Nero Wolfe

It's been awhile since my last post. This past week, I have been training a replacement in my (ex) secretarial job. Tomorrow, I begin teaching at our local community college (English Composition). At the end of the week, I will be interviewing to be a substitute at a local high school. And the following week, I begin my second to last semester in my graduate program. Consequently, posts might be more infrequent over the next eight months. Of course, I am about to re-enter the world of academe, so perhaps the posts will increase!

On to the post! One of the great things about Hutton's Nero Wolfe (and I say Hutton since it is clear from watching the commentary and comparing the first movie to the series that Hutton had a HUGE impact on the series' style) is the morality of Nero Wolfe. It takes a bit of getting used to since it seems, on the surface, almost brutal. On one occasion, a woman comes to Nero Wolfe's brownstone. She wants to stay. Nero Wolfe rejects her proposition. He has been offered $10,000 to find her. But since she has come to him of her own accord, he informs her that (1) he will allow her to stay if she pays him an appropriate retainer ($10,000) or (2) he will give her 24 hours to run, and then follow her in order to obtain the $10,000. She decides on (2) and is killed within 3 hours of leaving the brownstone. Wolfe sees no need to investigate; he is not responsible, has no client and is peripherally involved. Archie disagrees, gets himself in trouble, and Wolfe ends up resolving the case on Archie's behalf.

In an age still very much affected by chivalric impulses (not a bad thing), Wolfe's proposition to the soon-to-be-murdered victim seems callous (as it strikes Archie), but the more Nero Wolfe you watch, the more you begin to recognize that this hard self-interest is, nevertheless, intrinsically honorable. In a later episode, Wolfe deliberately withholds evidence, to his own inconvenience, since a woman wanted the evidence withheld, and he feels her (self-interested) choice (which got her killed) should be honored. He will take on clients and then release himself when a conflict of interest arises (in other words, he doesn't develop a liking for his clients and resolve to defend them through thick and thin; the one time he does defend a client through thick and thin--a gardener--he does it because he wants the man to take care of his orchids, which the gardener can't do in jail). He will withhold information from the police that he feels is not their province, yet he will respect a city ordinance not to enter his own study, simply because it is the law. He walks a fine line between deliberately subordinating justice to gain his own ends and satisfying justice to gain his own ends. And he never drifts off the line.

It is, overall, a consistent study of behavior that reflects, from what I have heard, Rex Stout's picture of Wolfe in the books. The television series' plots (which are played over and over by the same characters) are simply a stylish backdrop against which Nero Wolfe and Archie argue over the cases. Chaykin and Hutton pull this off (with more than adequate support from a stellar cast, including the marvelous Colin Fox) through rapid-fire dialog and fascinating reaction shots, but the complexity of Wolfe's integrity is the meat that the audience waits for. Without that underlying gritty hardheadedness, the show would be a more than adequate period piece but nothing more. It is the producers' willingness to keep Wolfe unpretty, unsympathetic and unsentimental that makes the show work. For 2 seasons at least!


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