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

20Nov/110

The Stuff Dreams are Made Of….

This past week, I had occasion to listen to the Lux Radio Theater version of The Maltese Falcon.  Humphrey Bogart and the rest of the original cast were not available, but the great Edward G. Robinson was chosen to fill Bogart's substantial gumshoes.

At the end of the hour performance, I was struck by how the Lux performance even with an "A" lead came off as a pale imitation when compared to the Bogart classic.  I then listened to the  half hour Academy Award Theater radio presentation with Bogart in the lead and Sidney Greenstreet and Mary Astor

I had the same feeling when I heard radio's attempt to create a made-for-radio sequel to the Maltese Falcon with Howard Duff as Spade. Duff had successfully created his own version of Spade, and played the famous hard boiled eye more often than anyone else. And the Khandi Tooth Caper is a fine radio play in its own right, but it couldn't come close to living up to the wonder of the movie.

The radio  adaptations are helpful to showing the true wonder of the movie and what makes it a great clasisc.  The biggest key is the dialogue with lines such as Kasper Gutman's, "I’m a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk." However, not just any actor can deliver these sort of lines.

I'd insist the magic of the movie comes back to the cast. While Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and even Elisha Cook, Jr. (who played Wilmer) turned in solid performances, they aren't irreplacable. In fact, neither the Lux or the Academy Award Theater version featured Lorre and the Lux version didn't feature Astor, and neither featured Cook. The only rule is if you don't have Peter Lorre playing Joel Cairo don't have an actor doing a bad Peter Lorre impression (as was the case with the Khandi Tooth Caper.)

The key to the greatness of the movie is found in Bogart and Greenstreet as Spade and Gutman. As Spade, Bogart delivers a spell-binding performance. Bogart's is tough, cynical, sarcastic and may seem mildly sociopathic at times as he tries to play both sides to square the murder of his partner.

And  Greenstreet's performance was a classic that would be imitated countless times on radio, in television, and screen. He served up a definitive template of the sophisticated, polite, and yet ruthless villain and earned an Oscar nomination.

Those two performances make the film a definitive screen classic that thankfully, no one in the modern era has tried to remake.

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19Nov/110

Book Review: Gambit

A prominent citizen is accused of murdering one of his daughter's suitors by poisoning his drink while he's engaged in a blindfolded chess match with 12 different chess players. Wolfe is hired by the daughter of the accused who believes that her father's lawyer is up to no good due to being in love with her mother. The lawyer opposes hiring Wolfe which means Wolfe must free his client's father without his cooperation.

 

The language of Chess figures prominently in the story. Indeed, the title of the story comes from the realization by Wolfe that given that no one other than the accused had a motive to kill the victim leads Wolfe to conclude that the murder was a gambit meant to get the accused out of the way. Wolfe instead of searching for someone with a motive to kill the victim, he has to find someone with a motive to get the accused executed or sent up for life.

Once again, Stout creates a wonderful cast of supporting characters and suspects.  The scene where one suspect offers to hire Wolfe to suborn perjury to get the accused off is comedy gold, particularly as the man expects Wolfe to be on the hook for the crime and to protect him entirely.

Overall, Gambit was surprising in that except for the actual culprit, the suspects turned out to be mostly decent and honest people, a refreshing break with the stereotypical sociopath-filled murder suspect family.

Archie is good as always, and Wolfe is at his eccentric best. The novel opens with Wolfe burning an offensive book in the fireplace: the newest edition of the dictionary which Wolfe views as a threat to the English language. Wolfe asks his prospective client, "Do you use imply and infer interchangeably?... According to this book, you can."   Wolfe has to struggle to be polite when pressure from her family to drop the case leads his client to take up temporary residence in the Brownstone for several days.

The payoff of the novel is just as good. This one is unique as Archie solves the mystery before Wolfe after obtaining a key clue. Though, both Wolfe (and myself for that matter) figured it out once this clue was revealed. So, for once Archie isn't the dark when the payoff comes.

The only negative thing I can say about the book is that Stout did seem to be overusing the tape recorder to catch his criminals. It played a role in The Final Deduction as well as a Nero Wolfe novella. Still, overuse of the tape recorder is a small issue in a book that has so much to offer.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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18Nov/110

EP0540: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Thelma Ibsen Matter

John Lund

A poor newspaper delivery man names a young girl who did him a good turn as beneficiary on his life insurance policy. However, Johnny finds that the girl has changed and finding her is a big challenge.

Original Air Date: January 9, 1953

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17Nov/110

EP0539: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Cradle that Rocked Itself

Sherlock Holmes returns to the Cornish country and investigates a frightening story of a rocking cradle that's frightening a pregnant woman and endangering her life.

Original Air Date: November 30, 1947

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16Nov/110

EP0538: Let George Do It: The Voice of the Giant

Bob Bailey

George is called in by the husband of a woman who blames her marriage for the death of her father because he died while she was getting married.

Original Air Date: July 31, 1950

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15Nov/110

EP0537: Candy Matson: The Cable Car Case

Natalie Masters

A man sitting next to Candy on a cable car is shot and killed. Candy tries to solve the case and find a way to collect a fee.

Original Air Date: July 7, 1949

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14Nov/110

EP0536: Barrie Craig: The Girl on the Doorstep

William Gargan

Barrie witnesses a slip, fall, and die in front of an apartment building, but was it really an accident or murder?

Original Air Date: February 15, 1953

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12Nov/110

Book Review: The Final Deduction

In The Final Deduction, Wolfe is hired as insurance by a woman whose husband has been kidnapped. However, Wolfe's client is being particularly cagey about the information she'll share with Wolfe. Wolfe does manage to get a meeting with the woman's secretary who has said she heard the call from the kidnapper. Wolfe and Archie both conclude that she was part of the kidnapping plot.

After the money drop, the husband is returned alive, but soon afterwards the secretary and the hush and are both murdered while Wolfe and Archie find themselves in a spot as their client had told them not to tell about the kidnapping until 48 hours after it occurred.

However, along with trouble comes opportunity. With their duty complete, the son of their original client wants Wolfe's help to recover the half million dollars in ransom money which his mother has told him he can keep if he finds it. In exchange for this, Wolfe will get a 20% cut.

This book was a very well-balanced Nero Wolfe mystery. Plenty of Archie and Wolfe interactions, a good cast of characters in the victim's family, and a decent mystery. Stout also has some clever word play. The word "deduction" is worked throughout the book in both its meaning to tax law and its meaning to the detective.

It's also of somewhat historical interest as a peek at the world of the pre-JFK Income Tax Code. Wolfe's reason for accepting the 2nd case was that if he managed to collect, he'd work himself into the 80% Tax Bracket. At which point, it wouldn't make sense for him to take on any more work as he'd end up in the 90% bracket and only keeping a dime of every dollar earned. His clients were in the slightly higher 91% tax bracket. Both would play a key factor in the story, so you have to wrap your mind around that which can be difficult when the current top marginal rate is 36%.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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11Nov/110

EP0535: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Baltimore Matter

John Lund

An ex-con gives Johnny a line on a payroll robbery.

Original Air Date: January 2, 1953

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10Nov/110

EP0534: Sherlock Holmes: The Stolen Naval Treaty

Holmes helps a friend of Watson's who works in the foreign office and lost a treaty vital to British national security.

Original Air Date: November 23, 1947

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