Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: More of Poirot’s Finest Cases


After its first collection of Poirot Audio Dramas, Poirot’s Finest Cases, the BBC has served up another collection called, More of Poirot’s Finest Cases.

The first collection contained Eight mysteries starring John Moffat as the famous Belgian Detective. That collection did contain most of the best Poirot cases. This collection is a reminder that Christie wrote a lot of great Poirot novels.

Overall, these stories are a notch below the first collection, the production values are up a bit. While most of the stories in the first set all seemed to have the same sort of generic 1920s opening theme, these do have more individualized musical scores and themes, “Sad Cyrpess” has a haunting opening. Audible’s division of these stories into chapters is a little less satisfactory as it takes each story and cuts it in half, even though some were serialized and some were broadcast as feature-length productions.

The stories on the collection are “Evil Under the Sun,” “Sad Cypress,” “Murder in Mesopotamia,” “Lord Edgeware Dies,” “Hallowe’en Party,” “Murder on the Links,” and “Five Little Pigs.”

Most of these are good Poirot tales. My favorite would be, “Five Little Pigs.” This particular production was my first exposure to Poirot, so I have a soft spot for it. It’s the story of Poirot helping a young woman considering marriage asking Poirot to investigate whether her mother murdered her father sixteen years previously. Poirot takes on this cold case and meets all the principles who are still alive. I like how the production brings each character to life and the solution is clever with a well-done denouement.

The weakest release in the set is, “Hallowe’en Party” where a young teenager known for telling wild tales mentions to mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver at a Hallowe’en Party that she once observed a murder but didn’t know it was a murder. She’s subsequently found murdered by being drowned in an apple bobbing tank. This story is well-performed and well-adapted, but this is generally not viewed as one of Christie’s better works. The story is darker than most other Christie’s stories as we have the murder of not one but two children. Yet, I don’t think those murderers were given the appropriate emotional weight. Add in a convoluted solution and this one one is the weakest story in the set.

“Murder on the Links” is a good story, but it’s different from most Poirot stories. This was only Christie’s second Poirot novel and he’s a lot more concerned with physical  evidence, as opposed to the psychological evidence Poirot is known for. Also, this story features Jeremy Clyde as Captain Hastings, who in the other radio adaptations was played by Simon Williams. This leads to a younger Captain Hastings which is a bit odd, though the performance is fine.

Overall, this set is a bargain for Poirot fans. For a single audible Credit, or a low purchase price, you get seven Poirot audio dramas featuring John Moffat. The stories are not Poirot’s greatest, but most have a high quality. When coupled with better production values, this makes this set a worthwhile purchase.

Rating:4.25 out of 5

You Ought to be on DVD Revisited, Part Three

This is the last of three articles revisiting our list of classic shows that deserved a DVD release and giving updates on any progress made there. First up is the superhero category, which offers great releases.

The most wanted unreleased DVD property six years ago, the 1960s Batman TV series, at last became available as Fox and Warner Brothers worked out their differences and so now everyone can enjoy the series in all its goofy wonder. The series was so popular, two animated continuations of the 1960s series were made prior to West’s death. This was coupled with the release of the 1960s Batman Cartoon series which often aired opposite episodes of Superman.

In addition, the syndicated Superboy TV series has had all four series made available on DVD. The same can’t be said for Superboy’s animated adventures from the 1960s.

Marvel classic superhero cartoons from the 1960s-90s have not enjoyed any new releases. Cartoons ranging from the 1960s Classic Fantastic Four series to the 1970s Spider-woman series or the 1980s Hulk or 1990s Spider-man Animated all remain unavailable on DVD. The Spider-man animated series has become available for purchase, but only as a streaming download from Amazon.

Classic radio comedy characters saw a few releases. The Fibber McGee and Molly and Great Gildersleeve movies each were given releases by Warner Archives. The quality of the movies have varied. On the positive side, there was the wonderful comedy team up of, “Here We Go Again,” and the first “Great Gildersleeve” movie which captured the feel and heart of the radio series. On the other side, there was the bizarre, “Heavenly Days” film and the padded and offensive “Gildersleeve’s Ghost.” Still, at least fans now have the option to see the movies and evaluate them for themselves.

Less fortunate shows include Lum ‘n Abner, whose copyrighted films have not been released. Radio hits the Life of Riley and Our Miss Brooks have also not had an official release of their TV episodes, nor has the Life of Riley film been released. Likewise, we lack any official release of Burns and Allen episodes on to DVD. I am thankful for the public domain episodes we do have.

Last time, my final article on unreleased material that ought to be released was intended as a hodgepodge but looking back on it, it was three medical dramas and something I should have included in a prior article.

Medical dramas fared pretty well. Warner Archives delivered in a huge way with Doctor Kildare. Last time, the only Kildare that was available was one that had fallen into the public domain. Now all nine Doctor Kildare films have been released, along with all six Doctor Gillsespie films starring Lionel Barrymore (after Lew Ayers was forced out for being a conscientious objector) as well as the entire Doctor Kildare TV series with Richard Chamberlain.

In addition, the entirety of the 1988-91 series China Beach has been released. The classic medical drama Ben Casey hasn’t seen an official release, nor has the New Dragnet, which is far better than many would think.

Overall, progress has been made in getting DVD releases for many movies and TV shows but there’s much more to do. Warner Archives has been fabulous. Fans of classic films and TV owe them a debt of gratitude for how many great once-forgotten series and movies they’ve brought to us. Other companies, such as Sony, haven’t done nearly as much. Future releases of forgotten classics will mostly rely on Warner Archives and companies like Shout Factory, which acquire the rights to classic TV shows and movies.

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You Ought to be on DVD Revisited, Part Two

See Part One

Over the past six years, some programs I’ve written about have made no progress at all on getting DVD releases out and others that have seen some great new sets.

Sadly, the television filmography of Jack Webb remains unavailable outside of his three most successful series: Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency. Other series such as Sierra, Mobile One, and the DA’s man remain unavailable.

Of the twelve TV detective series that I listed back in 2012, only one has gotten a DVD release: Longstreet, the one-season series featuring a blind insurance investigator. Others that have not been released include Academy Award winner Edmond O’Brien’s series Johnny Midnight, Richard Boone’s Hec Ramsey series, or the Black detective series Tenafly.

Some of these series it’s obvious why they’ve not been released. As much as I loved Mathnet as a kid, it’s probably too much a product of its time for PBS to consider a release. Thankfully several episodes have been put together on YouTube and so far no effort has been made to pull them down. The Cosby Mysteries will probably not have a release for reasons obvious to anyone following the news.

There were some series that I hadn’t mentioned that did get a release. Decoy, the great first crime TV show featuring a female lead, had circulated among collectors with only twenty-seven of its thirrty-nine episodes available. Some of these had lapsed into the public domain while others were under copyright, now all of them are available on DVD and look better than ever.

Old Ziv syndicated TV series have been making their way on to DVD. When I first wrote about them, MGM was not doing a great job making them available. The only release they had was a ridiculously over-priced Season 1 box set of Highway Patrol. Now, I’m happy to say that not only have there been multiple box sets released for Highway Patrol,  but also Sea Hunt, Ripcord, Harbor Command, and a single release for Waterfront. MGM farmed these releases out to other companies which has resulted in inexpensively priced releases of these classic 1950s series.

Sadly, other Ziv releases haven’t made it including releases with OTR counterpart like Easy Aces, Boston Blackie, or Doctor Christian, or the classic series on communism I Led Three Lives. It seems like more of the series that are getting released tend to fall into the action/adventure category. Thanks to MGM and the companies they’ve farmed this work out to, a lot of great adventures have become available at very reasonable prices.

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You Ought to be on DVD Revisited, Part One

Back in 2012, I wrote a series of articles about old movies and TV programs which ought to be on DVD but weren’t. Since that time, more material has been released on DVD, but still much of it remains elusive. So how much progress has been made in the last six years in getting great stuff to viewers? We’ll take a look.

The first article I wrote covered some vintage mystery series that were noticeably absent from DVD shelves. I’ve previously reported the serious progress made with Warner Archives releasing all the Perry Mason films  and six Philo Vance films.

Since then, there’s been a few releases. Let’s take a look at how the detectives I listed six years ago have fared:

Philo Vance:

Five years ago, there were six Philo Vance movies on DVD, now there are nine. The last three are post-War films, Philo Vance Returns with William Wright, and Philo Vance’s Gamble, and Philo Vance’s Secret Mission with Alan Curtis. Reviews seemed to be decidedly mixed about the quality of these releases. These are not from Warner Archive, but from a small company and let the buyer beware. Sadly, most of the William Powell stories as well as the Philo Vance case I’m most curious about (The Gracie Allen Murder Case) are still not available.

Hildegard Withers:

In 2013, Warner Archives released all six Hildegard Withers movies. Edna May Oliver is great when she plays the role, not so much for Zasu Pitts, but they’re all worth at least one watch.

Ellery Queen:

A mystery the Maestro himself couldn’t solve is why the Ellery Queen films starring Ralph Bellamy and the great William Gargan haven’t had a release.

The Lone Wolf:

In 2013, there had been one Lone Wolf film released. Since then, there have been two more, Counter-Espionage and Passport to Suez. These DVDs are made by Sony. All three of these DVDs contain one movie about an hour in length and cost around $20. For comparison’s sake, you can get the Perry Mason box set with six movies for $24.

Boston Blackie:

Sony has still only released two of the fourteen Boston Blackie films, both of them for a little bit less than $20.

After discussing movie series, I dedicated an entire article to Nero Wolfe and the lack of DVD releases outside of the excellent 2001 A Nero Wolfe Mystery series. There’s been some good news recently. A DVD box set has been released including the entire 14 episode Nero Wolfe TV series starring William Conrad and the very good Thayer David TV Movie based on the Doorbell Rang (not League of Frightened Men as I erroneously stated six years ago) which was a pilot for the series.

Other adaptations remain unavailable including the 1930s movies and the 1960 pilot with William Shatner as Archie Goodwin. Further, my hope of having a subtitled version of the 1960s Italian Nero Wolfe TV series released on Region 1 DVD with subtitles is probably a pipe dream. The series looks great from clips I’ve seen, but the only way to understand it will get an all-region DVD player and learn Italian. On the bright side, the 2012 Italian Nero Wolfe series has been released on region 1 DVD with English subtitles, so that gives me a little hope.

Then I took a look at films whose radio presence peaked my interest. The next year, one of those films, Mask of Demetrios, made it on to DVD and turned out to be a good movie. Sadly, none of the other three films I listed (Chicago Deadline, Mr. and Mrs. North, and To the Ends of the Earth) have been released.

We’ll return next week and take a look at what progress has been made on the rest of the titles I covered in 2012.

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DVD Review: The Great Gildersleeve Movie Collection

Harold Peary originated the role of the Great Gildersleeve on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio program in 1939. The character was an antagonist for Fibber McGee and proved so popular that he got his own radio show starting in 1941. Peary played the role until 1950 when he left it for the ill-fated Harold Peary show.

Before that happened, the Great Gildersleeve went from radio to feature films, including four that were directly adapted from the characters in the radio. The Warner Archives Great Gildersleeve Movie features all four of these wartime movies plus the film Seven Days Leave in which Gildersleeve plays a much smaller part.

So how do the films hold up? Let’s take a look at each one:

The Great Gildersleeve (1942)

This film is probably the truest to the radio program. The plot has a lot of gags and bits, but the central point is that a woman mistakenly thinks Gildersleeve has proposed to her. Unfortunately for Gildersleeve, the woman is the unmarried sister of Judge Hooker. And Judge Hooker is questioning Gildersleeve’s fitness to be guardian to his niece and nephew. His goal throughout the movie is to prove he’s fit and to stop Judge Hooker from revoking his custody.

This a good film. It’s well-balanced. A lot of goofiness comes out of Gildersleeve’s quest, but his goals make you want to cheer for him. The heart of the Great Gildersleeve series is that he does care for his family. It’s a fun movie with a lot of great twists and well-worth watching.

Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943)

Gildersleeve has jury duty for a gangster who’s on trial for a bank robbery. Unbeknownst to him, he’s been identified by the gangster’s mob as the one man who could persuade the jury to acquit their guilty boss. Unbeknownst to them, he’s already decided to push for acquittal on his own.

This one is decent and has some madcap hilarious scenes, including a great chase involving Gildersleeve at the end. However, there are a few elements that come off as dumb rather than funny. Still, not a bad watch overall.

Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943)

Gildersleeve’s niece Marjorie fears that her beau who is in New York is not being faithful to her, so Gily catches a train to find out what the score is. He’s traveling with Mr. Peavy, the town pharmacist who fears a wealthy woman’s decision which could spell doom for his drug store.

This is probably the most funny of the films. The movie keeps a quick pace as the situation continues to spiral out of Gildersleeve’s control. It’s delightfully over the top fun. Its only flaw is that it ends far too abruptly.

Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944)

Based on the radio series, someone decided that what the gentle, domestic comedy of the Great Gildersleeve called for was a comedy horror movie. The plot begins when two ghosts of Gildersleeve’s ancestors decide to help him win an election for Police Commissioner by hypnotizing a gorilla of a mad scientist so that Gildersleeve can discover an invisible woman. That sure sounds like a typical Gildersleeve plot.

This one has some funny moments, but it was a really flawed film. For one thing, there’s not enough plot for an hour film, so they keep doing the same gags over and over again, such as mistaken identity around the gorilla being there and someone in gorilla suit. Mr. Peavey says, “I wouldn’t say that,” about a dozen times.

Nick Stewart gets a lot of screen time as Chauncey, a chauffeur written as the racist “cowardly Negro” stereotype. It’s not just a minor point, it’s a big part of the second half of the film. Stewart was a good actor who deserved better than this role.   Stewart did eventually get better roles as he’d voice Brer Bear in Song of the South and play Lightnin’ on the Amos and Andy TV show, before founding the Ebony showcase, the first Black-owned theater, where Black Actors could play way better parts than the one he got in this film.

The one thing I do like is the title sequence. It looks spooky and shows a lot of labor went into it. The film itself is padded and at times, unpleasant to watch. This one was understandably a franchise killer.

Seven Days Leave (1942)

Johnny Gray (Victor Mature) learns he is heir to $100,000 through the radio program, The Court of Missing Heirs. He borrows from every member of his company to have a time with his fiancée before he goes to meet the lawyer in charge of this estate, the Great Gildersleeve. Gildersleeve advises the money was left by the descendant of a Union Civil War general and will only be willed to him if he marries the descendant of a particular Confederate general who was his friend. The descendant in question is Terry Havalok-Allen (Lucille Ball) who is also already engaged to someone else.

The movie is a musical with beautifully performed numbers. Gildersleeve even gets in on one of them. There are also great orchestras in the film, including Les Brown’s with Brown playing himself, Ginny Simms shows up to sing a song, and there’s a talented dance trio. The film looks expensive and looks mostly made before the crunch of wartime cost-cutting hit Hollywood.

The movie is a treat for radio fans. First, we get to see Gildersleeve, albeit his characterization is much more like on Fibber McGee than on his own program. We also get a look at two rare radio programs. The Court of Missing Heirs was an actual radio program, with no full episodes in circulation. In addition, the film has Grey and Terry attend a taping of Truth or Consequences and get involved in a game. The earliest available radio episode of Truth or Consequences is from 1945, so this gives insight into how the show looked and sounded in its earliest days.

In addition, Lucille Ball is good in this. She has great lines and good moments when her character is rebuffing Grey’s advances. In addition, Marcy McGuire is a lot of fun as Terry’s sixteen-year-old sister. In a rarity for these films, she was actually sixteen and not only was funny, but her musical numbers were great.

Everything works about this film except the lead character. Johnny Grey is not likable at all. He’s written as a greedy narcissist and none too bright. After all, he’s stringing his own fiancee along while he sets out to break up someone else’s engagement so that he can get big money. While the movie tells us he changes, we don’t see much evidence or growth. Grey sets out to win Terry over by being as obnoxious, intrusive and irritating as possible. My favorite scenes in the movie are the ones where he’s put in his place. The only reason he wins are genre conventions.

If you find Johnnie irritating and unlikable as I did, the question becomes whether that ruins the movie for you. For me, the good stuff in it out-weighs the bad, but your mileage may vary. In a scene my wife found disturbing, Johnny crosses a serious line by kissing Terry by force. My wife found some parts of the film very disturbing, including one where Grey forcibly kissed Terry. Looking at it through modern eyes, Johnnie Grey’s behavior is really predatory and the movie’s message that seems to affirm the behavior illustrates that even with the Hayes code, Hollywood films could have some creepy ideas about sex in them. This is not one I’d say is definitely not for kids.

Overall Thoughts:

The Gildersleeve films came before the TV sitcom was invented and often feel more like TV episodes than actual movies. The first three films managed to expand enough to tell a passable story but Gildersleeve’s Ghost only had enough good material for a half-hour TV episode and then repeated stuff to fill up the run-time. Seven Days Leave is fun for those willing to overlook Johnny Grey’s general sleaziness. Taken together, it is an eclectic set of wartime comedy.

If you’re a fan of old-time radio and the Great Gildersleeve, the set is worth checking out for all of the highlights, unless the lowlights are deal-breakers for you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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