Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: The Rivals (BBC)


For the average mystery fan, when it comes to Victorian detectives, one name stands out: Sherlock Holmes. Other than perhaps Father Brown, most will know of no great detectives who were published between the first appearance of Holmes and that of Hercules Poirot. Yet detectives proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

BBC Radio 4’s series, “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes,”  introduces us to a few of Sherlock Holmes’ contemporaries. The collection from the BBC contains all twelve episodes from three series of audio dramas. In the first series, Lestrade is relaying the incidents to a reporter who originally approached him for insight on Holmes. Instead, Lestrade gives her tales of these rivals. In the latter two, Lestrade is writing his memoirs. He’s essentially a Victorian Age Forest Gump of detecting, rubbing elbows with nine different detectives and sharing their adventures. Paul Beck, Max Carridos, and Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen make two appearances each.

Overall, fans of mystery fiction owe a debt of gratitude to the BBC of the series. Like a similarly themed Television series from the 1970s, it succeeds in bringing to life forgotten detectives and clever mysteries. The acting and production values are top notch, as you would expect with a recent BBC radio 4 series. The stories are (with one exception) true to their era with few embellishments. We get a great variety of detectives, including a fat gourmet detective in Eugene Valmont, a blind detective in Carrados, and a Columbo-esque gardener in Paul Beck, as well as three different lady sleuths, most notably Lady Violet Strange and Loveday Brooke.

On the negative side, the Series episode “Seven, Seven, Seven” added an adult plot element that wasn’t in the original story, was gratuitous, and untrue to a story of that era. In addition, Lestrade is written as having a huge chip on his shoulder about the prominence and fame of Sherlock Holmes. It seems like this series could have been made without making Lestrade into a man who is so bitter against Holmes and his portrayal in the Holmes story that he has to find every way he can to undercut Holmes.

Despite these flaws, this is a solid collection and will introduce fans to many interesting and long-forgotten detectives.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: The Golden Game

The Golden Game collects two separate graphic novel stories featuring the characters of John Steed and Mrs. Peel from the 1960s TV show, the Avengers. The comics are set after Mrs. Peel’s departure from the TV show and were originally published in 1990 as three comic books by Eclipse and then reprinted by Boom Studios in 2012.

The first story, “The Golden Game” was written by famed comics writer Grant Morrison and takes up two thirds of the book. It finds Tara King (Mrs. Peel’s replacement) having disappeared, leading Steed to turn to his old protégé for assistance as they find a tie-in to a mysterious group of game player.

“The Golden Game” does feel like it could have been done on TV if they’d had the budget. The art by Ian Gibson is superb. From the colorful characters to the imaginative solution (complete with a world-threatening danger) to the final pages, everything about the story feels genuine to the era and very imaginative.

“The Deadly Rainbow” was written by Anne Caufield and finds Mrs. Peel reunited with her husband for a second honeymoon in a quaint English village after his return from the Amazon. However, trouble has followed them. There are some interesting character insights with Mrs. Peel trying to reassure herself that she was back with her husband and nothing crazy was going to happen, though of course it did.

The plot is a bit more outlandish, and it isn’t told with the same panache as “The Golden Game.” In addition, while the art was done by the same artist, the visual realization of this story is not quite as good as in the other tale. Still, it’s an okay story with a few interesting features.

Overall, this a nice collection with Grant Morrison’s story making the book a must-read for fans of the 1960s classic.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: The Frightened Fish


In the Frightened Fish, a man travels around New York city panicking every time he sees a silver fish. The last time he does, it’s in front of the building containing the office of Doc Savage, which sets the Man of Bronze on the trail of a mystery that leads him to post-War Japan and a plot to take over the Earth.

The timing of the book is different from most Savage books, which are set in the 1920s and 30s. This story is set in the heart of the Atomic Age when a whole new slew problems have risen to test the man of Bronze. The story is shorter than the other Doc Savage novels I’ve reviewed, but I think the brevity helps as it gives the tale a bit more focus and the plot builds at a solid pace.

The set up is a bit artificial when you get down to the explanation which adds up to “supervillain ego” mixed the idea of being so desperate to make sure our hero doesn’t foil his plot that the villain reveals it to him. Still, the plot is clever enough, with plenty of intrigue and adventure along the way.

In this story, Doc Savage is a bit more gruff and occasionally abrupt with aides, but  he is also a bit more human and relatable as he even falls in love, something that shocks his aides.

Despite its difference, the story remains true to Doc Savage, while also managing to explore many interesting dynamics of the time and featuring a solidly memorable villain. This makes a great read for Doc Savage fans.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 5

The fifth volume of lost episodes of the Avengers featuring John Steed (Julian Wadham) and Doctor Keel (Anthony Howell) offers four more adventures from that mostly lost first season of the 1960s classic.

In, “Nightmare,” a researcher who is one of Dr. Keel’s patients disappears and Keel impersonates him while a search is made to find the missing man. Keel finds himself the target of gangsters who want to make use of his patient’s research in psychological drugs. Overall, a pretty standard crime drama story that’s reproduced in a way that feels completely authentic to the era. I do wonder if the original screen version might have made the psychotropic drugs used feel more trippy which would have added to the period feel.

“The Girl on the Trapeeze” is a rare Steed-free episode as Dr. Keel appears to witness the suicide of a woman who he remembers from somewhere. A magazine picture leads him to a circus where a big secret is being hidden. It’s a nicely done mystery with some great moments between Keel and Carol.

“Crescent Moon” features Steed going to the Caribbean to investigate the kidnapping of the daughter of the late dictator of an island. It’s very well-done multi-layered story with a lot of great guest characters. At first, it appeared that, following the previous Steed-free story, we were going to have a story without Dr. Keel, but he ends up appearing in the second half of the episode and plays an interesting role in the denouement without ever leaving England. This has actually been my favorite lost episode so far.

Finally, “Diamond Cut Diamond” finds Steed going undercover as an Australian Airline steward to bust a diamond smuggling racket. It’s a solid and well-paced adventure even though it’s very similar to many earlier stories in the Avengers series. Okay, but not remarkable.

Overall, this collection is enjoyable and has a more solid sense of identity than many of the earlier sets partially because the original 1960s writers had a better sense of what they wanted the Avengers to be as well as the fact that Big Finish is very comfortable with these characters.

While there’s no “Making Of” extras on this CD, there’s a tribute to the late Patrick Macnee from the writers and cast. It adds a touch of class to an already very classy release.

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DVD Review: Torchy Blane Complete Movie Collection


Torchy Blane was the feature character in nine B movies released from 1937-39 starring Glenda Farrell in seven of the films, with the two other installments featuring Lola Lane and Jane Wyman. The character was also part of the inspiration for Jerry Siegel’s Lois Lane. All nine films have been released as a single set by Warner Archives.

Torchy was an intrepid female reporter solving crimes. I reviewed her first movie and I think the opening of her first movie, Smart Blonde really set the tone for the series. In it, she has a cab drive up to a moving train and jumps out of the cab and onto the moving train.

From the beginning, she established herself as a daring, clever no-nonsense reporter who manages to stay a step (or several steps) ahead of her boyfriend/fiancé Lieutenant Steve McBride (played by Barton MacClane in the seven movies starring Farrell) and his sidekick Gehagen (played in all nine films by Tom Kennedy.)

The idea of a female reporter being the girlfriend of a police detective was hardly original to this film series, but there was more done with it in Torchy Blane. As Torchy racked up a scoop in the first film, other reporters got jealous, with their bosses complaining to the police brass, who responded to their headaches by trying to frustrate her access to McBride. In another film, her fellow journalists decided to humiliate her by staging a hoax murder and getting her to believe it so that she would be embarrassed by having been duped. It’s rare for a movie from the 1930s to really explore the consequences of its premise and that’s one thing that sets the Torchy Blane film apart.

The films are a great mix of comedy, adventure, and mystery. Torchy’s intrepid adventures take her around the world, on a cruise trip, and even running for Mayor. Farrel and Maclane were usually more bit players and lacked the glamour of the A-list stars but that helps to make Torchy and Steve feel very realistic. Farrell is a delight to watch in each film as she’s always entertaining whether she’s playing an impish trick to get past the latest attempt by the attempt by the police to stop her from getting the inside dope, trying a daring stunt to thwart the bad guys, or delightfully worming another steak dinner out of Steve, she’s just fun to watch. Maclane was probably the weakest link in the series to start with but the character got better and by the end he was a step or two behind Torchy and would arrive in the end to help Torchy out. Gehagen is a lovable poetry-reciting goof whose rank on the police force appears to be Gehagen. The character is often Torchy’s unwitting dupe in whatever scheme she’s pulling to get her story.

The films have a great comic element but it’s rarely over-the-top or too absurd as many screwball comedies of the era. These are good, solid B films.

But it’s important to remember that they are still 58-63 minute, low-budget “B” films. So to enjoy them, you have to be willing to accept a few quirks such as policemen from the same department wearing uniforms that don’t match and the coroner being used as an escort for a witness to save budget on scenes. To embrace Torchy Blane, you have to accept Fly Away, Baby as a story of Torchy’s world tour even though that grand tour is told with stock footage and so-so soundstages. There are a few politically incorrect moments (although it’s very mild for the time) and anyone expecting a twenty-first century feminist will doubtless be disappointed in Torchy.

Yet, for my money, the Glenda Farrell films are wonderful, with the first four being my favorite followed closely by Torchy Runs for Mayor where Torchy fights her toughest battle against a corrupt political machine where she’s constantly abandoned and finds cowardice and calculation at every turn, until it’s clear that she’s the only one with the guts to stop them.

The Lola Lane film, Torchy Blane in Panama, is good as well. Lane had been part of the singing Lane sisters and would get a reputation for playing tough girls on screen and her performance of Torchy really showed that sort of toughness. I thought Paul Kelly was a disappointment as the replacement Steve McBride.

Jane Wyman in  Torchy Blane…Playing with Dynamite was a bit more problematic. Wyman would become a great Oscar-winning and Golden Globe winning actress, but she wasn’t that actress in 1939. She was only twenty-two when she made her sole appearance as Torchy (after appearing in a minor role in the first film) and she practically did a Glenda Farrell impression, wearing a blond wig for the role. The film’s plot really stretched believability even by B-movie standards with Torchy endangering lives by causing a near panic with a series of false alarms to get herself thrown in prison so she could reach a missing criminal. The film is rescued in the second half by some solid action and Gehagen’s comedy wrestling. It’s not a horrible film, and it’s enjoyable in its own right,  but it’s far from the best in the series.

Overall, the Torchy Blane Movie Collection is a must-see for fans of Detective B-movies. It’s a thoroughly entertaining nine hours that’s easily the equal of many better known series.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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