Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Feats of Daring Drew

Tonight will bring the premiere, on America’s CW-TV network, of Nancy Drew. This marks the third time small-screen content producers have turned for inspiration to that fictional amateur detective—created in 1930 as a female alternative to the popular Hardy Boys—and the first time since rival CBS-TV rejected a pilot that starred Sarah Shahi as a “Nancy Drew reimagined as a thirty-something NYPD detective.”

I haven’t been invited to preview the inaugural episode of this new hour-long series; however, the teasers and trailers released online suggest it might be worth watching—sort of a blend of Veronica Mars with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Commending it, as well, is the cast, which includes Kennedy McMann as an 18-year-old Nancy, Scott Wolf (Everwood) as her attorney father, Carson Drew, and even Pamela Sue Martin (who played Nancy in the 1977-1979 series The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries) winning a role in the pilot episode. A New York Times piece published this last weekend seemed cautiously optimistic about the venture:
This new “Nancy Drew” raises the heroine’s age to 18 and offers some psychological depth. Her mother has recently died, her relationship with her father is troubled, and she is stuck in Horseshoe Bay, Me.—not the Midwestern River Heights of the books—while she waits to reapply to college. A sleuth since girlhood, she has sworn off investigating. “I don’t go searching in the dark anymore,” she says in voice-over. That resolve lasts about 10 minutes. Oh, and in this world, ghosts are real.

[Showrunner Melinda] Hsu knows that this version (the ghosts, the sex, the teen angst, the effortlessly diverse cast) may surprise some Nancy devotees. “But the way that we chose to do it is a way that is inclusive and updated and modern and relevant and accessible to audiences,” she said.

If you look past the updates, you can still see the outline of the classic heroine. “What’s left behind is a girl who cannot accept that the truth not be told, like she cannot sleep at night, unless the mystery is solved,” said [executive producer Noga] Landau, speaking by telephone. (She apologized for the bad reception: “I’m walking down a weird hidden staircase,” she said, which seemed very on brand.)
All of this just made me want to revisit the Nancy Drew of old, if only for a few moments. I was never a reader of the Carolyn Keene series (or even a Hardy Boys fan), but as every Rap Sheet reader knows, I enjoy digging into the history of mystery fiction. So I rounded up—and have embedded, below—the trailers for a quartet of mostly forgotten Nancy Drew “B-films” from the late 1930s, produced by Warner Bros. and starring Bonita Granville as the “danger-chasing” teenage sleuth: Nancy Drew, Detective (1938); Nancy Drew, Reporter (1939); Nancy Drew, Trouble Shooter (1939); and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939). Before you sit down to sample The CW’s new Drew, travel backwards 80 years to watch how Hollywood once imagined this young protagonist later described (by novelist Bobbie Ann Mason) as “cool as Mata Hari and as sweet as Betty Crocker.”

If you’re interested in seeing more, a DVD boxed set of Bonita Granville’s four Nancy Drew pictures can be easily obtained.

And just for fun, click here to watch the opening from “The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom,” an unusual, October 1977 episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. It features not only Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as the Hardys, but also a young Pamela Sue Martin in her Nancy Drew role. The episode’s plot finds the attendees at a detectives convention in Los Angeles disappearing during a Hollywood film studio tour. Dennis Weaver and J.D. Cannon, from McCloud, both make cameo appearances, as does Jaclyn Smith, who in ’77 had just begun her run on Charlie’s Angels.

READ MORE:A Cultural History of Nancy Drew,” by Olivia Rutigliano (CrimeReads); “Nancy Drew Is Not Who You Remember,” by Molly Young (Vulture); “CW Does Wrong by Batwoman and Nancy Drew,” by Hank Stuever (The Washington Post); “Nancy Drew and the Attempted Banishment,” by Taraya Galloway (Fishwrap).

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