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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.19 – Mystery on the Avalanche Express

We were watching the pre-credits clips from the show we were about to see and he lit up at some stock footage of an avalanche in the Rockies or the Alps or someplace. The episode is set in Hungary and Austria, but perhaps filmed in Aspen or someplace a little closer. I would like to know where they went for the train station scene. They were at that location forever and it was full of extras.

Anyway, our son said “Finally! The Hardy Boys have to fight a natural disaster!” I can’t help but think that our heroes are ideally suited for all sorts of threats, but not volcanoes or earthquakes or avalanches. When the avalanche does come, the train makes it into a tunnel in the nick of time. I confirmed later that our son was mildly disappointed. Apart from wanting to see a train get wrecked by a hundred thousand tons of snow and ice, abandoning this episode’s spy plot to have Nancy and the Hardys rescue everybody might have satisfied him more. He’s possibly also remembering a classic installment of Ro-Busters in 2000 AD.

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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…

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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.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.13 – The Lady on Thursday at Ten

I’d like nothing better than to say that the Nancy Drew episodes were the best of this series, but that simply isn’t the case. The Hardy Boys segments this season, without the character, have been far better every time, and while some have been pretty dopey, a couple of them have been surprisingly intelligent and entertaining. So I honestly won’t be sorry to see Nancy go. The only stories of hers that I liked were in the first season. And so tonight’s show was the final solo outing for the character, and the last appearance of Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy, as she declined to continue as a guest star in what had been sold as a show that was one-half hers.

Marie wondered whether ABC and Universal decided to cancel her solo outings because they were of such remarkably lower quality than the Hardy Boys segments. My gut tells me – without any genuine black and white evidence – that the predominantly tween girls in the audience wanted to see Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson first and foremost, and weren’t interested when they weren’t on. I can’t even protest that surely some girls were tuning in for a positive female role model, because the Nancy of year two is not one. She’s unlikeable, illogical, muleheaded, and the way she destroys evidence at crime scenes is pretty amazing. So maybe the girls of 1978 were being superficial in only wanting to watch the dreamy guys, but who can blame them?

Guest starring in this last solo case of Nancy’s, there’s Nicholas Hammond and Simon Oakland, pretending to be policemen when they’re really criminals, and Los Angeles, pretending to be Manhattan when it is most emphatically Los Angeles. Television producers spent a lot of time in the seventies and eighties pretending that southern California was anyplace else, and I have spent a lot of time giggling about it when they fumbled, but…

…the episode begins with Nancy driving through Times Square at night, and she’s hopelessly lost, so every time she comes to a red light, she consults what appears to be a road map of Passaic County, probably because that’s the best the props department could do. You can make out Wanaque and Oakland on it. And it continues the following day, through palm trees and giant open skies and an ornately-designed police precinct that Barney Miller and Kojak couldn’t have dreamed they’d ever have worked from. The Hardy Boys were more successful in convincing me that they were in Egypt and Kenya this season. I look forward to seeing more from that show. It may be a kids’ show, but that crew was trying harder.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.12 – Will the Real Santa Claus…

A couple of things to note about tonight’s Christmas episode. First, there’s a tip of the hat to the immortal Twilight Zone story “The Night of the Meek”. This story introduces us, briefly, to an alcoholic department store Santa who is barely able to sit up straight. I think that was cute. I also think that “The Night of the Meek” is about sixty million times more entertaining than this thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Also, in this show’s first season, actor George O’Hanlon Jr. had played Ned Nickerson, who was a dreamboat all-American football type in the original books and a nervous assistant to Carson Drew in season one. While they had recast Nancy’s best friend George with another actress, they did a complete retool of Ned, and introduced him in this story as a brand new character played by heartthrob-to-be Rick Springfield. This Ned works for the Boston DA and is an obnoxious creep with downright hideous taste in clothes.

Finally, our son is now singing “Deck the Halls.” Hot freaking dog.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.10 – Nancy Drew’s Love Match

Nancy Drew finally gets a solo outing this season… and it’s dreadful. Marie hated it because Nancy comes up with one dumb lie after another to explain why she’s secretly tailing a tennis player she went to high school with. And she has a point: this story did not need the complication and potential embarrassment. It could have been an interesting case with three believable suspects without it. If Nancy and two other characters just quietly talked about the problem before the show pretended to go to Las Vegas, it would have been a stronger story.

The episode tries to wring some humor from other characters acting on Nancy’s lies, leading her to lie further to maintain her cover. But it isn’t funny. Marie absolutely hates this kind of comedy; I’d never ask her to watch that Fawlty Towers where Basil tries to fib his way around a surprise anniversary party for his wife because I know it would be torture for her. Our son picked up on her distaste and turned on the show with alacrity, choosing to hide behind the sofa when there wasn’t anything frightening, but Mom didn’t like it and so why should he?

For trivia’s sake, this was the first episode to feature Susan Buckner as the second George, and the guest stars include Maureen McCormick, Jack Colvin, and Roger C. Carmel, who is by miles the best thing about the episode.

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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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