This one is something of a mixed bag. On the minus side the culprit is pretty easy to figure out. I don't mean that it's easy to figure out Ellery's actual, step-by-step solution. That's fairly arcane. But the prima facie case, the person with the right mix of means, motive, and opportunity, presents itself relatively early. So when Jim Hutton's Ellery turns to the audience in that charming way of his and asks if we've got it figured out, you may just be waiting for him to fill in the details. Of course if you're like me you won't mind at all the concept of this person doing a lengthy prison stretch.
On the plus side, this is very well-directed by Jack Arnold. Arnold was in the main a TV director, but he had some good B-movies under his belt too, having helmed The Incredible Shrinking Man and High School Confidential in the fifties. The same year as this episode he also directed a Fred Williamson movie called Boss Nigger. The seventies were weird. Anyway, it's not a showoffy directing job, but he uses the medium very well. There's a moment at the Queen home where Ellery figures out a piece of the puzzle - not the whole thing, not yet - and the camera moves in a way that clues you in to what he's thinking.
The plot concerns a newspaper publisher, Henry Manners, who gets onto a private express elevator in his paper's building and who has been shot dead by the time he reaches his floor. So this episode is set in the world of big city journalism, which in media going back a ways often does overlap with crime and police work. Think of Hecht and MacArthur's play The Front Page and its movie adaptations. Not too surprisingly, this episode marks the return of Gazette reporter Frank Flannigan, boisterous and excessively pleased with himself. And it's also arguably the first locked room mystery on Ellery Queen. If the murder of a man on an elevator no one else could ride doesn't seem impossible, what crime does?
Another thing to note about this one is the way it's rooted in the show's period setting. The pilot movie and most of The Adventure of Auld Lang Syne The rest of Ellery Queen's first and only season take place in 1947. The Cold War is in its very early stages here. But not so early that suspected communists and subversives aren't already being blacklisted and otherwise abused. The Red Scare makes an appearance here in the form of a lawsuit being brought against the paper by an unseen luminary whom one of the star columnists has slimed in its pages. The columnist is played by Pat Harrington, Jr. which means that a week after Howard Cunningham as a shouty sexual harasser, the audience got Schneider as an insufferable redbaiter. Even regular viewers of One Day at a Time - which I wasn't - might have trouble recognizing him, though. As with the racism of the past, with McCarthyism - which admittedly wouldn't be called that yet in 1947 - the creator will want to put their heroes on the right side of history. The Queens are on the right side of history here, but it doesn't seem false because they're so obviously dealing with a fraud.
Speaking of history, 1947 was also not a particularly great time for career women. In fact you would have seen more women working outside the home 2-3 years earlier, due to the fact that so many men were overseas or otherwise relocated by Uncle Sam. Once the war was over, the pressure was on for women to go back to the way it had been. Seen in this context Harriet Quarters's determination to make it as a publisher is quite admirable. Yes, she goes into all-business mode as soon as her brother is murdered, which is what makes her one of the prime suspects. And yes, as a woman of means she has options that a middle class wife might not. Still, compare her to the weepy secretary who didn't see anything because her boyfriend was proposing to her. One's codependent, the other is concentrated.
All-in-all a good story, if not a spectacular one. Something much wilder is just around the corner.