For the third-to-last episode of Ellery Queen the crew tries something different in a couple of ways. First of all this is in large part a mob story. It's not just that the victim of the week and some of the suspects are gangsters. The episode has the fast pace and high testosterone level that gangster movies have boasted since they broke through in the early talkie era. The characteristic violent action is there too. We get to see a bombing and a police shootout, both of them involving hit man Jay Bonner, played by legendary character actor Timothy Carey (pictured above.) So even though the actual murder is a classic locked room mystery, it's really more of a pulpy thing, not the kind of drawing room affair you might associate with Ellery Queen.
Then again it's not so much Ellery's case, which is the other big difference. This is very much an entry in "The Adventures of Richard Queen." The Inspector, Ellery's dad, is the one who gets pulled in first, and he's also the one who solves the murder. Both father and son have figured it out by the summation, but the Inspector gets there first by a few seconds and he exposes the killer. That said, Ellery does some valuable deduction and Jim Hutton gets good scenes of Ellery angrily defending his father as they both stick up for Velie.
The victim this week is one Ralph Caesar, one of the lieutenants in the New York rackets. While Julius Caesar is one of the towering figures in Roman history, and while the name has a certain resonance with fictional mobsters thanks to the Edward G. Robinson movie Little Caesar, this Caesar is strictly a number two man, a high-ranking employee but not the leader, which might be why he can live a double life as a boring picket fence husband.
Caesar is sufficiently important, though, to be a star witness and political asset for prosecutor Irwin Murphy. The unbearable Murphy is a publicity hound using prosecutions of gangsters and crooked cops to set himself up for elected office, an activity that might have been common at one time
but luckily never happens anymore. Bonner tosses a bomb into Caesar's window, but the murder attempt fails. It's reported as a success, though, and under cover of darkness Richard Queen is assigned to guard the criminal-turned-witness.
The key thing about Murphy's ambition is that it motivates him to lean on the same police he accuses of corruption. (To be fair, there were and are corrupt police, and probably are in the show's fictional universe as well. It's just that he's barking up the wrong tree.) Richard Queen's standing and job, therefore, are put at risk. That gives the story some stakes. If your hero is a high-ranking policeman, it's a good idea for narrative purposes to give him a more powerful antagonist, someone who can threaten his job if not his life.
When sentry duty goes wrong, as it must, both of the men who the Inspector chose to help him guard Caesar fall under suspicion. The first of these is Sergeant Velie, due to his brother-in-law owning the restaurant where the top mob boss - a man of perverse charm - frequents. We know he can't be the killer, because once again this isn't that kind of show, but it makes for good drama. The second suspect is Detective Jim Millay, whose offer of gum to Caesar begins to look suspicious when Caesar dies from poison despite not having eaten or drunk anything since he got to the hotel. Millay is played by Kevin Tighe, and if you know him as Locke's scumbag father on Lost it's easy to believe he'd be less than ethical. Millay defends himsef convincingly, though.
I actually figured out the solution to this one on a previous viewing. I don't know how clever this makes me. As it happens Ellery kind of spoilers it in his address to the audience when he talks about Shakespeare, but that isn't what tipped me off. Suffice it to say that while much of the episode takes place in the field of gangster action flick and straight police procedural, the solution does have the distinctness of classic mystery.
Aside from showing the typing of Ellery's manuscripts in close-up and showcasing his magnificent sweater collection, this is an entertaining spotlight on his father, who after all seems to have been his first hero.