Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: Steed and Mrs. Peel The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 1

Big Finish has so far adapted 20 of the 26 episodes from the lost season of the ITV hit The Avengers. Still, when people think of that classic British program, they think of the period with John Steed and Mrs. Peel that allowed the show to cross the pond to American Television.

In 1966 and ‘67, at the height of their popularity, several comic strip stories were written featuring the duo of Steed and Peel. Big Finish brings them to life in a new range with Julian Wadham playing Steed and Olivia Poulet offering her take on the iconic role of Mrs. Peel. Volume 1 of the Series offers four hour long stories.

Both the new actors are superb. I was familiar with Wadham from the more strait-laced “Lost Episodes,” but he does a good job playing the Steed of the Peel era with aplumb. Poulet offers a lively take on Mrs. Peel. Both succeed in making the rolls their own.

Here’s a breakdown of the episodes included in Volume 1 of the Comic Strip adaptations:

Return to Castle De’ath: A follow up on a T.V. episode, finds Steed and Peel returning to Castle De’ath to protect an insufferably arrogant prince who is key to British oil interests. This snappy script is littered with witty one-liners and the plot has outrageous twists. Only a few moments don’t quite translate to audio. But overall, a very good beginning for the series.

The Miser: A dangerous saboteur calling himself the Misers rocks Great Britain. Mrs. Peel and Steed go to work to find him before the nation’s leaders are forced to hand all of Great Britain’s wealth to him. Overall, this is fun, with a grain field that doubles as a minefield, impersonation, a wax works, and a notable villain, though the plot’s too predictable on the wind up.

The Golden Dresses: Several prominent officials have disappeared after their wives purchased fabulous dresses from a posh boutique. The story is well-told but a bit predictable. The villainess goes a bit too over the top even for the Avengers in the final minutes. Still, it’s a decent episode.

The Norse Code: Steed and Peel search for a missing colleague in Norfolk and find themselves having to thwart a Viking plot to destroy Great Britain. Overall, it’s a perfectly outlandish tale that’s clever and would have fit in with the 1960s show. There are many humorous parts, particularly the opening with Mrs. Peel learning conversational ancient Norse. (”Excuse me, my warship is on fire.”)

Overall, this set offers a fresh spin on two classic characters. While the adaptation from a strictly visual medium leads to a few uncertain moments, these are a few and far between. Fans of witty dramas will love this set.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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The Top 10 Philip Marlowe Radio Episodes

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe starring Gerald Mohr aired from 1948-50 and then returned in the Summer of 1951 and is one of the best radio detective shows of all time. Here are my ten favorites. Right click on each link to download if you’re curious about an episode.

10) Where There’s a Will (Original Air Date: October 17, 1948)

Marlowe is hired by three heirs to help them locate their inheritance. It’s a great character story and very noirish.

9) The Anniversary Gift (Original Air Date: April 11, 1950)

William Conrad does a great job filling in with Mohr in a great story with a perfect pitch ending, and a superb performance by Conrad that makes me wish he had been a radio detective more often.

8) The Old Acquaintance (Original Air Date: December 26, 1948)

Marlowe engages in a race against time on New Year’s Eve to find a missing fiancée before a dangerous escaped convict does.

7) The House that Jacqueline Built (Original Air Date: December 31, 1949)

Another New Years Eve story. This one a quirky but well done tale of Marlowe searching for a missing house.

6) The Grim Hunters (Original Air Date: March 12, 1949)

Marlowe gets called to a house, only to find he was being used as an item on a scavenger hunt. This equates a light-hearted start that turns very serious when a body turns up.

5) The Big Book (Original Air Date: September 29, 1950)

Marlowe investigates an apparent suicide of a has-been actress. It’s an engaging story with a solid ending.

4) The Red Wind  (Original Air Date: September 26, 1948)

Marlowe lands right in the middle of a plot involving murder and blackmail. This is the only time the CBS series adapted an actual Marlowe story by Chandler, and it’s sad they didn’t do more.

3) The Iron Coffin: (Original Air Date: July 12, 1950)

Marlowe investigates a strange case where for a woman who fears for the life of her daughter’s fiancé. It’s a very clever and imaginative tale that find Marlowe in a medieval castle (that’s been moved to California) and has a superb conclusion.

2) The Lonesome Reunion (Original Air Date: February 12, 1949)

Marlowe goes to Phoenix carrying papers and finds himself robbed, and thrown into a battle with robbers and murders in the small town of Lonesome, Arizona.

1) The Little Wishbone (Original Air Date: December 10, 1949)

Throughout the series, Marlowe flirted with many women (and vice versa), but is the only episode where Marlowe truly falls in love, but he finds out the lady has a secret. Mohr is at his absolute best, particularly in the last few minutes, and the powerful final scene ends with a twist that hits you like a punch in the gut.

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DVD Review: The Classic Comedy Team Collection

The Classic Comedy team collection offers viewers a chance to see three of the all-time best comedy teams in action: the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. The films, rather than being public domain works, are rare films that were made by MGM. This is particularly notable for Abbott and Costello as most of their pictures were made with Universal.

The Three Stooges discs offer two films, Gold Raiders, and Meet the Baron. Both films are obscure. Gold Raiders is an extremely low budget 1951 Western  notable for being the only film made with Shemp, but  unremarkable otherwise. Meet the Baron (1933) is an interesting film for fans of 1930s entertainment as you get some great performers all in one film, including Edna May Oliver, Jimmy Durante, and Zasu Pitts,  who all had pretty good performances elsewhere. In fact, the Stooges barely feature. This is a film where the whole is far less than the sum of it’s part as it falls short under the weight of weak writing, as do many of the all-star comedies of that era.

Laurel and Hardy were past their prime but I found both of their war time films to be entertaining. Air Raid Wardens (1943) finds them taking on volunteer war work in an effort to help the country. It’s not only patriotic, but it was so hilarious, when I watched it while giving blood, it ended the donation because I was laughing so hard, the needle moved, so consider yourself warned. Nothing But Trouble (1944) offers a nice contrast between the Depression and World War II with Laurel and Hardy’s butler/cook team having left America in the 1930s when jobs were scarce and returning in the middle of war when demand for any job was high. The story features political intrigue and they find themselves in the middle of a plot to kill a pro-Democracy, football-loving teenage king. It’s not quite as good as Air Raid Wardens, but it’s funny and charming in its own right.

Abbott and Costello are the only duo to be at the height of their popularity and talent in this collection. Lost in a Harem (1944) finds them as magicians helping an Arabian prince regain his throne, and then, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood has them playing barbers who end up playing agent for a young star who is hated by a stuck up and egotistical actor determined to stay on top at all costs. Both films are great comedies with some classic sketches and I think they do a better job of balancing the pair vs. the romantic story line involving other actors, something Universal struggled with. Of the two, I like Abbott and Costello in Hollywood  the best. The film has hilarious madcap sequences, such as when Costello pretends to be a dummy on a movie studio set. For fans of old films, there are brief appearances by Lucille Ball, Mike Mazurki, and Rags Ragland, with Carleton Young making a very good villain.

Overall, this is an enjoyable DVD set. While the Stooges films are more curiosities, the Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello installments are delightful wartime entertainment.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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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