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

31Mar/120

Audio Drama Review: Father Brown, Volume 3

In this Third Volume of the Father Brown Mysteries, Colonial Radio Theatre takes the stories from The Incredulity of Father Brown and the Scandal of Father Brown, two of the latter collection. Colonial an admirable job with the source material:

"The Oracle of the Dog": A man is killed in his summer house and the strange behavior of a dog is seen as a key clue. Colonial had to do some work on this story as an adaptation. In the original Chesterton story, Father Brown doesn't visit the scene of the crime, but rather solves the case based on clues given him by someone else. Thus, it came off as more of Chesterton's criticism of literary treatment of canines in murder mysteries. Thanks to Colonial, this story comes alive while still getting Chesterton's point across.

"The Miracle of Moon Crescent": In America, Father Brown warns four skeptics of that a well-known in millionaire is in danger after telling a story of his encounter with a superstitious Irishmen. They scoff at him, but when the millionaire is found murdered with no reasonable scientific or  psychological solution presents itself, the skeptics begin to doubt themselves and begin to consider a supernatural solution. J.T. Turner did a great job writing the adaptation and captured the subtleties of the satirical elements of the story. The only thing that marred this one was that the accents seemed quite a bit off. Still, a worthwhile presentation of a great story.

"The Green Man": A wealthy admiral is found murdered in full dress uniform by two golfers and it's a classic whodunit. The story begins in medias res with Father Brown speaking to one of the suspects before the final denoument, a kind of interesting twist. The story is standard whodunit fare handled quite capably by Colonial.

"The Quick One": A classic story of murder in a hotel bar of a a Tory curmudgeon. Father Brown insists that that the key to the case is finding an unknown man who stopped in for a drink and didn't even bother to finish it. (i.e. The quick one.) The mystery was well and faithfully adapted. A couple weeks ago, I criticized the British TV version for trying to mitigate Father Brown's views of the deceased as a heroic figure who was the one of the last men who could have saved England. Colonial avoided any revisionism in that regards. In one way, they actually improved on Chesterton with an edit. They moved a line that Father Brown delivered in the middle of the original story to the end when Father Brown was talking to his policeman companion on a train. Where it was originally written, it kind of seemed like rambling dictum that readers could easily pass over on their way to the solution. However, put at the end, it offers a vital explanation as to why a Priest would always be involving himself in Homicide investigations. This is probably the best Father Brown episode that Colonial's done so far.

Overall rating for the collection: 4.5

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4Mar/120

Audio Drama Review: Colonial Radio Theatre’s 2nd Father Brown Collection

Last year, I reviewed Colonial Radio Theatre's first Father Brown collection adapting classic stories from G.K. Chesterton.  I was pleased recently to finally download and listen to their second collection. As with the first collection, production values remain high with quality acting, and well-done sound effects.

This is a tougher collection for the adapters in some ways as two of the four stories they adapted are challenging ones to dramatize, but overall they carried it off quite well.

The Flying  Stars: It's crime time at Christmastime. Father Brown is one of several visitors to a wealthy English home, including a young socialist where a valuable jewels called, "The Flying Stars" make an admirable target for thieves. And thieves strike-during a pantomime event.  This one was a bit slow getting to the crime as it dragged through preparations for the pantomime.  However, the story as written by Chesterton was equally slow-paced. As slow it was, it was also necessary for the character development of Flambeau and Colonial does listeners a favor by actually showing Flambeau reform. They also did a nice job setting up a transition to the next story.

Point of a Pin: Noisy construction workers are waking Father Brown up every morning as they work on an apartment building, but a potential union strike or lock out threatens to stop construction. The owner of the construction company  lays off his workers and then is murdered. A threatening note points to union radicals as the likely culprit but Father Brown has other ideas.  This was a lot of fun for me, particularly because "Point of a Pin" is a lesser known and later Father Brown story that I hadn't read yet and Colonial did a great job in bringing this baffling story to radio.

The Three Tools of Death: Along with "The Blue Cross" this may be one of the best Father Brown mysteries.  I actually based much of my Father Brown chapter in my book, All I Needed to Know I Learned from Columbo on this story. However, it's not always gotten the respect it deserved. In the 1970s, the BBC ruined the story when they adapted Father Brown for television because the original story was so politically incorrect. Colonial didn't try to airbrush the story. They let it speak for itself and produced a faithful and well-done adaptation of this mystery that centers around Britain's leading optimist and teetotaler being found murdered. At first, there are no weapons found, and then all the sudden, there are too many. Father Brown says something's wrong with the crime scene, that all these weapons are "not economical."  Colonial does a great job telling the story. They even preserved the post-solution ending. It features Father Brown, after having unraveled one of the greatest mysteries in the history of detective fiction, going on about his rounds as a clergyman. That right there tells  you all you need to know about Father Brown.

The Invisible Man: A young man wants to marry a beautiful woman, but finds her being menaced by an invisible man. Threatening notes are left, but no one seems to be around. A threatening poster was put up, but no one was seen in the vicinity. Finally, a man is murdered under the watchful eyes of a man who swore that he saw no one go in.  What's going on? This story like, "The Sign of the Broken Sword" is one of Chesterton's most influential stories. It's also, like "The Sign of the Sword" in that it's incredibly hard to adapt based on the bizarre ending that Chesterton gave the original story. Colonial tries to work around this by having Father Brown narrate the story, which really doesn't work all that well. Still, it's a good story and other than Colonial's attempt to deal with Chesterton's quirky ending,  the adaptation is thoroughly enjoyable as well.

Overall Rating for the Set: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars.

Colonial turned out another great Father Brown set.

18Sep/110

Audio Drama Review: Perry Mason and the Case of the Howling Dog

In the Case of the Howling Dog, a man approaches Perry Mason with two seemingly unrelated requests. First, he has questions about the requirements for drafting a will including whether the will would be valid if he were executed for murder. Then he complains about his neighbor's howling dog which is keeping him up at night.

Mason takes action on the howling dog, contacting the district attorney's office. The neighbor insists there's no problem and that Perry's client is mentally unstable. Then Mason's client disappears with the neighbor's wife and later on, the neighbor himself is found murdered. Mason has to unravel the sordid affairs of the dead man, find the client he's supposed to represent, and unmask the real killer.

The Case of the Howling Dog is the best installment yet of the Colonial Radio Theatre's Perry Mason series. The mystery is incredibly complex and engaging with an amazing amount of twists and turns. At 78 minutes, this is  a fast paced thriller. Also, this is only the second of the four to feature actual courtroom scenes (The other being "The Case of the Sulky Girl.") CRT did a much better job with the courtroom drama than in The Case of the Sulky Girl as the court scenes in The Case of the Howling Dog were more vibrant and engaging. Fans of legal dramas will appreciate Mason's brilliant legal manuvering in the program's climax.

Throughout the episode, as has been the usual case in these shows, Mason walks a thin line ethically. When confronted over this by Paul Drake, he expresses contempt for lawyers who wouldn't skate on thin ice for a client. Certainly, the CRT's Perry Mason series wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if he didn't.'

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars

Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of these programs are only $2.95 each which is a fantastic price for these great productions.

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11Sep/110

Audio Drama Review: King Solomon’s Mines

 

Before there was Indiana Jones, there was Allan Quartermain. King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard introduced readers to that intrepid adventurer in 1885.

Hollywood has never quite gotten the story right, as the temptation to add a romantic subplot and change details is irresistable. However, the Colonial Radio Theatre's production of the story starring Jerry Robbins was fantastic and faithful to the original story.

The plot begins when Quartermain is approached on a boat by a Captain Good and Sir Henry Curtis to engage in a search for Sir Henry's lost brother, who was last seen years before searching for King Solomon's mine. Quartermain agrees to go provided that a stipend is guaranteed for his son should anything happen to him and a share of the treasure in the unlikely event he survives.

To follow the trail of Sir Henry's Brother, the trio must trek across treacherous terrain through unknown parts of Africa. A native African named Umbopa goes along for the journey, but it's obvious he's hiding something from the rest of the group.

Once again, Colonial Radio Theatre shows the power of radio, as you're transported back to Victorian Africa and the extremes of weather on the journey to King Solomon's Mine. CRT successfully captures the mystery, wonder, and excitement of this unforgetable story that features epic battles, legendary treasures, and political intrigue.   This is a fantastic production for fans of Men's Adventure.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of these programs are only $2.95 each which is a fantastic price for these great productions.

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28Aug/112

Zorro Comes to Radio

If you grew up in the 1950s, when you think of Zorro as Guy Williams in the Disney series. Or if you grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, Duncan Regehr may have provided your vision of Zorro. Others may remember Antonio Banderas as Zorro and for many classic film buffs, it is without a doubt Douglas Fairbanks who defines the character in the silent film version.

Zorro did make it to radio in 1957, in a short-lived serial based on the Curse of Capistrano, however only two episodes of this series survive.

Zorro has been interpreted and reinterpreted so many times throughout the years that it's hard to remember that Zorro originiated in the pulp magazines in stories by Johnston McCulley. may have passed Zorro by for the most part, modern producers of radio drama have picked up the torch.

The Colonial Radio Theatre  brought two of these stories to radio in Zorro and the Pirate Raiders and Zorro Rides Again.

Summaries

In Zorro and the Pirate Raiders, the commandante of the pueblo, Captain Ramon, forms an alliance with cutthroat pirates to  raid the pueblo and split the booty. Ramon also orders the pirates to kill Don Diego de la Vega and kidnap his bride-to-be. Zorro thwarts the attack on Don Diego with the help of other caballeros and then pursues the pirates across the sea.

In Zorro Rides Again, Zorro has retired after The Pirate Raiders but is forced to return when an imposter begins to commit injustices in the name of Zorro. Zorro must clear his name and find the imposter before friends turn against him and the government executes.

Review

These Zorro productions are superb swashbuckling adventures.  Each feature length adventure was filled with action, adventure, and surprise twists throughout the story. The sound effects were amazing, and help to transport you back to Old California.

There were differences between this production and most Zorro adaptations. The biggest was that Zorro had allies: twenty caballeros who fought alongside him. This is a stark difference between modern productions which have Zorro fighting a lone battle against evil, which has become the trend.  However, the CRT's version of Zorro remains faithful to the original vision of McCulley.

Zorro and his caballeros are courageous and gallant, living by a code of honor.  McCulley's vision of Zorro was as a North American version of the knights of old and this really shows through in the Colonial Radio Theater production.  The cast from the stars to their supporting players were all excellent. In particular, Sam Donato shined in the role of Sergeant Garcia.  Oftentimes, the role of the Sergeant in Zorro is often played as buffoon or coward, but Donato's portrayal was more nuanaced, and there was a lot more to Sergeant Garcia than meets these eyes.

There were very few flaws in these productions, and they were  a result of being faithful to the source material, so I can't complain about them. I will say that when a radio drama features a fight between two guys with knives in their mouths, the theater of the mind has to work overtime to supply the images.

Overall, these are great productions that represent Zorro as he was meant to be and provide hours of fun and excitement.

Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of these programs are only $2.95 each which is a fantastic price for these great productions.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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13Aug/110

Audio Drama Review: Perry Mason and The Case of the Lucky Legs

Colonial Theatre released the third of its Perry Mason Audio dramas, "The Case of the Lucky Legs."  Like with the first two, this is an audio drama based on the original Perry Mason novels of the 1930s, but produced in the 21st Century.

Perry Mason is retained initially to take legal action against a beauty contest promoter who cheated small town businessmen and a local young woman by promising her stardom as winner of a Lucky Legs contest and then leaving her high and dry in Hollywood. When Perry goes to have a discussion with the con man, he finds the man murdered.

Perry finds himself dodging the police until he can find the truth, questioning the witnesses, not even sure who is client is as the man who gave a retainer for $5000 to file the lawsuit keeps changing who Perry is supposed to represent.

The recording is quite a bit shorter than the previous Perry Mason stories that Colonial Theater had done and the length worked for this story. It really created a very tight and well-paced mystery. The plot is full of twists and surprises. At one point, Perry even hires another detective agency to spy on Paul Drake's operative who are working for the man who paid him.

If there is one criticism I had for the production, it was that role of the winner of the Lucky Legs contest had a voice that didn't fit the part. She sounded more like 14 rather than 21.  Still, that's a minor flaw in a brilliant production. I can hardly wait for Colonial's next installment.

Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of this production is only $2.95 which is a fantastic price for this great production.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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