Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bonita Granville's Nancy Drew

Over the summer, TCM ran the four 1938 - 1939 Nancy Drew movies starring Bonita Granville and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson. I'm a big fan and have seen the films several times. I recorded and watched them in July and recently re-watched the series.

The series has a madcap comedy approach: book Nancy is serious and responsible, and as my sister complained--too perfect. Granville's Nancy is impulsive and let me repeat madcap. She also plays fast and loose with evidence, something book Nancy would never consider.

The first film Nancy Drew Detective is loosely based on the book, The Password to Larkspur Lane. It seems to be the most serious of the films, but its overall tone is lighthearted. Nancy's attempted rescue of an older woman held prisoner in a nursing home is foiled by Ted's poor attempt to dress in drag as a nurse. His pants leg drooping down from under this uniform gives him away. Of course, they ultimately succeed.

Bonus: James Stephenson, who was so memorable as Bette Davis' lawyer in The Letter, appears here as one of the villains.

The second film is Nancy Drew Reporter. Nancy investigates a murder case while allegedly on an assignment as a student reporter. (She steals the assignment from another reporter's desk when the reporter is away.)

As part of Nancy's investigation, poor Ted winds up in the boxing ring with Soxie Anthens. A clue from the boxing ring takes them to the Mandarin Café. Unfortunately, Ned's bratty sister and her friend (Mary and Killer) tag along by hiding in the rumble seat. They order chop suey even though Nancy and Ted don't have the money to pay the bill. To avoid washing dishes, Mary, Killer, Nancy and Ted sing a medley with a full orchestra (!) The patrons throw enough change to pay the bill. I don't usually care about these musical interludes, but this one was fun. (Compare it to Blow that Horn in After the Thin Man.)

Another scene in drag: this time it's Sergeant Entwhistle masquerading as Grandma. While searching the villain's room, the Sergeant is revealed when his skirt is caught in a trunk and is pulled off, revealing his pants. Damn, if only Ted and Sergeant Entwhistle were committed to their disguises, they might have gotten away,

I loved Nancy's trick after she and Ted are locked up in the electrical room on the roof of a hotel. By removing fuses, they change the sign of the Beldenburg Hotel to the Bedbug Hotel, and they get rescued.

Mary and Killer even come through.They put whistles on Nancy's car, just before the bad guys try to escape in it.The police can easily apprehend the villains.

Nancy Drew Trouble Shooter is my least favorite of the series. None of the regulars come off well: Nancy is especially scatterbrained and Ted is especially clumsy. Carson Drew acts like a lovesick schoolboy at the first sight of an attractive neighbor.Ted is also immediately smitten. Nancy becomes jealous of the neighbor, calling her a "scheming adventuress."

There are many "slapsticky" scenes including a bull whose charge frees Nancy and Ted from a locked building, Ted flying a crop dusting plane, and Ted and Nancy sinking in the boat Ted built, the Nancy. Somehow, no one notices the big hole Nancy makes christening it.

Perhaps the worst part of the movie is Willie Best's stereotypical character Apollo. Apollo's hides a live and later a cooked chicken behind his back, complains about his work, and is so afraid of ghosts that he doesn't realize that he's witnessed a murder.Thank goodness Nancy's around to figure it all out.

The final film of the series is Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. This film also had some outlandish situations, but they were fun. I loved the situations created by Ted as the iceman, despite the silly falling pants routine. I laughed when Nancy ordered 500 pounds of ice just to get Ted's help.

Ted makes a final appearance in drag. He's on stakeout in the basement to try to catch the bad guy, and strips to his underwear to sleep. When the bad guy takes his clothes, all Ned can find is an old-fashioned women's dress. Okay, but why did he don the lady's hat?

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