Wednesday 17 February 2021

Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You

In the very early days of this blog, I mentioned the TV series featuring Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen. I acquired the shows as a box set and have watched one or two episodes. The series was created by William Link and Richard Levinson, prolific writers who are probably best known for Columbo. One TV film for which they are not so well-known is Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You, from 1971. They wrote the script but are credited as 'Ted Leighton'.   

So the story goes, the duo were lifelong Queen fans, and jumped at the chance to write a pilot for a Queen series. They chose to adapt the novel Cat of Many Tails, a serial killer story, and the result was Don't Look Behind You. However, while they were off on holiday with their wives (at Universal's expense, Link explains in an interview I found on Youtube), the producer decided to make changes to the script that they disliked intensely. Another misfortune was the casting of Peter Lawford as Ellery Queen.

Lawford was very well-known in his day, but although he'd lived in the US for many years, he was English, and his smug smoothie persona, was quite unlike the character of Queen as almost everyone envisages him. In addition, his range as an actor was limited. One can well imagine the dismay that Levinson and Link felt. No wonder they disowned the script.

It's a real pity, because the story has some potential - the quest to find the link between seemingly unconnected killings in a series can be fascinating. This film does have its moments, although not as many as one would wish. What's more, the cast benefits from the presence of Stefanie Powers. However, Inspector Queen in this version is Ellery's uncle, rather than his father, and the script's attempt to update the relationship doesn't work well. The Jim Hutton series was, from what I have seen of it, a significant improvement, because it made a determined attempt to stay true to the spirit of the original stories.  

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

The Jim Hutton Ellery Queen series is an absolute delight. It's a tragedy that it only lasted one season.

Anything Levinson and Link were involved in is usually worth a look. They actually understood gold age detective fiction.