So... what manly pastime have I been indulging in lately? Would you believe – watching Nancy Drew?
No, not the new movie with Eric Roberts' little girl, though I'll probably check it out on DVD one of these days, but the original Warner Brothers Nancy Drew B-movies from the Thirties, with bouncy Bonita Granville as the irrepressible girl sleuth (pictured above with Frankie Thomas as sidekick/boyfriend Ted Nickerson)– and the late 1970's Glen Larson (Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider)-produced Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, with Pamela Sue Martin (and, at the end, cute-but-bland Janet Louise Johnson).
Universal sent me the second season of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on DVD, and I just recently finished watching all the episodes. When the series premiered in '77, the show alternated episodes featuring the Hardy brothers and the intrepid Miss Drew. But ratings on the Drew episodes were consistently lower than on the Hardy episodes (I'm guessing that young boys watched the Hardy Boys episodes while skipping the Drews, while little girls watched them both, thanks to teen idol Shaun Cassidy as Joe Hardy), so in Season Two, Nancy was teamed up with Frank & Joe for several two-part episodes, while her solo outings were reduced to just a small handful of episodes. Unhappy with the new situation, pretty Pamela Sue Martin – who, as Nancy, was a little wooden, but always seemed smart, mature and competent – left the show and was replaced by the cute but unmemorable Johnson.
I know I watched the show as a kid, but I think I enjoyed it more this time around. Being a Glen Larson-Universal production, the economically-produced series is loaded with familiar TV guest stars of the era, plenty of opportunities for Cassidy to sing his trademark bubblegum pop, and – in one memorable 2 part episode – cameos by the stars of most of ABC's '78 prime time line-up in a story that's basically just a huge plug for the studio's then-new back lot tour!
But even better are the Bonita Granville Drews. All four entries in the short series – Nancy Drew: Detective, Nancy Drew: Reporter, Nancy Drew: Trouble Shooter and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase – have just come out on a 2-disc set from Warner Brothers. Each film is about an hour long, briskly-paced, atmospheric and funny. Granville is an enthusiastic, cunning Nancy, who can twist her attorney father and boyfriend Ted ("Ned" in the books) around her little finger. Just 15 when she made the films, she's a little fireball – less cerebral than the later, more mature, TV incarnation, but still possessing the intelligence and courage of the literary character.
But, while I liked the films themselves, I guess I've been spoiled by Fox's excellent restoration efforts on their Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto mystery sets. Compared to those, the Warners Nancy Drew set is really disappointing. The films do not appear to have been restored or cleaned up at all and are plagued with omnipresent print damage, missing frames, dirt and debris. The audio is noisy and scratchy. The only extras are the original theatrical trailers.
Nonetheless, I recommend them. They're a lot of fun, and great examples of the B-mystery genre.
The Thirties' teen lingo is interesting, too (i.e. the title of this post).