The previous episode of Nancy Drew was full of established Hollywood stars making guest appearances, but this morning’s story was full of up-and-comers. Cast as four motorcycle-riding carnival workers who have a job on the side heisting appliances from fancy houses, there are two of the stars of Jason of Star Command, which would begin production a little more than a year later: Craig Littler and Susan O’Hanlon. Perhaps better known are the other two members of the gang: Jamie Lee Curtis and Robert Englund. Beverly Garland also has a major role in this story, but she was no up-and-comer; she probably had more than two hundred credits by the time she’d made this.
Also appearing, the Universal backlot. Well, it gets used in most of these episodes, but I don’t remember ever seeing it from this angle before. The carnival sets up on the other side of the studio pond, so the cameras are facing the “quaint coastal western” buildings and the riverboat, leading any viewer paying attention to ask the not unreasonable question where on Earth, other than a studio backlot, this carnival could possibly be. The actual story was just a bit of harmless fluff, but our son really enjoyed all the motorcycle stuff, including a big chase at the end that saw one or two of the “try your luck” stands destroyed by runaway bikes.
Speaking of Nancy Drew, we genuinely had no idea until yesterday that a new Nancy Drew film was released literally a month ago. I found the DVD at Target yesterday. Has anybody heard of this film? The 2007 movie with Emma Roberts has been on the “maybe” list to watch with our son for a while. Should we look at this one as well?
Tonight’s episode is the perhaps inevitable story about somebody in the old theater dropping lights down onto the stage and almost killing somebody and this was no accident, this rope’s been cut, and so on. They brought in a pile of good actors for it, though. Victor Buono, Bob Crane, and Dina Merrill are among the thesps playing thesps, a group who staged a show called Murder in the Fourth Act twenty-two years previously. They’ve all gone on to successful showbiz careers, but when they’re invited to tread the boards in the small town of River Heights one last time before the old theater is torn down to make room for a youth center, they all rush back, hating each other, because they all buried a secret down in the theater’s cellar.
Michael Sloan’s story is lighthearted and fun, and our son enjoyed it a lot, even if some of the jokes were a little over his head. I guess he figures that if his dad gets a good chuckle from a gag about Marcus Welby or Dr. Kildare, it must be funny somehow, whoever they are.
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.
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.
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!