Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: Father Dowling Season Three


After a TV movie and two partial seasons, ABC gave the Father Dowling Mysteries a regular season of 22 episodes in 1990-91.

The same cast of regulars from Season 2 returned with Father Frank Dowling (Tom Boswell), Sister Steve (Tracy Nelson) investigating mysteries and Father Prestwick (James Stephens) and housekeeper Marie (Mary Wickes) providing comic relief.

The series maintained a pleasant, family friendly voice tone with likable characters. Steve does a lot of undercover work and handles most tasks well, but you don’t get the impression she’s unrealistically super competent in everything like during Season One.

Some of the past seasons had episodes that could more rightly be called “adventures”  than “mysteries,” but these are true mysteries. The plots are thought-out but never too intricate.

The one thing I did miss from Season Two was the little touches that made Father Dowling and Sister Steve seem more like a real Catholic priest and nun. Except as discussed below, they don’t do anything to cut against that idea other than the fact that the two can always run off to investigate a mystery.

My favorite episodes of this season is, “The Christmas Mystery.” It’s a nice mystery with a few suspect twists, but it’s a fun Christmas treat and there aren’t enough good Christmas mysteries out there. In, “The Moving Target Mystery,” a contract killer comes into Father Dowling’s confessional and confesses he was hired to kill him. He is backing out because he won’t kill a priest but somebody else will. It’s a good set up for a story.

The “Fugitive Priest Mystery,” finds Father Dowling on the run thanks to his evil twin Blaine, and he has to clear his name and find out what Blaine’s up to. “The Hard-Boiled Mystery,” is my favorite episode of the season. Father Dowling goes to have words with a writer who decided to write a story based on Father Dowling. It’s set during the 1930s with Dowling as a hard-boiled priest-detective. We flash from the present to the hard-boiled detective scenes and they’re absolutely hilarious.

On the downside,  some stories just didn’t work. After having an angel in Season 2, the writers decided, “How about having Father Dowling encounter the devil?” Thus we were given, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery.” What we get is a Hollywood version of the devil who is defeated by a plot ripped off from, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” The story introduces an older brother for Steve and contradicts a previous season’s story featuring Steve’s younger brother. Further, it has the characters acting really out of character. It’s the worst episode of the series.

“The Consulting Detective Mystery,” is a bit of clunker. Father Dowling makes a deduction as to who committed a crime. He’s wrong, leading to an innocent ex-con losing his job. This leads to Sherlock Holmes appearing in order to restore Father Dowling’s confidence. It’s not a great setup and the actor playing Holmes doesn’t work. It’s not as bad as, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery,”  but it’s weak and poorly executed.

The rest of the box set is serviceable and fun. Father Dowling was never a big budget show, and it never featured television’s most clever mystery writers. It was a show you could enjoy with the whole family. Another reviewer described the show as “cute,” and I’ll go with that. This season, in particular, features Father Dowling and Sister Steve working to save a cute zoo monkey framed for murder. It’s easy viewing with a bit of nostalgia for simpler times thrown into the deal.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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A Look at Time Bomb with the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have teamed up numerous times on television and in books. In 1992, the Hardy Boys crossed over with another long-time long-running literary franchise, Tom Swift. I read the first of these two crossovers, Time Bomb when it was first released. Recently, I spotted it in a thrift store and decided to give it another read to see if it lived up to my fond childhood memories.

Background:

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew literary properties began to be published by Simon and Schuster in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, the company launched the Nancy Drew files, and the Hardy Boys case files which offered readers a new book every month.

These were written for what the modern publishing world calls the young adult market. The original books were written for kids. The new series’ plotlines were clean but a bit more intense. For example, in the first Hardy Boys case file, Joe Hardy’s girlfriend killed in a terrorist car bombing.

This led the Hardy Boys, in addition to their typical mysteries, to serve as freelance operatives for the top-secret government organization known as the Network.

The books were successful, each series running for eleven years. In 1991, Simon and Schuster decided to launch another well-known juvenile fiction from a past generation in a similar series, Tom Swift.

In the 1990s series, Tom Swift Jr. was an eighteen-year-old inventor and the son of the founder of Swift Enterprises. He was constantly discovering and dealing with cutting-edge technology and facing a recurring enemy, the Black Dragon.

The Plot:

The Swift corporation tracks down the notes of a scientist who disappeared in the 1960s. Meanwhile, on an investigation with their father, they run into the scientist, alive and well, having traveled back in time from the 1960s.

However, both the Swifts and the Hardys are targeted by the Tom Swift, Jr.’s archenemy, the Black Dragon. He steals the Swifts’ nascent time-travel technology and tries to kidnap the scientist, and the Hardy boys’ father, Fenton, disappears. The Hardys mistakenly believe the Swifts are behind it. However, once the obligatory misunderstanding is sorted out, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift join forces.

The Black Dragon plans to hold America hostage, giving the President a chance to either serve as a puppet ruler for the Black Dragon. If the President refuses, the Black Dragon will take an entire American city back in time so it lands on top of itself, destroying the city. And the only thing that can stop him? Three teenage boys.

The book feels much more like a Tom Swift book guest starring the Hardy Boys. Swift’s supporting cast plays a much more prominent role and the plot is very much science fiction with very little detective work to be done.

It’s a good time travel yarn with some interesting theoretical ideas and plot twists, but also a good deal of adventure. Swift and his talking robot, Rob, journey back to prehistoric times as part of their efforts to stop the Black Dragon, It’s easy to see why it was such a fun read for me when I was twelve. There’s a lot of really cool stuff in there.

That said, the story’s not without its flaws. Some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy. Like many books from this era, it was updated to connect with readers of this era, and now the book is a bit dated. In addition, the plot can be too cute for its own good.

For example, one character gets trapped back in time and writes a story about what happened in a pulp fiction magazine. He also writes a message to other characters that he has delivered to them in the 1990s, advising them to get a copy of the magazine. The Black Dragon finds out and is having every copy of the magazine stolen and sends his goons back in time to eliminate the character. This raises the question of why our time-stranded hero didn’t include a copy of the article in the envelope or just write them in the letter about what happened so he would be rescued without letting the bad guys know.

Still, despite the weaker plot points, this book was still fun to re-read. It offers 1990s nostalgia and a good time-travel story. If you like Tom Swift, or are curious to see the Hardy Boys in a different type of adventure, this book will be a worthwhile read.

Ratings: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 1

Black Jack Justice was produced by Decoder Ring Theatre in Canada. Like the Red Panda, it’s a period series. Black Jack Justice is set after World War II and is a detective series in the style of hard-boiled detective shows like Philip Marlowe and That Hammer Guy.

Unlike most narrated private eye series, Black Jack Justice features two detectives and each takes turns narrating the story. The series stars Christopher Mott as Jack Justice and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon: Girl Detective, his partner. Writer Gregg Taylor plays their recurring police foil Lieutenant Sabien.

The format of the series works well. Both characters are hard boiled, but their styles vary. Justice’s narration tends to be a bit more world-weary and sarcastic, while Dixon is lighter and more smart alecky in her approach. It makes for interesting narration and also good banter between the characters.

There’s definition friction between them, and lots of sniping back and forth. Still, there’s a great amount of professional respect as well as a shared sense of right and wrong.

The first season features twelve episodes, unlike future seasons which would included only six. The episode titles in this first season employed many puns on Justice’s name, such as, “Justice Served Cold,” “Justice Delayed,” “Justice be Done,” and “Hammer of Justice.”

Almost every episode has a good mystery plot. The stories are intellectually engaging and often offer surprising solutions. Most have a tone and style that would fit into the golden age of radio. On some issues, particularly the role of women and domestic violence, it feels a bit more modern, but it doesn’t go overboard.

The music is great, particularly what’s used during the narration. It establishes the mood well.

The only episode that left me a bit cold was the series finale, “Justice and the Happy Ending.” The mystery was not challenging and the plot ultimately came down to how Justice would handle a temptation. However, it was somewhat predictable the way it played out.

Still, the season is overall quite strong. If you love golden age detective shows, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Season 1 of Black Jack Justice is available on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

Telefilm Review: The Saint (2017)

The latest adaptation of the Saint is a direct-to-digital film originally shot as a pilot for a TV series back in 2013. It was released with the recent death of 1960s star Sir Roger Moore, who appears in it.

The production has some good touches. It is certainly not the 1996 Saint film. Saint (2017) felt like the people who had made it had watched Saint films and TV shows and read Saint books, which isn’t something I could have said about the 1996 film or the telefilm

In the 2017 film, the Saint, the Robin Hood of crime, is called by a wealthy thief. The wealthy thief is involved in a scam to electronically move billions of dollars in humanitarian aid money belonging a third world country into an offshore account. After he grows a conscience and doesn’t follow through, his daughter is kidnapped. The Saint has to rescue the girl and make sure the aid money gets to its intended recipient.

This film has got a lot of nice touches that make it feel a little bit more like the Saint. It features two former “Saint actors,” Moore and Ian Ogilvy, who played the Saint in the late 1970s. The film also features Patricia Holm, a character from the novels, and gives the Saint a dopey sidekick who calls him “boss.” That’s vintage Saint of both literature and film right there.

Adam Rayner brings far more charm and charisma to the role than more recent portrayals. He’s not on the level of George Sanders in the 1940s or Moore in the 1960s, but there’s an infectious swashbuckling fun to the way Rayner plays the character and he’s a joy to watch.

Also unlike the 1996 film, the 2017 film gets the idea that the Robin Hood of Modern crime should, you know, be giving to the poor if he robs some crooks. The movie sets the Saint in the same vein as many of the pre-World War II books did.

So where does the telefilm film go wrong?

There are three big problems as I see it. First, there’s too much technobabble. I get that this is the twenty-first century and everything is computerized, but I’ve seen Star Trek episodes with less implausible babbling to support whatever scene is coming up next.

Second is the way Patricia Holm was written. In an updated story like this, it’d be smart to make Patricia Holm balance the Saint in skills, personality, with confidence in herself and who she is that would exceed what was written in novels in the 1920s-1940s.

What they decided to do is to make Patricia into the Maryest of Mary Sues. Yes, the 21st Century Patricia Holm is a computer genius and a self-defense expert who can handle everything herself. In a flashback, she is handcuffed to a jeep in the middle of the dessert. She manages to kill all three of the men holding her while still handcuffed.

Further, she works in as many opportunities to belittle our hero as possible because…Mary Sue. She even tells the Saint that she’s the brains of the operation and he’s just the muscle. Really?

The other big problem can summed up in a simple paragraph:

The Saint is great. Batman is great. Val Kilmer played Batman and he also played the Saint. However, the Saint is not Batman.

We learn at the start of the story that Simon’s family is tied to the Knights Templar (which is  a very good idea), but we also learn the Saint was the son of a wealthy family, both of his parents were murdered before his eyes, someone who mentored him was evil, and he has a gift for disappearing when people turn their head.

And there are a few other things that make this movie reminiscent of Batman Begins. The pilot also hinted that an evil generic brotherhood would be Bat-Saint’s chief opponent rather than the traditional Saint approach of taking on whatever new and interesting villainy offers itself up to be defeated each week.

Finally, the ending feels tacked on and awkward, particularly a line that draws attention to the fact the actor who played Agent Fernak wasn’t available for this scene.

Some minor characters are so horrifically performed, it takes you out of the story, including in that final scene.

Overall, this isn’t a horrible film, but it could have been better and I felt Adam Rayner’s Saint really deserved a better film. Still, as it is, it manages to get enough right about the Saint to make this an enjoyable bit of action schlock. However, its attempts to update the Saint more often than not go awry and this holds it back.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Four by L’Amour


As I’ve mentioned before, Random House adapted several stories by the great Western Author Louie L’Amour to audio. Most of these are available as single releases, but some are available as collections, particularly those who have the same lead character. However, this collection of four audio dramas only has the irresistible rhyming title with four different heroes (all but one a one-shot character.)

In “No Man’s Man,” Gunslinger Lou Morgan is hired to get rid of a suitor to a woman he was madly in love with. However, he arrives to violence and so many complications.

I like this story. Even though it’s in the Old West, it reminds me of a classic hard-boiled detective novel: There’s a lying client, dangerous hoods, a mysterious woman who captures our hard-bitten hero’s heart. It has great action and a solid story.

In “Get Out of Town,” fourteen-year-old Tom Fairchild is the man of the house at his farm after his father dies and he goes to town to findhelp. He chooses to hire an ex-convict, Riley, against the advice older men in town. Tom’s an interesting character and this is a coming of age story for him. In the course of the hour audio drama, we see how he changes, in his relationship to Riley especially, as there’s a romantic spark between Riley and Tom’s mother. The story’s ending isn’t quite what you expect, particularly if you’re looking for big western action, but it’s still good drama.

In “McQueen of the Tumbling K”, Ward McQueen, the foreman of a ranch, sees a wounded man fleeing through the Tumbling’s K spread. In town, he learns a gambler is setting up a town and making advances towards the female owner of the ranch. In the middle of this, McQueen is waylaid and left for dead.

This story’s not horrible, but it’s the weakest story of the collection. The villain is painfully obvious, but McQueen is also too strong a hero. Once his physical survival is assured, there’s  not much of a question of the outcome. Everyone in town knows him and no one knows the villainous gambler. The earlier stories worked because you had established lone strangers in Morgan and Riley facing off against local bad guys without any locals having a reason to back them up. Here it’s reversed and doesn’t work as well.

Finally, we have “Booty for a Badman,” featuring one of L’Amour’s well known Sackett characters, Tell Sackett. Tell has had little luck as a miner, which makes him the logical choice to transport the other miners’ gold. Every miner who has left the camp as a known success ended up dead. If they send out someone who everyone knows has a failing mine, he shouldn’t get stopped–in theory.

Carrying $40,000 worth of gold is a risky proposition and it becomes even riskier when Tell encounters an Army wife who has had a breakdown and runaway as she can’t take the strain of living in the West.

This is a good story with a great sense of drama as well as a strong action scene. While we only get to spend an hour with Tell, we get a strong idea of his character. The resolution was one I could have seen coming a mile away, but it’s still a fun story.

Overall, while I liked some stories more than others, this is a nice sampling of stories from one of the most beloved best-selling authors of all time.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

 

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