Saturday, August 9, 2014

Motherhunt (Nero Wolfe Mystery TV series)


It has taken me a while to write up a book to movie post on Motherhunt for many reasons. I love the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout and The Mother Hunt is one of my favorite books in the series. I enjoyed every episode in the Nero Wolfe Mystery series shown on A&E in 2000-2001. Thus it is hard for me to step away from the experience of watching them and evaluate them.

The Nero Wolfe series was written between 1934 and 1976 and each book was set in the time that the book was written. The characters did not age over the time the series was written. Each of the episodes of the Nero Wolfe Mystery series is set in the 1950's, so some of the adaptations in this series may be a bit different from the book just because of the time setting. In the case of The Mother Hunt, this probably makes no difference, since the year of publication was 1963. I have given an overview of the Nero Wolfe mysteries in book format and the TV series in this post, so I won't repeat all of that here.

It may be that this series would be most enjoyed by those who already are familiar with the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Each episode emphasizes the quirks of Wolfe's household, especially the adaptations of the full-length books. The orchids that Wolfe spends many of his waking hours tending, Fritz's cooking and Wolfe's obsession with food, Wolfe's reluctance to leave the house or, for that matter, to even work on a case.

In The Mother Hunt, Wolfe's client is Lucy Valdon. She has been caring, temporarily, for a baby that has been left in her vestibule. She has approached Wolfe to find the identity of the mother and determine if her husband was the father of the child. The hunt for the mother starts a series of events leading to a murder that Wolfe must solve.

For some reason, The Mother Hunt was given the title Motherhunt in the TV series. This adaptation was shown as two parts on TV, but is combined into one long episode on DVD. I had missed watching it the first time we viewed the episodes on DVD because the disc it was on was damaged. After reading the book in June, we rented the disc from Netflix and watched the episode. It was a faithful adaptation, although I felt that Penelope Ann Miller played the Lucy Valdon part a bit frothier than she was in the book. I will note that my husband (who has not read the books) liked her in the role. She was very appealing, and the overall mood of the adaptation was appropriate.

Here is a good example of how the TV series picks up some of the quirky behavior of the novels. This is a quote from the book:
"Do you like eggs?"
She laughed. She looked at me, so I laughed too.
Wolfe scowled. "Confound it, are eggs comical? Do you know how to scramble eggs, Mrs. Valdon?"
"Yes, of course."
"To use Mr. Goodwin's favorite locution, one will get you ten that you don't. I'll scramble eggs for your breakfast and we'll see. Tell me forty minutes before you're ready."
Her eyes widened. "Forty minutes?"
"Yes. I knew you didn't know."
The TV adaptation includes this scene where Wolfe cooks breakfast for Lucy and Archie and shows her how eggs should be scrambled. Maybe boring to some, but absolutely enchanting to me.  (I actually learned how to cook scrambled eggs this way in a Home Economics class in elementary school and they are delicious.)

In addition to Penelope Ann Miller, there were other roles I enjoyed. Of course, Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie are wonderful. Chaykin may overplay his role a bit, but Wolfe is larger than life and he puts that over well. Bill Smitrovich plays the recurring role of Inspector Cramer. Saul Rubinek, one of my favorite actors, plays Lon Cohen (a newspaperman) in this episode and others. Griffin Dunne and Carrie Fisher play smaller but crucial roles.

This movie review is submitted for the 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.

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Motherhunt (2002), A&E Network
Cast: Maury Chaykin, Timothy Hutton, Bill Smitrovich, Colin Fox, Saul Rubinek
Director:  (as Alan Smithee)
Adapted by:  

22 comments:

  1. I loved this TV series. I don't remember Motherhunt in particular, as I watched all of the episodes over a weekend.

    Now that you bring it up, I think I have to rewatch all of the episodes again. I loved Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton as the sarcastic, witty, indispensable womanizer, Archie Goodwin.

    I agree that fans of Wolfe/Goodwin will enjoy the series more than those who haven't read any of the books. A friend tried to watch them but got frustrated and gave up. The characters had no meaning for her and she didn't get Wolfe's personality quirks, etc.

    I do recommend this TV series to Wolfe fans. Just organize good snacks, free up your weekend and turn it on. (Only four more weeks until Labor Day, so I urge folks in the U.S. to do it now as once you turn on the dvd's, you won't want to stop until you've seen all episodes.)

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    1. We agree on this series, Kathy, it is very entertaining. Lately I have rewatched episodes after I reread the books, and I see how close the books and the adaptations match. I love all the group that Wolfe and Archie work with too; the private investigators, and Fritz the cook.

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  2. TracyK: I enjoyed watching the series. I thought Chaykin was an excellent Wolfe. I have never seen the shows with William Conrad as Wolfe. Conrad certainly had a Wolfian physique.

    I must admit one of the reasons I liked the series is that Kari Matchett who played Lily Rowan was born 60 km. from where I live.

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    1. Bill, I saw the William Conrad / Lee Horsley when it aired on television initially. I can't remember how good it was or how it compared to this latest version, but I enjoyed it.

      I like Kari Matchett a lot. This series was where I first saw her, then later in Leverage and have watched some episodes of Invasion. She played Susan Macleod in the episode of Murder is Corny on the same disc as Motherhunt , and she was gorgeous.

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  3. Tracy - I liked this series very much. In fact I think Chaykin is the Wolfe I like best. And there's something about the interactions between him and Timothy Hutton that really seems Stout-authentic if I can put it that way. So glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. Margot, it is a very good series and I do like the interplay of Hutton and Chaykin as Goodwin and Wolfe in the series.

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  4. I haven't seen any of these adaptations, but what I really want to know is the method of making scrambled eggs....?

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    1. The way I learned, and I believe the method Wolfe uses, is cooking them in a double boiler, very slowly, probably stirring almost all the time. My mother used to make very soft scrambled eggs, and that is the way I like them; you have to do it slow, but it doesn't require a double boiler and doesn't take 30-40 minutes. The LA times has had articles over the years about slow scrambled eggs where they just used a regular skillet and low heat and lots of stirring and say it takes 15-25 minutes. (I hope you really did want to know.)

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    2. Yes I did want to know, so thank you. Don't think I'll be changing my normal method any time soon.

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    3. Moira, I never take that time now either, and it doesn't make that much difference. And no one in my household would appreciate it anyway. I still like my scrambled eggs "soft" but can get the effect I want pretty quickly. But I love Wolfe's picky ways about food.

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  5. I can remember making soft scrambled eggs on a very low flame and stirring a lot.

    However, I prefer well-done scrambled eggs and with vegetables stirred in.

    That's an interesting things to wonder, but one can get good cooking tips from Fritz and Wolfe. I have always laughed at the moments when Wolfe yells at Fritz because he used 3 juniper berries in a dish, rather than 4. Or when he skips using a condiment because he is out of stock -- and then Wolfe has a conniption.

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    1. Yes, Kathy, Wolfe's finickiness with food is entertaining, and it comes over even better in the TV show.

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  6. I don't think I'll be extending myself to track down this series, like others have said it probably has an attraction if you already have a familiarity with the books and characters, something I'm lacking. I will try and get to my one book soon-ish!

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    1. Col, I do hope you like the Rex Stout book when you try it. None of them are very long.

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  7. Have loved Timothy Hutton since ORDINARY PEOPLE. And his Dad before him.

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    1. I agree, Patti, I like the old Ellery Queen TV show episodes mainly because of Jim Hutton. I never saw ORDINARY PEOPLE, I should watch it.

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  8. Great stuff TracyK - in fact I was just watching an episode last week for a review of PRISONER'S BASE - This episode from The Mother Hunt is fromt he second season, which I liked a little less than the first, but it was a great show.

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    1. Great, Sergio, I am glad someone else is reviewing these. I plan to watch a lot more of them over the next couple of years, as I read some of the books and novellas they were adapted from.

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  9. Nicely reviewed, Tracy. Apart from the poster which looks familiar, I don't know anything about this series. It has never come to my part of the world, at least I don't think so. Well, I can always read the Nero Wolfe novels which I still haven't got around to.

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    1. Thanks, Prashant. I never can think of much new to say about this series but I love it. I have used that DVD cover poster before.

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  10. Just saw this on Brash Books - might be of interest, http://mysterythrillerbooks.com/writing-nero-wolfe-tv-flumm/

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    1. Thank you so much, Col. I haven't read every word of it (I'm at work), but I can tell from the first couple of sections that it will be very interesting and useful.

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