Category: Golden Age Article

Movie Review: Blonde for a Day

Lloyd Nolan had a solid run as Michael Shayne in seven B-movies for Fox in the early forties. Then in 1946-47, a second series of Shayne films were made starring Hugh Beaumont (Leave it to Beaver) as Shayne. Blonde for a Day was the third film.

In Blonde for a Day, Shayne heads back to his hometown from San Francisco when his old reporter pal Tim Rourke is put in hospital and out of commission while investigating racketeers. Shayne has to unravel the truth behind the shootings and the rackets.

The film has two things going for it. First, it’s based on a story by Brett Halliday and it’s easy to tell they kept to Halliday’s plot, which is far more than you could say for most of the Fox Shayne films. The basics of the mystery are good and make the movie better than it would be otherwise. Beaumont is a competent leading man, while by no means a first choice for Shayne, he puts in a serviceable performance.

The rest of the film is fairly awful. It lacks the stylishness of the Nolan pictures and it’s poorly made in its own right. The beginning is hard to watch as it’s dominated by stock footage, bad acting, and a dreadful soundtrack plays over every scene.The other actors’ performances remain almost universally bad with dated routines (even by 1946 standards) being poorly executed.

This is the only Beaumont Shayne film to be released and as such, it is a bit of curiosity. Given the quality of the film, the best way to satisfy curiosity is with a $1.99 digital rental. It’s just not worth buying the DVD unless you’re a collector.

Rating: 2.25 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories


This  book collects every Hercule Poirot short story. Most of these are under twenty pages, and could be read in a few spare moments but there are four or five that could be considered novellas.

Polirot’s career in short fiction was far shorter than in novel-length works, with most of the short stories completed in a stretch from 1923-1940. The stories show progress the evolution of Poirot as a character and Christie as a writer.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s not a bad story in this collection. However, the earliest stories are fun, diverting and very well-done puzzle mysteries reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes with Captain Hastings filling the role of Poirot’s Watson. Twelve of the final thirteen stories comprise The Labours of Hercules which manages to mix some delightful comedy, social commentary, and some warmth (such as the delightful “The Arcardian Deer”) as Poirot tries to perform his own twelve labors just as the original Hercules did.

In addition, I adored “The Theft of the Royal Ruby,” a wonderful Poirot mystery set at Christmastime. It has superb atmosphere throughout.  The final tale in the boook, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” is a brilliantly crafted mystery with a very surprising conclusion.

The only criticism I have is that this only includes the published short stories. Two unpublished Christie shorts were found in 2004 and given an audiobook release a few years back and it would have been nice to see them in this book.

Still, even with just the published stories, this book is an absolute treasure, collecting fifty adventures of one of fiction’s greatest detectives in a single volume.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: Just Off Broadway


In Just Off Broadway , Private Detective Michael Shayne is serving on a jury. He becomes convinced the defendant is innocent, so he votes not guilty and debates it in the jury room….

Actually, that’s what he would do in a rational world. Instead, Shayne conceals evidence from the police, gets a sleeping draft from the sheriff, and uses it to drug his roommate so he can escape a hotel room where he is sequestered with the rest of the jury and sets off on a madcap night of investigation to find the real killer.

The story works well as a Comedy Mystery, particularly as it’s an early film for Phil Silvers, who the first television generation would come to know as Sergeant Bilko. His role is relatively small but he plays it to the hilt. Nolan’s Shayne is very fun and charming. Majorie Weaver is solid if not outstanding as the female lead.

The quality of the restoration is very nice and probably better than most films in the series that have released, and the physical disk itself has a very elegant look. However, this comes at a cost. It is more than a bit expensive for a sixty-five minute B-movie even with the better quality.

It is far from the best movie in the series, but it’s still an enjoyable hour despite the fact that Shayne isn’t given a shred of motivation for his illegal actions. However, I liked the end, which, after so much absurdity, offers a realistic ending in a very funny way.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Return of the Jedi (the Original Radio Drama)


As the movie-viewing public awaits the seventh Star Wars film in December, we’ve been taking taking a look at the radio dramatizations. See my reviews of Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back

While Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back were dramatized within four years of their release date, it took twelve years for Return of the Jedi to be made due to behind-the-scenes drama. It didn’t come until 1996 and was produced by Highbridge Audio.

Compared to Star Wars, this radio adaptation did a far better job in taking the visual excitement of the source material and turning it into good audiodrama that painted pictures for the audience. The story was expanded in a few cases but generally remained faithful to the original story. They do a great job painting audio “pictures” of scenes like the madness of Jabba’s lair and Luke’s post-victory vision. The sound design is simply marvelous as is the direction with narration used naturally most of the time.

Unlike The Empire Strikes Back, the roles of Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian had to be recast with Joshua Fardon as Luke and Arye Gross as Lando. Fardon does a superb job as Luke. His voice is similar to Hamill’s and his acting is equally good, perhaps better in a few places. Gross is less satisfactory as Lando, though acceptable. Ed Asner plays Jabba the Hutt and does as good a job as the film.

The rest of the returning cast of major players turn in wonderful performances with Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Brock Peters as Vader, Ann Sachs as Leia, and Perry King as Hans Solo. John Lithgow is far better as Yoda in Return of the Jedi than he was in Empire Strikes Back. 

Return of the Jedi works as the final act of this trilogy as the conclusion of our journey. In the first two  films  and the first half of this one, we see the characters struggle. Timidity, greed, fear, selfishness, treachery, and arrogance are things the characters  exhibited during the course of this trilogy. Yet, the end of Return of the Jedi, you see them at their very best in a glorious ending. The final episode of the Radio Drama captures the joy, exhilaration, and redemption of the end of one of the greatest science fiction sagas ever.

This is a tremendous adaptation with solid acting, superb sound design, and the brilliant music of John Williams.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.00

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Book Review: The Moonstone

Published more than a decade before A Study in Scarlet, The Moonstone was the first detective novel, although two decades after Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin stories. In it, a young woman receives a fabulous Indian diamond (believed to be cursed and hunted by fanatical Hindu priests travelling incognito.) at her birthday party at her family’s country house. The diamond is stolen and the reactions of its owner and many other people are quite bizarre and mysterious.

There’s a lot to commend the story. The character of Gabriel Betteredge, the family is delightful, a character who is fiercely loyal to the family serves, old fashioned, is quirky, and opinionated, while also being very kind and decent. The two fifths of the book where he serves as narrator had me fully engaged with his love of Robinson Crusoe and his homespun philosophy. Sergeant Cuff, the independent detective called in to consult the case, really is a well-drawn early picture of that sort of consulting detective who’d taken the world by storm by the end of the 19th.

The mystery itself was interesting and had some fairly good twists.  It’d be easy for many modern readers to view the novel as cliched, but it was all original back in 1868. The book is worth reading for its historic value as it provides key insights into the development of one the most popular forms of fiction ever devised.

In terms of how the book held up after nearly 150 years, I have mixed feelings. Collins was a good writer and most of the chapters were quite interesting, but he lacks that timeless quality of the best writers in that great era of British literature. The Moonstone uses multiple first-person narrators, each offering their own account of various events in the story. Some are there for scores of pages, some only one or two.  The problem I had is  I didn’t find many of these narrators compelling, and many I didn’t care about at all.

The Miss Clack chapters were the most tedious reading I had in a long time as Mr. Collins seemed to have gone off on a very long tangent about religious hypocrisy that seemed really unrelated to the story. The book really does seem to lose focus in the middle, and there’s way too much melodrama. The book could have easily been 100 pages shorter and been better for it.

Still, there’s no denying that the book was a groundbreaking work and that every fan of  detective fiction owes a debt to Collins. As a mystery itself, there’s so much to commend the story even if it’s hurt by a few (by modern standards) questionable narrative decisions. Still, I found it more interesting as a historical artifact than as leisure reading.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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