Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wolfe Tickets

Once again, I'm starting my review by talking about the books that are the source for the movie, or in this case, the TV series: Nero Wolfe (2001). Ms. Spenser and I are big fans of Rex Stout's detective series. If you have heard of it (but not read any), you may know that Nero Wolfe is the fattest, laziest, most stubborn and most brilliant detective in the world. What you may not know is that the heart of the series, and the narrator, is his legman, Archie Goodwin. His smart-alecky voice is the best thing about this series.

So, A&E made a few of these stories into TV shows. Maury Chaykin is fat enough and pompous enough to play Wolfe, although it took us a while to get used to his "Pfui" - one of Wolfe's distinctive catchphrases. For Archie, they got Tim Hutton, who we know from Leverage. He has Archie's flippant attitude, although I'm not sure he is as physically imposing as he needs to be. But he does get to drag a guy out of a chair by his legs, out the office and out the door - One of Archie Goodwin's signature moves.

 There are a couple of Leverage regulars in the cast:
  • Saul Rubinek (Victor Dubenic in Leverage) as newspaperman Lon Cohen
  • Kari Matchett (Ford's ex-wife) in a variety of roles
One of the cute things about the series is the repertory cast - several recurring actors in different roles. Amusingly, George Plimpton is one of these, showing up as aged bankers and law partners as required.

The set decoration is perfect. Wolfe famously never leaves his New York brownstone, which is described in painstaking detail in the books. Wolfe's office, his chair specially engineered to withstand his seventh-of-a-ton weight, the famous red client's chair, the globe, the secret listening spot, all are shown exactly as imagined. The actors portraying Wolfe's assistant's, big dumb Fred Durkin, handsome tricky Orry Cather, and deceptively nondescript Saul Panzer, are great. Bill Smitrovich as the cigar-chomping (and scenery chewing) Inspector Cramer is great too. I think we like Colin Fox, as Wolfe's Swiss chef Fritz best of all. For a man with Wolfe's appetites, a chef is a most important person, and Fox fits him perfectly.

The stories are set in a timeless era between the 30s, through WWWII and into the swinging Sixties, but the men all wore hats, suits and ties, the cars were big and rounded and the music was big band. Sometimes Archie wore his military uniform, sometimes the men's suits were day-glo and the women wore miniskirts, but it was all the same period. A&E presents that period beautifully, with a warm glow like walnut waxed and rubbed to a high sheen.

I can only recommend these to Wolfephiles, but to them, I recommend unreservedly.

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