Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Complete Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1


Random House dramatized many of Louis L’Amour’s short stories, mostly with one-shot characters. However, they also dramatized all eighteen L’Amour stories featuring Texas Ranger Chick Bowdrie.

The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1 features six hour-long Bowdrie adaptations. It begins with “McNelly Knows a Ranger,” the story of how Bowdrie became a Ranger. It was written much later, but it established what led Bowdrie to become a Texas Ranger.

The series is fascinating. As a Texas Ranger, Bowdrie wanders throughout the wide expanse of the State of Texas. He has to act alone, hundreds of miles from headquarters with no other law around. Occasionally, local law enforcement is present but complicit in crimes. Many of the stories require Bowdrie to play detective before tracking down the criminal. L’Amour makes these work as good Western stories and as well-constructed mysteries.

All the dramatizations on this release are excellent, with high production values and good acting. However, two stories are particularly noteworthy.

“The Outlaws of Poplar Creek” features a stunning cave scene which is one of the tensest you’ll ever hear on an audio drama.

In “Bowdrie Follows a Cold Trail,” Bowdrie stumbles on a dead body at an abandoned homestead. The story portrays how Bowdrie uncovers clues at the crime scene. He also discovers how the victim built his dream ranch for his family, only to be murdered and have them disappear. Bowdrie pledges to bring the man’s killer to justice, no easy task in the wilds of Texas. A lot isn’t said but can easily be inferred by the listener. The scene shows a subtle use of emotion to reveal an aspect of Bowdrie’s character.

Note one episode includes a recording of L’Amour talking about his research into the Old West.

My only issue is one aspect of Bowdrie’s character is not believable as written. We’re told repeatedly Bowdrie could have ended up walking “the outlaw trail.” Bowdrie is so morally upright from his first story that it’s just not plausible. Reathel Bean’s straight-laced portrayal in the audio drama amplifies that wholesomeness.

Overall, these are six fine stories of law, order, and justice in the Old West, written by a master of the genre. It’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection, Volume 1

Paul Temple is a legendary amateur detective. His adventures first aired over British radio in the 1930s and continued until 1968. Like much British radio of the era, the earliest Paul Temple serials are lost. This collection offers three adventures that managed to survive in that era. Each serial is composed eight twenty or twenty-five-minute episodes. (The most popular format for Paul Temple.)
 
The first serial, Send for Paul Temple is a Canadian remake of the first Paul Temple broadcast. This is a treat. Little Canadian radio from the era is circulating, so it’s nice to see how they measure up to the BBC. This holds up to most American and British programs of the time, but the sound effects are a bit sparser.  The police are baffled by a series of jewel thefts, and in the newspaper, there’s a simple cry, “Send Paul Temple.” The official police are reluctant to call in the amateur sleuth. A policeman friend of Temple’s wants to talk to him but is murdered, setting Temple on the trail. The story stars Bernard Braden as Temple. It’s a fairly good mystery that shows how Paul and his wife Steve met.
 
1942’s Paul Temple Intervenes features Paul (Carl Bernard) and Steve (Bernadette Hodgson). They look into an affair to find the head of a ruthless blackmail ring named the Marquis. This story was fine. It’s not horrible, but it does have some improbable plot turns, and it goes too deep into melodrama for its own good. Not bad, and I’m thankful for almost any classic radio that survives, but it’s easily the weakest story on the set.
 
The actor Kim Peacock plays Paul in 1950’s Paul Temple and the Vandyke Affair. Paul investigates the disappearance of a baby and her sitter, Miss Millicent. The only clue is a message referencing a mysterious Mr. Van Dyke. Of course, their investigations lead to a sinister trail.  At this point, Steve is far more assertive and a stronger character.
 
One thing that makes this stand out is Marjorie Westbury’s performance. Westbury took over as Steve in 1945. She continued opposite four different Paul Temples until 1968. Kim Peacock also turns in a solid performance. I’d be thrilled if more episodes featuring this pair came into circulation. The story features a strong supporting cast. This includes future Paul Temple Peter Coke and Roger Delgado (Doctor Who.)
 
The box set has more to offer than just the stories. The set includes a documentary on the remastering of the Canadian Send for Paul Temple. It began as cardboard transcription disks. Yet they managed to make it sound good in the twenty-first century. How is a fascinating story for audio buffs. Further, the CD features an interview with Coke. Also, there are three episodes from incomplete original Paul Temple serials. They will only appeal to hardcore Temple fans.
 
Many Paul Temple fans council new listeners to avoid this set for a first listen. This isn’t Paul Temple at his best, and it doesn’t feature the most well-known Paul Temple actor. There’s merit to that argument. But I like to hear things from the beginning. While these stories had their weak points, I found them a lot of fun to listen to. If what’s to come is even better, then I’ll enjoy all the Paul Temple collections to come.
 
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Three Old Time Radio Detective Shows That Could be Rebooted in the 21st Century

Most old time radio programs work in part because of the era they’re set in. For most programs, trying to update them to modern times would be silly. Taking Philip Marlowe, Barrie Craig, Nick Carter, or Candy Matson out of their original contexts wouldn’t make sense.

Of course, it’s always possible to do a period piece. Although modern period pieces often suffer from creators deciding they need to transport twenty-first-century sensibilities back into historical periods.

However, some old time radio detective programs could be made well set in modern times, with a few tweaks thrown in:

1) Box 13

The original concept: 1940s series starring Alan Ladd. The reporter and mystery writer Dan Holiday places an ad in the paper, “Mystery wanted, will go anywhere, do anything.” A few episodes in, Dan hired a secretary named Susie. It seems she had undiagnosed inattentive-type ADD, which unfortunately got her dismissed as ditzy at the time.

Twenty-first Century updates: He would post his ad online and receive replies to an email address with “Box 13” sneaked into it believably. He could be an adventure blogger who posts about his adventures and lives on Patreon income and Google AdSense revenue. Also, Susie could be portrayed as not being so dumb while steering clear of making her a Mary Sue.

2) The Big Guy

The original concept: 1950s radio series starring John Calvin as a widowed single father raising his two kids on his own while also being a private detective.

Twenty-First Century Update: I always thought the original concept of the show had a lot of unrealized potential. Probably the most important thing would be to pick a tone. The surviving episodes vary too much. Some try to be adult crime dramas, while others would have appealed more to kids. I would propose making it a good family show with some comedy and the kids stumbling into his cases.

3) Mr. and Mrs. North

The original concept: A publisher and his wife solve mysteries together.

Twenty-First Century update: It’s been too long since we have a loving mystery-solving couple. Tampering would be minimal. Pam and Jerry are already equal partners in the mystery- solving department.Listening to the radio programs or watching the TV episodes, it’s a coin flip as to who’ll provide the solution.

She could have a separate career which leaves plenty of time for sleuthing, such as a photo blogger. Whoever wrote it would need to be careful to avoid turning her into the  “Strong Independent Woman” stock character that has replaced the damsel in distress. Pam North’s portrayal on radio and TV is witty, resourceful, funny, and fairly well-balanced. That should be maintained in any adaptation.

Honorable Mention: Night Beat

The original concept: Reporter Randy Stone roams the night in Chicago in search of stories. He writes mostly human interest tales of the best and worst of humanity in the night. Randy has a touch of cynicism, but also a lot of compassion and morality which motivates him. He’s part philosopher, as he paints broad pictures of humanity through each encounter.

Twenty-First Century update: Wouldn’t Work.

Night Beat makes a tempting target for a Twenty-First Century reboot. However, I don’t think it can be updated successfully.

Randy Stone is at the heart of the series. Unlike Box 13, you couldn’t just have him writing for a blog. He also couldn’t still be working on a newspaper.

If there were ever reporters who were close to Randy Stone, they’ve gone extinct. In the last sixty-five years, people have become more cynical about the press, and the press has become more cynical about people.

Reporters want to bring change but through partisan reporting that brings about systemic societal change. Randy Stone’s goals were nonpartisan: to be a decent person and to call other people to be decent too, regardless of politics. His nonpartisan perspective no longer flies in modern journalism. It may have been a bit fanciful in 1950. In 2018? Totally unrealistic.

The only thing a TV or radio creator could do with a modern-day Night Beat would be to ruin it by making it partisan. This would probably happen even if it was attempted as a period piece.

However, I welcome reader comments on the programs I’ve mentioned as well as any others that you think might (or might not) work with a modern day reboot.

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Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 2

While the first season of Black Jack Justice was twelve episodes along, the second and all subsequent seasons was six episodes long. The series continued to follow the adventures of hard-boiled detective “Black” Jack Justice and his beautifully but equally hard-boiled partner Trixie Dixon Girl Detective in post-World War II Canada.

The series maintains it’s quality while making a few changes. Noticeably, the play on words with “Justice” in episode names was discontinued. They also played with the format a bit in the series lead of the episode, “The Purloined Format Caper,” which begins with Jack playing secretary to Trixie and having to take down her report of the case, which explains how Jack ended up in this sorry condition.

They have their own play on doubles and mistaken identity in, “The Trouble with Doubles,” and “How Much is that Gumshoe in the Window?” finds them looking for a missing dog and discovering one of Jack’s few soft spots.

Overall, the entire series moves along nicely. The series has its tone and style down but still manages to make little changes to keep its feel fresh. The mysteries remain well-written and enjoyable to puzzle out. There’s an occasional issue with sound effects, but that’s about it. The second season of Black Jack Justice makes for an enjoyable treat for mystery fans everywhere.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

Click here to listen to Season 2 for Free on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

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Audio Drama Review: The Third Man

LA Threatre Works adapted Graham Greene’s The Third Man in 2009.

The story follows novelist Holly Martins (Kelsey Grammer) as he arrives in post-War Vienna hoping to get a job from his old friend Harry Lime, only to find Lime has died of an apparent car accident. However, he stumbles on evidence that there may be more to Lime’s death than meets the eye, and his friend may not be the man Holly thought he was.

This audio drama is a well-done retelling of the classic film with few deviations along the way. Kelsey Grammer is superb as Martins bringing just a right mix of toughness, romance, and innocence to the role. The rest of the cast is generally good, though John Mahoney used an American accent when playing the British Major Calloway which took me out of the story a few times.

The production quality was pretty good, with only a few scenes having minor issues. The entire production feels authentic to the original movie, helped by a good rendition of the classic theme. Overall, LA Theatre Works provides a worthy adaptation of a great story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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