Warner's Nancy Drew Series
Nancy Drew -- Detective (June 18/07)
Were it not for star Bonita Granville's ingratiating, thoroughly engaging turn as the title character, Nancy Drew -- Detective would surely not come off nearly as well as it ultimately does (the case at the film's core is simply not all that interesting). The story kicks off with the disappearance of a wealthy socialite just hours before she was to make a sizable donation to her former alma mater, which also just happens to be Nancy's current institute of learning. Along with trusty sidekick Ted Nickerson (Frankie Thomas), Nancy sets out to prove that said socialite was, in fact, kidnapped. It's a slight premise that benefits from Granville's sassy performance; her palpable chemistry with Thomas' Ned results in the sort of natural back-and-forth banter that one generally associates with the era, though some of the dialogue is perhaps a little too of-it's-time (ie "that'd chap a monk!") The brisk running time ensures that the movie never quite overstays its welcome, and it's certainly not difficult to see why Granville was asked to reprise the role three more times.
Nancy Drew... Reporter
In Nancy Drew... Reporter, Bonita Granville reprises her star-making role of the title character - in a mystery that follows the teen detective as she attempts to clear the name of a woman charged with murder. The film kicks off with Nancy and a few schoolmates taking a tour of a local newsroom, where - as expected - she surreptitiously snatches up a real story (the aforementioned murder) and takes it upon herself to find out the truth (along with the help of her long-suffering neighbor, Frankie Thomas' Ted Nickerson). Nancy Drew... Reporter comes off as an effective entry within the four-movie series, with - once again - the palpable chemistry between Nancy and Ted playing a substantial role in the film's success. Kenneth Gamet's screenplay doesn't possess a whole lot in the way of surprises, although there's admittedly a certain amount of cleverness within Nancy's method for tracking down various clues. And while the movie does start to fizzle out towards the end (there's even a musical number!), Nancy Drew... Reporter is generally as breezy and amiable a piece of work as one might've expected.
Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter
With its emphasis on meandering storylines and slapstick comedy, Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter is surely the most uneven of the teenaged sleuth's four Warner Bros. adventures - yet the inclusion of several overtly positive attributes ensures that fans of the series will undoubtedly find something here worth embracing. This time around, Bonita Granville's Nancy Drew finds herself caught up in a conspiracy to frame a family friend for murder. Nancy, along with faithful sidekick Ted Nickerson (Frankie Thomas), must solve the case before said friend takes the fall for a crime he didn't commit - with the interference of the real killer hardly proving a deterrence to the scrappy would-be detective. Granville's effortlessly charismatic turn as the title character continues to be the highlight of these movies, as few other elements within the series hold up quite as well all these years later (Thomas' work as Nancy's increasingly exasperated right-hand man is just as effective, admittedly). The film's brisk running time of 69 minutes has been padded out with a number of superfluous sequences and supporting characters - ie Nancy clumsily attempts to prepare dinner, a black servant steals a chicken and cooks it, etc - and it's consequently difficult to overlook the sense of needlessness that's been hard-wired into certain portions of the proceedings. That being said, Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter ultimately manages to win one over due to the fairly interesting mystery at its core (as well as the inclusion of a few genuinely thrilling sequences, including one in which Ted rushes into a burning building in an effort to salvage important evidence).
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
The Nancy Drew series comes to an anti-climactic close with this utterly ineffectual entry, in which Nancy (Bonita Granville) and loyal sidekick Ted (Frankie Thomas) surreptitiously investigate the murderous goings-on at a creepy old mansion. While Granville's work as the title character is as engaging and charismatic as ever, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase boasts a lightweight mystery that is - at its core - simply not all that interesting. The inclusion of a few effective sequences - ie Nancy and Ted find themselves trapped within an increasingly watery tunnel - generally ensures that the film never quite sinks into complete mediocrity, though there's just no overlooking the feeling that the series has completely run out of steam. And while this is actually the shortest installment of the four - the movie runs exactly an hour - Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase moves at a lethargic pace that's exacerbated by the presence of several downright irrelevant asides within Kenneth Gamet's screenplay. The end result is an effort that primarily comes off as superfluous and needless, with the top-notch performances the only element within the film successfully able to hold the viewer's interest (albeit in short-lived spurts).