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Children's Filmfest Hamburg - Who are Die Drei?
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Ever since my son turned seven, we have not been without the CDs and cassettes of the Die Drei ??? . While driving, the car’s CD player is automatically set into motion and we listen to the investigations of Justus Jonas, Bob Andrews and Peter Shaw. The interesting detective stories are spoken in a German even I can understand. It was a long time before I realized that they were never German, but American. The setting is in Rocky Beach, California, and Alfred Hitchcock’s profile is on every cover. The Three Investigator series are comparable to those formula books of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries but are written on a more intricate and interesting level.

I soon discovered that Robert Arthur, Jr., and not Hitchcock, was the author. Arthur had the brilliant idea to use a famous name to help present and promote his books, which was possible through his connection to Alfred Hitchcock while he was living in Hollywood. After Alfred Hitchcock’s death in 1980 the series had to change its title which made them less popular. In fact they simply vanished in the U.S., even from local flea markets, but remained much loved here in Germany.

There were thirty years of confusion about the work of Robert Feder Arthur which was often contributed to Ray Bradbury and Robert Feder, a movie producer in Hollywood. Arthur had a radio show in New York called The Mysterious Traveler and wrote pulp for magazines in the 1930s. My father remembers hearing that very popular radio show as a child. Later Arthur moved to Hollywood and wrote for the television series The Twilight Zone. In the 1960s he began the series of The Three Investigators.

A business card bearing the three question marks plays an important role. Each episode always begins with a mystery where one of the three investigators, upon suspecting a potential mystery or crime to solve, hands out a business card to the client. The question mark symbolizes the unknown and identifies these three as private eyes who are respected by the police department. The original series of 43 books appeared in 1964 to 1987. In 1968 the books went international and became more popular in Germany than in the U.S. In fact Random House only started to reissue them in a US collection in 1998.

So who are these investigators? 

Jupiter Jones 1st detective alias Justus Jonas (German Counterpart)
Peter Crenshaw 2nd Detective alias Peter Shaw (G.C.)
Bob Andrews Records and Research

Beside the business-card trademark, the boys had a wonderful detective agency headquarters hidden away in a junkyard. They were 13 to 15 years old, a little younger then their nemesis Skinny Norris who could drive a car. In 1989 R. Harris revamped the series, making them crime busters and older.

It is not surprising that one book should reach the cinemas, but very surprising that it wasn’t filmed much earlier. What is difficult is the challenge of casting the boys to fit the ticket of what many children have already imagined. They need to be bigger than life with the convincing charisma of true heroes. Unfortunately, director Florian Baxmeyer comes up short. Even my son expected Justus to be heavier and more intelligent than the others, while Bob’s character was completely off the mark. He lacked the characteristics of someone in charge of research and archives. The only acceptable character was Peter Shaw who was funny and goofy but very personable.

The film comes across as a younger version of Indian Jones but lacks the intellectual details that the books so well integrate, thus losing the interest of the viewers. The three search the world of South Africa. They enter the townships to be told that they are dangerous, but why? There is no discussion of Apartheid or South African politics and the dangers, even to the native South African girl. After the movie, my son had a million questions. A child who is interested in The Three Investigators also has a curious mind and demands a complete picture. The actors are too young-looking to manage the technical details of the movie. Perhaps the director intends to make more movies from the series and faces the challenge of actors maturing like the Harry Potter characters have done.

Arthur’s stories were often based on actual information about other worlds. For example, his wife, who studied Egyptology, gave him folklore insights for The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy. In The Mystery of the Screaming Clock, he drew on experiences from his radio show where potential actors distributed business cards listing the many voices they could imitate.
See also For other websites, google The Three Investigators plus the author’s name to avoid finding info solely on the movie. Arthur’s daughter, still living, has a website which includes interviews and descriptions of the artists and people involved behind the scenes. For children who are slow to read, this is a great series to get them started.