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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.5 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part two)

Padding, padding, padding. There are barely sixty minutes of story between these two parts, and to add insult to injury, the “scenes from what you’re about to watch” bit, the credits, and the recap of part one takes – no lie – eight full minutes. Even worse, the little teaser scene, apart from spoiling absolutely everything of note in the adventure, includes almost the whole of Jaclyn Smith’s cameo, so we get to see it twice!

One thing they didn’t spoil in the teaser was the identity of the fellow in the Phantom of the Opera mask. No, the producers did that themselves by casting Casey Kasem in a very small role and then having a guy in a Phantom of the Opera mask who speaks with one of the most distinctive voices in radio and cartoons.

Kasem’s bad guy gets clobbered and Nancy is rescued in another scene spoiled in the teaser, when Robert Wagner, pretending to be on set as Pete Ryan from Switch, intercepts the kidnapping. Bizarrely, this kind of preceded an actual incident in 1996, when a shoplifter in Baltimore ran onto the set of Homicide: Life on the Street and surrendered to actors Clark Johnson and Richard Belzer, who were acting as Lewis and Munch. Only Johnson and Belzer kept their cool and didn’t give their criminal a knuckle sandwich like Wagner gives Kasem.

Switch is a mostly forgotten piece of television. It ran for three seasons and my parents often watched it, but it never seemed to turn up in syndication and has never been licensed for home video. There’s a couple of poor bootlegs on YouTube.

Anyway, our son liked this a little more than part one, until Nancy and Frank’s inevitable smooch at the end, anyway. Clive Revill gets maybe two lines, the studio tour tram goes through the ice tunnel again, Joe has an incredibly convenient lockpick in his shoe, and the grownups rolled their eyes at the missed opportunity.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.4 – The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom (part one)

Well, this wasn’t anywhere even close to being as good as I hoped. The kid didn’t much like it either; he found it far too creepy. In the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew’s second team-up, they are at a detectives’ convention at a hotel next door to Universal Studios when some goon in a Phantom of the Opera mask, and far more resources and technology than is in any way probable, starts playing And Then There Were None with some famous detectives. Plus there’s the Studio tour, so we get to see the collapsing bridge, and the Jaws bit, and the Earthquake bit.

I paused before the tour started to explain to our son how phenomenally popular the tour was in the seventies, and reminded him of the weird rotating tunnel that Bigfoot carried Steve Austin through. Sure as shooting, we got to see the tunnel again. But there was a little too much creeping around at night for our son’s liking, and the cliffhanger, where the villain snatches Joe, had our son hiding behind his mom’s arm.

But here’s where I got disappointed: the story seems to have originally been shown over two Sundays: October 2 and October 9, 1977, but the preview for part one on the DVD has scenes from both episodes, which is the sort of thing you’d expect to see if this had originally been a two hour special broken into two halves for syndication and home video. And the scenes were incredibly promising: it looked like some of the detectives that our heroes would be meeting in cameos are Marshal Sam McCloud, Kelly Garrett, and Pete Ryan. Unfortunately, only Dennis Weaver appears in part one, and, in a big bummer, Weaver is playing himself on the Universal lot waiting for a setup while shooting McCloud when he rescues Nancy Drew from a runaway truck. (That’s a delightful in-joke at least, because Weaver had such a memorable experience in 1971 with a runaway truck.)

So it looks as though who I thought were Garrett and Ryan will actually be Jaclyn Smith and Robert Wagner on the sets of Charlie’s Angels and Switch. Big missed opportunity, I say. (Except… like this show, McCloud and Switch were both produced by Glen A. Larson at Universal, but Angels wasn’t. Shrug.)

But the strangest cameo of all is… not Peter Falk. It’s Casey Kasem, the immortal voice of American Top 40, playing “Paul Hamilton,” who claims to have once been a respected actor but is now Peter Falk’s double for long shots on the Columbo set at Universal. All credit to Kasem, he does a really terrific impersonation of Columbo, right down to having just one more thing to ask Frank and Nancy. I’d expect nothing less from the man who read long distance dedications for little dogs named Snuggles.

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