Category: Golden Age Article

Abbott and Costello Meet the Internet

One popular genre of YouTube videos is the reaction video which involves watching someone react to a TV episode or other YouTube video that they’ve not previously seen. If they’re reacting to a TV episode, the video will usually only show the highlights of them reacting, but a longer video will have the entire video played in a box window next to the reactor.

I was surprised to stumble across half a dozen videos reacting to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine that have been posted in just the last few months, with most having positive impressions of the routine, and a few of them have gone on to react to other classic Abbott and Costello bits.

I’ve watched several of these videos and what makes them fun is it gives me an opportunity to remember what it was like to see this classic routine for the first time. It’s also great to see people from a younger generation who are outside the typical demographic for classic comedy enjoying Abbott and Costello at their best.

It speaks to how well their material holds up. Their routines relied less on topical humor or ethnic jokes of many comedians of the day and more on physical humor, clever wordplay, and of course Costello’s characterization and Abbott’s timing. They offer a style of comedy that still appeals to many modern day viewers, but for which there’s really no modern day source.

In short, if the reaction videos prove anything, it’s that nearly sixty years after Lou Costello died, the team is still able to win over new fans.

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Book Review: The Sign of Four

A version of this review appeared in 2011.

The Sign of Four begins when a young woman comes to Sherlock Holmes with a problem. Her father disappeared from his hotel in London on returning on leave from India. She began receiving a pearl a year for the past six year from an anonymous benefactor. She wants Holmes and Watson to accompany her to the mysterious rendezvous. The benefactor informs the party of a fabulous treasure that the young woman is entitled to. However, the benefactor’s brother is found dead and Scotland Yard jumps to conclusions and charges the kindly gentleman as the murderer.

Holmes has to uncover what really happened, free the innocent man, and find the real killer.

The story is wonderfully paced with plenty of excitement, from chasing down the criminals through the use of a dog to another appearance by the Baker Street irregulars, and a thrilling boat chase for the climax of the story.

More than a century after it was first written, the novel shows little sign of its age.  The Sign of Four is well-paced, exciting, and even action-packed story.  It represents Doyle at his finest in many ways.

The puzzle has a touch of the bizarre with its use of exotic weapons and strange footprints, but not too bizarre as seemed to me to be the case in some later Holmes stories such as “The Creeping Man.”

While in Study in Scarlet, we learned about Holmes, in this book we begin to see Holmes’ personality: the genius driven to avoid a hum drum existence, who seeks out trouble to find some problem to keep his attention.

The novel is also noteworthy for its focus on Holmes’ use of cocaine.  Dr. Watson (and by extension Dr. Doyle) were concerned about the use of cocaine in the late 19th Century and its negative effects. However, Doyle wasn’t heavy handed in his approach, and so Watson’s concern sounds more like a modern doctor’s concern with eating too many trans fatty foods. And Holmes is blaise about it, leading to some interactions and statement that may seem surreal or humorous to the modern reader.

If you can get past that, Sign of Four is truly a classic that every fan of detective fiction should read.

Rating 5.0 stars out of 5.0

Note: You can download this book free for your Kindle here. It also should be available for free for other e-readers.

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 03: Steed & Tara King

Big Finish has released two prior sets of Comic Strip adaptations based on the 1960s Avengers TV show featuring John Steed and Emma Peel. This set features adaptions of comics strips featuring Steed (Julian Wadham) and Peel’s successor Tara King (Emily Woodward) There are four episodes on the set and here’s a run-down on each:

In It’s a Wild, Wild, Wild West: There have been several Old West style stick-ups and Steed and Tara King suspect an American-style Dude ranch opened in England and all is not what you expect. This is a well-acted story and the writing and acting is good enough to make a fairly absurd plot entertaining.

Under the Weather is not as humorous as other episodes. Steed and Tara race to save England from sinister forces that have seized control of the weather. This one has more mystery to it than many other episodes, while still having a far out concept that fits the Avengers of the later seasons.

Spycraft feels more like the Lost Episodes from Season 1 of the Avengers rather than comic strip adaptations as Steed and King are charged with guarding an important leader of an emerging African democracy. While working undercover, they stumble into agents of his own country’s government that are also working undercover.

The story has slow moments but does get going once they team up . Overall, this is a solid story with some of the most fun moments in the set.

…Now You Don’t is a standard “evil hypnotist” story where Tara is hypnotized to kill Mother. Decently executed, and well acted, but the villain is undone because he doesn’t understand the basic rules of hypnotism. Also Dorney’s decision to adapt this story and to then adapt the one that came before it featuring Emma Peel in the next box set is a little baffling and feels like just making things complicated for the sake of it.

Overall, this was a decent box set, without any bad stories, but it’s not as enjoyable as the Emma Peel box sets or the “Lost Episodes” productions Big Finish did. This felt like it took a middle ground approach between the strait-laced drama of the Lost Episodes and the wacky situations of the comic strip adaptations and wasn’t as satisfying as either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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The Great Classic Detectives of Amazon Prime

Over the years, I’ve subscribed to most of the big name video streaming services, including Hulu and Netflix. My main streaming service right now is Amazon Prime Video.

Prime is adding a lot of classic series to its line up of programs. The service has millions of members, some who don’t use the video streaming as they just want the free 2-day shipping. A lot of articles are written about the  latest Hollywood blockbusters and the latest original series (which are often reboots of things done in the 80s and 90s) and. This article is all about classic detective, spy, and adventure series available on Amazon Prime. I haven’t watched every episode of all of these, so this isn’t a proper review, but here’s an overview of a few series I’ve enjoyed so far on Amazon Prime

Decoy

I’ve written about Decoy before. I saw all of the twenty-seven episodes circulating around among fans. However, a complete season DVD was released collecting all thirty-nine episodes of this syndicated series following NYPD Policewoman Casey Jones (brilliantly played by Beverly Garland.)

The old circulating episodes’ quality ranged from stuff that looked it was recorded off a VCR to not-bad prints. These new prints are really something else. They look better than when the syndicated series was first broadcast. This helps because there’s so much to enjoy visually, particularly the location shots which capture nicely how New York looked in 1957.

In many ways, Decoy is a female version of Dragnet with Casey providing a voice-over about the true-to-life operation of policewomen in New York City. Casey works a variety of policewoman functions and we learn little known facts about the job at the time, such as that anytime a female dead body was found, a policewoman had to search the body before it was taken away.

Unlike Dragnet, Decoy did use fictional cases and had more drama. This ranged from emotionally engaging moments to over-the-top melodrama. Regardless, Garland is great to watch throughout the entire series.

Peter Gunn

Of all the TV shows that don’t have direct roots in radio, Peter Gunn most feels like a successor to the old time radio detectives. The series was created by Blake Edwards, who created the radio version of Richard Diamond and there are elements of Richard Diamond in this series. (Arguably more so than in the Richard Diamond TV series.)

Gunn (Craig Stevens)has a regular girlfriend in nightclub singer Edie Hart (Lola Albright)and a competent and smart friend on the force in Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi)and Gunn is repeatedly on the giving or receiving end of physical violence. On top of that, many episodes were written by radio stalwart Tony Barrett.

The mysteries are all standalone private investigator stories, but told with style.Some programs feel like they strain against a half hour time slot, but Peter Gunn stories seem to work perfectly within that allotted time.

The music on this series is superb. The unforgettable opening theme by Henry Mancini, all of the great jazzy instrumental music, and quite a few soulful solos by Edie and other singers make Peter Gunn a rare delight.

Mr. And Mrs. North

In Mr. and Mrs. North, Richard Denning and Barbara Britton star in the lead roles as a publisher and his wife who are constantly stumbling into mysteries. Most married detectives depict the wife as a Watson-type sidekick. In the Mr. And Mrs. North stories, either spouse could end up solving the case. In my opinion, the episodes where Mrs. North solves the case tended to be the most entertaining. Just like with Decoy, there have been quite a few public domain episodes floating around over the years, but Prime is offering a far more generous portion with improved video quality.

Danger Man
I recently wrote a review of Patrick McGoohan’s late 1960s hit The Prisoner (which is also still available on Amazon Prime)and that got me interested in his first Spy/Espionage series, Danger Man where he played John Drake, an American agent of NATO, in Season 1. In later seasons, the character would be re-imagined as a British Intelligence agent.

In this first season of half-hour episodes, Drake’s a freelance troubleshooter. Sometimes his missions involve typical spy/counter-intelligence functions, including helping Americans who have run afoul of banana republics escape unjust imprisonment. Drake often has to go undercover, which is fun to watch as McGoohan effectively plays another character. McGoohan was a great actor and this series does a good job showing off his range.

The series is noteworthy for McGoohan’s refusal to have John Drake become romantically involved with any guest stars. McGoohan refused to kiss anyone other than his wife. He also believed Drake should use his mind before using his fists and certainly before using a gun. Thus, we get cold war action without the over-the-top violence and sex associated with the James Bond films. This make the series fairly good family viewing.

The early episodes do strain against the 25 minute length and often feel in a bit of a rush to finish. Still, it makes solid viewing.

The Saint

Before he was 007, Roger Moore was the definitive take on Leslie Charteris’ The Saint for six seasons over the the British network ITV. He traveled the world, helping out people in distress.

The series was stylish and interesting. You never knew where the Saint would show up. Would be he trying to foil a jewel robbery, break up a bunco operation in the English countryside, or playing a part in the Cold War? Whatever he was doing, the Saint was always suave and ready for action. And you always had that moment right before the credits when someone would either learn Simon was the Saint or remind him of the fact and a halo would appear over his head just before the series started.

The series adapted many original short stories from Leslie Charteris. This was often a challenge as Charteris had written the character over a course of several decades and he began as a  morally ambiguous character, who at one point had his own gang. However, the series usually managed to handle the adaptations well.

One notable exception was “The Saint Plays with Fire.” As a book, The Saint Plays with Fire dealt with the rise of fascism and Nazi sympathizers in 1938 England as the specter of Nazi Germany loomed large. It was an adventure that would change the Saint forever, going into World War II. However, when set in 1963 England, this story doesn’t work well over TV.

However, most of them do work quite nicely and it makes for great viewing. Amazon has all six seasons of the Saint currently, except they don’t have the broadcast version of the two-parter The Fiction Makers from Season 6, instead they have the theatrical release version of those episodes.

There are other series on Prime that I’d like to watch and haven’t got a chance to yet, including the classic police show The Naked City, Mission Impossible, and Murder She Wrote (Seasons 1-5).

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Audio Drama Review: The Prisoner, Series Two

Series Two of Big Finish’s Prisoner adaptation features four more stories that re-imagine the world of the 1960s TV series:

“I Met a Man Today” is based on the TV episode, “Many Happy Returns.” It takes a different approach than on television. In the TV episode, Number Six wakes up and goes to get his shower, and discovers everyone in the Village is gone. Eventually, Number 6 builds a raft, fights a couple men on a boat, and makes his way to London, finding himself at his old house where both his house and car are owned by a woman.

All that plot is summarized in the middle of the audio episode. The audio version focuses on Number Six’s emotional journey as he found himself in London, exhausted, unsure who to trust, or if this was real. The story also takes some time to develop and explore the relationship between Number Six and Kate (the woman who owns his house and car.) Lucie Briggs Owens is wonderful as Kate, and Elstob is on-point as Number 6 throughout the story.

Overall, this is a pleasing re-interpretation of a strong episode that may be better than the source material.

In “Project Six,” Lucy Briggs-Owens takes her turn as the new Number 2 and is the best thing about the  majority of the episode. She brings a menace to the role and creates a contrast with the character she played in the opener.

The plot is one of the most difficult ones in the set. Number 6 decides to not eat or drink anything given by the village for fear it might be laced with mind control drugs, but doesn’t seem to think he’ll need sustenance until he has to lick dew off the ground.

The take on the TV episode, “A,B, C” was weird and convoluted without offering much until the final moments when the story improved quite a bit.

“Hammer Into Anvil” bears a strong resemblance to the TV story of the same name. A new and more sadistic Number Two arrives determined to break number Six, quoting the axiom, “You must be the hammer or anvil.” However, when Number Six witnesses Number Two’s cruelty on someone else, he becomes just as determined to break Number Two, and sets out to wage psychological warfare on the people behind the Village.

Aside from the basic plot, the story goes off in a different direction. The route  Number Six takes to break down Number Two is different from in the TV show, and in some ways simpler and also more realistic, though a little less stylish. Both methods have their strong points, but it works to do something different in the radio version so it doesn’t feel superfluous. I also like that it plays off the end of the previous episode.

Overall, I think this is a case where the radio and TV versions are pretty close to being equal. Once again, the Prisoner gives us excellent acting and superb sound design.

In “Living in Harmony,” writer Nick Briggs takes an entirely different tact than the Western-themed Prisoner TV episode of the same name as this episode appears to be set in space.

Number Six finds himself on a rocket to a moon base, alongside Number Nine, who had apparently died in the previous series, but is now back and calling herself Number Ninety. Of course, being the Prisoner, the questions immediately raised is whether he’s going anywhere (or on a spaceship) and if number 9/90 is actually with him.

This is a great script for the Prisoner. It gives Number six pivotal, character-defining moments when he faces a key choice. At the same time, the sense of mystery as to what’s going on never entirely lets up. It answers some questions, but leaves so many questions that it serves to set up Series Three.

Overall, this was another solid set, and stronger than the first with compelling takes on memorable stories from the TV series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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