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

12Aug/120

Radio Review: Abroad with the Lockharts

Whatever our circumstances, radio allows our mind to escape to another time, another place. Bold Venture, Dangerous Assignment, and The Man Called X frequently took us to exotic locales while Dimension X and other Science Fiction shows took us to fantastic new worlds.

However, during the Depression, a trip to Europe was probably as fantastic to most people as a trip to Mars for listeners in the 1950s. However, less than a year after the Crash, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart took listeners on such a fantastic trip in Abroad with the Lockharts.

Will (played by Gene) wants nothing more than to continue his annual tradition of taking a fishing trip with his friend Charlie while his wife wants to take a trip to Europe after having put up with several boring fishing trips. So she takes him to Europe ( a point that's emphasized each episode in the opening.)

The episodes are a travelogue with the Lockharts encountering new situations on their boat trip and then later in the U.K. and Europe. Will encounters each new situation with characteristic trepedation and crankyness. However, each new encounter seems to end with him pleasantly surprised. But that doesn't stop him from being cranky and reluctant at the next stop.

Kathleen places a few humorous bits. She has studied and prepared for their European trip, but her French fails her when  trying to purchase tickets. She is also somewhat flumoxxed when Will enjoys a somewhat risque show they attended in France.

The show is escapist in taking Americans who could never go to Europe on a grand tour. It is also optimistic. Abroad with the Lockharts is filled with friendly foreigners in every port who kindly introduce them to their different cultures. Even in countries that were governed by America's once and future enemies, this optimism would prevail. In this way, Abroad with the Lockharts seemed to be part of a post-World War I move to increase understanding of the rest of the world in order to maintain peace: A noble aim that proved useless with madmen like Mussolini and Hitler running around.

Still, Abroad with the Lockharts remains an entertaining slice of life that still is worth a listen even 80 years after it first aired. There are 9 episodes available including the first seven and apparently the last two. The longest run of the series  Digital Deli could locate was 16 episodes but as they note, "There may well have been a twenty-six week, though we have yet to discover such a run. Given the format of Abroad With the Lockharts, once the couple boarded the S.S. Mauretius, there could have been any number of 'modular' adventures either aboard ship, or at their various European destinations."

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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11Aug/120

Telefilm Review: The ABC Murders

The Fourth Series of Poirot from ITV was made up entirely of feature length Telefilms and the first of these was the A.B.C. Murders.

Hastings returns from South America in time to help Poirot solve a baffling and alarming mystery. A murderer sends Poirot a series of letters announcing murders and he's going in Alphabetial Order from A to Z for both the last names of the victims and the cities where the murder is committed. At each crime scene, a copy of the A.B.C. railroad guide listing schedules for trains to each of Britain's cities.

Being somewhat familiar with the plot from a far too abbreviated Poirot-less adaptation of the story on Radio's Supsense, I knew whodunit but even so The A.B.C. Murders still managed to hold my attention. The film did a great job not only maintaining a high level of suspense, but also in creating believable reactions from the victim's family and the genuine warmth between Poirot and Hastings was on display in a way it wasn't usually in the one hour episodes of the series.

Nearly was perfect pitch in this adaptation with solid performance from David Suchet and Hugh Fraser as Poirot and Hastings, and Donald Sumpter turns in a memorable performance as Mr. Cusp. The only performance that seemed a little off was Philip Jackson whose Inspector Japp seemed a little grumpier than usual.

Overall, this was a fantastic telling of one Christie's favorite stories and is rightly listed by Suchet as one of his favorites.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

As of this date,
This film, along with all Poirot Telefilms through Series 6 is available on Netflix Instant Watch as of this writing.

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10Aug/120

EP0730: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Bobby Foster Matter

John Lund

Johnny goes to Florida to investigate conmen whose fake polio vaccine has left a boy paralyzed for life.

Original Air Date: November 10, 1953

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9Aug/120

EP0729: Sherlock Holmes: The Ancient Queen

Holmes investigates mysterious goings on surrounding the discovery of the mummy of an ancient Egyptian queen.

riginal Air Date: November 14, 1948

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8Aug/121

EP0728: Let George Do It: The Meddler

Bob Bailey

At the request of a concerned college student, George looks into strange goings on at the house of his mother's employer, an aging womanizing actor.

Original Air Date: November 26, 1951

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7Aug/120

EP0727: Leonidas Witherall: The Reunion

Leonidas Witherall

At a high school reunion, a group of football pals actually hates the leading member and he's promptly killed.

Original Air Date: September 17, 1944

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6Aug/120

EP0726: Frank Race: The Instanbul Adventure

Tom Collins

Frank runs rescues a beautiful woman in Instanbul and finds she needs more than a one time rescue-she needs his help to stop the deadly deeds of black marketers.

Original Air Date: March 19, 1949

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5Aug/121

Book Review: And Four to Go

What could be better than the numerous Nero Wolfe books including three Novellas? How about one featuring four? Well, it doesn't quite work out that way, but there are still some worthwhile stories in the lot:
 
"The Christmas Party"
 
Archie connives to get a fake wedding license for a dancing partner who wants her to boss to marry her. The boss is being stubborn so Archie gets a fake marriage license blank with both their names on it to force the issue.
 
When Wolfe starts to get bossy and unreasonable in demanding Archie drive him to meet an orchid expert, Archie springs the marriage license on Wolfe and tells him that he's getting married. Wolfe is displeased but Archie gets out of the errand.

Archie ends up attending the Christmas Party where the boss is murdered and Santa mysteriously disappears after the crime is committed. Archie also can't find the fake wedding license which has him at risk of a forgery charge. When Archie gets home he finds out that Santa was none other than Nero Wolfe, spying on him and his supposed fiancée. To make matters worse, a jealous young woman who believes the woman Archie helped was the murderess demands that Wolfe connive to help frame the woman. Otherwise, Wolfe will have to endure the embarrassment of being exposed as Santa. Wolfe and Archie are in a pickle and it'll take all of Wolfe's wits to get them out.
 
The story's plot is priceless and along with some memorable characters, I'll give it a:

Rating: Very Satisfactory

"Easter Parade"
 
A wealthy philanthropist, who is also an orchid grower has developed a new species of orchid that he's keeping under wraps. Wolfe has to see it, and the only chance he has is that the philanthropist's wife is wearing one of the orchids. So he has Archie hire a two bit hood to snatch the orchid as the lady is exiting the church and entering the Easter Parade. The orchid snatch is done right as the woman dies and Wolfe finds himself in a pickle, as police want to find the orchid snatcher.
 
The best part of this story is the look back at the Easter Parade, an event that was much more widely practiced both in New York and across the country in years past. In essence, Stout gives us a portrait of the Easter Parade in its heyday. 
 
The plot itself has problems. While Wolfe can tend to childish behavior in pursuit of his goals, this one takes the cake. The action has several accomplishments. Wolfe's reputation and his license are both put at risk. More than that though, the stunt is itself quite mean and both the lady and her husband are sympathetic characters who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of others and  have done nothing to agrieve Wolfe aside from refusing to let him look at a flower. The idea of hiring a criminal to assault two saintly people coming out of church on the holiest day of the Christian year does little to make one sympathetic as Wolfe and Archie try to avoid embarassment.
 
Of course, Stout could have turned this around a little bit with a clever solution, a dramatic stunt to find the real killer, some clever interaction between Wolfe and Archie. Unfortunately, the story is wrapped all too easily on the spur of the moment. with Wolfe barely moving a brain cell. The story was first published in the April 1957 issue of Look and has all the earmarks of being written to satisfy the commercial requests of a magazine wanting a story for its April issue rather than the cleverness of a typical Wolfe story. If another writer wrote it, I'd say it was flummery. However, as Stout wrote it, I must give it a:
 
Rating: Pfui
 
Fourth of July Picnic:
 
After the death of Marco Vukcic, Wolfe assumed a key role in ensuring the qualtity of Rusterman's restauraunt with Wolfe's cook Fritz providing some consulting assistance. A restaurant union leader seized on this to try and force Fritz into the union and this became an annoyance to Wolfe. In order to rid himself of the annoyance, Wolfe agrees to speak at the Union's 4th of July Picnic.
 
However, before Wolfe's speech, the man who'd been annoying him is murdered after having taken ill. Every speaker went in to the tent he was resting in for one reason or another including Wolfe, but police suspect someone came through the back of the tent because they'd rather not suspect prominent citizens of the crime (other than Wolfe and Archie). However, Archie knows that a woman was watching that back entrance and no one had gone in but withholds the fact because he's annoyed by the police and didn't want He and Wolfe to be held as material witnesses in rural New York. When Wolfe finds out about the witness, he has to solve the crime quickly or risk going back as a material witness to be held by a very unhappy and unfriendly district attorney.
 
While not up to the best standards of Wolfe Stories, it features a good amount of atmosphere and a clever enough solution to make it:
 
Rating: Satisfactory.
 
"Murder is No Joke"

If Murder is No Joke had been set at the fall, this would have been a four seasons collection. As it was, Stout appears to have abandonned the seasonal stories after two middling efforts. Murder is No Joke is a much more solid story.
 
A woman comes to Wolfe's office concerned that her brother's business is being destroyed by a woman who has some hold over her. She wants Wolfe to investigate her but doesn't have the money to pay him. However, she offers to pay Wolfe to call the woman. Wolfe dials the number and is promptly insulted by the woman and then hears sounds that indicates violence has occurred. Archie calls the woman's office and finds she has indeed been murdered with Wolfe and Archie as likely ear witnesses.
 
However, Wolfe has a sense that someone is trying to make a fool of him and sets out to uncover the truth of what really happened and how the suicide of a formerly promising actress plays into what happened. He sends Archie down to the office where the murdered woman worked to ask about correspondence from the actress who committed suicide.
 
The highlight of this story is when Archie wants to know why Wolfe is an investigating and Wolfe and Archie share a moment of detective zen when Wolfe opens Archie's eyes to a key clue. All in all, the story has a good cast of characters and a solution that really shocked me. 
 
Rating: Very Satisfactory
 
Overall, Four to Go features two middling stories in between two solid ones that make up for their lack.
 
Overall Collection Rating: Satisfactory

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

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5Aug/120

Video Theater 031: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Belligerent Ghost

In a strange case, Dr. Watson finds a man dead and is then assaulted by him. Holmes investigates.

Episode 5 (1954)

4Aug/120

Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes with Jude Law as Watson. Holmes efforts lead to the capture of a cult leader and black magic practitioner named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who has been on a killing spree through grotesque human sacrifices. At the same time, Dr. Watson is engaged and Holmes is doing his best to wreck the engagement to keep his much needed assistant at his elbow.

Before Lord Blackwood is executed, he promises Holmes that there will be three deaths that Holmes can't stop that will change the world and drive Holmes mad. Watson declares Lord Blackwood dead, but then three days later Blackwood's tomb has been found empty and the promised deaths begin.  Holmes has to unravel the puzzle and is plunged into a world of dark conspiracies and the occult as he searches for the truth. 

Perhaps the best way to describe the movie is to list some of its key deviations from traditional Holmes stories:

  • Holmes uses his fists far more than usual. True enough. In A Study in Scarlet, it does mention that Holmes is an expert boxer, but the thread seems almost to have been forgotten by Doyle in later stories. But in Sherlock Holmes , Holmes has as many martial arts moves as Jackie Chan. However, Guy Ritchie did a good job working Holmes thinking process into his fighting which made it easier to swallow.
  • He and Irene Adler are an item and Adler, rather than being a dancer who gets into a scrape with a Bohemian king, is an international criminal.
  • Holmes' traditional portrayal as a drug addict is gone. And instead,  in this movie, we find Holmes having to guard against Watson's gambling habit to make sure Mrs. Hudson gets the rent money.
  • Holmes is intentionally trying to sabotage the engagement of Mary Marston, not so in the books.

There are other differences. Holmes definitely doesn't act like he lived in the Victorian era for one. Despite these issues, I found myself oddly enjoying the movie. Perhaps, it's because there's a long-running tradition of messing around with the character for dramatic portrayals going back to William Gillette who wrote the first dramatic adaptation. He asked permission from Doyle to marry Sherlock Holmes off and was told, "You may marry him or murder him or do whatever you like with him."

And so it's been. We've had all sorts of Sherlock Holmes films and television shows. There's been a young Sherlock Holmes movie, there's been an animated Sherlock Holmes Television series featuring Holmes in the 22nd Century with a robot Dr. Watson. We've had stupid Holmes and brilliant Watson movies, and of course our post-modern Holmes over on the BBC. There have been  pastiches that have taken the character in all directions.

Yet, the true Holmes of fiction is well known to most people, so while movies and television can play with Holmes' character, they can't really redefine it in the eyes of the public, just as Patrick Stewart's King of Texas didn't make anyone thing King Lear was really set in Texas.

Similarly, Robert Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes could best be understood by bringing one of fiction's greatest heroes to the biggest moneymaking arena there is: The Summer Popcorn movie.  By this account, Sherlock Holmes was a fine film. It was an action packed thriller with plenty of plot twists and engaging story that holds your attention to the end. If there's any film I'd compare it to, it'd be be the Basil Rathbone vehicle The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes which was a solid action thriller for 1939. Sherlock Holmes show how much more Hollywood has amped up its performance and how much more action audiences demand.

Perhaps, the story's truest touch was the its portrayal of the close friendship between Holmes and Watson.  While not as warm as the Rathbone-Bruce or Brett-Hardwicke portrayals, or even the Ronald Howard and Howard Marion Crawford performances from the 1954 syndicated Television series,  the Holmes-Watson interplay between Downing and Jude Law was better than the BBC's vision from Sherlock.

Overall, the results of Robert Downey, Jr. and Direct Guy Ritchie playing with the Sherlock Holmes character turned out surprising well, even if they won't make me forget Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0  stars.

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