We begin with a closeup of a classic rotary dial telephone in a familiar study. Very familiar, at least, if you've been watching this series. A hand lifts the receiver, and the man attached to that hand speaks into it. This is the first sign that something is off. Although the tweed coat and Bear Bryant hat match those of our hero, the hair under the hat is blond. Furthermore the man voice and manner are all wrong. His tongue is too thick for the words he speaks. The a woman shoots him in the back and he falls. Another not-quite-familiar figure cuffs her and he rises again. A director yells "Cut!"
Sending characters in a TV show to Hollywood when they usually function somewhere else is a classing jump-the-shark sign, right up there with sending them to Hawaii.Probably worse, though, because a Tinseltown show is more likely to result in a self-congratulating "as himself" cameo from a guest star who owed someone a favor.
The strained cameo doesn't happen, perhaps because the show is cast about 29 years in the past from shooting time and no one would look the same. Well, no one except for Guy Lombardo. And it's not a jump-the-shark episode. Sending Ellery and the Inspector away to sunny Southern Cal does take a couple of assets away. For one thing there's no Velie, although Inspector Richard Queen does make a runner out of mistaking an LA detective named Harris for Velie. And the stakes aren't as high. Ellery and Richard Queen don't have to solve this case in order for the latter to prove his worth in his job. They could in theory get on the plane back home and leave the murder of a rather unpleasant man as someone else's problem. Still, it's interesting in a number of respects.
One more note on the setting before we get to plot, theme, character, and oral hygiene. The producers didn't have need to make any special effort to set an episode in Hollywood, because this was where they'd been shooting all along. This leads to some visual dissonance when a scene takes place both outdoors and in the daytime, because it's always dry and sunny. I can't say for sure, but I think it's because the show was being filmed in the "Ford to City: Drop Dead" era. The location of movies like Marathon Man, The Taking of Pelham, One, Two, Three, and of course Taxi Driver. For most Americans New York City was what urban decay looked like. If it was less deadly than its reputation and more interesting than today's gentrified and branded metropolis, you still couldn't really sell it as the Big Apple of old.
So what happens in this one? Ellery has sold a book to the studios. A kind of rinky-dink studio, we're told, although maybe the circus picture shooting the next lot over will turn things around for them. Ellery's been flown out to do help with publicity, basically working as a living prop. The Inspector, apparently with some vacation time accrued, accompanies him. They meet the actor playing "Ellery Queen" in the movie, Gil Mallory, and not too surprisingly he's a massive jerk. He pointedly declines to shake the real Ellery's hand, appropriates movie-Richard Queens lines for himself, and demands that everyone onset up to the director cater to his every whim. You just don't do that to Vincent Price.
In a reshoot of the scene where he's supposed to fake his own death in exposing a murderess, the prop gun fires real bullets and the fake Ellery Queen really is really killed. (God help any TV station that showed this episode in syndication around the time Brandon Lee died.) It subsequently turns out that he was supposed to be wearing a bulletproof vest, but refused it because it made him look fat. He's undone by his vanity in multiple ways.
Ellery's a writer of fiction who writes a hero with his own name, but it's never entirely clear that this is actually supposed to be him. The filmmakers have clearly decided that it is, though, flying to New York to measure all the furniture in his office, causing some surreal double takes when he walks around the office set as a guest. But Mallory was miscast in the part, as even his oft-cuckolded widow is quick to admit. Within the context of the show the movie whose production is halted repeatedly is a copy of the "real" thing, a copy that doesn't come off.
Richard Queen isn't happy about the actor playing him, either, calling him a "sawed-off old geezer." This is rather comical since Noah Beery, Jr. (Rocky from The Rockford Files) actually appears to be a few inches taller than David Wayne. You have to feel for him, as he's trying so hard an getting so little respect.
Jim Hutton hums along nicely here. He's got a couple of fine moments. One's his moment of "eureka" in which he figures it all out. As the scene is shot he looks like he was staring at the opposite wall and suddenly noticed the viewer. A scene later he gets a chance to bluff the murderer into confessing, something he turns out to be quite good at.