Category: Golden Age Article

Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: Birds of a Feather

Jessica’s niece is worried when her fiance is acting strange. Jessica comes to San Francisco in preparation for her niece’s wedding and urges her to get to the bottom of her fiance’s strange behavior.

They trace him back to a night club where they discover he’s been working as a female impersonator after failing in the insurance business. Right after this, he’s arrested for the murder of a night club owner (Martin Landau.) Jessica sets out to clear her soon-to-be nephew and find the real killer.

What Works

We get an idea of how long its been since The Murder of Sherlock Holmes as we learn Jessica has six best-sellers under her belt, and Lansbury’s performance captures the added confidence. The awkwardness of the first episode is gone as she works the case like a master of the art of detection.

Jessica’s assertive at times without losing her quintessential charm. One of my favorite parts of this episode is where she worms information out of a fired secretary and ends by complimenting her discretion.

Jessica’s police foil for this episode is Lieutenant Floyd Novack (Harry Guardino) who quite reasonably wants to keep an amateur out of his crime scene. However, Jessica uses her celebrity status to push into the case and slowly wins Novack over. It’s a nice, believable turn and they play well off each other.

Landau is the most well-known guest star in this episode, but his part is brief. All he does is exchange a few nasty words and is found dead. Outside of Guardino’s Lieutenant Novack, the best guest character is comedian Freddy York (Gabe Kaplan) who is quite believable as an 80s stand-up comic. He was genuinely funny a couple times but also reveals a nasty streak as the episode goes on, and it’s all quite believable.

The solution was nicely crafted. The vital clue was one we, as the audience were shown quite clearly, but many of us may have missed its significance. In addition, it’s believable that Lieutenant Novack would have missed this clue and Jessica spotted it without making Novack look foolish.

There may be one or two minor points (such as the composition of the wedding party at the end) that you could nitpick, but nothing in this episode detracted from my enjoyment.

This is a solid installment of the series. While it doesn’t have anything that’ll blow your mind, every aspect of this episode is well-done: a good police foil, a good batch of suspects with believable motives, a solid, fair and sensible solution, and a typical wonderful Angela Lansbury performance and you’ve got an hour of television well-worth watching for fans of TV mysteries.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: The Deadly Lady

In “The Deadly Lady,” some time has passed since The Murder of Sherlock Holmes as the episode shows Jessica has a proof copy of a new book and is working on yet another. Wealthy financier Stephen Earl is apparently killed in a storm on a boat with his daughters, who will each receive $25 million at his death. Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) suspects foul play and calls Jessica Fletcher in for her advice and he meets the man’s daughters, most of whom seem to have little love lost for him. At the same time, a drifter named Ralph (Howard Duff) comes to Jessica’s house seeking work and she gives him some work and befriends him.

Thanks to a local newspaperman, she sees a picture of the financier and realizes it’s the drifter, which means he didn’t die in the storm,  clearing one of his daughters who confessed to the “murder.” However when his body washes up on the beach, Jessica has to find out who killed him and why.

What Works:

The scenes between Howard Duff and Angela Lansbury were just superb.  Stephen Earl/Ralph is trying to sell Jessica a false story, several in fact, so that he can stay on the down low in Cabot Cove, though Jessica uses her deductive skills to see through most all of them. She’s still very kind and empathetic towards him and genuinely likes him, which gives her some added to motivation to solve his eventual murder.

We meet our first two Cabot Cove recurring characters. Tom Bosley (Happy Days, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home) would play Sheriff Tupper for the first four seasons on Murder She Wrote before leaving the role to become the lead in The Father Dowling Mysteries. In this episode, Tupper is a solid small-town lawman who does what needs to be done and refuses to alter his ways for high-powered, wealthy out-of-towners who descend on the town in the wake of news of Earl’s death. 

This episode features Claude Akins’ first episode as fishing boat Captain Ethan Clagg, an irascible character who enjoys taking good-natured shots at his friends in Cabot Cove. Akins makes the character work which is a challenge because that type of character can easily become annoying.

Dack Rambo does a nice-turn as the sleazy, money-grubbing husband of one of the daughters. He’s one of those characters you love to hate and Rambo’s quite good at making the character come to life.

What You Just Have to Accept:

Cabot Cove is supposed to be a small town in Maine, but this introductory episode is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of feeling like it’s set there.  The actors attempt New England rural accents with varying degrees of success, and some exteriors shots look passable, although the eagle eye will notice several dead giveaways that this was shot in Mendocino, California. 

It’s the type of production issue that’s fair to acknowledge, but not fair to hold against the show. It was good enough for its time. I just needed to bring my own imagination and suspension of disbelief to buy this location as being in Maine.

What Doesn’t Work:

Sherriff Tupper calls Jessica in when he thinks there might be a murder, but then when he finds an important crime scene, the story implies he told a deputy to not tell her where he was. The deputy then takes a phone call right in front of Jessica,  revealing the location and Jessica goes out there, with Sheriff Tupper none to happy to see her.

The whole sequence is a bit of pointless padding that goes against Tupper’s character as we’d seen it in the episode.

While Murder She Wrote is sometimes criticized for having plots resolved with Jessica finding the solution but the audience isn’t let on until she gives the solution to others, this particular episode has the opposite problem. The clues and overall solution are too simple and easy.  Though that may not be  the worst thing for the first hour-long episode.

Overall Thoughts:

A murderer who crosses Jessica Fletcher’s path is in serious trouble, but it’s pretty much hopeless for the murderer who decides that Cabot Cover is a good place to commit a killing.  The murderer caught in this episode won’t be the last one to try that fool’s errand and suffer the consequences.

While the mystery is a simple affair, Angela Lansbury carries it often with style, helped by a great guest performance by Howard Duff. This story gets the regular run of hour-long Murder She Wrote episodes off to a fine start.

Rating:4.0 out of 5.0

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What Joe Friday Did

We offer a t-shirt that tells us Joe Friday never said “Just the facts, ma’am.” This often lead to the question, what did Joe Friday say and do?  In this article, we’ll break down highlights from Sergeant Friday’s appearance in more than 600 television and radio show episodes, two movies, and one novel I’ve read. Some are serious and some are fun, but it’s all in the spirit of celebrating one of the most iconic character of TV’s golden age. For simplicity’s sake, all programs first broadcast on radio will be cited using their radio dates. Programs aired after 1955 will not include a reference to medium unless it’s a book.

General facts:

-Friday and his partner were so in demand, they changed departments often (sometimes every week)

-Friday spent hours waiting for suspects to show up, spent days on fruitless stakeouts and spent entire patrols waiting to catch a criminal.

-While Friday is known for the epic speeches entered into congressional record, he favored the snappy one-liners he delivered nearly every episode.

Friday career highlights and facts:

-Friday joined the force sometime before 1939 (Radio: 07/14/1949) His time on the police force was interrupted by service in World War II (Radio: 01/05/1950) where he made a friend who subsequently committed a crime that got him sent to prison.

-He nearly blew up City Hall when he tripped while carrying a bomb in a bucket. Thankfully, it didn’t go off due to a flaw in the wiring.

-Friday lived with his mother  (Radio: 05/04/1950) for many years until she went back East to live with other relatives.

-While undercover, Friday was twice hired to kill a woman. (Radio: 09/28/1950, TV: November 6, 1967)

-Friday was sent undercover to buy drugs, but when it came time to do the buy to arrest the suppliers, the police didn’t have money to complete the buy. Friday was given a stack of whatever money various captains could get at the last minute, pieces of newspaper, and good wishes that the suppliers wouldn’t insist on examining Friday’s roll too closely. (Radio: 10/26/1950)

-Friday helped a convicted narcotic’s dealer’s kids and helped his wife get a job. This led the convict to give a Friday a lead on a $100,000 narcotics ring. (Radio:01/03/1952)

-After a woman tried to abandon her baby born out of wedlock, Friday and his partner intervened to help her and to gain understanding from her husband. (Original Air Date:04/10/1952)

-Friday once had a girlfriend named Anne who stood by him after he was forced to kill a young man in the line of duty (TV:12/17/1953). However, she was never seen again once he made the fatal relationship move of getting her a stationary set for Christmas despite warnings from Frank Smith. (Radio:12/22/1953)

-Joe Friday and Frank Smith once got into an epic indoor technocolor fist fight against a mob boss’ local hoods. (Dragnet Movie:September 4, 1954)

-Friday once stood silently on a porch for ten minutes in the middle of an investigation while an old man read a long essay about the love of dogs. (Radio:11/16/1954)

-Friday played charades when he was eleven but doesn’t understand why adults would do that. (Radio: 08/09/1955)

-Friday and Smith went out of their way to make sure an escaped convict doesn’t suspect his wife came to them and told them about him. (Radio:08/09/1955)

-Friday watched the Boston Blackie  TV show. (Book: Dragnet: The Case of the Courteous Killer)

-Friday stopped a neo-Nazi from blowing up a school that was integrating. (TV:January 19, 1967)

-Friday failed to sign a receipt for ransom money leading to a frown and a long conversation with the Captain. (Original Air Date: February 9, 1967)

-Friday wrestled a teenager with a live grenade. (Original Air Date:  September 14, 1967)

-Friday was brought before a shooting board and found justified in shooting a burglar at a laundromat. (Original Air Date: September 21, 1967)

-Friday once took half an hour out of his date to hold a debate with a drug guru. (Original Air Date: January 11, 1968)

-In the premier of Dragnet 1969, Friday and his partner went on a TV panel show and spent the entire program debating a calm professor and an over-the-top rebel setting the tone for all the excitement in that season. (Original Air Date: September 19, 1968)

-Friday worked to recruit African American police officers, including a character played by O.J. Simpson. (Original Air Date: October 3, 1968)

-Friday and his partner provided support for the LAPD Command post when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. (Original Air Date: October 10, 1968)

-Friday helped the Secret Service with an uneventful visit by the President, since it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: November 14, 1968)

-Friday helped with the training and recruitment of policewomen. (Original Air Date: November 21, 1968)

-Friday and Gannon went out in the woods and wore casual clothes to have internal police conversations about community relations because once again it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: January 2, 1969)

-Friday and Gannon tracked down a dog that bit a little girl and saved her  from having to take an anti-rabies serum she was allergic to. (Original Air Date: March 27, 1969)

-Friday went back to college to get a Master’s Degree in order to become a better police officer.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Friday showed a fellow student he knew the difference between cooking spices when a student was openly carrying a bag of marijuana. He claimed, “It’s oregano,” and that he was no different than any other student carrying cooking spices to class in plastic bags.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Joe, in making the arrest, strained his friendship with a woman in class he’d been friendly with. Thus she never received a stationery set for Christmas. However, despite losing any chance at a close relationship, Friday was saved from being thrown out of class by a one-eyed lawyer. (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

For the purpose of this list, I consider all Dragnet productions featuring Jack Webb to be connected. Two episodes of Dragnet present a combined problem. In the July 10, 1949 radio episode of Dragnet a criminal who Friday and Romero put away 10 years ago comes for a visit. This indicates Friday had been a cop for at least 10 years (when this was interrupted by war service as detailed later in 1950 in the Big Escape.) However in the Dragnet TV episode, the Shooting Board aired on September 21, 1967, Friday stated he’d been on the force twelve years then and contradicted the radio/1950s TV series about the number of times he’d drawn his weapon.

It can be argued that Dragnet 1967 was neither a continuation or a revival of the original radio/TV series but a soft reboot in the same way DC Comics subtly changed the timelines of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to reflect a more recent beginning for each of these iconic characters. This theory is bolstered by the fact Joe Friday ended the original series as a Lieutenant but was back to being a Sergeant in the 1960s series.

However, I’d rather not go for the Dragnet multiverse and just acknowledge the series was not into continuity. The reference to breaking a case ten years previously in 1949 made Joe Friday older than Webb (who had just turned 29) while the reference in 1967 to having been on the force twelve years served to make Friday younger than the forty-seven-year-old Webb.

At any rate, here are a few stand out facts about Joe Friday. If there are any that I stand out to you, please share in the comments.

Other fun quotes. Check out some great Joe Friday/Dragnet quotes at the Internet Archive or Wikiquote.

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Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: “The Murder of Sherlock Holmes”

“The Murder of Sherlock Holmes” is the premiere double-length episode of Murder She Wrote that aired on September 30, 1984 which ran for twelve seasons and was one of the most beloved mystery series’ of all time.

In this first episode, Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) is a widowed substitute school teacher living in the town of Cabot Cove, Maine. She writes a mystery novel in her spare time that she only shows to family. Her nephew (Michael Horton) takes the unpolished manuscript to a publisher friend in New York and it is published and climbs to #2 on the New York Times Best-Seller list, giving her instant fame. This requires that Lansbury be extra likable in order to win over those of us who have revised countless times and received more rejection letters than we have fingers and toes.

However, quick success has its price as she is subjected to the most insipid series of television interviews an author has ever had to endure, including an interview by the worst person in the world, who spoils the ending of Jessica’s book on national television. She’s had about enough of this when her publisher (Arthur Hill) offers her a trip to the country to spend time with his friends.  It’s at this party that she begins her streak of finding a body nearly everywhere she shows up as a man in a Sherlock Holmes costume is found murdered in the swimming pool

What’s Good :

I’ve seen half a dozen episodes of Murder She Wrote at most and these were later episodes where Jessica took every dead body in stride and is used to being a world famous mystery writer.  Don’t get me wrong, she was in no way arrogant, but she was quite accustomed to a strange life of finding dead bodies in between writing massively successful mystery books.

This is a different performance by Lansbury as this tells the story of how Jessica was plucked from obscurity to become an overnight mystery-writing sensation. After nearly 60 years on Earth, she finds herself have to deal with New York City, and then she gets thrust into a murder investigation when her nephew is suspected of the crime.

She has the raw detective skills but begins her career believably out of her element and over her head. However, she pushes ahead with her basic skills and pure grit and determination. At the same time, she’s likable throughout. If you don’t have someone like Jessica Fletcher in your family, then you certainly wish you did. She’s kindly, wise, and caring about people around her.  She’s great at building rapport.

There’s also a romance angle to the story, where she and her publisher start to fall for each other. She finds it all way too fast and it’s a believable reaction.  The gentle sparks between them is a good example of how romance can work with an older couple.

The guest cast is solid and professional including veterans Brian Keith, who is great as the crusty fast seafood king “Captain” Caleb McCallum and Anne Francis as his alcoholic wife Louise.

Another aspect of the production I enjoyed was the costumes at the costume party. They were perfect for the occasion. The costumes didn’t look like rentals from a costume story or like they were from a new Broadway musical.  Rather they’re tasteful and classy costumes that look just like what would be worn at an upper class party.

I also loved the final confrontation scene. There’s so much going on and Jessica is in real danger and you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s also got more emotional stakes than is typically at stake in these sort of stories. You wonder what the killer is going to do right up until the last moment.

What Doesn’t Work:

While much of the first twenty-five minutes served to introduce Jessica as a character before she got to the party, I did feel like portions of this dragged and this could have been better paced.

Ned Beatty plays the Chief of Police of the small town where the murder occurred. Beatty tries to play him as being smarter than he looks or initially acts, even though he’s not at Jessica’s level. The script works against him, so it’s a bit of an uneven performance.

The execution of some scenes in Jessica’s investigation were a little off. She supposedly was breaking and entering into her nephew’s office to investigate another suspect but it seemed like she walked through an open door along with her nephew, so what was the problem?  

Also, there was a scene where Jessica was mugged and I noticed they used a stuntman with a wig for the rough part. I was also confused as to the point of the scene. She’s exculpated from the situation by someone who isn’t involved in the mystery and doesn’t become involved in the case. He’s just a random person who read her book.  They added to the power of published authors that they get devoted fans who risk their lives fighting off muggers.

There’s a scene in a theater and it’s an incredibly cheap-looking set. Its cheapness undermines a key plot point.

The ending scene where Jessica is leaving and the police want her to stay in New York and investigate a strange murder is excessively silly. And I write that as someone with a high tolerance for silly.

Overall:

No good TV series reaches its full potential in its first episode. Murder She Wrote is no exception. Parts of this story are a bit rough.  The pilot was written in an open-ended way that could allow it to lead to a TV series or, if that failed, it would at least be a good mystery movie of the week.

Thankfully, Murder She Wrote did become a TV series, thanks to Lansbury, whose likable and energetic performance makes this more than a movie of the week with a standard mystery plot and a few minor flaws.

By no means, is “The Murder of Sherlock Holmes” Murder She Wrote at its best but its Jessica Fletcher’s origin story and thus its worth viewing.

Rating : 3.5 out of 5

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Six Old Time Radio Podcasts I’d Like to Do

Old Time Radio Podcasts I’d Like to Do

I’ve got a 6-day a week producing Great Detectives of Old Time Radio podcast, and the seasonal Amazing World of Radio. In the past, I’ve done Old Time Radio Superman and “The War,” a World War II themed podcast.

However, the world of old time radio is more vast and there’s a lot of interesting topics and ideas to cover. Others have done some of it with Andrew Rhymes’ Old Time Radio western and the Old Time Radio Comedy podcast, and there’s also Virtual Vinny’s I Love Old Time Radio podcast. And there’s still more ground to cover.

I doubt I’ll ever have the time to do all of these, but here are a few ideas I’ve had for podcasts over the years. If I don’t do them, maybe someone else will do these hosted podcasts.

Ideas:

1) Old Time Radio Science Fiction:

Idea: Weekly old time radio Sci-Fi show

What  Would be Covered: There would be a mix of sci-fi anthology shows (Dimension X, X Minus One, Exploring Tomorrow, 2000 Plus, Tales of Tomorrow) and also programs that are not strictly Science Fiction but have some Sci Fi episodes (Escape, Suspense, Lux Radio Theater, and Theater Five.) I’d also look into an ongoing series to determine what might make for good entertaining Science Fiction.

2) Old Time Radio Adventure

Idea: Weekly old time radio adult adventure show

What Would be Covered: Voyages of the Scarlet Queen, Bold Venture, and the Scarlet Pimpernel. The show would be a mix of ongoing series and anthology programs such as Escape, Suspense, and Lux Radio Theater. I’d  start out by doing the first 18 episodes of Voyage of the Scarlet Queen and then do eight weeks of anthology programs and return for the second part of Voyages of the Scarlet Queen. The non-Mystery, non-Western series that I have in mind are a rare niche in terms of ongoing programs.

3) Family and Kids Old Time Radio Program:

Idea: Weekly or twice weekly program focusing on Old Time Radio for kids and family programming. The idea would be to have a program that kids and families could come together and listen to.

What Would be Covered: Greatest Story Ever Told, Doctor Christian, Family Doctor, Doctor Kildare, and Mayor of the Town. Essentially, the idea would be to bring people the sort of heartwarming, life-affirming drama, and gentle humor. Again, we’d mixed in some anthology program episodes that fit within the general theme.

When I think about this, I also think about incorporating a specific kids program or serials that hold up well over time. I’d find something that kids could enjoy but that adults would not find insufferable to listen to.

4) Old Time Radio Abbott and Costello

Idea: A weekly podcast featuring every Abbott and Costello radio appearance.

What Would be Covered: Abbott and Costello, Abbott and Costello Children’s program, as well as all of the programs they made guest appearances on. Seeing all those reaction videos recently reminded me of how much I love this team. They’ve been a part of my life since my childhood and I’d love to pass their work on to whoever would listen.

I’d love to do a video podcast along with which would essentially be Colgate Comedy Hour episodes and their two public domain movies Africa Screams and Jack and the Beanstalk

5)The Snozcast

Idea: A podcast featuring every old time radio appearance of Jimmy Durante.

What Would be Covered: The Jumbo Fire Chief Show, Comedy Caravan (with Garry Moore), the Jimmy Durante show, and all his guest appearances.

I didn’t get introduced to Jimmy Durante as a kid, but that guy is so fun, lovable, and wacky.  He has many great radio bits and has great chemistry with everyone he appears with from Al Jolson to Fred Allen.

6) OTR Sleep

Idea: A podcast to help people sleep more.

What Would be Covered: Hour of Charms, Words with Music, Music from the House of Squibb

Many people listen to the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio to go to sleep. In fact, it  has ended up on a quite a few best podcasts to go to sleep to lists. Yet I think we can do better, particularly for the folks who don’t find murder mysteries relaxing.

There are old time radio programs that are literally a relaxing voice reading gentle poetry while soft music plays in the background. My job would be to seek out the sleep-inducing programs and play them.

I can’t image doing this every week. Recording it would put me to sleep, after all. But maybe off and on for a few years until we have a 100 episodes.

Programs I’d Like to See Someone Else Do

I think it’d be great to have more Old Time Radio music programs where shows are played and commentary given about the songs and such. I know this isn’t for me as my ability to talk about music is very much limited.

However, there are so many topics to cover such as classical, 1940s pop music, swing and jazz music. There could be a whole series on the Railroad Hour, which adapted Broadway musicals. Someone has to cover the great music and horrible life lessons that show taught each week.

Which program of the six I listed would you want me to do? Do you have any other ideas for podcast you’d like to see done? Please feel free to leave a comment here or on our social media pages.