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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.6 – The Secret of the Whispering Walls

Marie said, when we finished, that this was a perfect example of Nancy Drew, and I immediately agreed. When I was a kid, I read probably a dozen Nancy Drew books and another dozen Hardy Boys, and I couldn’t tell you a thing about any of them individually, but collectively they are all this episode: Nancy finding secret passages in an old house that lead to old caves that are being used by counterfeiters, while people send mysterious signals to each other for no better reason than to have Nancy spot them.

The most remarkable thing about “The Secret of the Whispering Walls” is the way that this seventies show just casually presents two elderly aunts who share a bed in this enormous old house. They don’t actually suggest any romance between the two, and you’re perfectly at liberty to assume what you like, but they sure do act like an old married couple and as far as I’m concerned, they’re delightful and probably the most queer-positive image that television presented in February 1977.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.5 – The Disappearing Floor

Sometimes when you’re watching an old show and visual effects technology has marched on, everything jars so much that you know something strange is about to happen. The Hardy Boys had, I imagine, a much, much greater budget than a 1971 episode of Doctor Who, and if they needed to film the actors in a room, Universal was perfectly capable of providing the room, whereas mocking up a kitchen for a single shot was a waste of the BBC’s resources, so the director elected to just blue-screen the actress into a photograph. So when Frank and Joe suddenly start walking around an environment that’s clearly not real, it’s because there are about to be special effects.

So “The Disappearing Floor” is dopey, but it’s charmingly of its time. It’s all about holograms, a science which the producers think is so unfamiliar to the audience of February 1977 that they explain it twice in consecutive scenes, and the last five minutes of the story is a one-line-after-another barrage of talk about the military applications of the missing professor’s new technology. There are even Russian agents. We are shown two of them in a car, ominously, and I said “These are the guys who say ‘blah blah blah secret plans, blah blah blah Third World War‘.”

Our son enjoyed this a lot, especially when Frank and Joe enter a room that’s been hologrammed to look like they’re outside in a forest with wolves. But he claims that his favorite part of the story was when they were in an underground passage and Joe says “Where are we, Transylvania?” At seven, he is the prime demographic for all the dumb jokes that Shaun Cassidy delivers.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.4 – The Mystery of the Diamond Triangle

Not a lot of free time tonight, so I’ll just note that in this episode, Nancy stumbles on a delightfully overcomplicated scheme to steal far more classic cars than any criminal gang could seriously expect to get away with. It’s pretty good timing; the annual Chattanooga Cruise-In, with something like two thousand antique cars, is coming up this weekend. I wonder whether I might could see one of the early ’30s Auburns that Nancy spots there. Anyway, the guest stars include Len Lesser and Gordon Jump, and our son enjoyed the whole story and loved the cops showing up at the climax, even if the insurance fraud part of the plot required a pause and an explanation. I think many of the bad guys had a long wait for a paddy wagon though. They were way out in the woods.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.3 – The Mystery of Witches’ Hollow

Our son was particularly happy with parts of tonight’s story, which looks to be one of several in this series written by Michael Sloan, who frequently collaborated with producer Glen A. Larson in the seventies and early eighties. Sloan worked on Larson shows like McCloud, Quincy M.E., and Battlestar Galactica. The villain has a big black mountain lion to scare off any nosey teenage detectives, prompting our son to remind us that he really, really likes cats. Our heroes are out in the deep forests of Massachusetts with their gal-pal Callie and a new recurring character, a nervous, food-loving character drawn in very, very broad strokes called Chet, looking for Callie’s missing uncle.

The scene that did have our son frightened has somebody creeping up on the boys while they’re camping in the woods, while the big black cat is stalking Callie. This wasn’t a bad hour, but I think the sight of our son hopping to the other sofa to hide his face in worry for Callie was probably the high point of it!

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.2 – The Mystery of Pirate’s Cove

Tonight, we checked out the other component of this cute series. Pamela Sue Martin starred as Nancy Drew, with William Schallert as her father Carson, and Jean Rasey as her best friend George. George O’Hanlon Jr. plays Ned Nickerson, who is very unlike the jock boyfriend character from the books. Because this program was a very chaste 7 pm show, the Ned here is a paralegal who works for Carson Drew and who has an unrequited crush on Nancy.

But enough about Ned, because this is Nancy’s show and I enjoyed this much more than I did the first Hardy Boys installment the other night. I’m sure both programs will have their ups and downs, but this was a fun and amusing little mystery around an old, decrepit lighthouse and a professor of parapsychology who really wants to buy it. There are spooky caves that smugglers might have once used, and a possible haunting, and lots of terrific location filming. Monte Markham guest stars at the professor, who might be up to no good. Pamela Sue Martin is great as Nancy, and I like how she uses intelligence and reasoning to figure out what’s happening in a mostly believable way. I think she took a couple of giant leaps right past me once George comes back from New York with a final clue, but why quibble?

Aside from just being a very entertaining hour, this also gave us the chance to remind our son about the foolishness of get rich quick schemes. William Schallert mentions how in a gold rush, the only person guaranteed to get rich is the guy selling pickaxes and shovels. Seems to me that lots of people could stand to be reminded of that!

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.1 – The Mystery of the Haunted House

Now we’re traveling back to January 1977 and the first episode of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries, which ran – with a couple of alterations to its format and several cast changes – for three seasons on ABC. I only have vague memories of this show, but I remembered it being basic, kid-friendly stuff from Glen A. Larson, who wrote and directed this first episode, so I picked up the sets when I found them cheap a while back.

Despite proving his utter inability to recognize anybody – I mean, I flat-out told him that somebody he saw this morning in Barbary Coast is in this, and how many eight-foot tall dudes with a voice like gravel were in that show other than Richard Kiel – our son really enjoyed this. There’s lots of chasing around, on foot or on motorcycles, and most of the action is set around the silliest restaurant you’ve ever seen. It’s a very breezy and simple “mystery” for younger viewers. The Hardy Boys books were always for kids, and so is this.

Our heroes Frank and Joe are played by Parker Stevenson and teen idol Shaun Cassidy, and if the DVD packaging is accurate, we’ll be hearing at least two of Shaun’s pop hits in the weeks to come. Joy. Ed Gilbert plays their dad, a private detective, and Lisa Eilbacher, who we’ve seen a few times in Saturday morning shows from the era, is his secretary Callie. I think we’re meant to infer that Frank and Callie have goo-goo eyes for each other, but it’s kind of hard to tell. I didn’t think much of it, but some shows take a while to find their feet. I told our son that next time, we’d meet Nancy Drew, and he’s looking forward to that.

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Buck Rogers 1.23 and 1.24 – Flight of the War Witch

Well, now that is how you do a season finale. It’s the sort of thing that we expect now, but I don’t believe was all that common in 1980: a good chunk of location filming, including a big all-terrain vehicle, and a pile of guest stars. Not only are Pamela Hensley and Michael Ansara back as Ardala and Kane, but we’ve got two new enemies played by Julie Newmar and Sid Haig, along with Sam Jaffe and Vera Miles as the peace-loving people who need our heroes’ help.

Look, I’m predisposed to like anything with Newmar, for obvious reasons. Add Sid Haig as her second-in-command and I’m not going to say anything bad about it even if it was lousy. But this was really entertaining! I do feel there was one very dated missed opportunity, but this was huge fun and I enjoyed it almost as much as our son did. He had a blast. All the regulars get a chance to shine, and Twiki gets to have an ongoing war of nerves with some R2-D2 cash-in. Our kid will be imitating Twiki’s growl about that other robot having the brain of a can opener for days.

I was quite surprised by what he didn’t like. As regular readers know, he can’t stand Princess Ardala. Here, the Draconians are forced into an uneasy treaty with the Earthmen to battle the War Witch Zarina and her battalion. But Ardala’s just gotta Ardala and she tries to have a woman-to-woman talk with Zarina to sell out everybody and split… with Buck, of course. Zarina is not even remotely impressed. She calmly, firmly, quietly puts Ardala in her place and calls her a spoiled child and has her guards drag her away.

Our son was so shocked that he found himself on Ardala’s side and broke out his finger blasters to start “shooting” Zarina. She’s a villain so evil that she’s reduced his previous most-hated-villain into a shrieking tantrum. “You hate her even more than Ardala?” I asked. “Yes! She’s WORSE!”

Ardala’s deterioration over her four appearances isn’t all that surprising, but she’s really treated like a man-hungry comedy foil this time out. This reaches its nadir in a scene that the Neanderthal in me kind of loved, but I think they’d play it a lot differently today. She’s in a cell with Buck and another fellow and they trick the guards in, because this always works on television, and the two fellows beat up the guards while Ardala hides under the bed and trips them by their ankles. The part I liked came when she asks how she can help now the four dudes are clobbered, and Buck says “You can take their clothes off,” and Ardala’s all about that.

Sure, it was funny, and Pamela Hensley, as you see, has a delightfully devilish look in her eyes as she gets down to the task. But you know what would have been even funnier? Ardala should have beaten up the four dudes by herself and told Buck and his pal to undress them. That would have been a fabulous revelation: that the Emperor Draco raised his daughters to be the meanest fighters in the galaxy, but this one’s just happier being a sex kitten.

That wraps up Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for us. There was another season I’m not interested in, but life’s too short. Our kid definitely enjoyed it more than I did, but this story was very good, and so were “The Plot to Kill a City”, which was downright excellent, and “Cosmic Whiz Kid”. And they were all better than that terrible pilot movie!

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Buck Rogers 1.22 – Buck’s Duel to the Death

Holy anna, our son loved this episode. Our schedule got a little bent out of shape today, as it will again tomorrow, so he and I watched it earlier in the evening. He was still yammering about details hours later. It stars B-movie legend William Smith as a kingpin called the Traybor on a distant planet. And yeah, I mean legend. With 269 credits at IMDB, you’ve seen him in something. Smith is stuck under a silly toupee, but he looks like he could rip a phone book in half in 1980, and he probably still could, so you didn’t hear that crack about his rug from me, okay?

Anyway, I didn’t care for this one, again, and thought it was weighed down by two really appalling actresses, but our son loved all the fights. Talking and smooching was kept to a minimum, this one’s nothing but running down corridors and shooting bad guys. The Traybor has circuitry implanted under his skin, so he gets to fire surges of electricity at our hero and have a nicely satisfying brawl with him in the end. It’s an hour made to thrill younger viewers and clicked all of our younger viewer’s buttons.

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