The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.18 – Voodoo Doll (part two)

I’ve been giving Ray Milland a hard time for as long as I can remember, which may not be fair, but when you look at anything the actor did in the seventies, I don’t think you can blame me too much. At one time an Oscar-winning cinema icon, he spent the decade sleepwalking through projects, whether classy or not, speaking in precisely the same clipped, grouchy monotone. Absolutely none of his characters – and I don’t care whether you’re talking about a guest star role in a decent show like Ellery Queen or Columbo or The Hardy Boys, or a villain in Escape to Witch Mountain or Love Story, or in Elvira-level D-movie schlock like Frogs or The Thing With Two Heads – seem like characters at all. They seem like Ray Milland being pissed off that his agent can’t get him better work.

So I’ve often pretended to be incredibly impressed by Milland and acted like his biggest champion – he has a nickname that I won’t use in this family-oriented blog – and sung his praises, very loudly and very unconvincingly. To be fair, I think I’ve seen only one of his roles from his cinema heyday – Dial M For Murder, of course – and he’s not bad in that, but for being blustery and bored in everything else I’ve seen him in, I just think the guy was pure ham, and nothing in “Voodoo Doll” suggests I’m being unfair or unkind. Man, he’s annoying.

There wasn’t much about this one that I liked, apart from a genuinely weird moment where the Hardy Boys get the clerk of the nice hotel to unlock the missing Nancy Drew’s room to find the crazy, dirty, old fortune telling lady camped out on her bed and cackling. Everything wraps up in a predictably Scooby Doo way, but the villains’ motivation was so nebulous and odd that our son didn’t understand a lick of it, and his mother had to spend about five minutes trying to make sense of it.

Speaking of Elvira-level D-movie schlock, come back by in a few hours. I’m about to show our son something wonderful…

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.17 – Voodoo Doll (part one)

I continue to be more impressed by the complex production of The Hardy Boys than by the complex schemes devised by the show’s villains. “Voodoo Doll” recreates a big New Orleans Mardi Gras on the Universal backlot, with dozens and dozens of costumed extras and floats engaged for both daytime and night filming. This must have been a huge undertaking. But the villainous plot is downright idiotic.

I bet that it’s all going to eventually boil down to this: a criminal, posing as a stage magician, needs the fleabag hotel room where our heroes are staying in order to plant an assassin. But instead of just getting them another room in a nicer hotel, he arranges to have their wallets stolen and then tries spooking them out of town with voodoo and black magic. Dominating the screen as the magician, it’s Julius Smith, with Kim Cattrall as his not-entirely-willing accomplice, and Ray Milland as a British professor who tells our heroes very sternly that voodoo is nothing to laugh at, young man, I assure you.

Also in town, probably working the potential-assassination-of-the-ambassador angle, it’s Nancy Drew, now played by Janet Louise Johnson. Johnson only appeared in three storylines before the character was written out, and I hope that she has more to do in this story’s second half, because she doesn’t have anything of note to do in the first. She’s onscreen for so little time here that she barely has time to register as a new actress in the part at all. I wonder whether that was deliberate.

Eerie, Indiana 1.19 – Reality Takes a Holiday

One sad night in April of 1992, NBC showed the last two episodes of Eerie, Indiana back-to-back. I had the habit, then, of occasionally taping the first or the final episodes of programs, figuring there might be some nostalgia value down the line. This lasted for a few years, but I unburdened myself of my thousand-some tape collection in the early 2000s. So much for nostalgia. Anyway, after the network finished up “Zombies in P.J.s,” I cued up the tape, sorry to see this cute show go, but it didn’t collect dust on a shelf. I showed this tape to everybody over the next couple of years. “This is what you missed,” I told all those people who couldn’t be bothered to watch. Everybody watched it with a big, big grin.

Vance DeGeneres had already written my favorite-so-far episode of the series, and he got to see it out with one of television’s most delightful series finales, “Reality Takes a Holiday.” They don’t have much time to explore the premise and still give all the actors a little spotlight, but basically Eerie collides with a parallel universe called NBC, where “Marshall Teller” is just a character played by a bound-for-trouble child star named Omri Katz, and who is being written out of his own show, killed off by the new character.

Marshall is astonished and repulsed to find that his family and best friends are just actors, that Mr. Radford is really good at improvising in character, and that the prop man – who looks an awful lot like Tee Hee from Live and Let Die – really wants to make sure his blood-pack squibs are set right for his death scene. And the director, Joe Dante, can only wince as Omri Katz goes all method acting and hopes for new pages to make it to the set. Incidentally, Joe Dante actually only plays the part of the director. The real director of this is Ken Kwapis, who also directed Vance DeGeneres’s previous script. Maybe there’s a third parallel universe where Eerie, Indiana was a hit, and they assigned DeGeneres and Kwapis seven or eight episodes in the 1992-93 season.

But no, as we’ve sadly discussed before, Eerie, Indiana was unfortunately a ratings bomb and this was its last hurrah. Our son wasn’t quite as thrilled with it as I am. He enjoyed it, and grinned as he realized where it was going, but many of the in-jokes (like the name of the “writer” and the length of the lunch break) naturally went way over his head, and he really got stuck on the DVD chapter menu calling some script rewrites “blue pages” even after I thought I explained it. Maybe he’ll come back to this one day and get a good giggle out of Mary-Margaret Humes attempting to commiserate with her young co-star by mentioning how she once got killed off Jake and the Fatman. Still, the prop man’s incredibly memorable. He’s Julius Harris, and maybe our son will remember him when we see him in a Hardy Boys a few months from now…?