The world recently lost Muhammad Ali, a man much of the country feared when he was at the height of his powers and on his way to prison for refusal of the draft. This may have been the knockdown of his lifetime, but he rose again, and it's often forgotten that he wasn't universally beloved back then. He was, however, undeniably significant. A picture I've only seen once or twice, but which has stayed with me, shows my grandmother's younger brother, who did some sports reporting in England, speaking agog to the champ.
While survivors from this episode's time period - 1947 - undoubtedly think we've gotten softer since then, and are in many senses right, boxing and related bloodsports have remained big. And it's been a favorite background in crime fiction and film as well, often in the context of fixing. Marvel's noir superhero Daredevil - he of the unloved Ben Affleck movie and subsequent Netflix series - was created a half century ago with part of the premise being that Matt Murdock's father had been murdered for refusing to throw a fight. Thirty years after his debut came Pulp Fiction, the middle section of which was a classic boxer on the run story with some weird twists. A few years back there was a short-lived cable show (which I haven't seen) called Lights Out, about a punch drunk pug working as a hit man.
Whether in print or on film/video, pugilism as a subject gravitates more toward the tough guy side of the mystery genre: hard boiled detectives, grim police procedurals, gangster sagas. So it's interesting to put Ellery Queen in the middle of a boxing story. Ellery Queen was created in the 20's as an arrogant know it all dandy, in part a parody of SS Van Dine's Philo Vance. (It's likely that the Queen surname was a joke on Vance's perceived gayness.) In later books he became a somewhat more modest urbane intellectual. As portrayed by Jim Hutton he's an absentminded boy-next-door, but the intellectualism isn't far below the surface. So he's not the kind of detective you expect to see in this story.
What is this story? Kid Hogan (real life boxer Jerry Quarry) is sparring in the gym in front of the press and - yes, Virginia - at least one mobster. To the surprise of almost everyone he really gets into it with his sparring partner. The sparring partner hits him back a few times and he falls over, soon to be declared dead. The sparring partner bolts. It should be noted that while the hard-driving reporter character can be annoying, he goads the initial fight so his presence is justified from a plot viewpoint.
It can also be noted that the sparring partner, Joe Adams (Simpson) is a black man. He's played by Otis Young, probably best known as the MP in The Last Detail who wasn't Jack Nicholson. Now it would probably be a little misleading to say that this episode "tackles the subject of race" and might also make it sound kind of excruciating. But it is different in that there's a suspect, a prime suspect who's almost certainly innocent but for whom things look bad a couple of times, who comes from a distinct community. Another mystery technically had an African-American suspect, but as he had no motive and was the victim's paid security he couldn't be taken seriously as one. Now this show isn't going to be a stinging exposé of post-WW2 police racism - again, the good guys have to remain good - but it does make you sympathize with why an innocent man might go on the run because he doesn't think he'll be treated fairly.
This mystery takes an interesting, roundabout way to becoming one of Ellery's cases. When Kid Hogan first dies, Inspector Queen takes the call from the police station. He invites his son to go along, but Ellery's head is so lost in authorial clouds that he doesn't even process the news. It's only later that he gets involved. He does so because Joe Adams goes running to his girlfriend, whose friend Ellery helped before. So this time it's not just curiosity that brings him into the case, nor filial devotion, although he certainly is devoted to his father. No, this time out it's his kindness and decency. Someone needs his help, and he wants to help.
What kind of man was the victim? Well, besides having anachronistic hair - the kind of short but feathered 'do favored by 70's jocks like Jimmy Connors and not-yet-Caitlyn Jenner - he seems to have been something of a prick. We don't get all that much of it during the short time we see him, other than his jeering as he starts the unprovoked seeming ambush of Joe, but it comes out in dribs and drabs. There's something revealed at about the halfway point that pretty much told me who the murderer was, although I had only figured out the motive.
One thing you might not guess from this lengthy description is how funny this episode is. David Wayne has many humorous moments and the Insp. Wayne/Ellery team is in fine form. Ellery also has a comical sit-down with a high-ranking mobster who's basically a well-armed Santa. Then there's Ellery's regular "challenge to the viewer" breaking of the fourth wall. Most episodes show him doing this when he's otherwise alone. This time he's in the kitchen in full view of has father, and you can almost hear the Inspector say "Who the hell are you talking to, son?" I'm not 100% sure if the humor is intentional, but it's appreciated all the same.