The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

26Apr/140

DVD Review: The Saint Double Feature

In 1941, George Sanders left the role Simon Templar in the Saint series and was replaced by Hugh Sinclair.

The contrasts between Sanders and Sinclair is pretty striking.  For Sanders, the Saint was an early highlight of a career that would see him earn parts in A pictures and even earn an Academy Award. For Sinclair, this was as good as it got.  Sinclair just didn't have the presence that Sanders did, and so both of his Saint films were below Sanders best stories. Though both films were better than Sanders subpar The Saint's Double Trouble.  

The Saint's Vacation (1941)  is the better of the two films and truthfully above average when compared to most 1940s B detective features. The Saint is on vacation and gets involved in international intrigue over a music box which serves as the stories Macguffin. It's not an original idea, but the execution of it in this film is pretty enjoyable. The end is somewhat frustrating and drawn out particularly since we never get to find out what exactly the hubbub was about other than that it was a Macguff.

The Saint Meets the Tiger  (1943) is based on the first Saint Novel and finds the Saint on the trail of international gold smugglers. Most of the movie is a little boring and hard to follow, so it's a bit below average. However, at the end of the movie, a madcap scene where the Saint's sidekick and girlfriend are knocking people out aboard a ship really livens things up.

So in short,  the two films are almost mere images of each other. The Saint's Vacation is an above average film that's pretty interesting in the beginning but is bogged down by a slow ending. The Saint Meets the Tiger is a below average film that's propped up by an ending that's a lot more fun than the film itself.

Overall, I'd give the DVD 3.0 out of 5.0 and recommend it only for Saint completists at its retail price.

 

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19Apr/140

Book Review: Fit to Kill

It's the 1ate 1950s and Shayne's reporter friend Tim Rourke is on vacation in a Latin American country with a corrupt government when he meets a beautiful blonde claiming to have hot information.

Shayne is at the airport to meet Rourke, who acts out of character. Then Rourke is kidnapped while the girl disappears and Shayne is left with a lot of questions and a typewriter.

The story is okay, it's not as good as the other two Shayne mysteries I've read, but Halliday provides your expected dose of mayhem, danger, and beautiful blondes.

This one suffered for having Shayne out of the picture for the first 30 percent of the book. Rourke isn't a fun point of view character. Plus in the middle of the book, Rourke gets kind of drunk and those scenes read like   poor imitation of Craig Rice's Mr. Malone. The solution is all a bit unsurprising and it wasn't well set up.

Overall, Mike Shayne is still good and it's not a bad read, but Halliday had produced far better books than this one.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

The copy I read plus another Michael Shayne mystery are available on request with the first donation received of $50 or more for listeners in the US or Canada.  See details here.

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12Apr/140

Radio Drama Review: Death on the Nile

The plot of Death on the Nile is familiar to me. In the past,  I've reviewed the Ustinov big screen version and the David Suchet version.   Recently, I was pleased to enjoy the BBC Radio 4 version.

It can seem odd to listen to, watch, and experience a mystery multiple times because to the viewer or listener, it's no longer a mystery. We know whodunit and we know why. Yet, there are some stories that are so compelling that the stories never get old. And that's definitely the case with Death on the Nile. 

The plot has Poirot (John Moffat) on vacation in Egypt and stepping smack into the middle of huge drama.  Simon and Linnet Doyle are on their honeymoon being staked by Jacqueline, Simon's former fiancee who he jilted in order to marry Linnet, who was Jacqueline's far richer best friend. Poirot sees trouble coming and tries to head it off, warning Jacqueline not to let evil into her.  However, the tragedy occurs when Linnet is murdered with Jacqueline's gun. However, Jacqueline didn't do it as she had just attempted to kill Simon and had panicked and was staying with a nurse at the time Linnet died.

The good news for Poirot is that the boat is full of potential suspects or at  the very least, people who have their own secrets to hide.  Thus Poirot has to sift through an amazing array of lies to find what really happened.

While you listening to the radio adaptation, you may miss the stunning visuals that defined the television and film adaptations, I think that the radio version may have the been the best at capturing the emotional conflicts at the heart of Death on the Nile. The pacing is very deliberate. It was aired a five part drama, and the first murder didn't occur until the end of  part three. They really did a great job setting up the situation and the characters. The interactions between Poirot and Jacqueline are priceless, and the resolution to the secondary storylines add a more positive counterbalance that makes this enjoyable.

Death on the Nile is a great story that brings home the brilliance of the murder and the tragedy of the perpetrators in a way that captures the imagination and makes this a must-listen to Poirot adaptation.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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5Apr/140

Telefilm Review: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

After a rocky tenth series, the eleventh series of Poirot kicked off with Mrs. McGinty's dead.  A man is convicted of murdering his landlady in what seems like a clear cut case. However, the investigating officer has doubts,  so he asks Poirot to take a second look at the case. Poirot investigates and as often happens, Poirot finds himself in a small English community where multiple secrets are being kept.

I loved this episode. I may have enjoyed  this even more than its merits deserved after my problems with  the tenth series, but this is what Poirot is supposed to be. The program has Poirot traversing the English country side in search behind the truth about two photographs which could save the life of a man on a death row. There are plenty of twists and turns, with sensational cinematography and competent acting from the supporting cast. This episode was a very strong and enjoyable adaptation of Christie's story.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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29Mar/140

Book Review: Death of a Doxy

In Death of a Doxy (1966), Archie agrees to a favor for Orrie Cather and reclaim an item from the house of a young woman. Instead, Archie finds the woman dead and smells a set up. Archie extricates himself, but Orrie, a long time associate of Wolfe’s, is charged with murder.

In a conclave with Wolfe, based on the strong conviction of Saul Panzer, the private detective decide Orrie is innocent and set out to prove it. The murdered woman was having an affair with a powerful man and the first but not last task is to find this man.

Death of a Doxy is a solidly written story. The character of Julie Jaquette, a successful nightclub singer who does an impromptu song and dance for Wolfe, which is, without a doubt the greatest moment of the book. Jacquet showed that Stout’s ability to write memorable characters was still very much intact.

The book is a bit darker and cynical than many early Wolfe mysteries of the 1950s particularly with how the killer was disposed of.

The book also introduces Avery Ballou, a character who’d play a minor role in several of the later Wolfe novels, as well as provide some foreshadowing of events that would occur in the final Wolfe novel.

Overall, I rate the book: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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22Mar/140

Radio Drama Review: The Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon

In January 1934, newspaper readers were introduced to the adventures of Flash Gordon, an athletic Yale graduate who is kidnapped by Doctor Zarkov and taken in a rocket to the planet Mongol along with the lovely Dale Arden.

In 1935, Hearst brought Flash Gordon to radio a 26-part adventure starring Gale Gordon as Flash Gordon in The Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon. Radio serials from this era are relatively rare, so I was surprised to find the whole 26 part story is available for listeners.

The serial is actually not all that good to start with. While it’s a faithful adaptation of the comic strip, the writers seemed to struggle with being faithful while transitioning Flash Gordon from a visual to an aural medium. One big thing was that very important scenes were skipped over in the early going, so you felt someone was giving highlight of the story rather than you listening to it.

The serial got much better around the sixth episode as the scene shifted to Flash's goal of taking over  the Blue Magic land from the witch Queen Azura. What followed over the next eighteen episodes was a dazzling display of imagination and plot twists with hypnosis potions, invisibility machines, angry dwarfs and a wide variety of reversals of fortune. This was radio fantasy for kids with all its gusto.

The series did break with continuity in the comic books,  so it could bring listeners another program. Episode 24 ended with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov accidentally heading back towards Earth in a rocket ship and in Episode 25 they crashed in the Jungle near long time radio character Jungle Jim. In Episode 26, the two were finally wed to wrap up the series, so that Jungle Jim could take over its time slot.  This wouldn't be the last Flash Gordon was heard on the radio, but it would be the last complete program.

Overall, the serial was good.  Some people might be offended by Flash's active conquest, but in the end it's just fantasy.  While the beginning was rushed, and the end while good was a little out of place, the middle chapters are packed with great story.  The acting quality varies quite a bit from character to character and there are a fair share of hams on the story, but the series works.

It particularly works as a promotion for the Flash Gordon comic strip. Characters like the Blue Magic Men, Hawk Men all sound exciting, fun, and worth seeing as well as hearing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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15Mar/140

DVD Review: Nick Carter Triple Feature Mysteries


Walter Pidgeon played Nick Carter in a series of 3 MGM films in 1939 and 1940 and the three films were released in the last few years by Warner Archives.

The first film was, Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939) which saw Nick heading to California to investigate the theft of plans for an advanced aircraft and sabotage of the factory.

This film is engaging  and breezes by in 59 minutes. The mystery isn’t all that complex, but the film is interesting for its look at a time when the aviation industry was very young.

Carter as portrayed on the film, jumped to conclusions and made plenty of surmises about people's guilt, some of which were far fetched but promised repeatedly, “If I’m wrong, I’ll apologize later.” A line that would be used in other films, though not as frequently as  here.

The second film was Phantom Raiders (1940) and it was probably the worst of the three. The film was expanded to 70 minutes, but really didn’t seem to know what to do with the extra time, so it opted for padding. You could start watching the film ten minutes in and really not miss anything.

Carter is brought in on a case where several boats are being blown up at sea by the same company leading to massive insurance payoff. This film because of the first ten minutes (which gives away the plot) is much less of a true whodunit and more of a battle of wits between Nick and the villain which does work fairly well.

The location shots are good and the plot progresses nicely. Other than the very boring first ten minutes, my big complaint is that Nick keeps trying to bow out of the case in a way that hardly seem consistent with the heroic reputation of the character.

Finally, we have the best film of the series Sky Murder  (1940) which has Nick investigating a murder that occurred in the air. The movie was one of those pre-war films that really dealt with the war in Europe and fifth columnists in the US. This 72 minute film was exciting, well-paced, suspenseful, and with some lighter moments included as well. In terms of B Detective movies, it didn’t get much better than this. This movie makes the whole set worth buying.

Overall, I found this to be a very good series of films. The glaring flaw with the series was that the Nick Carter on the screen had very little relation to the Nick Carter off the books. Through fifty years of pulp fiction, Carter had been established as a resourceful tireless he-man who looked at danger and laughed in its face. Carter also surrounded himself with younger detectives who he was mentoring, thus the title master detective.

Pidgeon plays Carter as much more typical Mystery Comedy lead. Carter’s no fool, but he’s also a bit of a lady’s man and in The Phantom Raiders he’d rather catch up with the ladies and take a vacation than bust up the ring.

And as for assistants, Nick has Bartholemew (played by Donald Meek), a middle aged bee keeper and wannabe amateur detective who attaches himself to Nick with Nick’s sufferance more than anything else.

It was Hollywood’s practice in the 1930s to pay to adapt characters to the screen and then shove these characters into the formula of the moment, which is why there was a series of Nancy Drew where Nancy was a little bit ditzy, and two Nero Wolfe films where Archie Goodwin was played as a typical punch drunk Lionel Stander character.

Even with this flaw, these three movies are good in and of themselves. The stories are well-written and there’s plenty of action for a film of its era though it's not bloody. There were a couple of machine gun scenes in this series that were thrilling.

Even Bartholemew works as a sidekick, particularly in the last two movies. While similar characters from the golden age of film usually became  nothing more than annoying comic foils, Meek turns in a solid performance and Bartholemew actually becomes a valuable asset to Nick in the second and third movies, comfortable with a gun and with using some trick action to get the upper hand on the bad guys.

The series stands up well. Only lasting for three installments meant that unlike Mr. Moto or The Thin Man, the Nick Carter series didn't stick around for one film too many.

The DVD itself is up to the usual standard of Warner Archives with no thrills but three good and very rare films with decent transfers. The only mistake made was that Warner put Phantom Raiders before Sky Murder but this is only of trivial importance as it really doesn't matter which order you watch these in.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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8Mar/141

Book Review: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes


"The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes"  is  the very last Sherlock Holmes short story collection, published in 1927. It is a proverbial mixed bag. There are some stories in the book that are essential reading for Holmes fans ("The Problem at Thor Bridge" and "The Sussex Vampire"), and then there are some of the weakest stories in the Canon ("The Lion's Mane", "The Blanched Soldier", and "The Veiled Lodger"), and then others that range between average to fairly good.

"The Problem at Thor Bridge" is simply one of Holmes' best cases. There's so much in the story and the solution is classic. The same thing goes for "The Sussex Vampire" which presents Holmes a problem that's evocative of the supernatural but with a surprising natural solution that is pretty emotional in its own right.

Most of the worst stories came towards the end of the book. Both "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane" were attempts to tell Holmes' adventures from Holmes own perspective. While "The Blanched Soldier" was slightly better of the two, both stories were somewhat dry and uninteresting tales that it was hard to care about. The biggest failing of  "The Veiled Lodger"s is that Holmes really does nothing. He describes a mystery and then has one of the perpetrators tell him what happened. While Holmes did say something very wise in response to that, it wasn't really a detective story.

Looking at the rest of the stories:

"The Mazarin Stone": Told in third person, I actually thought it was a pretty fun story showing Holmes cleverness. It was a similar story to the Dying Detective, but I liked this story better.

"The Creeping Man": This is a bizarre story and I know some people really don't like it because it's almost into the realm of speculative fiction, but I thought it was carried off fine and is a classic mix of horror and the detective genre, though good luck trying to guess as to what's happening.

"The Three Garidebs": This is once again a story that calls to mind previous adventures. In it, a man with an unusual last name stands to make a fortune just for his last name, but he brings in Holmes to discern the truth of the business. This story is not as good as "The Red Headed League" but is actually better than "The Stockbroker's Clerk."

"The Illustrious Client": This isn't a whodunit but a challenge for Holmes to stop the marriage of a naive woman to a scoundrel. This is a very well-executed story where Holmes is put to the test.

"The Three Gables": This story of a bereaved mother receiving mysterious offers to buy her house is a very good and enjoyable story.

"The Retired Colourman": This is actually a pretty enjoyable story though Holmes doesn't seem as warm towards Watson in a few places. The solution is a good change of pace, if perhaps a bit melodramatic.

"Shoscombe Old Place": The last Holmes story by Doyle and its solid. Its clearly not at the high quality of Doyle's prime but Holmes gets a pretty engaging case with a clever and unexpected solution revolving around a race horse and the odd behavior of the lady of the manor.

Overall, this is a must for mystery fans even if Doyle is clearly past his prime as a writer in this one.

Let me add that this Oxford edition I read really was splendid and added to the reading experience. The explanatory notes section was helpful to me reading this as an American in the 21st century, as so many phrases that I'd have just glossed over or imagined what they meant. There's also a copious amount of introductory information that provides some great background on the book and is a great resource if you can get a hold of it.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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1Mar/140

Audio Drama Review: Doctor Who: The Highlanders

Just like the first of the Second Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, only the audio remains for the second serial, "The Highlanders."

In The Highlanders, the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions Ben and Polly find themselves caught in the midst of a war between the British red coats and the Scottish highlanders.  The Doctor and his companions have to escape from the British and get back to the TARDIS while also thwarting the plot of a corrupt government barrister who plans to ship captured Scots to brutal slavery on Carribean Islands.

This story isn't as good as Power of the Daleks, but it definitely is worth a listen. This serial features some great comic scenes for Troughton and the Doctor certainly shows some cleverness in this tightly plotted story.  This was actually a surprisingly strong story for Polly who in two previous stories I've seen/heard her in, her role was limited to making coffee as serving as a hostage. In this case, she's the one member of the TARDIS not captured and key to their rescue.

This serial was noteworthy for a couple other reasons. After about a third of the First Doctor stories were historicals, Troughton wanted to get away from them, so this would be the last purely historical Dr. Who episode until 1982. Also, this episode introduced the character of Jamie McCrimmon (Frazier Hines) who appeared in more Doctor Who episodes than any other companion.

Overall, this is a historic serial with plenty of fun, swashbuckling action, and the introduction of a great companion in Jamie, so it's definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

24Feb/140

Book Review: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

This book is the proverbial mixed bag. There are some stories in the book that are essential reading for Holmes fans (The Problem at Thor Bridge and the Sussex Vampire), and then there are some of the weakest stories in the Canon (The Lion's Mane, the Blanched Soldier, and the Veiled Lodger), and then others that range between average to fairly good.

"The Problem at Thor Bridge" is simply one of Holmes best cases. There's so much in the story and the solution is classic. The same thing goes for the Sussex Vampire which presents Holmes a problem that's evocative of the supernatural but with a surprising natural solution that is pretty emotional in its own right.

Most of the worst stories came towards the end of the book. Both "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane"  were attempts to tell Holmes' adventures from Holmes own perspective. While "The Blanched Soldier" was slightly better of the two, both stories were somewhat dry and uninteresting tales that it was hard to care about. "The Veiled Lodgers" biggest failing is that Holmes really does nothing. He describes a mystery and then has one of the perpetrators tell him what happened. While Holmes did say something very wise in response to that, it wasn't really a detective story.

Looking at the rest of the series:

"The Mazarin Stone": Told in third person, I actually thought it was a pretty fun story showing Holmes cleverness. It was a similar story to the Dying Detective, but I liked this story better.

"The Creeping Man": This is a bizarre story and I know some people really don't like it because it's almost into the realm of speculative fiction, but I thought it was carried off fine and is a classic mix of horror and the detective genre, though good luck trying to guess as to what's happening.

"The Three Garidebs": This is once again a story that calls to mind previous adventures. In it, a man with an unusual last name stands to make a fortune just for having his last name, but he brings in Holmes to discern the truth of the business. This story is not as good as "The Red Headed League" but is actually better than "The Stockbroker's Clerk."

"The Illustrious Client": This isn't a whodunit but a challenge for Holmes to stop the marriage of a naive woman to a scoundrel. This is a very well-executed story where Holmes is put to the test against a clever adversary who is a master at manipulating the sympathy of women.

"The Three Gables": This story of a bereaved mother receiving mysterious offers to buy her house is a very good and enjoyable story with a satisfying solution.

"The Retired Colourman": This is actually a pretty enjoyable story though Holmes doesn't seem as warm towards Watson in a few places. The solution is a good change of pace, if perhaps a bit melodramatic.

"Shoscombe Old Place": The last Holmes story by Doyle and its solid. Its clearly not at the high quality of Doyle's prime but Holmes gets a pretty engaging case with a clever and unexpected solution revolving around a race horse and the odd behavior of the lady of the manor.

Overall, this is a must for mystery fans even if Doyle is clearly past his prime as a writer in this one.

Let me add that this Oxford edition I read really was splendid and added to the reading experience. The explanatory notes section was helpful to me reading this as an American in the 21st century, as it gave meaning to so many phrases that I'd have just glossed over or imagined what they meant otherwise. There's also a copious amount of introductory information that provides some great background on the book and is a great resource if you can get a hold of it.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

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