Airing for only one 26-episode season from late 1973 into early ’74, Orson Welles’ little-known Great Mysteries series certainly failed to achieve the same success of Alfred Hitchcock’s shows that Welles was clearly trying to imitate. With the Citizen Kane star’s appearances confined to just the introductions of each standalone mystery, the series was packed with guest appearances from stars including Michael Gambon, Dean Stockwell, Joss Ackland and many more.
This second and final volume from Network sees the remaining 13 episodes of Great Mysteries finally released on DVD, following last year’s first volume. Featuring classic tales from beloved writers including Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham, there are some truly chilling episodes in this release that will make you wonder why the series isn’t as celebrated as other anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and Hitchock’s aforementioned television projects. While its recognisable theme tune from the great John Barry has certainly earned something of a celebrated status among TV historians, the series itself has now rather faded into oblivion.
But if there is one thing Great Mysteries certainly wasn’t, it’s inconsistent. For each good episode, there was a clunker. And boy, do the lesser episodes make it especially bizarre that someone as immensely talented as Welles would ever put his name to it – even if his involvement was limited. Unfortunately, this volume does make it very clear why some of these episodes were not used on the first volume – giving this release something of a “sloppy leftovers” feel. Episodes like The Power of Fear and When There’s A Will are among the series’ worst, and both included here.
And yet, the overall feeling is that of television comfort food, in the same vein as something like Columbo – sure, it’s dated, but it harks back to a glorious era of film and television where the acting was hammy and the production values were often pants, yet it didn’t matter because it was just so damn charming. Still, it’s hard to get too excited when there are over 300 episodes of Hitchcock’s shows out there for mystery fans to sink their teeth into.
Orson Welles Great Mysteries: Volume Two will certainly delight completists and Welles superfans, but there’s nothing here that wasn’t done a hundred times better by Alfred Hitchock.