Oh, wait, that’s right — they were bodyguards for the leader of a boy band in the last book I read, Mystery with a Dangerous Beat. In Reel Thrills, Frank and Joe are thrown into the glamorous world of B movies. (Chet’s impressed, at least.) When someone blows up movie producer Mort Tannenberg’s yacht at the Bayport Marina, Tannenberg consults Fenton Hardy. Fenton says he met Mort at a party, although I’m not sure what kind of party both a producer of schlock movies and the world’s most famous private detective would both be attending. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised: if reading Hardy Boys books have taught me nothing else, it’s that Fenton knows everyone. I mean, Dangerous Beat started because Fenton went to college with a prominent manager for musical acts.
Fenton, of course, immediately fobs the case onto his sons and Chet. He’s too busy for the King of B Movies because he and Laura are leaving for Paris. Ooh la la! When Mort meets with the boys, he reveals that not only did his yacht go boom, but props left on the dock indicated the explosion was supposed to mimic the shock ending to one of Mort’s not-yet-released films. This leads the boys to surmise that the villain was working on the film, which, maybe not, but if we assume someone else got ahold of the script, Frank and Joe’s suspect pool would be so large it would drown them.
Since twist endings are Mort’s trademark, he feels extra threatened. He sends Joe to his company offices in New York to snoop around as a gofer, while Frank begins work as a P.A. on Total Annihilation, Mort’s newest film. I was shocked — shocked! — when accidents started happening on set. When has that ever occurred in a Hardy Boys story? (Every time. Yes, I know.) As part of the on-set menace, the author uses the oldest cliché: a sandbag that nearly falls on Lisa’s head. (A sandbag! For Gertrude’s sake, how hackneyed can you get?)
(Also: I mentioned in Dangerous Beat that crawling through office ductwork was the only movie cliché as old as the “tampering with the brakeline” bit. In Reel Thrills, Joe has to escape from a locked room by crawling through the ductwork.)
Frank finds it interesting that if Lisa were injured, the movie would have to stop filming. This line of thinking gets him so worked up that when he sees Lisa grappling with a man, he rushes forward to help, only to get an elbow in the chest from Lisa, who’s just rehearsing.
That night, Mort throws a party, and he has the Hardy boys work as waiters as “free labor.” This is a bit confusing; is Mort not paying anyone for having Frank and Joe do detective work? If so, that’s a sweet deal! If not, he’s not getting free labor. He’s probably getting incredibly expensive labor. At the party, Mort gets gaslighted by someone, with his dead wife showing up and replicating the end to another of Mort’s films before disappearing. Frank and Joe (presumably) get grass stains on their tuxes jumping twelve feet out a window to pursue her.
A few days later, someone sneaks into Mort’s home, breaking into his safe in imitation of the ending of Mort’s unreleased Blood in the Streets. How did the thief guess Mort’s security code? Because he uses the same code that was used in Blood in the Streets. (This is not quite as dumb as President Skroob’s luggage combination. But it’s close.) The break-in worries Mort so much he eventually agrees to Frank and Joe’s suggestion to hire Chet as a house sitter. Mort also asks Frank and Joe to stake out the location where he plans to shoot the most important scene in Total Annihilation … and Frank and Joe head back home after giving the auditorium a cursory glance. Good work, boys!
Suspect pool time!
- Mort himself. Frank and Joe think he might be trying to pull an insurance scam and attempting to hide it by hiring the Hardys to cover up his own complicity, but since the crimes revolve around things he would like to keep secret, Frank and Joe have to rule him out.
- Cindy “Poison Pen” Langly: Mort fired her as a writer for revealing “trade secrets,” and now she writes stories that defame him for a trashy tabloid. She even accuses him of destroying his own yacht — for publicity purposes — in print. On the other hand, Langly thinks Mort is hoping for “BIG BOX OFFICE BUCKS,” which is absurd. It’s a B-movie: a large gross at the ticket office is a longshot. He’ll probably get more money from video and cable TV rights.
- Danny DiNuccio: He has no real motive, but he’s Joe’s boss, he acts mean toward Joe, and he’s does vaguely suspicious stuff. That’s enough for Frank and Joe Hardy! He’s also miffed he suggested the twist ending to Blood in the Streets but received no credit for it.
- Lisa Summer: A teen star, she is concerned about what Mort’s movies are doing to her career and probably wants out of her contract. (Joe thinks she’s sexy when she’s sad, which is a little creepy.) She’s probably not wrong; in Blood in the Streets, her role is “a ruthless ninja safecracker expert named Raven Blue.” I’m not sure if she’s an expert on cracking safes, an expert on safecrackers, or an expert on ninja safecrackers — if it’s the latter, Raven certainly has the field to herself.
- Peter Rizer: The assistant director of Total Annihilation. He’s mostly incompetent at overseeing things on set — lights go out, ammonia is placed in the fog machine ... You know, the usual stuff. Rizer is more important because he dates the author, who was most likely was a young lad (or she was a young lass) while Reiser played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1940-2, 1946-8).
(Also dating the book: Frank’s confrontation, during broad daylight, with three muggers in a New York City parking garage. Ah, pre-Giuliani New York, how we miss thee.)
As it turns out, Langly and DiNuccio are innocent of wrongdoing, unless you count DiNuccio being Langly’s inside source as a crime. (I wouldn’t, although I sometimes admit my legal compass does not match up with the Hardys’.) Rizer is, as I mentioned, merely incompetent. Summer and her trainer are behind the worst of the on-set accidents in an attempt to get Lisa out of her contract. (She wants to exercise a safety clause, but after Frank and Joe confront her, she realizes she’s stuck with Mort.)
The real culprit of the crimes that imitate Mort’s films is Sid Renfield, Mort’s executive producer who got kicked upstairs after directing Mort’s movies for years. Evidently he doesn’t discuss this slight with Mort, because he and the Hardys are shocked when they discover who is behind the plot.
Despite not doing any real investigating, Frank and Joe seem like a big enough threat that Renfield tries to murder them with a Jeep before launching his coup de grace against Mort. But the Hardys are — barely — ahead of him, having figured out how he planned to kill Mort. Joe remove the detonator that would destroy Mort’s brakes (*sigh*) and puts sand in Renfield’s gas tank, forcing Renfield to accept a ride from Mort or admit what he’s done.
Renfield incriminates himself, and Frank and Joe are victorious again. I’d actually declare this a clear win for Frank and Joe, unlike Mystery with a Dangerous Beat; nothing was really destroyed, no one (except Joe, who suffers a vicious concussion when a flat from a set drops on him) is really injured, and the plan to get the villain to incriminate himself is actually kinda clever. Nice job, Frank and Joe (and Franklin W. Dixon)!
But my goodness, lay off some of the clichés next time, OK?