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

13Oct/120

You Ought to be on DVD: The Ziv Properties

Previous: Vintage Detective Movie Serials, I Heard it on Radio, Nero Wolfe

Frederick Ziv was listed as #66 on our list of radio's most essential people, but he was also critical in early television. Ziv Television turned out some of the most fascinating first-run syndicated television series. Many of these titles will be recognizable to old time radio fans such as Mr. District Attorney, Boston Blackie, Easy Aces, Bold Venture (alas without Bogart and Becall), Dr. Christian (with Carey playing the nephew of the original Dr. Christian), and the Eddie Cantor Comedy Theater. In addition fans of I Was a Communist for the FBI would appreciate the even better TV series I Led Three Lives.

Sadly, most of these programs are unavailable on DVD. A few like Lock Up (starring Macdonald Carey) have lapsed into the public domain in their entirety or like Boston Blackie or Bat Masterson have lapsed partially, so some prints are available, but alas most of these programs if they're available at all are only available through gray market or black market source with variable quality.

It's a shame because Ziv had some truly entertaining programs that filled non-prime time hours.

In addition to all of the radio programs brought to television, there were many other highlights: There was the King of Diamond series that featured William Gargan's only acting appearance after the loss of his voice due to removal of his larynx. There were several great sea programs including Men of Annapolis, The Aquanauts, Harbor Command, Waterfront, and Seahunt. There was the sky diving drama Ripcord. MGM's only step on the Ziv programs was an over-priced released of Season 1 of Highway Patrol at a cost of more than $50.

Of course, it's not only Ziv's programs that MGM's neglected. Only one episode of MGM's Thin Man Television series from 1957 with Peter Lawford has been released and that as an extra with the Thin Man movies.

I hope that MGM will work to get these programs released, maybe by selling the rights to a company like Timeless Media Group or Shout  Factory who have shown competence in selling and marketing classic television shows. As it is right now, there's a lot of great TV going to waste in the MGM vault.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

8Jul/120

Video Theater 030: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Texas Cowgirl

Holmes helps a young woman  in a travelling western show who has found a dead body in her hotel room.

Episode 4 (Original Air Date: November 8, 1954)

7Jul/120

Carry Me Back to Old Mayberry

Andy and Barney
Andy Griffith passed away at the age of 86. Griffith was the star of one of the most beloved programs in television history, The Andy Griffith Show. 

Griffith's legacy was not limited to that, however. Prior to Andy Griffith, he was a solid movie actor with He had a second great series two decades after in Elia Kazan's masterpiece, A Face in the Crowd (1957) and the comedic classic No Time for Sergeants (1958). Then nearly two decades after Andy Griffith ended, Griffith spent nine years as high priced yet thrifty great suited lawyer Ben Matlock, and then after Matlock ended he enjoyed a state of semi-retirement as a character actor who could still create magic in movies like The Waitress. 

That said,  none of Griffith's other work has had near the impact on his fellow citizens than  those eight years in Mayberry.  In 1998, 5 million people daily tuned into reruns of the Andy Griffith show. I doubt that number has declined much. Along with I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith remains one of those few shows that have not been forgotten by the sands of time.

What makes Mayberry stay strong?

Barney Fife: Any analysis of the show has to begin with Barney Fife. His five seasons on the show were the best of the series. He brought home four Emmy Awards for the role.  And won another as a guest star. Barney was the lovable buffoon and braggart who provided the show's greatest comedic moments in shows, "Barney Joins the Choir" and "Citizen's Arrest." However, he could occasionally pull off the great dramatic moment as he did, "Andy on Trial."

Gentle Human Comedy: If I could use one word to describe the Andy Griffith Show's comedy, it'd be "gentle."  Comedy today is often about put downs, denigrating women, denigrating men, denigrating different religions or political viewpoints, but Andy Griffith was about the foibles of frail human beings just like us who made mistakes and had their flaws.

It's a show that makes you laugh without leaving you to question whether what you laughed was really funny or just cruel.  On Andy Griffith, the comedy often came from efforts to spare people's reputation and feelings.  The Andy Griffith Show made more people laugh with its efforts to be kind than most shows that have tried to obtain laughter through cruelty.

Love and Music: The show in the midst of its hilarity would often create a beautiful dramatic moment that would touch the hearts of viewers as parents, as children, or just as plain humans who could relate to what the characters were going through.

Music was an important part of Southern life and played a significant role in the program with Sheriff Taylor, the Darling Family, Rafe Hollister, or others.  It gave the show a feeling of authenticity.

The Truest Show on Television:  Our trips to Mayberry would invariably come with a moral. The insertion of morals into the show was quite intentional. One man even used it as Curriculum for a Bible Study and a Baltimore pastor used it to create a sermon series when he observed that every one of the gifts of the Spirit could be illustrated by an Andy Griffith show.

The program taught good morals while rarely being "preachy." You'd laugh at the events, but then turn off the TV and then you'd come away with a nugget of truth.

Of course, the show is often considered unrealistic with its often idyllic portrayal of small town life. Yet The Andy Griffith Show was more about truths that endure rather than the passing reality of the moment.

The strongest criticism of Andy Griffith was  the lack of black characters. There was only one Black character with a speaking role in the eight year run of Andy Griffith. We should note that the problem was not limited to Mayberry. In the far more urbane Dick Van Dyke Show,  I recall only two Black Characters with speaking roles in the five seasons. I've also seen the first three seasons of Green Acres and again no black actors. This problem has more to do with a Hollywood culture that had failed to cultivate black stars and character actors than it does any racism on the part of the producers of Andy Griffith. 

More to the point, it doesn't matter in the long run to the show's staying power of the program as Rochelle Riley wrote for the Detroit Free Press:

 “For me, and for many generations before me, ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ was about our lives, regardless of color or background...

“My family didn’t watch ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ to count black people. We watched to see our way of life, one that included spending hours picking plums in the plum orchard, then sitting under a chinaberry tree eating them, or walking along ponds to collect cattails."

And many generations after will continue to enjoy the simple lessons of life in Mayberry.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

10Jun/120

Video Theater 029: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun

Sherlock Holmes (Ronald Howard) is called to a castle to investigate the murder of an American emigrant and for some reason, he's bringing fishing tackle.

Original Air Date: November 1, 1954

11Dec/110

Video Theater 023: Racket Squad: The Christmas Caper

Captain Braddock of the Racket Squad tells how his duty demanded he arrest Santa Claus-an old man who had been taken in by a phony Santa racket.

Season 3, Episode 15

Original Air Date: December 25, 1952

9Oct/111

Video Theater 021: General Electic Theater: Committed

An ad seeking adventure lands author Dan Holiday (Alan Ladd) in a sanitarium where everyone keeps calling him "Stokes."

Season 3, Episode 11 (Original Air Date: December 5, 1954)

5Jun/110

Video Theater 017: Martin Kane: The District Attorney Killer

A murderer who  pledges to get even with the District Attorney kills him in open court and implicates his defense attorney as the one who provided the gun. Martin Kane goes to work.

From the 1949-1951-run.

25Feb/111

The Complete Johnny Staccato Review

John Cassavettes

Johnny Staccato was one of those shows that acquired a cult following and could never do much else. It's 27 episode-run from 1959-60 assured it would never make it far in syndication. It's star, John Cassevetes didn't care for the show and had only taken the job to pay off some personal debts.  Cassavettes went so far as to publicly criticize the show in his successful effort to escape in his contract in the middle of the 39-episode season.

Still, the fans have made their feelings known. Those who remember Staccato gave it a fat 8.8 rating on a 10 point scale. For years, Staccato was entirely the province of grey market DVD makers. Now, thanks to Timeless Media, I can evaluate whether Cassavettes was right or the fans? For the most part, the answer is the fans.

More than a P.I. Show

First of all, I have to compliment Timeless Media on the quality of the recordings in their complete Johnny Staccato Box Set.  I'm pretty well used to the somewhat poorly aged prints that dominate TV reruns and public domain video. Somebody put a lot of work into making Johnny Staccato a great release. The video and sound are great even on my old analog set. It was a pleasure to see and listen to. While some would complain about the lack of extras, I can't really expect many extras  when we're dealing with a 51 year old show that was cancelled mid-season and where the star has been dead for 20 years. I'm thankful they got the show out and in such a beautiful form.

It can be tempting to write Johnny Staccato off as merely a ripoff of Peter Gunn. After all, both Staccato and Gunn are New York P.I.'s that hang around the jazz scene. The big difference with Staccato is that jazz isn't just something he hangs around for information, but he's truly a part of it as a musician. The scenes of Staccato on the piano are priceless. The music of the lates 50s pulses through Johnny Staccato.

In addition, every episode of Peter Gunn seems to end with at least two, and usually four dead bodies. Staccato often ended the show with no dead bodies. Cassavettes influence made Johnny Stacatto much more a Detective Drama than it did Peter Gunn's shooting gallery.

Also, another big difference between Peter Gunn and Johnny Staccato is that while "Mother" in Peter Gunn seemed to exist in the story primarily as a plot device and the owner of Peter Gunn's favorite hangout, Waldo (Eduardo Ciannelli) who owns Johnny's favorite spot is a far more fleshed out and there's an almost father-son dynamic of their relationship.

As a Private Detective, while Craig Stevens who played Peter Gunn looked and sounded like he was out of central casting for a detective hero, Cassavettes didn't have the look of  a great detective hero. Perhaps, it was because I first saw him playing the murderer in the Columbo movie,  "Etude in Black", but it took me a while to buy him as a hero. However, Staccato after a while Staccato's looks became a plus.

Staccato was a Korean War Veteran who rarely became involved in cases for the money. He rushed off to help his friends and solve cases with little concern for fees. He was the proverbial knight in tarnished armor.

According to the first episode, Johnny abandonned full-time piano playing for the life of a private eye when he realized he didn't have the talent to make it big. In the first episode, Johnny states he had turned in his musician's union card years before, but still seemed to play part-time at Waldo's.

Staccato's cases occassionally fell under the category of "typical PI fare" such as in, "House of the Four Winds," where Johnny deals with trouble in Chinatown  and "Night of Jeopardy," where Johnny shoots a counterfeiter and now the mob is after him for the plates.  In "Act of Terror," Johnny is hired by a hypnotist to find his missing wife but Johnny becomes suspicious that the man (and his dummy) may know more than they're letting on. In these sort of rough and tumble situations, Staccato handled himself as well as any detective on television. 

Other episodes had far deeper dramatic and even moral meaning. In "Evil," Johnny takes on a huckster who is using a mission to scam people out oof money. This episode took a few clever turns. In, "Tempted," Johnny has a chance to take a beautiful woman and $200,000 necklace. In the, "Return," Johnny has to stop a Korean War Veteran who escaped from a mental hospital from killing his wife. In, "Solomon," Johnny is asked to commit perjury by the city's greatest defemse attorney in order to acquit a client the lawyer believes to be innocent.

Of the first 23 episodes, I'd say 22 are are among the best hour detective shows of the era (the exception to this being, "Double Feature" which added nothing to the silly "everyone has a double" plots that many shows just have to try.) It was towards the end of the run that the show began to fade. Cassavettes wanted out, and it began to show on the screen starting with, "An Angry Young Man" in which the story was weak and had Johnny unbelievably moving rhythmically to the polka. The show bounced back a bit with "The Mask of Jason" which featured a young Mary Tyler Moore as a beauty queen scared of an ugly man, but by the end of the episode, the audience has to wonder where the real ugliness lay.

The last two episodes were straight downhill. In "A Nice Little Town," the writers go literally out of their way to make a political point, sending Johnny out of New York to a small town where a former U.S. soldier who had defected to the North Korean side had been murdered by two men in absurd masks. We then get to watch unlikable townfolks attack Johnny for not having an American name and for being either a commie or stupid. The episode concludes without Johnny capturing the killers, so that Johnny can make a speech to the strawman anti-communist town. Whether Cassavettes was concerned with making a political point, trying to impress avante garde activist types, or pushing the storyline in hopes that it would help the show get cancelled due to public outcry and get him out of his contract, or some combination of the three, we don't know.  However, no record exists suggests that the episode played any part in Staccato's exit.

The last episode of Johnny Staccato was, "Swinging Long Hair," which was odd as no one in the episode had long hair. The episode had some great music, but was one of the shabbiest shows of the series in terms of its writing. It ends with Stacatto remarking that one of the bad guys still needed to be killed but as someone else would have to do it as, "I've had it."  Thus star and character bid farewell together.

While the show's quick decline was sad to watch, the quality and greatness of the first 23 episodes make this set well worth owning and I'm glad that I do. Johnny Stacatto was a great show and there may have been more episodes if John Cassavettes had agreed.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

11Feb/110

Casey Jones: TV’s First Policewoman

It wasn't Cagney and Lacey in the 1980s. It wasn't Police Woman in the 1970s. Rather, the first police police woman to come to television was Casey Jones (played by Beverly Garland.)

Casey Jones (Beverly Garland) in Uniform

The concept of following the adventures of a Policewoman wasn't new, but it was rarely tried. In 1946, ABC had brought stories from the case files of Lieutenant Mary Sullivan of the NYPD, the nation's first female homicide police detective and the nation's first director of Policewomen.

In 1957, Decoy went into syndication starring Garland as Casey Jones, a New York City policewoman.  Some declare the show a female Dragnet. The comparison is not without merits. Decoy not only had the heroine as a narrator, but was often a police procedural, although sometimes it dabbled in crime melodrama. However, Decoy, while having a technical advisor from the NYPD, was not based on real-life cases. It remains unique among police shows of its era because of its powerful female lead.

I'm a Cop Not a Sociologist

In the episode, "Dark Corridor," Casey goes undercover to investigate the murder of a model inmate in a women's prison. The warden has been lenient and tried to focus the prison on rehabilitation and is concerned that the murder could undermine her efforts with the state. Casey cuts her off with a simple, "I’m a policewoman, not a sociologist."

When the show was at its best, Casey kept to that simple code, as she took on gamblers, robbers, murderers, drug dealers, smugglers, and thieves just like her male counterparts. However, Casey also investigated some crimes that targeted women which weren't ususally dealt with on television such as rape and obscene phone calls.

Casey was a great character. She was tough and intelligent, but also sensitive. Casey cared about people and empathized with them, even some of the criminals. However, Casey's sensitive nature didn't stop her from doing her job (with one exception I'll discuss below.) 

At the end of most episodes, she breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience for a minute with some thoughts on the case just concluded.

The vast majority of episodes have Casey going undercover for at least part of the episode. Casey's undercover roles included society heiress, nurse, carnival dancer, shop lifter, and junkie. It makes you appreciate the talent of Ms. Garland, who not only had to play her character, but play her character pretending to be someone else in nearly every episode.

Decoy also welcomed a variety of guest stars, many of whom would go on to great things. Larry Hagman, who would go on to fame in Dallas made his first television appearance in a bit part in "Saturday Was Lost."  Suzanne Pleshette made an early TV appearance in, "The Sound of Tears." And a young Peter Falk gave a show-stealing guest performance in "The Comeback" three years before getting a best supporting actor Ocsar Nomination and a decade before he would make his first appearance as Lieutenant Columbo.

Peter Falk

While Garland was the only actor to appear in every episode, she had one big supporting player: New York City. If nothing else were good about Decoy, it'd be worth watching for its look at 1950s New York City. The show made New York come alive and the setting was key to the whole story.

The Best of Decoy:

20 of the Public Domain Decoy episodes have made their way online and several of the non-public domain episodes have also made their way onto DVD releases from Timeless Video,  Alpha Video, and other companies. Over the past year, from a variety of sources, I've been able to able to watch 31 of the 39 episodes of Decoy. Some of the best of these were:

The Pilot Episode

Also known as Stranglehold. The plot is that a man was strangled and that the police believe that a woman who lives in the building knows who did it. Casey goes undercover to get the woman to spill. This a powerful suspense-filled Noirish episode that sets a great tone for the rest of the series.

The Sound of Tears

Casey investigates the death of an engaged man. Casey does a great job investigating the case, while dealing with old wounds it reopens, as she lost the man she loved to an act of violence.

Saturday Was Lost 

This is one episode where a Dragnet comparison is apt. Casey has to help a teenage girl what happened to her sister, while they were under the influence of drugs. A powerfully done and unforgetable episode that could have been produced by Jack Webb.

Night of Fire

Casey goes undercover in an office to investigate an arson where all fingers of suspicion are pointed at a woman who had been a mental institution. Good mystery and the denoument is dramatic and fitting.

The Comeback

Peter Falk plays a race track cashier who is in cahoots with a criminal making counterfeit parimutuelracing tickets. Casey pretends to be crooked and wanting a piece of the action in exchange for her cooperation, so she can break the racket. However, Falk believes she's too classy to go crooked, tries to talk her out of it, and then gets beat up for trying to steal the picture that the counterfeiting took of Casey taking his money so that she can get out of it.  Falk is frustrating to both Casey and the counterfeiting boss but endearing at the same time in a TV appearance that foreshadowed a great acting career to come.

Earthbound Sattelite

Casey goes undercover to bust up a gambling ring. The plan is for police to follow her to the location. The problem? The gamblers have such a confusing system of switching cars and making turns, that the police can't keep up. Inspired by space satellites, the police improvise a high tech solution,  at least for 1958.

Other episodes that are well-worth watching include Fiesta at Midnight, The First Arrest, Tin Pan Payoff, Shadow of Van Gogh, and Ladies Man.  

Who is Casey Jones?

Of course, the episodes weren't all great. One of the challenges in Decoy was that the portrayal of Casey was uneven. Decoy was definitely trying to reach female viewers, howwever every Decoy script was written by a man who imagined what type of script women might like. In addition, no one wrote more than four episodes of Decoy, so there were differing views of the character that came to bear.

The episode, "Cry Revenge" was bizarre with a young disabled woman marrying a man who was making harassing and threatening  phone calls to her mother in order to get revenge on her mother for her father leaving. Similarly weird, was the episode, "Death Watch" (IMDB link only)  which featured a shoplifting ring that did murder-for-hire as a sideline, and an odd melodramatic plot with a punchy son.

Decoy rarely went more wrong than when Casey went outside of police work and towards social work. In an unforgetably disturbing scene at the end of, "Night Light," Casey urges a criminal to reject his son (apparently to prevent him from becoming a criminal), and the criminal then proceeds to tell his son that he doesn't want him or care about him. 

Yeah, that's the key to a well-adjusted adulthood.

The most egregious example of this was the episode, "Scapegoat" (IMDB only) in which Casey travels out of town to bring back a suspect. The suspect is embarassed by having to wear handcuffs, so Casey feels bad for her and takes the handcuffs off as long as the fugitive promises not to run away. Casey gets distracted for a minute and low and behold, the fugure ("shock") escapes. The convict is gets her mentally disabled ten year old-son who she plans to throw off a bridge because she's unable to pay for the private hospital she had him and feels that he's better off dead than a state institution. Casey talks her out of throwing her son over the bridge by using her own boneheaded move as proof that government employees are capable of compassion and caring.

This episode was a classic case of a writer violating their character. It's almost shocking that this one made it to air because it contradicts every other episode that shows Casey as calm and thoroughly competent, with emotions in check.  

"Across the World" is notable for Casey being knocked out early in the episode and the audience getting to watch three people they don't know or care about at each other's throats in an after-school special style show that I guess was trying to urge people not to get involved in international gun-running.

I also didn't buy the emotional angles in "Eye for an Eye," but that may have been a matter of taste.

Still, with both its good and bad episodes, Decoy remains a memorable program, that any fan of Classic TV detectives should acquaint themselves with.

 20 Public Domain Decoy Episodes available at the Internet Archive.

6Feb/110

Video Theater 013: Burke’s Law: Who Killed Jason Shaw

A man is found dead, sitting in a running shower. Captain Amos Burke (Gene Barry) begins the case with no suspects and ends up with a colorful batch before it's all said and done.

Season 1, Episode 15

Original Air Date: January 4, 1964 (Original set to air on November 22, 1963 but postponed due to the assassination of President Kennedy.)

Subscribers

Pages

Friends of the Show

GAR Links

Great OTR LInks

Other Old Time Radio Shows

August 2014
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Tags

Categories

Archives