The biggest mystery about tonight’s episode is why it’s called “The Flickering Torch Mystery.” We’ve got no idea.
Actually, this was a pleasant surprise all around. I was totally expecting Universal to go all cheap like they had done a couple of years earlier, when Johnny Cash guest starred as the murderer in Columbo and they paid the performance rights for a single song to be played umpteen times over the course of the story. Here, Ricky Nelson guest stars as a popular country-tinged light rock star called Tony Eagle and we get to hear snippets of about a dozen songs, including a brief bit of Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” which it turns out was a top 40 hit for Nelson in 1969.
I genuinely didn’t know anything whatever about Nelson before watching this episode. I didn’t even know that he was sadly killed in a plane crash in 1985, which was the planned fate of his character in this story. It takes the very interesting angle of having the Hardy Boys be completely wrong in their assumption about what the mystery villains are up to, and what looks absolutely like the big race-against-time climax like you get in television is a flop that leaves our heroes looking stupid. They get redeemed once they figure it out the following morning, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised to be mistaken myself. Nice to see a forty year-old kid show pulling one over on at least one grownup.