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

20Mar/122

EP0627: Hercule Poirot: The Case of the Careless Victim

Harold Huber

Poirot while trying to relocate to New York finds himself struggling to find an apartment. Instead, he finds a corpse first.

Original Air Date: February 22, 1945

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19Mar/120

EP0626: Barrie Craig: Death’s Bargain Basement

William Gargan

Barrie Craig investigates embezzlement and murder at a department store.

Original Air Date: August 10, 1954

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18Mar/120

Movie Review: The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band


Does modern politics with its robocalls and attack ads have you down? Try politics in the 1888 with a musical score attached.

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band is a film that doesn't get a whole lot of love in online reviews at least by people who post standalone reviews on their website. The 1968 Disney Musical is more often panned than praise. Yet, it was a favorite of mine growing up and I had an opportunity to watch it again and it deserves better than its gotten. So here goes.

In 1888, the Bauers are a musically talented family living in Missouri. The head of the house (Buddy Ebsen) is a soft-spoken Republican but his father is an outspoken Democrat (Walter Brennan) who wants to take the family band to St. Louis to perform at the Democratic Convention.  Much to her grandfather's chagrin, the eldest daughter is in love with a young Republican newspaperman (John Davidson) from the Dakota territory who wants to move the whole family and as many other Republicans as he can out to the Dakota territories to justify the bid to have the Dakotas admitted as two separate states and then to assure those states remain Republican.

If you love American history, this film is a great look back at a little known chapter. Their portrayal of the Dakota Territory politics makes clear that passion and even pettiness is nothing new to American politics, although the issues were arguably not as hot or fundamentally divisive in 1888 as it was today. It also reveals the Democratic and Republican Parties of the era were vastly different entities from their modern counterparts, so it's hard to charge the The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band with any bias. The movie is full of ironic political moments. At a rally, one man complains that Cleveland refuses to take action to reduce the government surplus. In the election night event, as befits, a Hollywood musical, the two parties held one election night party and Democrats and Republicans taunted each other in songs. In one memorable portion, proponents of one side sang about their candidate's pledges and the other side proclaimed, "Ahh, that's politics."Then they recited their own candidate's similar platform and declared, "That's statesmanship."

The music has not been praised by most, as the song have been viewed as forgettable. Indeed, it doesn't measure up to the great musicals like The Sound of Music or even Disney's earlier hits like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's also true that Grandpa's tribute to Grover Cleveland goes on way too long.  However, the movie features the stirring song, "Dakota"  sung by Davidson. It's a stirring tribute and it's stuck with me through the years as one of those songs that will all the sudden pop in my head. Then there's the delightful, "'Bout Time" sung by Davidson and co-star Lesley Ann Warren.

What makes the movie great are the great performances by Brennan, Davidson, and Ebsen and the movie's message.  As Grandpa, Brennan is at his cantankerous best, constantly stirring up trouble as the loudest Democrat in a Republican-dominated town. He's sincere, well-intentioned, and patriotic.

Ebsen's as Calvin Bower is a pillar of quiet strength. He respects his father, and goes along with his dad's goal of singing at the Democratic Convention. When asked by a Democratic representative how he can be a Republican and want to come sing his father's tribute to Grover Cleveland at the Democratic Conventions, Calvin replies that the song would not be well-received at a Republican Convention.

However,  Calvin  stands up to his father when his antics threaten his daughter's happiness. And its Calvin who brings the town together at the end of the movie with a simple speech.

Davidson is great as a mix of romantic lead, a political firebrand, and also a respectful and noble opponent of Grandpa Bower's political goals.  Davidson's Joe Carder remains a noble and decent man who is still passionate about his politics.

This is a movie without villains, but with plenty of conflict. The Bower family pulls together despite politics and sacrifices for one another.  Calvin is ready to wait a year to go to Dakota despite the fact that good land will be gone to fulfill his father's dream of going to the Democratic  Convention. His dad chooses to give up his dream for the sake of his children and grandchildren. For the Bower's family comes before party politics. And at the end of the day, the movie ends with the town joining hands to work together once the Presidency and the Dakotas fate had been decided.

Such an ending probably seemed too idealistic and simple when the film was released in 1968. The assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, as well as violence at the 1968 Democratic Conventions marred the election year. It may seem even more disconnected from our present reality when presidential elections lead to people either declaring the election fraudulent, suggesting that the United States be divided, or threatening to move to a foreign country.  But to me, the end leaves me a little nostalgic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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17Mar/121

TV Series Review: Father Brown

In 1974, Father Brown came to ITV with Kenneth More starred as G.K. Chesterton's sleuth. The series adapted thirteen of the Father Brown Mysteries to television. The results were a bit of mixed bag.

Kenneth More's acting as Father Brown was certainly not a mixed bag. He played a delightful but cunning Father Brown, embodying the great clerical detective with warmth and humanity.

To be fair to the producers, as I said with the Colonial Theatre adaptations, the Father Mysteries are challenging to adapt because they were never written with dramatization in mind. Oracle of the Dog, for example, features a mystery where  Father Brown never visits the scene of the crime, while Curse of the Golden Cross features a murderer who never even finds out he's been found out. Such results may make for interesting thought experiments and mental puzzles, but it makes for poor television.

The additional challenge with this Television series is that they had an hour for each episode. As both Colonial Radio Theatre and BBC Radio 4 have proved, half an hour is more than sufficient to tell Chesterton's stories. The one hour format could allow them to flesh out the stories and make them more compelling and dramatic or it could allow them to merely pad the stories.  The producers did a little of both.

Several episodes hit the spot. "The Hammer of God" was faithful to Chesterton's story with additional details added that made the story more compelling and interesting as a mystery. The same could be said for "The Eye of Apollo,"  "The Dagger With Wings,"  and "The Man With Two Beards."  The series made some minor changes to "The Head of Caesar" but it still was quite well done. They also managed to neatly insert Father Brown into the action in, "The Oracle of the Dog."

These were fine and perhaps the best of the lot was "The Hammer of God" which was powerfully told as well as faithful to Chesterton's story. Perhaps the most interesting was, "The Secret Garden" which remained faithful to the spirit of Chesterton's story while changing some details.  While I might have been biased by having read the story and hearing the Colonial Theatre adaptation, to me it seemed the telefilm made obvious who the murderer was, which gave the episode an almost Columbo-like feel as Father Brown seemed to take on a few more odd mannerisms. Columbo was, of course, based in part of Father Brown. So if the creators of the Father Brown TV series were consciously or subconsciously mimicking Columbo which was consciously based partially on Father Brown, then everything had come full circle.

Where the series had its weak spots was in realizing when something didn't need changed or making the wrong change. In, "The Curse of the Golden Cross" the writers managed to replace Chesteron's unsatisfying ending with an even worse one that makes Father Brown look  foolish. In "The Three Tools of Death" and "The Arrow of Heaven," perhaps the Father Brown stories most suited for adaptation, the writers got far too cute for their own good in their attempts to doctor what were already fine stories. They also happen to be two of my favorites, so they annoy me.  Their changes to "Three Tools of Deaths" were tedious and merely padded the story.  Their version of "The Arrow of Heaven" made one unforgivable mistake. They set the story in England when Chesterton set in America. The strength and power of the story comes from not only the mystery, but the feeling of Father Brown in being in a foreign land with a foreign set of values on the issue of justice. Consider this line from the story:

Even as he did so he realized that he was an Englishman and an exile. He realized that he was among foreigners, even if he was among friends. Around that ring of foreigners ran a restless fire that was not native to his own breed; the fiercer spirit of the western nation that can rebel and lynch, and above all, combine. He knew that they had already combined.

Placing the story in England means that not only doesn't the program communicate this idea, it discards it completely.

One other criticism of the series is that the show seemed to be at war with Chesterton at times.  Chesterton created Father Brown as a very orthodox Catholic Priest. Yet show creators put words into Father Brown's mouth that totally violated his character. In one episode he declares that he likes talking to atheist because "he doesn't have to talk shop." and in another decries that as a priest, he's often called upon to reunite families that would be better off separated. A more "cool" modern 1970s British priest might say that, but Father Brown?

Also, in, "The Quick One" Father Brown bemoaned the murder of a somewhat crankish Tory saying he was one of the few men who could have saved England. The show's creators decided to insert an aggrieved daughter of the Tory who had been bullied and kept from her true love. This had nothing to do with the mystery, but it served to make the writers' political point in disagreeing with Chesterton and added a good ten minutes to the story.

If you can get past the mis-steps and revisionism, the series offers several good adaptations and whether the material is good or poor, Kenneth More's performance is always a saving grace.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

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16Mar/121

EP0625: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Brisbane Fraud Matter

John Lund
Johnny searches for a missing ban who was bonded by an insurance company for $25,000

Original Air Date: May 26, 1953

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15Mar/120

EP0624: Sherlock Holmes: The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax

Holmes dispatches Watson to look into the disappearance of a wealthy woman.

Original Air Date: March 28, 1948

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14Mar/120

EP0623: Let George Do It: The Bookworm Turns

Bob Bailey

George is hired by a bookstore owner who suspects someone sneaking into his shop after hours to read. Quickly, George finds himself entangled in a case with counterfeiting, arson, and murder.

Original Air Date: December 11, 1950

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13Mar/120

EP0622: Murder Clinic: The Tragedy at Marsden Manor

Maurice Tarplin

Poirot is called upon by the insurance to investigate the apparent natural death of a wealthy man who just passed a physical for a life insurance policy for his young wife.

Original Air Date: October 6, 1942

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12Mar/120

EP0621: Barrie Craig: For Love Of Murder

William Gargan

Barrie bails out a Runyanesque character who attacked an agent that had stolen his girl. Craig comes to regret it when the agent is murdered and the character he bailed out is a top suspect.

Original Air Date: August 3, 1954

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11Mar/120

Video Theater 026: Phantom of Chinatown

Jimmy Wong (Keye Luke) tries to unravel the mystery behind the murder of a man who led an expedition to China.

Release Date: November 18, 1940

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