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

31Oct/110

EP0526: Barrie Craig: Dead Loss

William Gargan

Barrie is hired to protect a man until his divorce can be finalized.

Original Air Date: October 15, 1952

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30Oct/110

Telefilm Review: Appointment with Death (2009)

"Your appointment with death was always to be here..."

In Appointment with Death(2009), Poirot arrives inSyria to follow the expedition of Lord Boyton (Tim Curry), who is searching for the head of John the Baptist. While there, Poirot witnesses Lady Boyton’s unpleasant behavior towards everyone other than her husband and overhears two of her children talking about how she must die.

And die she does. She’s found stabbed to death from her perch in the sun above the excavations where she watched her husband’s team excavating. Poirot is asked to investigate, but there are more secrets being kept by members of the party other than murder. Poirot (David Suchet) must sort through them all to find the real killer.

Review:

The acting in this telefilm is superb. David Suchet is his usual self and is supported by a fantastic cast of supporting players including Curry who has a great scene with Poirot in a cave where the two retell an ancient fable that’s written on the wall. This foreshadows much of the rest of the story and forms a narrative that suggests that no matter how long evil is unpunished, judgment and death finally catch up with the perpetrators.

Suchet was spell-binding in a 23 minute wrap-up of the case in which he deals with all the “red fish” in the case and reveals all.

The story (while not at all faithful to the book it’s supposedly adapting) is compelling and well-written. The teleplay like the later adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is a product of its times, as it focuses on Lady Boyton’s sadistic abuse of her children from childhood to the present, and is in many ways reflective of frustration with the pervasiveness with this sort of behavior and the seeming inability or unwillingness of the courts to punish it.  It is a very dark story, yet the writers do manage to work a few rays of hope into what is a very heavy ending.

Appointment with Death also features stunning cinematography, as well as a powerful soundtrack that makes it a solid mystery.

Of course, as mentioned earlier the film deviates so much from the original novel, it’s barely recognizable. It’s addition of characters, subtraction of characters, change of murder methods and murder motives, change of location has been documented by many sites.

Clearly, Christie fans who complain about the movies have a point as the changes from Christie's original are extreme. Ideally, if you title a movie by a book title and say it’s an adaptation, the movie should keep to the book. And if you're going to make something vastly different, it ought to have a different title just as the 1940s Sherlock Holmes movies which borrowed elements from the Arthur Conan Doyle Stories were titled completely different from the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories.

One also has to ask whatever to the cozy mystery series? The original series of one hour Poirot episodes was more genteel, while recent films have taken a more gritty turn. The changes seem to be the result of ratings pressure. Scripted television of any sort is in an endangered species and if a TV show is going to be shot as an expensive period piece, it better draw rating. So far, these grittier Poirots have succeeded as the series has drawn good ratings and been renewed and perhaps will generate interests in the original stories.

Despite its departures from the source material, Appointment with Death is a compelling story in its own right and one of my favorite mystery films of recent years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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29Oct/110

EP0525s: Columbia Workshop: Murder in Studio One

Ruth Gordon

A female detective tries to solve a murder in a radio studio in the series 26 by Corwin.

Original Air Date: October 12, 1941

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29Oct/111

Mr. Monk’s Top Twenty List, Part Five

Past Posts: 6-10 11-1516-20 and honorable mentions.

We've reached the end of our top 20 list. I do have to say that it appears that the second half of Season 2 of Monk was the show at its absolute best as 3 of the top 5 episodes are from that period.

5) Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing (Season 5, Episode 4):

Mr. Monk is blinded while trying to protect an elderly firefighter from his murderer. The great detective finds himself apparently temporarily blinded, which at makes him happy as many of his obsessions, compulsions, and fears are tied to eyesight. He struggles with his blindness, but using his sense of touch, he manages to compensate for it. The episode features an involved mystery with a false ending and a final scene that is perhaps the most thrilling in the entire series.

4) Mr. Monk and the Paperboy (Season 2, Episode 10): Mr. Monk's paperboy is murderered in an attempt to keep Monk from reading his morning paper. Monk surmises that the cause was stop him from reading the paper lest he discovers a crime. Monk's challenge isn't finding a crime, but finding the right one. He solves two unrelated crimes after reading the paper and still hasn't found the reason for the murder of the paperboy. This is definitely a story of legendary proportions, with some great payoffs.

3) Mr. Monk and the Astronaut (Season 4, Episode 13): Monk faces another impossible murder. This time, Monk identifies the murderer. The problem? He was an astronaut in orbit of the Earth at the time the victim died. Monk is dismissed and underestimated by the astronaut as a weakling who will always back off until Monk begins to close in and the astronaut has to stop Monk from the finding the key evidence. The climatic scene on the airstrip is one of the most memorable and satisfying of the series.

2) Mr. Monk and the Missing Granny (Season 2, Episode 13):
Monk is engaged to find a woman's kidnapped grandmother in hopes of getting help with his reenstatement case. What Monk finds is a baffling case where as ransom, the kidnappers demand that they provide the homeless a meal and the perpetrators claim to be tied to a radical group from the 1960s. This one is very cleverly plotted and one of the few Monk episodes where there's no homicide.

1) Mr. Monk and the Three Pies (Season 2, Episode 11): This is the first episode in which we meet Monk's more ingenusous and more disturbed brother Ambrose whose agoraphobia hasn't allowed him to leave their house since their father left them and has caused him to save all mail and newspapers for the day their father returns. Monk's been nursing a grudge because Ambrose missed Trudy's funeral and never calling or writing Monk afterwards. Ambrose suspects foul play in the disappearance of a neighbor. At the same time, murders are being committed involving people who won the neighbor's pies at the fair. A great classic mystery puzzle with that perfect blend of comedy and drama.

That brings us to the end of this series and there were many great Monk episodes that didn't make the cut. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments.

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28Oct/110

EP0525: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Elliot Champion Manner

John Lund

 A warehouse burned down and Johnny and a team of investigators arrive, believing the owner burned it for insurance, but the owner insists that the perpetrator was a man he sent up for embezzlement.

Original Air Date: December 12, 1952

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27Oct/110

EP0524: Sherlock Holmes: The Cadaver in the Roman Toga

Sherlock Holmes goes to investigate the case of a man found dead in Toga where there used to be Roman baths.

Original Air Date: November 9, 1947

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26Oct/110

EP0523: Let George Do It: Island in the Desert

Bob Bailey

George goes South of the border at the request of a dead Mexican fire insurance investigator and sets out to find why the investigator was killed.

Original Air Date: July 10, 1950

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25Oct/112

EP0522: Rogue’s Gallery: Phyllis Adrian Is Missing

Barry Sullivan

Rogue is hired to the find the wife of a lawyer who wants to divorce her.

Original Air Date: June 29, 1947

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24Oct/110

EP0521: Barrie Craig: Murder by Threes

William Gargan

William Gargan is hired by a man to find out who is trying to kill his wife, an entrant in a combination beauty and pie baking contest.

Original Air Date: October 8, 1952

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23Oct/112

Raiders of the Lost Episodes

Todd wrote in with a question about lost episodes of the radio series, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:

How many episodes of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes exist? This posting says that there maybe another 150 floating around. Is it true?

The Wikipedia article linked states that there are 150 episodes of the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (with Nigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone/Tom Conway) in existence. Is this true? The answer is, "possibly." On the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio, we played around 90 episodes of that run. In addition to that, I found one episode, "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" that was so unintelligible and at such bad sound quality I couldn't play it. I also discovered an intact episode, however it was one part of a six part telling of Hound of the Baskervilles. And I found fragments of a few other episodes with 10-15 minutes of an episode with poor sound quality.

But saying it could be true and saying it is are two different things. Indeed, someone updated the Wikipedia article to state that there was no evidence to back the assertion up (in which case, it would probably make more sense to delete the assertion.) While its true that any number of Sherlock Holmes episodes could exist, the poor sound quality episodes and fragments I've found higlights a big barrier to the episodes being listenable or available.

More than half the lost episodes come during World War II with all but one of the rest being pre-World War II. During World War II, the use of aluminum transcription discs was abandoned as aluminum was a vital war material. Instead, glass was used transcription discs and glass discs are far more likely to be damaged, and there's also a possibility that metal transcription discs were given to various metal drives during the war. Of course, there are shows that ran during World War II that survive in listenable form, so it remains possible that a large number of episodes could have survived, but the odds are against the discs.

If episodes did exist in listenable form that are not available to the public or most collectors, where might they be? They could be either inaccessible or in the hands of people who don't know what they have.

There are a large number of OTR collectors as well as educational institutions that keep their collections under wraps for a variety of reasons. For many shows, the number of episodes outstanding is quite substantial.

For example, we played the Adventures of the Thin Man, all eight playable and complete episodes in circulation. Dennis at the Digital Deli estimates that he has 30 episodes and that there may be 200-300 episodes in circulation. There are 125 episodes of Nick Carter in circulation online, the Radio Goldindex catalogs the existence of 350. Why might some of these episodes not be available to the public?

1) They don't that anyone other than fellow collectors care: If you can find one person out of twenty who knows who the Great Gildersleeve or Fibber McGee and Molly are, you're doing good. The idea that anyone other than fellow collectors care about it may seem odd. In addition, some may have given up the hobby but still have their collection stored.

2) They're collectors: A g0od collection (regardless of what you're collecting) has what no one else has. When it comes to radio shows, having programs that no one has or few people have is what makes a collection worthwhile and as long as they're able to hold on to their collection, they'll keep what they have under wraps.

3) Concern about Commercialization: Many collectors have been extremely piqued at commercial exploitation of Old Time Radio by OTR MP3 companies that will often take carefully preserved high quality mp3s and downgrade the audio so that they can fit 100 episodes on a $5 CD. It leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many collectors, particularly when you consider that there are some collectors who think the only real way to listen to golden age radio is right off the transcription disc. For people who have spent decades collecting, the shoddy packaging of these recordings is a big discouragement from sharing more.

For those who aren't collectors, it's easy to not know what they have. Golden Age radio programs are preserved chiefly on electronic transcription discs and reel-to-reel tape recorders. While the electronic transcription discs look a lot like vinyl records, they won't play on a normal record player, and hardly anyone has a reel-to-reel tape player.

This means that items can end up in thrift stores, estate sales, or even thrown away with no one knowning what they are. If you happen to stumble on a transcription disc or golden age of radio reel-to-reel tape, contact a local Golden Age radio group or the Old Time Radio Researchers.

Will missing episodes of Sherlock Holmes and other programs be found? Yes, but many will be lost. Dennis at the Digital Deli warns fellow collectors regarding the Thin Man warning that uncirculated episodes of the Thin Man will either be digitized and appear, "or quite frankly they risk being lost forever...Despite everyone's best efforts, those examples that remain undigitized simply continue to disintegrate or corrode beyond satisfactory recovery."
A dire warning indeed. So we'll see what emerges and what will be lost. In the meanwhile, we'll enjoy the episodes that have surved to modern day.

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If you have an Old Time Radio, Classic Television, or Classic Cinema question you'd like me to research, email me and I'll consider it for a future article.

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