The other night, our son told us that he gives The Hardy Boys two thumbs up, and Nancy Drew one-and-a-half thumbs up. Then we ran into this segment, which left him confused and bored. He didn’t enjoy this at all. I got a kick out of seeing so many future stars early in their career, including Terry Kiser, Martin Kove, and most obviously Mark Harmon, who’s coming up on an astonishing 379 episodes of NCIS. I had no idea that show has been going so long. Harmon was just a few months away from being cast in his first starring role, in the long-forgotten Jack Webb show Sam, about a police dog and his handler. Bigger and better things were in his future, including the miniseries Goliath Awaits, which we would totally watch for this blog if it were available.
In the last episode of The Hardy Boys, I noted that the director and editors did an exemplary job making stock footage mesh with a carnival and parade, but I can’t say the same about this effort. Harmon plays the kicker for undefeated Overton State University, who play their games at the Not-Fooling-Anybody Rose Bowl, and their uniforms are a little more bright red than the University of Oklahoma’s crimson. Yes, they pulled in lots of old stock footage of Oklahoma playing a couple of other teams, and then the poor director – Andy Sidaris, who would later make all those movies where Playboy models fire bazookas at ninjas in Hawaii – tried to match this beat up footage that looks like it was the first color broadcast of anything, at twilight, with the new material of actors in their bright red and about twenty extras in the stands at high noon in Pasadena.
At least they got a legend to call Overton’s games. They brought in Howard Cosell to do the play-by-play. Honestly, I tease about the production, but the story’s a pretty good one, where gamblers convince Overton’s kicker that he’s killed a girl in order to blackmail him into throwing a game. But the highlight is watching and listening to Cosell doing his shtick and talking his pretentious piffle. (Read more about Cosell at this great post last year at Classic TV Sports. There was nobody like him!)
That wraps up the first season of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries. There were a couple that I didn’t enjoy much, but overall this was better than I expected! We’ll watch season two a few months down the road, probably starting in late July. Stay tuned!
Well, I knew this would be a show with its ups and downs, but after five incredibly implausible but entertaining and cute installments, man, did we ever hit a turkey. “The Mystery of the Ghostwriters’ Cruise” is terrible. Characters don’t know things about their own pasts they should definitely remember, other characters have utterly astonishing technical skills that border on the supernatural, and other characters are just plain annoying. The direction and editing are unbelievably clumsy, too. In order to keep conveying a sense of mystery and keep everybody a suspect, the camera lingers on everybody way too long. It’s a very annoying hour of television.
A couple of interesting cast notes, though. David Wayne plays the famous mystery writer John Addams, who is retiring and taking a cruise, but somebody plans to kill him, and TV’s first Captain America, Reb Brown, is one of about six people set up as suspects. Les Lannom, who had been so entertaining as Lester Hodges in several episodes of Harry O, gets to play the ship’s entertainment director, who is pretty much the only man on the ship who doesn’t seem to want to kill Addams. Sadly, he’s so incredibly creepy and pushy and touchy in that seventies way that he’s more troubling than a potential murderer.
Also, the wannabe killer misspells “you’re” as “your” in the first threatening note. I thought that Nancy would say something about that. I’m not sure what prison sentence awaits the would-be assassin, but because of that note, I hope they threw away the key.
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!