to think what he’s gonna be like in a week”), and Sgt. Velie would like to see him reading “good books,” like the new Mickey Spillane.

Inspector Queen comes home to find Flannigan there. “Been waiting long, in the dark, with a flashlight?” F.F. protests his innocence, “as a what?”

“As a law-abiding citizen,” to which the Inspector ripostes, “you better hope the Sing Sing newspaper needs a gossip columnist.” They find a pistol in the fish tank, per the maestro’s novel.

The new maven of Capricorn Comics is as tyrannical as his predecessor. He doesn’t want magnolia trees to delight the botanists, but “cute trees” for kids with peanut butter and jelly on their faces.

His jail-cell reading has given the maestro a clue (“blam?”, says Inspector Queen, looking at a comic book panel that contains it), now he reconstructs the scene of the crime, and solves it, the victim having left a clue in blue pencil.

The secretary gets pinker throughout, and finally hides a red-and-green traveling dress under a pink housecoat. Her nerdy boyfriend is brought on to establish an alibi and then disestablish it, they weren’t watching Milton Berle on television, he was watching it alone, and he dislikes dogs dressed up as people (the letterer’s comic). The maestro extraordinarily engages in fisticuffs with a villain, the secretary comments, “bam! Pow! You’re terrific!” The maestro hastily exits.

Hunt’s coup is the anonymous illustrator or art department hand responsible for the opening strip of a gumshoe breaking down a door and announcing himself, “I am Ellery Queen”, as well as the Swamp Critters boards. The pistol in the fish tank is the central image.


The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer
Ellery Queen

An inventor (Ed McMahon) who heads his own company withdraws into seclusion to work on his model trains, but this is a secret project to develop a system of automation for the postwar world. He’s murdered by a junior executive (David Hedison) whose pushy wife wants him to advance himself. At the same time, Ellery Queen is accosted by a mousy dame (Ann Reinking) who wants his help writing a love story about John Tyler, “who had 15 children”. Instead, they fall in together on the mystery, and in the course of the investigation she is called upon to wear a silver evening dress, which reveals her as beautiful.

“The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer” is undeniably recherché, complicated and difficult, but it would appear to represent the war just ended in the series chronology, in that Hitler made his trains run on time, and was put down by upstart Liberty. This modest poem (by David P. Lewis and Booker Bradshaw) is ineluctably beautiful as well.


The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario
Ellery Queen

The teleplay is indubitably a major work by Robert Pirosh, and it extends in two broad lines overall, primarily a wide-ranging and comprehensive satire of Hollywood (apart from its many local jests and quips), and secondarily an incidental impression of just how films were and are made (a concomitant of the plot).

The real thing of main interest beyond even these telling aspects is the form, splaying the events it constructs ultimately in an elegant structure along a timeline that anticipates the composition. Thus, an actress’s overdose is the final image, but it occurred beforehand thanks to an obliging publicist (Don DeFore) now blackmailed by a stunt man (both are now on another picture, an Ellery Queen adventure).

The studio isn’t Eagle-Lion but Crown Eagle. Vincent Price is the director. “This thing is too sweet,” he says of his drink at the poolside party he’s throwing, “see that you get the next one right,” he tells the fellow tending bar, sternly.

The stunt man (James Sikking) wants to replace the murdered actor (Troy Donahue) playing Ellery Queen. He’s been in pictures, thesping. “Western Stallion!”, snarls the director and walks away. “Big shot,” the stunt man ripostes. “Three flops in a row.”

“Great performance, Claire,” the director tells the jealous widow (Barbara Rush), “the screen lost a great ingénue when you retired.” A Hedda Hopper lookalike (Carole Cook) observes the fracas. “Oh, now,” says the publicist, “don’t print any of this, it’s bad for the industry.”

Inspector Queen hopes to meet Ava Gardner, but isn’t impressed by Hollywood society. “I don’t like fish eggs in my corned beef hash.” The actor portraying him (Noah Beery, Jr.) wants to talk, and is rebuffed. “Don’t bother me, I don’t want to be studied.”

The picture is a “quick flick” partly owned by the star, who therefore refused to take direction. Inspector Queen turns to Sgt. Velie, but he’s an actor on the inevitably familiar sets that Hunt’s camera moves amongst.

The stunt man dies while filming. “In the first place,” the present ingénue (Susan Damante), bound by contract, answers an interrogation, “you can put what I know about cars in your eye and not even blink. In the second place, do you really think I would kill two men for an Oscar-winning role in a major motion picture?”

“She’s not that good an actress,” says an LAPD detective (Paul Carr) watching the rushes, where a bloodthirsty gleam is visible as she fires blanks point blank and the actor falls dead in a scene evidently changed at the last moment, “I’m bringing her in!”

The real Ellery Queen has it all figured out. “You know?”, says the publicist. “Enough,” replies the maestro. “Well, I don’t know,” interrupts the detective, “tell me!

There was to have been a stunt man in the murder scene crashing through a window, before revision. “Missed him in 231A,” the Inspector concludes, “got him in 98B.” Publicists and novelists don’t get daily script revisions.

“You said you knew,” the astonished detective remarks upon the maestro’s gambit, and is answered with a variant of an awkward line in that scene, “I finessed him.”


The Mysterious Stranger

A clumsy printer’s-devil on the Hannibal Journal daydreams a medieval atelier and the title character, No. 44.

The score is by William Perry, also producer. The cinematography is by Walter Lassally.

The anecdote is like The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in some ways.

The company (which includes Bernhard Wicki and Fred Gwynne) is very grand, as Pinter’s Irishman would say, “the boys is just like girls.”

He watches the steamboat go by, finally.