Category: Golden Age Article

Book Review: The Private Practice of Michael Shayne

The Michael Shayne that appeared in his first book, Dividend on Death has little resemblance to the character as he’d come to be known in film, television, and future books. In the second book, The Private Private Practice of Michael Shayne, the later character begins to emerge.

The book features the close friendship and partnership between Shayne and reporter Tim Rourke, which was a hallmark of the series. In addition, Shayne shows a bit of character and humanity in trying to ward off an ambitious young lawyer from an unethical deal. The barely grown Phyllis Brighton returns from the first book and Shayne steps in (against her wishes) to save her from crooked gamblers. There’s a bit of reluctant romance that begins to develop between Shayne and Phyllis and it’s handled nicely and believably.

To be clear, he’s not Philip Marlowe, certainly not as mopey and world-weary. The character is plenty of fun and has a lighter, comedic flare. The plot of this book was used as one of the major inspirations for the first Shayne movie starring Lloyd Nolan, Michael Shayne, Private Detective, and the movie and book track pretty well. The result is a Michael Shayne who manages to be comical but not foolish, and tough without being abrasive.

The story is well-plotted, even if it’s not particularly innovative. The humor works a couple twists including Shayne finding a way to get himself out of a murder charge but later outsmarts himself when he tries to mess around with the murder gun. Given all the evidence tampering both in this book and the previous one, it was satisfying to see a consequence to it for Shayne.

This still isn’t quite the Michael Shayne of later books, but it’s a huge step forward for the character.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

DVD Review: Fibber McGee and Molly Double Feature


The Fibber McGee and Molly Double feature presents Jim and Marion Jordan reprising their roles as the most lovable citizens of Wistful Vista in two separate films.

The first is, Here We Go Again. As the title implies, it’s a bit of a sequel. In this case, the film’s teaming of Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy with Fibber McGee and Molly is their second joint movie. The first, “Look Who’s Laughing,” was released on a separate DVD collection of early Lucille Ball films. But there’s no sense of deep continuity other than that Fibber McGee has met Bergen before, so seeing that film isn’t a prerequisite.

The teaming works quite well when they interact, though they’re often left to do their own thing. The plot is that Fibber McGee takes Molly on a Second Honeymoon and after staying a night a flea bag hotel, he runs into Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen at a much nicer establishment. Bergen is trying to discover a synthetic alternative gasoline and a capture a rare butterfly because…it’s World War II and that’s what radio ventriloquists did.

As if the film hadn’t given Old Time Radio fans enough to salivate over, this also features Harold Peary appearing as the Throckmorton Gildersleeve. Even though he’d started his own spin-off series from Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Peary plays Gildersleeve just as he did on Fibber McGee and Molly and only appears in a few scenes. Gale Gordon also appears, though not in his role from Fibber McGee and Molly as Mayor LaTrivia but as what passes for a villain in this film.

The movie holds up very well for its era. For the most part, the jokes work. The big exception to this is an unfunny, ill-conceived bit that had Bergen trying to infiltrate a native american tribe for the flimsiest of reasons. The musical numbers by Ginny Simms are superb. For fans of the golden age of radio, the movie allows us to see not one but three different big radio stars in action.

In addition to Charlie McCarthy, we also get to see Bergen’s other dummy Mortimer Snerd. Though McCarthy receives the most work and it’s interesting to see how they transferred such an active and robust ventriloquist dummy from radio to film. Though, I will say that Charlie McCarthy has a few moments (such as when he’s cheering the potential death of Bergen from various perils) that remind you why we now consider ventriloquist dummies walking around to be a creepy element of horror movies.

The second film is Heavenly Days derives it’s name from Molly’s frequent exclamation, “Oh heavenly days!” In this film, Fibber is visited by the Spirit of 1776 to begin a cross-country journey to the nation’s Capital in order to help out a friend who has become a “dollar a year” man, essentially volunteering his service to the government. Fibber heads to Washington, hoping that the voice of the common man is heard.

The film starts out okay and for the first fifteen minutes is very charming, including the McGees encountering a group of soldiers on a train and singing and we even get to hear Fibber sing. However, after that, the film runs into problems.

It’s a comedy that isn’t all that funny. It’s also a patriotic film. I’m all for patriotic films, but this one muddles its message. McGee’s whole quest is to get the voice of the average man heard in the corridors of power. He gets to Washington and actually disrupts Senate proceedings to give his own nonsensical speech. Then later, he has a trippy dream sequence where senators advise him if the Average Man wants to have a voice in government, he should probably get informed and make sure he knows what he’s talking about.

The plot, the message, and the ending feel incongruous. The film’s core problem may be that it expected too much of the Jordans. During, their radio program, they did many war-related episodes and while they could be preachy, they always remained entertaining. The reason was because they were focused on a single point (such as a scrap metal drive) and they had the entertaining cast of characters in Wistful Vista to help get the laughs. Here, the Jordans are left to get all the laughs and carry this meandering story.

The film does have its redeeming values. The presence of Fibber McGee and Molly on screen is a treat and they have charming moments including both of their musical numbers. The film features war orphans from several lands which is a historical reminder of a great tragedy in that war.

For movie buffs, it features an interesting oddity that relates to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that film, hefty character actor Eugene Pallette plays Chick McGann, a henchman for political boss James Taylor whose job is to help keep Senator Smith under control. In this film he played a Senator which led me to think McGann got one of the vacant Senate seats that were left open at the end of the movie.

Eugene Pallette

Even though\ Heavenly Days is a well-intentioned mess, I still consider the DVD a good buy because Here We Go Again is just that good. It’s rare to see that many radio stars in that same film and for the film to actually be good. The current price is a fair value for the first film and and any enjoyment you get out of the second film is just gravy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Review: Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 4


The fourth volume of Avengers, The Lost Episodes offers listeners four more recreations of the lost first season of the Avengers.

The set kicks off with, “Kill the King,” in which Steed has to protect a visiting king who is key to the British gaining access to his country’s oil. The story becomes a pretty interesting thriller as we encounter three separate individuals who all appear to be setting out with the same assassin’s mission. The story has a very clever twist at the end that hits Steed like a punch in the stomach. It’s the best episode of a very good set and probably one of the most innovative stories in the Lost Episodes range.

Next up is, “A Change in Bait.” Originally, aired at Christmastime, this episode has a lighter tone than, “Kill the King,” as Steed tries to break up a complex insurance racket involving arson at warehouses. The story isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious,or so over the top in its humor that it would feel like it didn’t belong in this season, rather the humor is mixed in in a way that feels quite natural. The arsonist is probably the most amusing guest character. His stance that they couldn’t steal money from a building they were burning because that would be unethical is priceless. Overall, a fun story.

In, “Hunt the Man Down,” a convicted robber is released from prison and immediately waylaid by two thugs who want to know where his loot is. Steed intervenes and Keel treats the ex-convict. Carol is kidnapped by the gang who believe she knows where the loot is. Overall, this is an exciting case with good twists, particularly as to who the boss of the gang is. A very solid outing.

Finally in, “Dead of Winter,” Steed investigates a body found in a shipment of beef and sends Keel undercover to a man he suspects is behind it after a a pathologist is murdered and the body disappears. This one of the more fantastic plots in the Lost Episodes and very reminiscent of the sci-fi like stories that would come during the show’s most well-known run with Mrs. Peal.

Overall, this is a strong set. It’s not as great as Volume 3, but there’s not a poor episode in this bunch.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: A Study in Terror

In A Study in Terror, while trying to work on his latest novel, Ellery Queen is distracted by a friend who brings him a manuscript purporting to be a lost Sherlock Holmes story where Doctor Watson recounts how Holmes investigated the Jack the Ripper murders.

The book is mostly a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with an Ellery Queen story framing it. The pastiche is a good one that shows proficiency in Holmes and a love for the character that the author obviously possesses. The framing story is mostly okay. It’s hindered by an unnecessary romantic angle that doesn’t add much to the story. It takes quite a while to figure out why Ellery Queen is in this book and it’s that someone thinks the conclusion of the Sherlock Holmes story is wrong. The author deserves credit for finding some way to make this argument without creating a situation that makes Ellery Queen out to be a better detective than Sherlock Holmes.

The book is enjoyable but those looking for a realistic solution to the Ripper murders will have to look elsewhere. The solution offered in the book is consistent with the book but not with all the evidence that’s been put out on the Ripper murders. It would have probably been better to fictionalize the murderers rather than to make it a well-known case and not offer a plausible solution.

Still, A Study in a Terror is an enjoyable mash up of two great detectives that gives both of them their due.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes


Continuing where the previous box set left off, this box set finds Holmes overseeing the funeral of his brother Mycroft. Holmes is the only one who believes Mycroft’s death is anything other than an accident. More than a quarter of a century after he and Watson faced off against the Society in the prior box set, the anarchist evil organization returns with a vengeance with the goal of bringing down the war-weary British government and the world.

This is a  rich set. The four episodes tell one story over the course of a single day. Several themes run through them: Holmes’ retains much of his deductive powers but finds himself out of place in the 1920s. At many times, Holmes feels like John Wayne’s character in the Shootist past his prime but with one last fight in him. The Society’s strike comes right after World War I, and shows a younger generation wants to escape from war and is willing to pay any price to appease them, compared to Holmes and Watson who view them as intolerable evils.

Watson’s marriage is an interesting focus as Eleanor is cool to his adventuring ways and he feels she loves him less than his first two wives. Plus Holmes is menaced by a figure from his past.

Some elements in this story don’t quite work for me. The Extras portion of each CD references this as being, “Victorian Melodrama,” which neither of the previous box sets were. This seems to paper over a few elements that are over the top and out of place in the tone set by the previous sets. This isn’t enough to ruin the stories by any means but without them this would be a perfect four-hour, suspense-filled, action thriller with many great character moments.

As usual, Briggs and Earl are on top form as Holmes and Watson. Natalie Burt and Elizabeth Rider are superb additions as ex-spies. (Vivienne Scott and Eleanor Watson respectively.) The soundscape conveys the epic power of the script quite nicely, and despite a few minor issues, the story is compelling listening from start to finish.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

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