Nancy Drew (2007)

The silly finger of coincidence hit our blog again this morning. I figured that a season of The Hardy Boys was incomplete without Nancy Drew, and I remembered enjoying the 2007 film version, which I took my daughter, then nine years old, to see when it was released, so I picked up a used copy and penciled it in for whatever ended up being the first Sunday after we started the Nancy-free third season of The Hardy Boys. The rest of the movie schedule fluctuates around anchors like this one, you see.

So last week, we dropped in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, meaning one of its California locations was fresh in my mind when Nancy and her twelve year-old pal Corky nearly get run down by some thugs while walking through the Griffith Park Tunnel. In Rabbit, that’s the tunnel that they used as the entrance to Toon Town. Plenty of films and TV shows have shot in that tunnel over the decades, most memorably Back to the Future II, but I’m impressed that we watched two of them a week apart.

Nancy Drew is a very California film and it’s very much of its time. In this iteration, Nancy is still a high school student and her father, played by Tate Donovan, wants a break from her sleuthing while they’re staying in Los Angeles for a few months on business. When it was released, my daughter had no experience of the character, but she saw TV ads by the bucket on all the tween girl shows that she watched on Nick. It’s really aimed at that audience, presenting a Nancy who’s an old-fashioned, overachieving fish out of water among all the fashion-obsessed, overdressed students at Hollywood High, and encouraging viewers to just be themselves. At one point, Nancy is forced to ask “Is there a law against common courtesy in Los Angeles?”

Meanwhile, there’s a mystery to be solved. Nancy arranged their accommodations in a decaying mansion that had belonged to a film actress who had died in the early 1980s, shortly after a mysterious months-long disappearance at the close of a fading career. Laura Harring plays the movie star in “old footage” and stacks and stacks of photos and covers of 1960s film gossip magazines. Last night, I grumbled about Universal’s art and props department just phoning it in for the third episode of Hardy Boys, but that probably just made me appreciate how much hard work Warners’ crew put into making this actress’s past seem real and vivid through scrapbooks, VHS tapes, and dozens and dozens of pictures.

So while Nancy starts ruffling feathers by looking into the distant past of 1980-81, she crosses paths with Bruce Willis, on location filming a period detective movie, and seeing the sights of Hollywood, and getting into car chases after the boy-who-really-likes-her, Ned Nickerson, drives her vintage Nash Metropolitan to LA for her to drive around while obeying the speed limit. The danger grows when Barry Bostwick, playing the most obvious villain you ever hissed, realizes that Nancy’s after a secret he wants to stay buried.

Naturally there are secret passages and old dark tunnels and big mean henchmen, and the movie’s perfectly inspiring for its young audience, and not just with its “be yourself” message. Our son was a little baffled by the clique business in the high school, but Nancy has a string-and-paperclip fishing line already wound around a pencil in her sleuthing kit, and after we got back from lunch, he wanted one of those for himself. You never know when you might need one of those to snatch some important documents from under the nose of an abandoned theater full of thugs.

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.21 – Arson and Old Lace

Credit where it’s due: I’ve occasionally teased the producers and paymasters of this show for cutting some corners to save a little cash. But whatever they saved, they put onscreen in tonight’s hour, which put a Hardy spin on a couple of seventies obsessions: The Towering Inferno and Howard Hughes. Joseph Cotten has a breathtakingly thankless role in this episode, a character who’s both insane and evil. Rathbone is a recluse who hasn’t left his penthouse for twenty-two years, and he’s started embezzling money from his companies. Then Nancy Drew – who’s the spitting image of the “Jane Russell” in Rathbone’s past – starts investigating, and he has her kidnapped.

Six months later – and when you think about it, it’s pretty surprising that any series from the period would leave one of its characters in a villain’s clutches anywhere near that long – the Hardys finally get a lead on Nancy’s investigation, just in time for a serial arsonist, who turns out to have a pretty reasonable motive, to target Rathbone’s building. This story required a lot of extras, a lot of stuntmen, and a lot of fires on the set. Sadly, our son was really excited by the clips from the show before the titles, what with all the explosions and blazes, but the story left him cold, confused, and really unsatisfied. He did enjoy Joe Hardy saving a little kid from the building with a jump from the fourth floor to the fire department’s trampoline.

I think it’s a shame that the center of the story is Nancy being a helpless prisoner for half a year, because Nancy shouldn’t be a damsel in distress in the first place, and certainly not for such a long time. Without this chasm in the plot, it’s otherwise a very entertaining production, and features a fine cast including Jack Kelly and Pernell Roberts. And being a victim for half a year is no way for Nancy Drew to exit the show. This was the final appearance of Nancy and her dad. Janet Louise Johnson and William Schallert wouldn’t be part of the next season. I wish that the characters’ final outing would have been a more positive one.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.