Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 7

The seventh volume of the Twilight Zone Audio Dramas adapts six more stories as audio dramas:

“Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” is the story of a small-town braggart and teller of tall tales who garners the attention of aliens from outer space who think his whoppers are true. This is a fun story, with a nice dish of the absurd.

“Cavendar is Coming:” An angel with a problematic track record is given one last chance if he can help an awkward young woman. This is just bad. The premise is stupid (and depressing), the story is nonsensical and the dialogue is unimaginative. The TV version had the benefit of featuring a young Carol Burnett as the young woman Cavendar “helps.” The TV episode was released in 1962 and was a backdoor pilot for an unrelated series. It does not hold up.

“The Little People:” Two members of a spaceship crew land on a planet that’s seemingly uninhabited and work on repairing their ship. However, one of them sneaks away and discovers there is life: tiny people with their own society, who he decides to oppress by pretending to be their god. This is a somewhat typical Twilight Zone story, with some nice details and even a computer that plays a role, as well as a solid twist.

“One More Pallbearer:” A wealthy man invites three people over for dinner who he blames for embarrassments earlier in his life. He has a scheme to make all of them apologize and beg him for shelter. This is  the best story in the release. While actor Chelcie Ross isn’t a household name, he’s great in the lead and manages to embody the pettiness and the damaged mind of the wealthy man. The story has not only a twist ending, but a double twist.

“The Big Tall Wish:” A washed-up boxer boards with a single mom and is beloved by her son. He decides to make a comeback and a hopeful boy makes a wish, the biggest wish (a big tall wish) but will it be enough for the boxer to win. This is a simple, wistful tale, with a downbeat conclusion.

“The Living Doll:” A tyrant of a father is infuriated that his wife spent money to buy his stepdaughter a doll at the department store. The father doesn’t like the Talking Tina doll and is shocked when Tina lets him know the feeling is mutual. He hears the doll speaking, but only when no one else is around. Probably of all the stories I’ve listened to in the first seven volumes, this is the one that fits most easily into the horror genre, though it’s definitely a more psychological horror.

Overall, this box set is a mixed set. “One More Pallbearer” and “The Living Doll” are superb, “Cavendar is Coming” is awful. The other three are between okay to good.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes Theatre

In 2005, the Hollywood Theatre of the Ear released a series of Sherlock Holmes plays starring Martin Jarvis as Holmes, and Kristoffer Tabori as Watson.

First up is Sherlock Holmes. The play is written by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and its performed (as far as I can tell) unabridged from the original text. The play is solidly acted, but the main reason to listen to it is to hear the play exactly as it was performed when it was first written.

From a modern listener’s perspective, the play’s a mixed bag. On one hand, it is delightful to see how many bits from the Holmes stories get mixed into this play. On the other, it has a very slow pace and quite a few scenes that are not that interesting. The opening scene in particular seems to go on forever. This is a play that goes on well over two hours. Orson Welles took the text of the play and condensed it back in 1938 for the Mercury Theater, and I think that version is more entertaining.  This version is more authentic as it has so much in it.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is, while Holmes still does his deductive bits, the play makes him into a swashbuckling romantic hero. Doyle was not  proprietary about the character or canon and went places that many Holmes purists would frown upon to make a commercially successful play.

Next up is The Speckled Band. This play was written by Doyle alone and it expands on one of the best Holmes short stories.  The play changes the name of the woman who comes to Holmes for help from Helen Stoner to Enid Stoner for reasons that aren’t clear.

The play begins after Enid Stoner has died under mysterious circumstances just before she was about to marry. Much of the information about the elder Stoner sister’s death that was relayed in the client consultation in the short story, we get to hear discussed at a coroner’s inquest.

Perhaps the highlight of the play is that we get to hear more of Doctor Grimesby Roylott. Next to Professor Moriarty, he’s the most memorable villain in Holmes but we only get to see him for one scene in the short story and otherwise learn about his actions second hand.  In the play, we get to hear him in action. Dwight Schultz (A-Team and Star Trek) does a great job bringing to life this dangerous, maniacal, manipulative villain in a really unforgettable performance.

The play does have its weak points. A lot of the material does come off as fluff and padding. One of the silliest parts was where Enid needed someone to tell her to go and see Holmes and Watson, even though the play has her meet Doctor Watson at the inquest. Also, Roylott is undermined after he asks her to sign over her money to him and she refuses and he tells her this is her last chance and she’ll be sorry, and then comes back later in the play to make the same offer and once again is clear that it’s her last chance.

Like with the first play, The Speckled Band’s biggest selling point is its authenticity to the original Doyle play.

The collection concludes with Ghastly Double Murder in Famed Detective’s Flat, a one-act comedy play by Yuri Rasovsky. It’s essentially a three-hander with the premise that Holmes, Watson, and Mrs. Hudson are unlikable, amoral, hypocrites who secretly despise one another. When Holmes announces he’s going to retire to beekeeping and give up his rooms at Baker Street, leaving Watson without a meal ticket to help retire his gambling debts and Mrs. Hudson without a tenant. So the only thing to be done is for Watson and Mrs. Hudson to frame Holmes for murder. Rasovsky also inserts that Holmes and Mrs. Hudson had an affair.

In my opinion, this isn’t funny at all. Comedy is possible in Sherlock Holmes  but good comedy works when its consistent with the characters and draws its comedy from who the characters are. In this case, this is a cynical play that’s far less clever than it thinks it is. I question the decision to include it in this collection. The first two plays are going  to appeal to fans of Holmes and Watson who’d love nothing more than to hear the original Victorian plays. A lot of people interested in that would be turned off by Rasovsky’s one-act play and I doubt those who would be interested in Rasovsky’s play would be into 4 hours of Victorian Melodrama. The best thing about Ghastly Double Murder in the Famed Detective’s Flat is that is mercifully short, adding up to about 45 minutes. Although, it does feel considerably longer. If it were longer, it would seriously downgrade the set.

Overall, I’d recommend this collection if you’re interested in hearing full cast Victorian Sherlock Holmes plays. If you’re not interested in the final play, you can skip it and your life won’t be the poorer for it.

Rating; 3.75 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Martin and Lewis

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were the last of the great legendary comedy teams. They’d been a success in night clubs prior to landing their own radio show over NBC in 1949.

There were two Martin and Lewis shows, though collectors and CD makers group them into one long run. The first ran in 1949 until January 1950. The second, The New Martin and Lewis Show ran from 1951-53. Both programs had different formats.

The 1949 series started off with a comedy variety-style program with Bob Hope but reverted to a situational format. Martin and Lewis played themselves in the radio program, which was about them making the radio program. It also had an ongoing plot arc about starting a nightclub.  Martin would still manage at least one song an episode, sometimes with a hilarious plot justification for him singing. The series featured Sheldon Leonard as a shady conman named Soapy Leonard who served to get our heroes into trouble. Flo Macmichael played a maid who became Dean and Jerry’s assistant and then played some other female characters during their initial radio run. The show featured a variety of guest stars including William Bendix, Bing Crosby, and Victor Moore with the actors playing “themselves.”

The New Martin and Lewis show followed a comedy/variety format with no plot, Dean Martin as the host who sings two or three songs in the course of the show (one often a duet with a guest star), he and Lewis banter and do a skit, they introduce the guest star, banter with the guest and do a sketch with the guest. The guests included strong performers like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Anne Bancroft, Jack Webb, and Ida Lupino.

Dean Martin is a superb singer. He’s fun to listen to and his singing is the best argument for buying high quality recordings of this program. The guest stars are good, and it’s nice to hear Martin and Lewis getting to play off of some of Hollywood’s finest actors.

The comedy is a bit more uneven. Even though the plots were formulaic or silly, I prefer the original Martin and Lewis show. It gave Lewis more to work with. The new series format limited Lewis. Radio already took away the physical comedy which was such a big part of his appeal, but there was only so much that he could do with the banter portion of the shows, that many of the jokes and bits feel repetitive.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t laughs to be had, but the show is far from the team’s best work, particularly when compared to their films or the appearances on television’s Colgate Comedy Hour.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Martin and Lewis or either of the two on their own, both series are worth a listen.

Martin and Lewis Show rating: 4.25 out of 5
New Martin and Lewis Show rating: 3.75 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season Seven

Season Seven of Black Jack Justice finds the show very well settled in to its successful formula as Jack and Trixie continue to solve crimes in a post-War unnamed American city.

The season avoids some of the fancy experimental episodes from previous seasons and really plays to its strengths. That means well-crafted mysteries and clever wordplay. The closest this season gets to any sort of emotional depth is in the episode, “The Score” when an old war buddy of Jack’s tries to draft him to rob a Nazi war criminal to exact revenge.

All of Season 7 is great listening. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d choose the fifth episode, “A Simple Case of Black and White” which finds Trixie and Jack working for a pro bowler trying to connect with his child. The plot is intricate with a surprising solution. There are characters named (of course) Black and White. That plays out to really good effect.

Overall, if you’re looking for fun diverting mysteries that illustrate how a radio detective show should be done, you’ll enjoy Season 7 of Black Jack Justice.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The entire Seventh Season of Black Jack Justice is available for free download on their website.

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Audio Dramas, Volume 5 Review

Volume 5 of the Twilight Zone Audio Dramas offers six more adaptations of Twilight Zone in TV episodes.

The set kicks off with, “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” It’s a story of a well-planned robbery where a scientist is part of the gang and has a plot to avoid prosecution: have the gang hide out in the cave with their stolen gold and then put themselves in suspended animation. The story delivers a smashing twist at the end, but before it gets there, we’re given some great interaction between the members of the gang. The story is a clever and intricate morality tale that holds up quite well.

The next story is, “A Most Unusual Camera,” which is about small-time crooks getting a relatively small haul from a pawnshop burglary that includes a camera that, as they discover, can predict the future. After an unnecessary scene with the crime being reported to the police by the owners of the pawnshop (who are never heard from again), the interaction between the small-time crooks dominates the rest of the story and is a real treat to listen to with a lot of plans, double crosses, and twists.

In “Twenty-two,” a singer is terrified by dreams about the number 22 and she senses impending doom surrounding it and tries to avoid whatever fate awaits. This is a well-done suspenseful tale, though to be honest, it’s the weakest story in the set, which says a lot for this particular box set.

“The Midnight Sun” finds two women trapped in an apartment in a big city as the Earth is moving closer to the sun and everyone is trying to get away from it. The characters in this are great, and there’s a big twist at the end.

In “Walking Distance,” a stressed out ad executive takes a walk while his car’s getting fixed to the nearby town where he was raised. It’s a wistful, sad, yet wise story for anyone who’s ever visited somewhere they grew up and expected it to be exactly as it was as this time he finds it that way.

The set concludes with, “The Passerby” which finds a Confederate War Widow watching the defeated Southern Army return home. She begins to notice strange things, including the return of a soldier she’d believed dead. The story has some atmospheric moments, a great reveal, and an unforgettable closing scene. It’s a picture of the sadness and tragedy of war that’s beautifully realized.

Overall, this is one of my favorite sets in this series. Unlike previous sets, there are no recognizable guest stars in the cast, but to be fair, the original Twilight Zone series, most episodes didn’t feature huge stars or those who would become big stars. For every episode of the TV series featuring William Shatner, Peter Falk, or Burgess Meredith, you’d have an episode or two featuring actors no one remembers. The strength of the Twilight Zone are its writing, its concepts, and the thoughtful ideas at the heart of each script, and that strength really shines through here.

If you’re curious about the radio series, this is definitely a set I’d recommend. The stories are very well-realized and capture the spirit of the original series beautifully.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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