The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

21Sep/110

EP0498: Let George Do It: The Witch of Mill Hollow

Bob Bailey

A small town celebrates the death of an old woman, but George has to find out whether she was murdered or died accidentally in a museum.

Original Air Date: June 5, 1950

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20Sep/110

EP0497: Rogue’s Gallery: The Corpse I Didn’t Kill

Dick Powell

Rogue stops in at an acquaintences house to cool off and take a swim and finds himself a prime suspsect in a murder.

Original Air Date: June 13, 1946

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19Sep/110

EP0496: Barrie Craig: A Very Odd Job

William Gargan

Barrie is hired to deliver a puppet to a showgirl but that's not the end of this odd job.

Original Air Date: January 30, 1952

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18Sep/110

Audio Drama Review: Perry Mason and the Case of the Howling Dog

In the Case of the Howling Dog, a man approaches Perry Mason with two seemingly unrelated requests. First, he has questions about the requirements for drafting a will including whether the will would be valid if he were executed for murder. Then he complains about his neighbor's howling dog which is keeping him up at night.

Mason takes action on the howling dog, contacting the district attorney's office. The neighbor insists there's no problem and that Perry's client is mentally unstable. Then Mason's client disappears with the neighbor's wife and later on, the neighbor himself is found murdered. Mason has to unravel the sordid affairs of the dead man, find the client he's supposed to represent, and unmask the real killer.

The Case of the Howling Dog is the best installment yet of the Colonial Radio Theatre's Perry Mason series. The mystery is incredibly complex and engaging with an amazing amount of twists and turns. At 78 minutes, this is  a fast paced thriller. Also, this is only the second of the four to feature actual courtroom scenes (The other being "The Case of the Sulky Girl.") CRT did a much better job with the courtroom drama than in The Case of the Sulky Girl as the court scenes in The Case of the Howling Dog were more vibrant and engaging. Fans of legal dramas will appreciate Mason's brilliant legal manuvering in the program's climax.

Throughout the episode, as has been the usual case in these shows, Mason walks a thin line ethically. When confronted over this by Paul Drake, he expresses contempt for lawyers who wouldn't skate on thin ice for a client. Certainly, the CRT's Perry Mason series wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if he didn't.'

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars

Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of these programs are only $2.95 each which is a fantastic price for these great productions.

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17Sep/110

Book Review: The Labours of Hercules

When reviewing the list of Agatha Christie stories that had been adapted to television and radio, one work was missing and (for reasons I'll explain later) was unlikely to be adapted,  a short story collection called The Labours of Hercules which was published in 1947. 

So I decided to take a listen to this classic with not one, but twelve great Poirot mysteries as read by Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings from the ITV Series.)

Poirot's quest is begun due to an obnoxious guest who mocks Poirot's name and the amazing fact that Poirot knows little of the Greek classics given that he was named Hercules and his brother Achillies. Egged on by the  professor, Poriot decides to read the classics and is shocked by the lack of morality of the Greek gods and that his namesake was all muscle and no brain.  Right then and there, Poirot vows to give the modern world something that's truly admirable: his own labours of Hercules.  Poirot resolves to take 12 cases and no more with each case corresponding to a labour of Hercules.

What follows is twelve well-crafted and fun thrillers.  Christie works elements of the Greek classics in a charming but unobtrusive way. One of the most amusing was in "The Apples of Hesperides." In the original tale, Hercules received the help of Atlas, in Poirot's version, he received the help of Atlas-Harry Atlas, a local gambler. "The Capture of Cerberus" in Hercules' story featured Hercules going to the underworld, in Poirot's version, he goes to a Hell-themed nightclub.

My favoritie stories in the collection were:

  • The Erymanthian Boar-Poirot is retained by the Swiss to find a killer in a Swiss hotel which has an unusually high number of occupants for that time of year.
  • The Horses of Diomedes: At the request of a doctor friend, Poirot looks into the distribution of Heroin that is apparently corrupting the daughters of an Indian Army veteran. A very solid and early story on the drug trade.
  • The Arcadian Deer: This story finds the great Hercules Poirot undertaking a commission for a garage mechanic to find a lost love: a very beautiful and sweet story.
  • The Apples of Hesperides: Poirot undertakes to find a golden goblet that was stolen from a rich man before he could take possession after winning at the auction. Some great twists including the character of Harry Atlas.
  • The Capture of Cerebus:  The last and probably best story in the collection, as Poirot renews an old acquaintence with a supposedly reform female jewel thief who is running a nightclub called Hell. But the police suspect the den (in addition to being somewhat tacky) is also the center of the drug trade.

I could go on. There were so many great stories to love in this book. The character of Miss Carnaby, who appears in two stories, is a real treat.

All the stories were enjoyable in their own way, but if I had to pick two lesser ones, I'd choose "The Augean Stables" and "The Stymphalean Birds."

Poirot's analog to the "Augean Stables" is to clean up a political scandal which threatens to bring down the Prime Minister who Poirot admires because a respected friend told him the Prime Minister was a "sound man."  What makes this story particularly odd is how Poirot cleans up the problem. The plot could very well have been the inspiration for the novel, American Hero and the movie, Wag the Dog.  It suggests that the world is fortunate that Poriot didn't take up political consulting instead of detection.

The solution to the Stymphalean Birds seemed a little too simple. Poirot becomes involved in this case when a young English politician approaches him while visiting Europe with his problem.  The truth is I could have told the poor unfortunate guy what was going on.

However, even  the weaker stories were fun. While Agatha Christie began to tire of Poirot by the 1930s, that fatigue doesn't show in this great collection. This really has the feel of something the author enjoyed writing which gives the readers great joy as well.

The reason this is unlikely to be adapted is that to adapt the book to television would require a series of one hour episodes like the first 36 that began the ITV Poirot series. Even if ITV were willing to do more 1 hour shows, the latest Poirot productions have been quite a bit darker which suggests that in the 21st Century, there's really not a place at ITV for the lighter fare that the Labours of Hercules represent. As for BBC Radio 4, they seem only to be interested in the novels.  The Colonial Radio Theatre would probably be able to do a good job with the stories, but Jerry Robbins received no interest from Christie's people when looking into adapting stories that hadn't been done elsewhere.

On the positive side, Hugh Fraser does a great job narrating the audiobook version with a wide variety of voices for different characters, so it's close to a one-man dramatization. I heartily reccomend the audiobook version for that reason. It's probably the closest we'll get to an adaptation.

 

However, you choose to read it, The Labours of Hercules is a wonderful collection of mysteries that will be no labor at all to read.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

You can receive the Labours of Hercules free from Audible when you sign up for a trial membership.

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16Sep/110

EP0495: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Maynard Collins Matter

Edmond O'Brien

Johnny flies to Colorado Springs to investigate a murder that was made to look like an accident.

Original Air Date: December 22, 1951

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15Sep/110

EP0494: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Dog Who Changed His Mind

A rich woman dies after her 89th birthday after her drinking her last bottle of birthday wine.

Original Air Date: September 28, 1947

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14Sep/110

EP0493: Let George Do It: Sudden Storm

Bob Bailey

George receives a letter confessing to the quotation marks killing. George arrives in an isolated area and discovers another body.

Original Air Date: May 29, 1950

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13Sep/110

EP0492: Rogue’s Gallery: Blue Eyes

Dick Powell

A drop dead beautiful woman hires Rogue to protect her after several attempts on her life.

Original Air Date: May 30, 1946

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12Sep/110

Perry Mason and the Case of the Disappearing Netflix Streams

Starz recently announced that it would be ending its relationship with Netflix in order for Starz to maintain its premium band and avoid losing subscribers who just watch movies on Netflix. This doesn't have a big impact on me as I use Netflix mostly for old movies rather than new ones, but there's one big change mystery fans should be aware of. The 1980s and 1990s Perry Mason TV movies are currently available on Netflix, but they're being made available by Starz, so by February, they'll be gone along with the rest of the Starz content.

Nearly twenty years after the last Perry Mason episode with Raymond Burr left the air, Burr reprised the role in the 1985 Made for TV Movie, Perry Mason Returns which features Perry Mason resigning from the Court of Appeals to defend Della Street from the charge of murdering her boss.  With the death of William Hopper (who played Paul Drake from 1957-66), Perry was aided by Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt), a free spirited young detective that clashed gently with Perry.In 1989, Paul Drake, Jr. was replaced by Ken Molansky (William Moses) a young attorney who did Perry Mason's investigations.

Additional movies were greenlighted. From 1986-93, Raymond Burr and the cast turned out between 2 and 4 Perry Mason movies per year.  Most of the Mason films were shot in Colorado which meant some great and notable scenic shots. The scenery, along with well-written mysteries and the iconic acting of Raymond Burr made these latter day Mason mysteries a pleasure for fans of legal detective dramas. 

 In addition, show producers Fred Silverman and Dean Hargrove began production of another similarly formatted program in 1986 when they produced Matlock.  Matlock starred another golden age legend (Andy Griffith) as Attorney Ben Matlock, who like Mason was a brilliant lawyer with competent supporting colleagues who investigated his cases.

These two shows were my introduction  to the mystery genre. They represented a dying genre of heroic superlawyers who won 99% of their cases and the interests of their clients almost always run parallel to the interest of justice.

A new breed of more realistic and cynical lawyer dramas were already on the rise. Programs like LA Law, Law and Order, The Practice, and Boston Legal took an entirely different slant with their lawyer heroes sometimes helping guilty clients escape, sometimes failing to get innocent clients acquitted, and fighting over ripped-from-the headline controversial issues, while living deeply flawing personal and professional lives.

The death of Raymond Burr in 1993 and the cancelation of Matlock in 1995 forever ended the super lawyer genre, at least when it came to recurring television drama.  Yet while most fans know it may not be realistic, the stories remain fascinating and compelling escapism, starring beloved actors.

Outside of Netflix, the Perry Mason Movies are hard to come by. Like Seasons 7-9 of the original Perry Mason and Matlock, the 26 Perry Mason TV Movies are not available on commercial DVD. Once they're gone from Netflix, the only legal way of catching them will be to find  an occassional cable TV rerun. I hope to watch as many of these great movies in the meanwhile.

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