So. 1947. As you MAY know, America was just a couple of years past a big war, a war in which one of the main adversaries was Germany. This was the second war with Germany. The first had occurred from 1914-18, with the US only really getting involved in the last year. It was an intense war, though, and Germans in America/German-Americans being stigmatized stateside. This didn't really happen in the second war, though, due to a number of factors: German-Americans had assimilated more, our military leaders had names like "Eisenhower" and "Nimitz", the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor and their descendants not being white made them more of a target, etc.
All of this might sound like a digression, but Germany, the German people, and the war(s) lie at the heart of this episode.
Which does not - God, no! - mean that the mystery has anything to do with the Holocaust. No, that would be a difficult subject for this show to deal with. For one thing the Holocaust is an obvious downer. If the victim in a whodunit had been some kind of Nazi thug it would be hard to get an audience invested in the solving of his murder. (Tonight's victim, though innocuous-seeming on-screen, is bad enough.) Nor is making the culprit a Nazi much of an option. The murderers on Ellery Queen are sturdy citizens who crossed a line somewhere, not foreign assassins. That basically remains the case here.
The setting for this mystery is a popular fictional New York nightclub, one with no dance floor but entertainment and good booze. Basically it would be the Avis to the Stork Club's Hertz. It's a solid choice. Classic mysteries are tied up with wealth. In Britain the background was often tied to aristocracy and the old class system. In America it was more about the workings of capitalism. The ritzy nightclub setting allows the show to deal with money - the other key topic of the episode - and do so with an air of swankiness.
This club is celebrating an anniversary, and as such it's hosting a radio broadcast with special guest Simon Brimmer. Brimmer shows up in a ridiculous tux-and-opera-cloak outfit, ready to have his ass kissed. Inspector Richard Queen shows up with Ellery in tow, looking to keep Brimmer from yapping on an open case, as a previous broadcast of his sent a chief suspect packing. His reasoning is understandable but his quest is still questionable under the Constitution. But he needn't worry. Before Brimmer can get rolling, another murder arises, that of the nightclub's relatively silent partner Nick Kingston. '
Where most of the show's murder's take place off-screen, we see at least the initial action of this one in the episode's very first shot. That's the nice thing about poison, from a storytelling perspective: you can delay the effects until it's actually been consumed.
Brimmer is pretty buffoonish in this episode, but he does have some bright moments. For one thing he's able to flush out a cleaning woman* who claims to be Dutch and not a speaker of German. Played by Swedish actress Signe Hasso in a beautifully effective guest performance, she has connections to the victim running back before the First World War, leading to a deep betrayal. Whether the crime can be laid at her feet or not, she represents a past that can't be wished away.
Roddy McDowall is in this one as well. I used to be convinced that he and Malcolm McDowell must be related, since they have almost the same surname and similar pinched features, but apparently not. Anyway, Roddy has more of a comic relief role here, but it's a doozy and I wouldn't have objected if he had a spin-off. He plays a showman who pretends to be German and goes by "The Amazing Armitage." Yes, "Armitage" is an English name but that doesn't seem to enter into his thinking. There are, by the way, at least four characters in this story going under assumed names, and that's not counting the guy who was adopted. There's a lot to untangle here.
Doing much of the untangling, of course, is Ellery Queen. I've hardly mentioned him as yet, but he anchors the episode. There's a lot of aw-shucksness, of course,and in one scene Jim Hutton goes full Jimmy Stewart. But he also delivers the required intelligence and sensitivity, supporting his father while being his foil when that's what's needed.
* Easy, Rigby.