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

21Jul/120

Audio Drama Review: The History of Harry Nile, Set 1 (Volumes 1-4)

There have been many attempts to tap into the magic of the Golden Age Detectives since 1962. Most modern radio detectives meet a somewhat quick exit unless they aired over British radio. The Independently produced Matthew Slade series lasted for about 13 weeks in the mid-60s. Canada’s Becker, House Detective survived for 13 weeks as well. In the 21st Century, the Canadian Decoder Ring Theatre has enjoyed great success since 2006, producing 48 episodes of Black Jack Justice.

However, for long lasting detective series, no one can beat Jim French’s Harry Nile. The show began airing in 1976 and ran through 1978 and then return in 1991 and continues air to this day. The show survived the death of original Star Phil Harper and continues with Larry Albert in the lead to this day. The show’s endurance for more than 20 years after its 1990s comeback and 35 years after it first aired is an amazing accomplishment.

In the History of Harry Nile, Box Set 1, we get to go back to the beginning. The History of Harry Nile series are in Chronological order based on story set. However, all but one of the 23 episodes were from the 1970s, and only three 1970s episodes are not included. The stories are set between December 1939 and Winter 1942.

We meet Harry Nile in, “West for My Health” which finds Harry in Chicago working as a private operative after quitting the force because he was tired of being the only honest cop in his department. However, he's in for gambling debts of $8,000 with a racketeer and he has no way to pay. The racketeer offers Harry a choice: die or go to LA and commit a murder to cancel the debt. Harry opts to go to LA but is  never sure if he'll go through with it.

This episode was never intended to be the start of a series of Harry Nile stories. It was a double length episode of, Crisis another French series featuring stories that would have fit well on classic radio programs such as "Suspense." However, the audience demanded more Harry Nile and they got it.

The next episode aired but "Seattle Blues" was one of my least favorite of the series. Harry Nile is a hard luck private investigator, however the way, "Seattle Blues" played out, particularly on the heels of a downbeat beginning, Harry Nile skirted that fine line between "hard luck" and "loser."

However, after this episode, the series falls into place. Harry relocates to Los Angeles and begins a far more even string of wins and losses. In the vast majority of episodes, Jim French and Phil Harper created a nearl y  perfect pitch recreation of the 1940s detective series with stories that would easily fit in to any number of detective series aired during the era with femme fatales, eccentric actors, horse racing, smugglers, and underworld characters.

Some notable episodes include:

"The Doomsday Book"-The story of a double-dealing daughter-in-law having walked out and the controlling mother-in-law who wants Harry to stop any blackmail attempt. The beginning bares a very strong resemblance to the Philip Marlowe novel, High Window.

"The Case of the Matinee Murder"-A young man from the wrong side of the tracks is accused of causing disturbance at the theater and finally murder. Harry tries to clear him.

"The Case of the Lisping Lover"- Harry is hired by a famous client who is mysterious about his identity and will only talk to Harry on the phone. However, the voice soudns like Humphrey Bogart. He insists a woman is blackmailing him, but what's really going on?

"Stand-in For Murder"-Harry gets a job on a cruise disguised as a former silent film star who has received numerous death threats. Harry's job is to be the decoy.

"A Little Out of Town Job"-Harry works off a speeding ticket for a friend by trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a beloved local banker.

"Angel's Flight"-Very little mystery in this one but from a dramatic standpoint, it's the best of the collection. It is set in December 1941 and leads up to Pearl Harbor. It captures the mood of the time perfectly.

"The Twenty Dollar Track Down"-Introduced Murphy who would become Nile's equivalent of George Valentine's Brooksie.

The series did a remarkable job recreating the golden age settings. It achieved an amazing authenticity. Most of the time, it would be hard to tell that episodes were recorded in the 1970s. Language and style were very consistent with few exceptions.

In this early collection, swearing is almost completely eschewed. The only episode to feature even mild expletives was, "Vacation with Bullets." Harry's world has more gray than the black and white of some of the golden age detectives. This was most apparent in the 1990s  episode "The Black Widow" which dealt with assisted suicide and artificial insemination (in 1941).   This was a somewhat jarring exception to a series that remained faithful to the times and the way stories were told in them.

In terms of quality, I'd place the series betwen, "Crime and Peter Chambers" and "Rogue's Gallery."  The program lacks the big-time stars of radio's golden era such as Dick Powell and Howard Duff. The biggest star to grace these episodes was the late Kurt Kasznar. However, the series had a repertory Company feel to it with many actors making multiple appearances and Pat French playing a wide variety roles in these early episodes before Murphy became a recurring character.

Overall, these Harry Nile episodes are a great treat that began a well-done series that would enjoy almost unprecedented post-golden age longevity.

Overall Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

Purchasing Information:

The set is available at French's website for $49.95 on CD or as a digital download for $25.

The History of Harry Niles, Set 1 (along with Sets 4 and 5) are available on Audible for $19.95 for members or 1 Credit. I bought this set with my June Audible Credit ($14.95).

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