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A Nero Wolfe Mystery

Nero Wolfe and his dogged assistant Archie Goodwin are a modern day Holmes and Watson, perfectly mismatched and unsurpassed at bringing criminals to justice.

The Doorbell Rang

In The Doorbell Rang, the private detectives take on the FBI at the time when Hoover??s corruption is making waves across the United States. When eccentric millionaire Rachel Bruner arrives at the doorstep of detective Nero Wolfe??s brownstone, she brings an extraordinary offer and an FBI tail. Only after Wolfe takes the case does a bigger mystery??a murder mystery. Curriculum Links

A Nero Wolfe Mystery: The Doorbell Rang is suitable for middle and high school classes in literature, writing, media studies, drama, and American history. National Standards

National Standards for English and Language Arts as developed by the National Council for Teachers in English: Standards 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 12.


Discussion Questions

  1. The movie opens with the camera following a woman, who we later discover is millionaire Rachel Bruner. How does this opening provide visual clues to Mrs. Bruner’s character? What do you know about her before she speaks?
  2. Mrs. Bruner tells Nero Wolfe that she sent ten thousand copies of the book, The FBI Nobody Knows, to important people all over the country. Why did the book impress her so strongly? What opinions did the author express about J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI?
  3. Because of Mrs. Bruner’s book mailing, the FBI has been tailing her and questioning her friends and associates. Now she wants Nero Wolfe to stop the FBI from intruding on her life. What does her choice to hire Wolfe reveal about his reputation as a private detective?
  4. How does Nero Wolfe respond to Mrs. Bruner’s proposal? What does he mean when he says to her, “I can dodge folly without backing into fear”?
  5. After Mrs. Bruner leaves, Nero and Archie have a conversation about whether to take the job. What does this conversation tell you about the nature of their relationship?
  6. Inspector Cramer tells Archie that a man named Morris Althaus was shot through the heart, that no bullet, gun, or sign of struggle were found in his apartment, and that a witness saw three FBI men leaving his apartment building that night. What is Inspector Cramer’s theory about why the FBI was in Morris Althous’s home the night he was murdered?
  7. Nero Wolfe identifies two alternative approaches to solving the murder. Explain these two alternatives. Which alternative does Wolfe plan to follow? Why?
  8. Why does Archie track down Frank Odell? How does Odell implicate Rachel Bruner in the murder?
  9. When Archie confronts Mrs. Bruner about concealing her meeting with Morris Althaus, how successfully does she defend herself? What new piece of information does she give Archie?
  10. When Sarah Dacos meets with Nero Wolfe, she claims that she and Morris Althaus were not intimate. Analyze her behavior in this scene to answer Nero’s question, “does she lie?”
  11. What is the significance of the postcard Archie finds in Althaus’s apartment?
  12. How does Nero Wolfe trap the FBI? Explain his plan, step by step.
  13. Why is it in Wragg’s best interest to give Cramer the bullet? How do the two men compromise?
  14. In the last scene of the movie, a man whom Archie calls “the big fish himself” comes to Nero Wolfe’s house. Who is this man supposed to be? Is this an appropriate ending to the story? Why or why not?
  15. Make a list of all of the clues used in The Doorbell Rang. Put a star next to the most important clue that helps Nero Wolfe finally solve the mystery. Circle the “red herrings,” clues that are designed to mislead readers/viewers by making them suspect the wrong characters. Were you tricked by the “red herrings”?

Extended Activities

  1. Rewrite a scene from The Doorbell Rang, from the point of view of a character other than Archie Goodwin. Choose a few classmates to play the parts and practice your scene. Present your scene to the class and ask them to explain how the change in point of view changed the original scene.
  2. Compare and contrast a scene in the book to the same scene in the movie. Was this scene successfully adapted to the screen? Why or why not? How would you have adapted the scene?
  3. After you have researched J. Edgar Hoover’s role as director of the FBI, write a new ending to The Doorbell Rang. Imagine that Nero Wolfe does answer the door and write a conversation between Nero Wolfe and J. Edgar Hoover.
  4. Write an essay analyzing the relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Focus your essay on one of their conversations.
  5. Research an aspect of 1950s New York City, and create a poster presentation of your topic.