Category: Golden Age Article

Movie Review: The Great Rupert (aka The Christmas Wish)

In The Great Rupert/The Christmas wish, an animal trainer has trained a tamed squirrel named Rupert to wear a tiny kilt and tam and dance. However, a broadway agent informs him that the squirrel isn’t “box office” because he is too small to be seen in a Broadway show. This is the animal trainer’s last chance before he’s evicted from the shack leaning against the fancy home of his landlord (Frank Orth-Inspector Farraday from the TV version of Boston Blackie). He releases his tamed squirrel into a local park, but the squirrel struggles to survive in the wild, so he returns home and takes up residence in a hidey-hole between the shack and the landlord’s fancy home.

The story is actually about a down-on-their-luck Vaudeville family with the father, Louie, played by Jimmy Durante. It’s Christmastime, they only have forty cents for a tree, and they can’t afford shoes for their daughter (Terry Moore). At the same time, the miserly landlord learns that his gold mine investment has paid off and that each week he will be receiving $1,500 (about $16,000 in today’s money.)

With bad memories from the 1929 crash, he doesn’t trust banks, so he hides his cash upstairs in a hole in the wall, unaware Rupert has built his nest right behind it. The money takes up space the squirrel is storing nuts in, so he dumps the money out, above a hole in the shack’s roof, which the money falls through just as Louie’s wife (Queenie Smith) is praying. Christmas is saved and so is the rest of the year as the landlord keeps putting money in like clockwork and Rupert keeps tossing it out to Louie’s family, who are unwittingly paying their rent with the Landlord’s own money.

There’s a lot to like about the movie. Rupert was a stop-motion animation. For the times, he looks really life-like and cute.

Louie is mostly a typical Jimmy Durante character: positive, upbeat, and a lot of fun. Yet there were a few moments when he’d acknowledge the problems he’s facing. It makes the character someone who understands life’s challenges but faces them with laughter and a positive attitude rather than a crazy screwball character. Queenie Smith gave a sweet, down-to-earth performance and played well opposite of Durante.

While the story is light and fun, it does have some interesting ideas at its core. It asks what money is for and fundamentally how you approach the rest of the human race, Louie and his landlord have different approaches and it’s interesting to see how they play out over the course of the film. Again, this is done without being heavy-handed.

There’s some nice music here. A Christmas Party sets up a couple signature Durante piano numbers, including one wishing Christmas came twice a year, and a piece called Melody for Two Orphan Instruments.

The film does have its flaws. The original title, The Great Rupert, isn’t a good choice as Rupert is only the focus of the film at the beginning and toward the end. It’s often sold under the title The Christmas Wish, which makes far more sense. The plot does sag a bit in the middle before the final act and some of its resolution is too pat by modern standards. Still, this is a fun film with a sweet feel. It makes nice viewing around Christmas or any other time you want to escape the cynicism of our modern world.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Note: This film is in the public domain and is available at numerous sources on DVD, but is also available for free download through the Internet Archive.

Audio Drama Review: The Holly Tree Inn

While Charles Dickens is beloved for his novel A Christmas Carol, that’s far from his only Christmas work. He wrote several Christmas stories. This is the fifth one that Colonial Radio Theater has adapted.

“The Holly Tree Inn” is a short story about a man caught in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and taking refuge at the Holly Tree Inn where he wiles away time talking with the people at the Inn. As soon as the storm lifts, he’s continuing on his efforts to leave the country as he believes his sweetheart has jilted him for his best friend..

The Holly Tree Inn is a dialogue-heavy story. There’s little movement which can be a challenge with an audio drama. However, this is helped by the fact that the dialogue is by Charles Dickens which means there are some fun turns of phrases, stories told within the story, etc. In addition, Colonial does a superb job adapting it with its typical professionalism and a nice score.

The Holly Tree Inn is a sweet little story. It’s not much more than people sitting around during a snowstorm talking but it has a moral that is well-taken, if not earth-shattering. If you’d enjoy a relaxing story while wrapping presents or de-stressing from the Holidays, this is a bit of comfort listening.

Rating:3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season Six Review

After five seasons and thirty-six episodes, Black Jack Justice had established  the main characters of Jack Justice (Christopher Mott) and Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective (Andrea Lyons). Season six features a fair share of experimental episodes.

“Cops and Robbers” is a story told mostly by the supporting cast, “The Sky’s the Limit” is a story of a Poker game where the players try to suss out what happened on a case where no one has all the facts. “Man’s Best Friend is told from the perspective of the office dog, King.

Of the three, I think “Sky’s the Limit” was probably the best. It’s definitely fun to hear the story pieced together and to be learning details as the characters are. The ending is a bit ambiguous but it’s still a lot of fun. The other two stories have their moments but don’t work as well. The side characters are not as interesting as Jack and Trixie so that limited my enjoyment of “Cops and Robbers.” As for, “Man’s Best Friend,” the dog narration part landed flat. The approach seemed to be, “I’m a dog who thinks he’s a detective.” I think it would have been funnier had he been thinking more like an actual dog.

I personally preferred the other three episodes which were more traditional Justice and Dixon mysteries. “The Albatross” was my favorite as Lieutenant Sabian (Gregg Taylor) hires them to look into the murder of a black girl in a tenement which his superiors want him to lay off of. The episode examines the idea that certain unresolved cases haunt detectives, whether official or otherwise.¬† It’s a well-done episode.

Overall, while I’m not crazy about all the experimental episodes in this season, I still enjoyed it pretty well.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

You can download Black Justice Season Six from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Book Review: Dragnet Dailies Septemer-November 1952


Dragnet was not only a radio program, a TV program, and a movie in the 1950s, it was a pop culture phenomenon that not only led to spin-off novels and board games but a daily newspaper strip that spanned from 1952-1955.

Single strips have surfaced. Lewis Lovehaug (aka Linkara) did a review of an Australian Dragnet comic book which appears to have been made up of several edited newspaper strips. A few strips have appeared on various blogs around on the Internet. There does seem to be disagreement on the start date with many websites indicating 1953 as the start date, but this appears to be inaccurate. As best I can tell, it started in June 1952 and continued through May 1955.

This book collects an entire storyline from September 22-November 8, 1952. The overall plot is a good, standard Dragnet story about a search for a drug ring with the first clue coming at the scene of a drug-related accident.

The story features Frank Smith as a young police officer rather than the middle-aged character we came to know on TV. The Dragnet strip began in the interim period between the time Barton Yarborough (who played Friday’s first partner Ben Romero) died and when Ben Alexander was cast as Frank Smith. Clearly, the idea of having Friday with a younger partner appealed to Jack Webb. In addition to the newspaper strip, on a radio show, a young Martin Milner was cast as Friday’s partner Bill Lockwood for a month, but it didn’t work out, with Milner entering the military during Korea foreclosing the possibility. The newspaper strip Frank Smith does have a resemblance to Milner with a touch of Jimmy Olsen thrown in. The one plot complication is Joe Friday having a young partner makes Joe Friday going undercover as a college student seem silly. Smith would have been a more natural fit.

The art is decent with a fair likeness of Jack Webb as Friday. To be honest, it’s tough to tell how much of the mediocrity in the art has to do with the art and how much of it has to do with the quality of the scan of the material.

If you’ve read other collections of major newspaper strips, such as those published by the American Comics Library, this will probably not be all that impressive. Collections of major strips are often carefully restored. The collections are readable public domain comic strips of fair quality.

In addition, the price of $7.99 for a 42-strip story is a bit steep. Still, if you want to enjoy Dragnet as a newspaper strip and want to own a physical book as opposed to downloading them online then you may enjoy this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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DVD Review: Television’s Lost Classics, Volume 2:Rare Pilots

This DVD collects four unaired pilots of 1950s television shows.

The first is a pilot for Racket Squad starring Reed Hadley as Captain Braddock. In general, if you’ve seen an episode of Racket Squad, then you have a good idea of what this episode is like as it shows how con men set up a clever scheme to rip off the mark. If there’s any difference between this episode and the series proper, it’s that Captain Braddock is a little harsher to the victim, greeting him with, “Hello, sucker.” Still, it’s an entertaining half-hour of television.

Second is Cool and Lam. After the success of Perry Mason, network officials decided to give another Erle Stanley Gardener detective a chance and so they adapted the story of detective team Bertha Cool (Benay Vanuta) and Donald Lam (Bill Pearson). I enjoyed this one. There’s good humor and a decent mystery. This a series I wish had been picked up.

A bit of an oddball in this collection featuring crime dramas is the 1948 pilot for The Life of Riley. The series had been a successful radio program starring William Bendix. However, due to Bendix’s movie contract, he wasn’t able to reprise the role over television. We get to see the first choice to play Riley over television instead–horror movie legend Lon Chaney, Jr.

The pilot is historically significant. It was a taped program back in 1948 when live Kinescopes would dominate early television for the better part of five years. However, the big problem was Lon Chaney playing Riley. He  wasn’t cut out for the part. The TV script was based on a radio script and Chaney tried to play it like Bendix did and it just doesn’t work.

His delivery is flat and uninspired. When Jackie Gleason became the first TV Riley in 1949, he gave it his own spin. I’m not a huge fan of his approach, but at least he realized he couldn’t be Bendix.

Note we get to see John Brown as Digger O’Dell, the undertaker, often heard on the radio program. I have mixed feelings on this because Digger is such a broad character. I imagine him walking around with a black mustache and black coat and being tall. However, John Brown just looks like an ordinary guy in an ordinary suit. So that was a bit jarring.

The final pilot is 1959’s Nero Wolfe starring Kurt Kazner as Wolfe and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin. Shatner is a great choice for Archie, bringing great charisma to the role. Kaszner is an interesting choice for Wolfe. Kaszner was Austrian born. Having a European play Wolfe is closer to the book than most other portrayals of Wolfe which ignore the fact that he was from the Eastern Europe country Montenegro. William Shatner brings that swagger that’s a requirement to play Archie Goodwin and is pretty fun to watch. The plot was decent. Wolfe solved this case mostly from reading the newspaper and that was clever. Though the episode wasn’t based on the Wolfe stories by Rex Stout, it captured the spirit of them nicely.

On the other hand, this was a series that would have needed to be an hour rather than the pilot’s half-hour length. The episode was a bit bare-bones and lacked the style I associate with a Wolfe story or any of Wolfe’s and Archie’s supporting cast. Kaszner wasn’t quite big enough to play Wolfe which the wardrobe seemed to try to make up for by putting him in clothes that were a bit too big, which doesn’t work. Also, Wolfe has a cold in the pilot and is stuck in bed, which is a weird thing for a pilot to do as its establishing what a normal episode is like.

The bonus feature with this set is a not-for-air blooper reel that was sent out by CBS to managers of its affiliates, featuring many bloopers and flubbed lines. The programs featured are mostly Westerns, but with the Twilight Zone and The Red Skelton Show. I will warn that this is not really for kids. The unscripted bad language is not censored, so it’s PG-13 stuff.

Overall, for those interested in classic television, this set does offer some fun rarities. While this wasn’t the best the 1950s had to offer in television, it’s a mostly entertaining look at what might have been.

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