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Nancy Drew, Detective (1938) is the first of four films based on a popular series of children's books by "Carolyn Keene," the non de plume of several writers, foremost among them Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote most of the first two dozen books. The series began in 1930, and continues to this day. The films, all of which starred Bonita Granville as the teenage sleuth, were released by Warner Bros. in 1938 and 1939. Also appearing in the entire series were Frankie Thomas as Nancy's neighbor and boyfriend, and John Litel as her lawyer father, Carson Drew. All four films were produced by Bryan Foy, then head of the Warner Bros. B-movie unit (he was known as "Keeper of the Bs"), directed by William Clemens, and written by Kenneth Gamet.
In Nancy Drew, Detective, a wealthy elderly eccentric disappears after pledging $250,000 dollars to Nancy's school. Nancy is convinced the woman has been kidnapped, and with the help of her boyfriend Ted Nickerson, Nancy solves the mystery and tracks down the old lady and the kidnappers. Look for silent movie veteran and Laurel and Hardy regular Mae Busch in a small role as a nurse.
Born into a show business family, "Bunny" Granville began acting onstage at the age of three. She made her film debut at age nine in Westward Passage (1932) playing the daughter of Ann Harding and Laurence Olivier, a role she won because of her resemblance to the serenely beautiful blonde Harding. Granville was soon one of the busiest juvenile performers in Hollywood, usually in prestige productions. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of the spoiled, nasty little liar who ruins the careers of her teachers in These Three (1936), the first film version of Lillian Hellman's play, The Children's Hour. Those spoiled-brat roles became something of a specialty for Granville during the 1930s. By the mid-1940s, her career had slowed down, and she was cast as the leading lady in a string of routine films. She retired from the screen after her 1947 marriage to business tycoon and sometime producer Jack Wrather, although she made occasional screen appearances, and appeared frequently in television dramas of the 1950s. Granville also became an associate producer, and later executive producer, of Wrather's most successful television series, Lassie. The Wrathers were part of Ronald Reagan's inner circle, and in the 1980s, Granville served on the boards of the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Center. After her husband's death, she took over as chairman of the board of his vast business empire. Bonita Granville died of cancer in 1988.
Producer Bryan Foy was also a child of show business. His father, Eddie Foy, was a famous vaudevillian, and "Brynie" and his siblings joined the act as "The Seven Little Foys." Brynie even wrote a famous song for the vaudeville duo Gallagher and Shean, "Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Shean." Foy left the stage and began directing films at Fox in 1918. In the mid-1920s, he joined Warner Bros., directing the studio's first all-talking film, Lights of New York (1928). Eventually, he moved into producing. Among his credits is the landmark 3-D film, House of Wax (1953). Director William Clemens was one of Foy's B-unit stalwarts, directing not only all the Nancy Drew films, but also several films in the Falcon and Perry Mason series, as well an occasional Torchy Blane and Philo Vance.
Variety found Nancy Drew, Detective mildly appealing, saying, "Direction is acceptable, since it keeps the action spinning and doesn't let the subtleties impede the story. Miss Granville is forthright and refreshing as the bright-eyed heroine." The film did well enough that it was soon followed in 1939 by Nancy Drew, Reporter, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, and Nancy Drew - Trouble Shooter. After that, there were no more Nancy Drew films for nearly 40 years, though the books remained popular. In 1977, Nancy found new life on television with the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew series, featuring Pamela Sue Martin in the title role; in the late 1990s, the first of a series of Nancy Drew video games was released.
Nancy will soon return to the big screen. A new Nancy Drew movie, set in Hollywood, is in the works, starring Emma Roberts (niece of Julia, daughter of Eric). It is due to open in June 2007.
Director: William Clemens
Producer: Bryan Foy
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet, based on the story, "The Password to Larkspur Lane by Carolyn Keen (Mildred Wirt Benson)
Cinematography: L. William O'Connell
Editor: Frank Magee
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Cast: Bonita Granville (Nancy Drew), John Litel (Carson Drew), James Stephenson (Challon), Frankie Thomas (Ted Nickerson), Frank Orth (Inspector Milligan), Renie Riano (Effie Schneider).
BW-66m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri