Category: Audio Drama Review

A Look at the Red Panda Adventures, Season 1

The Red Panda Adventures by Decoder Ring Theater was one of the earliest of the new podcast audio dramas to be released in recent years. It launched for the first time in October 2005 with a new episode airing every two weeks until December with the second half of the series airing every two weeks beginning in April 2006.

The Red Panda Adventures is set in the 1930s in Canada (where the series was produced.) The series is a mash up between the Green Hornet and the Shadow radio series, while adding its own unique improvements.

It’s like the both series in that the hero is a wealthy young man, though it leans more towards the Shadow in that the Red Panda (Greg Taylor) has no active business concerns in his dual identity that we’re told about.

The Red Panda is like the Shadow in that he has strange hypnotic powers. However, unlike the Shadow, he doesn’t limit his mind-control powers to a single trick of invisibility. He creates all manner of elaborate mental illusions, such as making the villain see multiple versions of himself. It’s a much more imaginative take on the idea. The villains also bare a strong resemblance to the Shadow’s big, over the top megalomaniacs.

The Green Hornet influences can be seen in the hero’s super-fast car and crime-fighting gadgets as well as the suspicious attitude by which he’s viewed by police. However, unlike the Green Hornet, the Red Panda doesn’t try to pass himself off as a criminal mastermind.

Of course, the Red Panda goes beyond what the original mystery men of the 1930s did on radio with a greater sense of superheroics and the series intro actually references him as Canada’s greatest superhero.

Perhaps the most unique thing about the Red Panda is his sidekick Kit Baxter (aka. The Flying Squirrel) played by Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor. She’s a very well-written and well-rounded character. She’s a tough character and more prone to using physical violence than the Red Panda, occasionally getting carried away with it.

Her relationship with the Red Panda is complicated. Like the female assistants of many golden age heroes, she pines for him, while he feigns cluelessness about her feelings in this first season. Yet you also get a strong sense of the Red Panda being a mentor figure to her and also being protective of her without being smothering. The dynamic between the two is probably the strength of the series.

In terms of the plots, this first series has a lot of standard boilerplate stories. There’s the episode with someone impersonating the Red Panda, there’s the episode with a mysterious ghost ship, and the episode with the cursed house, and the one where a hunter decides to hunt the most deadly game of all: The Red Panda. Probably the most interesting and original episode was, “The Devil’s Due,” where the Red Panda investigates a series of deaths where the victims sold their soul to the Devil and he’s here to collect…or is he?  Even though most of the plots are well-worn, they’re also well-executed and the strength of the characterization helps the stories to work. While later seasons would be more innovative, this season really serves to establishes the characters and their world.

The tone of this first season is relatively light. While there are some scary moments, as well as a few violent ones, the series doesn’t try for the constant dark and foreboding feel of The Shadow. It also isn’t designed in such way that you’re likely to forget that you’re listening to a production made in the twenty-first century rather than one in the 1930s like many of the early episodes of Harry Nile. It’s a clear homage to the Golden Age of Radio, but it is also a modern production. At the same time, it’s not goofy or a parody like the original Red Panda Universe (a topic for another time.)

If the first season had any weakness, it was the sound design which on occasion didn’t support the show, though, the epic scale of the adventures was portrayed. Further, it doesn’t detract too much from the series because of the strong characterization and also because it played off Golden Age Radio Dramas where the quality of sound effects and sound design really could vary.

Overall, this is a very strong start to a much beloved Internet series.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The first season of the Red Panda Adventures is available for free on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

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The Top Ten Jago and Litefoot Episodes

Having given an overview of Jago and Litefoot, I wanted to do one last post quickly summarizing what I think are the top 10 episodes.

This a hard list and it’s one of those franchises where there are so many great episodes to choose from. For the purposes of this list, I’m using the episodes of any show in which they were primary stars or co-stars for that episode.. So I considered the entire run of Jago and Litefoot, the Jago, Litefoot and Strax Specials, their Doctor Who Short Trips and Companion Chronicles appearances, their appearance in the Worlds of Doctor Who, and the two stories where they were the co-stars of a Doctor Who story as the Sixth Doctor’s Companion. I didn’t consider their guest appearances in either the Fourth Doctor Adventures or the Sixth Doctor: While there were some great stories, they were truly secondary characters.

10) Swan Song (Series 3, Episode 3)

This story finds Jago and Litefoot joining Leela in her quest to address some dangerous time anomalies that have our heroes dealing with ghosts–from the future. The story has a clever Science Fiction/Fantasy plot, but it doesn’t become lost in it. It’s also a beautifully emotional story and you don’t see that combination often.

9) The Hourglass Killers (Series 4, Episode 4):

Series 4 has big reveals, and brings a character arc for Jago to a very satisfactory conclusion. It’s an exciting, fun ride, and one of the best closing stories for a Jago and Litefoot box set.

8) How the Other Half Lives (Series 13, Episode 3):

This alternate universe tale examines what might have been for our two heroes. I appreciated the thoughtfulness the author put into the choices. That this is one of the last stories they did is a testament to the fact Jago and Litefoot really never lost steam as a great series.

7) Voyage to the New World (Doctor Who story set between Series 4 and 5);

A bit underrated. It takes a great historical mystery (What happened to the lost colony of Roanoke) and adds in some great sci fi and time travel elements. There’s also a great bit of poetry to the way the story plays out and the ending is beautiful.

6) Encore of the Scorchies (Series 8, Episode 1):

This Jago and Litefoot musical episode features insane alien killer puppets with an evil plan. The music’s great, the story has some great comedic moments but doesn’t become a farce in the process. It sets up a different structure for the Eighth series as this doesn’t tie to any of the other stories, but as this episode proves, different can be good.

5) The Man at the End of the Garden (Series 3, Episode 2):

Jago and Litefoot investigate the disappearance of a fantasy author and find themselves involved in a fantasy story of their own as a daughter holds the key to her mother’s disappearance. A solid child acting performance is a highlight of this along with a superb conclusion.

4) The Monstrous Menagerie (Series 7, Episode 1):

This absolute best beginning to a Jago and Litefoot box set finds them on the run, falsely accused of attempting to assassinate Queen Victoria, and hiding out on Baker Street. They’re hired by Arthur Conan Doyle to impersonate Holmes and Watson to a fan who believes the detectives are real. This is an amazing premise and it pays off with an exciting story stuffed with references to Holmes, as well as Doyle’s other work. An absolute delight.

3) Museum of Curiosities (Series 10, Episode 4)

The conclusion of Series 10 finds Jago and Litefoot working through the case in their own way to find the solution of the series mystery and they end up in a unique museum set up to record their exploits but with a sinister purpose behind it. It’s a wonderful story that also becomes a celebration of their first ten series.

2) The Mahogany Murderers (Companion Chronicles):

Listening to it, you wouldn’t know these people haven’t worked together or seen each other in the past thirty years. They pick up as if they never left. The episode launched the entire Jago and Litefoot franchise because it showed how marvelous they were working together while at the same time whetting listeners’ appetite for a series about strange goings on in Victorian London.

1) The Similarity Engine (Series 1, Episode 4):

Their first series of investigations comes to a brilliant conclusion as we learn the mad plan and methods of the villain they’ve been fighting throughout the box set. It’s a truly mad plot but well thought-out. This solution cements the strength of the Jago and Litefoot as a team. This isn’t a case of a smart character and a dumb character, or a strong character and a weak character. Rather Jago and Litefoot are two strong characters whose strengths are very different. Both show their methods and what each contributes to the team and it sets the tone for all the episodes ahead.

Honorable mentions: Too many to list. There are dozens of great Jago and Litefoot stories. You could make a list with an entirely different set of episodes and I wouldn’t argue much.

If you’re curious about the series, there are many ways to listen. You can listen for free on Spotify where the first Five Series are available for streaming. If you’re an Audible member, you can get the first Eight Series there. You can also check out the Big Finish website for all released Jago and Litefoot material.

A Look at Jago and Litefoot, Part Five (Series 12-13, Final)

See Parts OneTwo, and Three, and Part Four

Last year, we did a series examining the career of the Amazing Jago and Litefoot radio series starring Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter up through Series 11. I planned to write a follow up in October with the release of Series 14. However, Mr. Baxter passed away on July 16th at the age of 84. All recorded Jago and Litefoot episodes have already been released.

This article will look at the final releases featuring these two great characters.

Series 12 was released in October of last year and saw a return to the typical series quality after a shaky Series 11. This series has a tight story arch that ties each story together in a way we haven’t seen and it all focuses on Ellie and ties back into Series 1 where Jago killed Ellie’s brother after he’d been transformed into a monster and Series 2 where Ellie had been turned into a vampire prior to Professor Litefoot curing her.

In the first story, “Picture This,” Ellie’s vampire tendencies are back and she breaks into the mysterious Scarlet gallery to steal a painting. Jago & Litefoot are called in to investigate and they find themselves deep in the mystery of the gallery which is filled with mystical pictures. This is a solid start that both sets up the plot for the series while also having a spooky standalone story with an above average role for Sergeant Quick.

In “Flickermen,” Jago and Litefoot investigate a series of disappearances and get their first look at the emerging world of motion pictures. This is another solid outing, with some creepy moments but also a good share of humor. Unlike many other recent box sets, this story continues to explore the over-arching plot of Ellie’s vampirism. There’s also a good bit of humor and an interesting conclusion that makes the story work.

In, “The School of Blood,” Professor Litefoot goes undercover at a girl’s school based on a hint and discovers a large number of mysterious deaths have occurred. There are clear hints of ongoing vampire activity as the girls all seem to be hiding mysterious wounds. The story manages to mix in humor with a very sinister feel to the school, and features an action-packed climax which sets the stage for the final act.

The series concludes with, “Warm Blood.” It’s the final showdown as Jago and Litefoot suspect the truth about Ellie while she plans to lead them towards their doom. The story starts off slow and has some questionable moments in it but really picks up in the final third as Jago and Litefoot find themselves in the most perilous part of their career and they have to confront Ellie. Jago is haunted with and forced to confront what he did back in Series One and asked to make the same choice again. It’s a very solid conclusion with a non-cliffhanger ending which fits the more tighter connection between the stories we’ve seen in Series 12. Overall, satisfying, though there were a few plot holes.

2017 marked the 40th Anniversary of Jago and Litefoot’s appearance in the Talons of Weng-Chiang on television and would be marked by some additional appearances outside their own series.

This began in January with their appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures in, “The Beast of Kravenos.”

The Beast of Kravenos brings Jago and Litefoot back to the Fourth Doctor Adventures, this time along Lalla Ward’s second incarnation of Romana and the result is…pleasantly okay.

Compared to the infernal investigators first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures, Justice of Jalxar, this story of Jago, Litefoot, the Doctor, and Quick all hunting for the perpetrator behind a series of burglars, is unremarkable. The best thing to say for this story is it doesn’t get in the way of the characters, who are at all likable and fun to listen to. This isn’t unlike a classic First Doctor Television story where the story is weak but the characters are fun to be around. So overall, the characters make this worth listening to. It’s too bad the writer couldn’t have come up with something better for them to do.

Jago and Litefoot made an appearance in the Doctor Who Short Trips range in March and April of this year. The Short Trip range typically involve an actor or actress who played a Doctor Who companion reading a short, self-contained audiobook featuring the Doctor they starred opposite of.

The Jago and Litefoot Revival Act was entirely different from anything else done in the range. The story was in two parts (Part One and Part Two), both Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter read framing scenes together with Lisa Bowerman appearing as Ellie at the end of the second part, and the story features two Doctor actors they never appeared with on TV.

Litefoot is joined by Jago in telling a story before the meeting of a scientific society in which the two were separated by hundreds of miles, with Litefoot travelling to Minos as both were in the dulldrums after months of nothing unusual happening. The story features a Jago and Litefoot adventure that involves the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, Writer Jonathan Barnes has a good sense of both Jago and Litefoot and the new series Doctors.

The story has a solid plot, but the real fun is exploring the nature of a friendship between our two protagonists and the Doctor that’s lasted so long. Trevor Baxter did a good job in the scenes with Litefoot and the Tenth Doctor who was nearing the end of his life in this story. Overall, this is a bit of an aberration, but an enjoyable 40th Anniversary story nonetheless.

In April, the 13th Series of Jago of Litefoot was released.


The series kicks off with “The Stuff of Nightmares,” Jago, Litefoot, and Ellie are all having frighteningly realistic terrifying dreams while a Time Agent stalks London in search of the fate of Magnus Kreel.

The story has some moments reminiscent of other Jago and Litefoot tales. Bizarre dreams have been visited before, back in Series 6. But this is a different sort of dream and here the attempts at psychoanalysis of dreams is played for laughs even though there’s a measure of truth in it. This series does begin by hearkening back to the original Talons story, which was done in Series 5 but not nearly as effectively as in this episode.

The dreams contribute to a sense of mystery that kept me guessing and the solution to the mystery is surprising while still managing to be believably understandable for a clever Victorian gentleman to wrap his mind around.

In the Chapel of Night, Jago and Litefoot think they’ve returned home from their last adventure only to discover, while it may look like home, it’s not their London at all. Ellie doesn’t know them, having never seen the Professor before. Quick has a distant professional relationship with Litefoot but doesn’t know Jago at all.

Once you get past, the parallel reality part of the story, it becomes a well-done boiler plate episode of Jago and Litefoot with the Chapel of Night taking people who are about to commit suicide off the street and using them for their own purposes. It’s a solid story with some suspenseful moments, but just a typical tale for the infernal investigators.

The third story, “How the Other Half Lives” is a wonderful tale that finds Jago and Litefoot down on their luck as they have no place in a London where their counterparts are alive. Yet, Jago and Litefoot find their alternate Earth counterparts may need them. Alternate Jago is down on his luck and married, but he has a desperate plan and he thinks Litefoot can help when he meets him but what plan does he have that involves a gun and could be helped by a pathologist?

Then there’s Alternate Litefoot who finds himself mysteriously bed-ridden and kept company by his Chinese curios. Alternate Litefoot is about to be victimized by his at-home nurse and her rat catcher boyfriend who plan to loot her home.

Overall, there’s a lot of humor, great chemistry, and a nice bit of dynamic between the Jagos and Litefoots. The differences between them are slight and more experiential than anything else. It’s quite a bit smarter than past attempts at alternate Jago & Litefoots. The story also continues to be another great hearkening back to Talons of Weng-Chiang in both main plot threads.

The final story is “Too Much Reality.” It’s a good conclusion to the box set that finds Jago and Litefoot teaming up with the alternate universe Jago and Litefoot, as well as a team of infernal investigators who emerged instead of them, Luke Betterman and Aubrey. David Warner’s Betterman is believable and has just a bit more authority than the main universe Betterman and his performance is a real highlight of this episode. The story moves on well and avoids spending too much time on the villain.

The story is not without flaws. Having both Jagos and both Litefoots in this story is problematic because they share too many scenes and there’s no vocal differentiation. The story seems to be aiming for the idea that if Jago and Litefoot meet in any universe, they’ll be drawn together into adventure. That’s an okay idea, but not when it creates this much crowding in the story. Personally, I’d have preferred to really have a strong contrast between Jago and Litefoot and Betterman and Aubrey. The actual contribution to the plot by the alternates doesn’t amount to much.

Regardless, the story was a fun listen. It’s unfortunate it does end on a cliffhanger to set up a series 14 that won’t happen. But the listener is free to imagine Jago and Litefoot went on to have many more adventures not chronicled on audio. That’s what I’ll do.

Overall, this is a nice set that succeeds at its goals. In Series 5, they tried to offer a follow up to Talons and it didn’t work. Here, I think they got it just right, celebrating the story with a great homage that still manages to tell a fun and fairly original story. It’s probably their strongest release since Series 10 and overall is a fine representative of one of the best audio dramas ever made.

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The Best American Radio Detective Performances, Part Four: Honorable Mentions

In Parts One, Two, and Three of my series on the Greatest American Radio Detective performances, I laid out the ten best performances, but are there other great performances worthy of consideration? Sure. Here we take a look at some honorable mentions in no particular order:

Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet:

It was certainly one of the most iconic post-war performances taken together as a whole in radio and television. The narration, the sardonic one liners, were the stuff of Joe Friday on radio. The reason he doesn’t make the list is simple. Most everyone on the list had to carry most of the weight of the show’s success. On Dragnet, Friday was important in that regards but not  pivotal. His partners provided comic relief. For whole stretches of most episodes, his dialogue was limited to asking simple questions. In television, even when he wasn’t talking, Friday’s facial expressions told something. However, when someone else is talking on the radio, he’s just sitting there.

Now, Dragnet is a better show than most that are on this list, but the performance of Jack Webb the actor has less to do with that than Jack Webb the Director, Producer, and Creator.

Jack Smart as Brad Runyon in The Fat Man, 1946-51

Smart played another one of the golden age of radio’s iconic figures, the Fat Man, an overweight detective who was one of radio’s first hard-boiled private eyes. The character was created by Dashiell Hammett based on his Continental Op character, but ultimately it was Smart who gave him life as a tough, street-smart detective with a soft spot for people in trouble.

The Fat Man was hugely successful. It had high ratings, was one of the few detective radio programs to spawn a movie, and everyone who heard the program remembers it fondly and distinctly. The series also points out to the challenge of making a list like this: It’s based on surviving episodes.

Out of approximately two hundred and eighty-nine episodes, there are only ten episodes from Smart’s run as the Fat Man in circulation. They’re all very good, but based upon what I heard, I was more impressed by everyone who made the list. But what if I had a greater sample of Smart’s work? Let’s say seventy-two episodes. If those were exceptionally good, would that change the list?

Every detective show on the list (other than Harry Nile) have lost episodes and many have significant numbers of episodes missing. What if we had more runs of Barrie Craig, the Saint, or Candy Matson? What if we had more of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes? Most of his circulating episodes come from his last season and a half where he was feeling burnout with the role. All these could change our perceptions, but we can only go by what we can hear. So we just do the best we can. Still, I think it’s important to acknowledge the issue.

Smart’s performance as the Fat Man may have been far better than the good performance we had, but it’s also possible what makes the show so memorable to those who first heard it is the opening, which doesn’t have Smart doing anything.

Alan Ladd as Dan Holiday in Box Thirteen (1947-48):

A radio show that Ladd created for radio. It not only served to provide him and his family additional income in resyndication, it helped to promote him as an actor. He burst onto the scene with This Gun for Hire where he played a hired killer. The big risk of such a role is getting typecast as playing these sort of tough guy underworld roles.

Box Thirteen helped in showing Ladd’s range. Yes, he could do action and daring, but he could also be smart, compassionate, and even recited a poem in one episode. Ladd’s voice on radio is smooth and he’s fun to listen to. He always benefited from great scripts but his performance made the series memorable and it showed all the world what Alan Ladd was capable of.

Frank Lovejoy as Randy Stone in Night Beat, 1950-53: 

Lovejoy had some solid roles in movies, TV, and film, but the role of Randy Stone is the one he was born for. Stone is an interesting character who traverses the Night Beat, solving mysteries, and helping other people in their lives. He brims over with ideals, but also has a cynical streak. He’s often in humorous situations but can unleash righteous fury on those he thinks are acting unjustly. While he’s well known in the streets of Chicago, his job and the nature of working nights has left him with few close friends.

A big part of what makes Night Beat such a delight to listen to is the way Lovejoy fleshes out Stone with all of his wonderful contrasting and occasionally contradictory characteristics. It’s really the key to help us to connect with the unusual stories Stone finds while working the Night Beat.

 

Gale Gordon as Gregory Hood in The Casebook of Gregory Hood, 1946:

For those who grew up on television, Gale Gordon was known for playing a series of loud-mouthed authority figures: Mr. Conklin in Our Miss Brooks, John Wilson on Dennis the Menace, and Lucille Ball’s boss in The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. This goes even further back, to Mayor Latrivia in Fibber McGee and Molly. Then you have the Casebook of Gregory Hood where he plays Gregory Hood, a smooth, sophisticated antiques dealer who occasionally plays amateur detective.

Gordon is good and convincing in the role and it’s a shame he left the series after sixteen episodes. While Elliott Lewis was a solid replacement, he didn’t quite have that same style and finesse that Gordon had. While Gordon would go to comedy gold in basically similar roles for the rest of his career, the surviving episodes of this series point out what a good and versatile actor he really was.

There are many performances we could mention. There were many good performances on detective programs in the golden age of radio. The top ten were the best, and these were just a notch below that.

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Top Ten Greatest American Radio Detective Performances, Part Three

I began my examination of the top ten American radio detective performances in parts one and two, now we get to the big three.

 

3) Gerald Mohr as Philip Marlowe (1948-51):
That opening. It’s impossible to talk about the Adventures of Philip Marlowe’s performance without talking about one of the best openings in old time radio when Mohr comes on the air as Marlow and proclaims:

“Get this and get it straight. Crime is a sucker’s road and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison, or the grave. There’s no other end, but they never learn.

It’d be tweaked throughout the series run, but it’s simply the best introduction to any golden age detective program. Mohr’s delivery conveys a mix of danger, excitement, and world-weariness. Even better were the teasers for the adventure Marlowe delivered in the earlier episodes of the series:

“This time it started as a routine search for a rich girl’s fiancé and the trail led to a silent house haunted by a face at the window and blood in an open cedar chest. But before it was over, it became a search for a corpse that wouldn’t sit still.”

You feel like you’re about to experience a true hard-boiled detective tale. It sets the tone perfectly.

Mohr’s performance goes beyond a superb opening. He’s superb from start to finish in every episode. Mohr portrays a Marlowe who could be as tough as nails with a touch of biting cynicism, but at other times he could show great kindness, a sense of humor, and also a philosophical side.

To be sure, Mohr benefited from some of the best writing and direction in the golden age of radio, but his performance took great material and made it excellent.

2) Phil Harper as Harry Nile (1976-78, 1991-2004)

The title of this list intentionally didn’t tie making this list to having appeared radio’s golden age. Of course, there haven’t been many contenders for this list since the end of the Golden Age. But then there’s a detective called Harry Nile and the actor who first portrayed him, Phil Harper.

Harry Nile originated as a part of the anthology series Crisis. He was a Chicago private detective in early 1940 with deep gambling debts, forced to go west to commit a murder. Harry was no fan of the idea and didn’t end up going through with it and instead drifted around until he settled in Los Angeles and eventually relocated to Seattle. Nile was assisted by Murphy, (Pat French) an LA librarian who was a recurring character who became his secretary and eventually his partner.

Harry Nile appeared in twenty-four episodes in 1976-78 and returned with an unaired Christmas special in 1990, and then in June 1991, Harper would begin playing Harry Nile regularly for the rest of his life.

Harper was incredibly versatile as Harry Nile. The original premise had Nile as simply a private detective who always seemed to be under a rain cloud of bad luck, such as clients who never paid. Yet, over time, the character grew and Harper brought him to life as a fully formed private eye. He could play the comedy of the chronically late and cheap boss and senior partner, the professional talking to a potential client, but also show a great deal of compassion. Nile’s Chicago-based siblings were recurring characters and Harper’s performance captured his realistic concern for them. Then there was the interplay between Harry and Murphy. Harper’s Nile never went beyond friendship with her despite hints that Murphy was interested in more, yet Harry often showed a tenderness and protectiveness towards that was very sweet.

Phil Harper grew up in 1940 and dreamed of appearing in radio dramas only to find he was born too late. However, Jim French offered Harper the opportunity to play Harry Nile and he jumped on it. His inspiration came from his memories of the golden age of radio, particularly Howard Duff as Sam Spade and Edmond O’Brien as Johnny Dollar. Harper fulfilled his boyhood dream of appearing in radio drama and managed to be the equal of the best Golden Age radio performances and surpassed many.

1) Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar (1955-60):

Bob Bailey makes our list twice. As good as he was as George Valentine, it’s his role as the fourth on-air Johnny Dollar that he’s best known for. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the  fact, for most of his run, Johnny Dollar was the only detective program still on radio, so he wasn’t competing with twenty other shows doing the same thing. The series re-aired frequently on Armed Forces Radio and Television Services even after it went off the air. Thus there’s a sub-generation for whom Bob Bailey’s Johnny Dollar is the Radio Detective they grew up with.

That Bailey made it five years was remarkable. 1955 was a horrible time for anything on radio other than adult Westerns. So many detective programs came to air only to be cancelled after less than a year. Johnny Dollar was initially to be serialized and was the third show they had tried as a serial after Mr and Mrs. North and Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. 

Bob Bailey’s Johnny Dollar was different than nearly every radio detective that came before because he was a fully fleshed out character. He had friends who weren’t just introduced as plot devices. He had ongoing relationships with recurring characters. He had a favorite hobby and a favorite vacation spot. And Bailey did a superb job pulling this off.

His Johnny Dollar had the best range of any performance on this list. He had a lot of times when he was fairly easy going. The character could get along with and connect with a lot of people. Bailey had good chemistry with every actor to appear on the program which made this seem effortless. His Johnny Dollar was smart and often brilliant in his deductions, but he also often blundered by jumping to wrong conclusions, which gave him a great humanity. Dollar also could be tough, at some times hitting Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer levels of intensity on deserving targets. At the same time, the character often showed a great deal of kindness and fell in love a few times. He was more believable in romance than most any other detective and this often led to heartbreak particularly in serials like the Lamar Matter and the Valentine Matter.

Bailey’s first year on Johnny Dollar was the best. The series was using multi-part fifteen minutes episodes often adapted from other detective radio series and they were brilliant. The Johnny Dollar serial era is the best year of dramatic production during the entire Golden age of radio. After that, the series went to once-a-week broadcasts and the quality declined as series producer Jack Johnstone had to write every script. He did the best he could while CBS’ budget cuts left him unable to pay writers and forced him to operate outside of his genius. He was a great producer and great director. And he was great at creating interesting characters, but he was not equipped to put out great detective scripts every week for years on end. That’s why there’s many weaker scripts in the later part of Bailey’s run.

The fact the writing worked against Bailey for the last three years of his run on Johnny Dollar was a testament to how good his performance was. He elevated every script he was given. Listeners love episodes that are subpar from a writing standpoint solely based on Bob Bailey’s performance.

Bailey’s performance with both good material and weaker material shows his strength as an actor. In the golden age of radio, where there were so many good performances, this one stands out head and shoulders above them all.

 

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