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

7Feb/155

Why Some People Can’t Enjoy The Golden Age of Radio

The Golden Age of Radio is beloved by fans who’d love to share an interest in old radio with children or friends, but to the uninitiated, the whole thing can seem rather weird or daunting, and leave them wondering, “why would I want to listen to that?”

How quickly radio declined once television became available and affordable to the mass audience is an indication that many people listed to radio less because they preferred the art form over film and more because it was all that was available outside of a movie theater and at no cost. Even in countries like Great Britain where new radio dramas are produced with high quality actors and creative teams, their popularity is dwarfed by that of television.

For younger viewers/listeners, this problem is compounded by an increasingly hyper-paced state of entertainment, they’re fed from their first television shows to the present to expect high-paced stories that are resolved very quickly and this has grown over the years. In the video commentary on the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, it was commented that the show was too slow paced for today’s kids, and if you watch modern day cartoons, they move at a dizzying speed that make 1990s Action cartoons seem like they're moving in slow motion. And for viewers like that, the more deliberately paced programs of 1930s-60s don't have a chance.

Many people have an image of golden age radio drama from television and movies of the era that portray it as corny or hammy. Certainly there were programs that could be that way, but there's a wide variety of quality. The tens of thousands of programs out their encompass so many different genres and styles. If you like bold well-done drama there's Studio One and the Mercury Theatre, for classic Science Fiction, it's X-minus One, or you could listen to Fred Allen who pioneered the field of satire on his various programs, and then Cavalcade of America made American history entertaining. And there are countless more: from soaps to medical dramas to horror and fantasy.

Finally, there are social issues in old time radio for twenty-first century listener. To some people (myself included), patriotism, morals, and reverence aren’t bugs, they’re features, but not everyone shares that view and may find such things "preachy" or "propaganda."

However, there's larger concerns about some  golden age programming particularly when it comes to racial stereotypes and views of women.  Even some who might chafe at modern day political correctness will probably find something that would make them uncomfortable in the tens of thousands of surviving radio programs.

To enjoy the golden age of radio, you have to understand yourself to be a guest in another time and place with a different cultures,  values, and understanding. I tend to think that there are lessons to be learned from the past (both good and bad) and that we should have some grace and understanding for the foibles of past generations when listening to radio because future generations will no doubt have problems with today’s culture’s attitudes and behaviors, and I wouldn’t want everything good about our modern world written off due to those failures.

Still, if you find yourself unable to move beyond the lens of our twenty-first century world, you may not be able to enjoy the golden age of radio or many other classic works.

For some, enjoying the golden age of radio may mean finding the right programs or changing perspective. Still, for others, it's not something they'll ever be able to understand the joy of old time radio. As Jimmy Durante,  "Such are the conditions that prevail."

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31Jan/152

Book Review: The Long Goodbye


The Long Goodbye (1953) finds Marlowe living in a borrowed house in Los Angeles when he meets a down and out drunk and former war hero named Terry Lennox. Marlowe strikes up a friendship with the man and one morning Marlowe is awakened to find Lennox asking to be driven to Mexico. Marlowe does this and the finds out Lennox’s wealthy wife was murdered with Lennox the prime suspect. Lennox writes out a confession and kills himself in Mexico. The cops, organized crime, and the dead woman’s father want Marlowe to forget the case, yet Marlowe feels an obligation to Lennox.

To begin with, The Long Goodbye is the longest of all Chandler novels. The same publisher did the most recent reprint of the Marlowe books, and the first five novels range from 231-292 pages. This book weighs in at 379 pages.  At this point in his career, Chandler had come to realize what people looked to Marlowe books for: the characters and the dialogue, and Marlowe telling people off. So Chandler gave us this in spades.

He gives ample time to develop the Marlowe-Lennox relationship at the start of the book and there are great Chandler characters spread throughout the book including author Roger Wade, who I can see as a self-insertion character by Chandler particularly after listening to the BBC Radio 4 play about Chandler and Hitchcock attempting to collaborate on Strangers on a Train. The book is full of rich characterization, settings, and dialogue.

The downside of the Long Goodbye is that in the midst of all that, Chandler loses the story several times. It’s hard to remember a detective novel where the detective took so little interest in solving the central mystery of the book. Marlowe literally goes weeks without doing anything and there are moments in the story where I wonder if we’re ever going to get back to the Terry Lennox case. It’s hard to care about the solution to a story when the main character doesn’t seem to.

In addition, this is a much more cynical and jaded Marlowe than prior books with his remarks that organized crime is just a cost of civilization in one of the later chapters. Marlowe seems at times to be almost exaggerated at a few times even explaining he was trying to be mysterious at one point.

I also feel the relationship between Marlowe and Linda Loring or the attempt thereof was weak and far less interesting than the flirting with romance in prior novels.

Overall, this is a still a good read and is better than The Little Sister and The High Window with so many interesting characters and settings, and some great dialogue. Still, it feels less organic and its pacing issues place it below the very best Marlowe novels in the series. For my part, I think the 1970s BBC radio adaptation with Ed Bishop is probably the best way to experience the story as it manages to preserve the heart of the story while leaving a lot of extraneous elements on the cutting room floor.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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24Jan/153

Four Difference Between 1970s and Later Columbos

Columbo in the 70sColumbo 90s

Peter Falks run as Columbo can be divided into two sections. The first ran from 1971-78 over NBC as part of the network’s Mystery Wheel. Columbo returned in 1989 over ABC in a series of TV movies.

There were four key differences between the newer Columbo films and the originals:

1) Length

Most of the original Columbo films had a 90 minute time slot which made them about 70-75 minutes without commercials. The new Columbo films took up 2 hours and had running time of approximately 90 minutes. I have to admit that in general, this was a case of “less is more.”

One key example was the second ABC Columbo, “Murder, Smoke, and Shadows” where the film started really strong but dragged on too long and at the end of Columbo’s denouement we had (and I kid you not), the police coming out and doing a musical number when they announced the arrest.

The old Columbos worked because of their limitations. They didn’t go on forever and ever, and when there was a longer case thrown in such as with, “A Friend Indeed,” the time was well-spent while the only new film that I think actually benefited from the longer running time was, “Agenda for Murder.”

2) More Adult Content

Columbo in the 1970s remains a mostly tasteful family friendly TV show. The latter Columbo could be something else with a lot more sex in the plot and a lot more skin on the screen.   There were a few episodes with featured lurid plots and disturbing murder scenes. Of course, this isn’t to say that all of the latter Columbos were strictly adult affairs, but there were quite a few that pushed the envelope.

The general incidents and prevalence of sex and violence in the media and on various TV shows is certainly for a debate. I think that with a couple of exceptions, it tended to detract rather than add from Columbo. At its core, the strength of Columbo are great characters and their interactions, and the episodes that tended to have the most adult content such as, Uneasy Lies the Crown and Murder: A Self Portrait tended to not to sacrafice quality charagers. If there was an episode that seemed more “Grown up” that did work, it was, “It’s All in the Game” starring Faye Dunaway as a suspect who is trying to seduce Columbo to keep him off her trail but that works because of the character interactions.

Too often, the content inserted comes off as gratuitous or trashy. The seventies series was more stylish and tasteful.

3) More Experimentation

Of the 44 1970s Columbo films, only one messed with the formula of Columbo being an inverted mystery (Season 5’s Last Salute to the Commodore). Of the twenty-four revived shows, there were half a dozen different attempts to break with the formula. These variations ranged from following the killer up to the point of the murder and finding someone else had already committed the murder, not showing the murder and then planting doubt as to the killer’s guilt, and then there were two adaptations of Ed McBain novels.

While Last Salute to the Commodore was one of my two least favorite 1970s episodes, some of these later experiments aren’t too bad. Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo begins with the funeral of “Mrs. Columbo” and is then told through flashback from the point of view of a woman seeking revenge on the good Lieutenant  through murdering his wife. The McBain novel adaptation, Undercover is a fine thriller if you can get past the fact that Columbo’s behavior is completely inconsistent with everything we know of the character. Columbo Cries Wolf had its moments.

The other three are more problematic but not for messing with the formula but for other issues. Still, I have to say that while the revived Columbos that go in other directions can actually be entertaining, they still can’t beat the best of the “normal” Columbo episodes.

4) Less Star Quality

The original Columbo, even more than its plots were known for the amazing casting. Among the actors who played Columbo killers in the gold old days were Anne Baxter, Robert Culp, Leonard Nimoy, Roddy McDowell, Martin Landau, Dick Van Dyke, Patrick McGoohan, Ricardo Montalban, Ruth Gordon, and so many more. Peter Falk was a fantastic actor and had great chemistry with so many guest stars.

The new series had a virtual power outage, particularly in 1989 and 1990. Of the first eleven villains, the only actor in Falk’s league was Patrick McGhoohan. The second best of the group was Fisher Stevens. A big let down from the 1970s.

The series did better guest stars between 1991-94 when Columbo cut back from 4-6 films a years to between 2 and 3 films a year with better stars. The results were among the best of the new series as Faye Dunaway was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Glove for her apeparance, and Dabney Coleman, George Hamilton, and Rip Torn turned in memorable and satisfying performances.

Of course, not even a good guest star could save some films. A mustached William Shatner’s is miscast in Butterfly in Shades of Grey. Tyne Daley did the best she could with a fairly stereotypical flirty lush roll in, A Bird in the Hand but deserved far better as a Columbo villainess.

There did seem to be a fair share more stories in the later years that strained credulity in terms of motive or were just plain derivative (i.e. Stange Bedfellows.)

Yet, the one thing that remained the same was Peter Falk. There are episodes were it felt like the only thing good in the movie was Columbo...but almost always that still made it worth watching. There’s so much in every moment when Falk’s on the screen that he can carry the show by himself which was a good thing because he often had to.

By almost every measure, ABC’s Columbo was an inferior product to its predecessor, but it provided two dozen opportunities to see Peter Falk in action as his greatest character and that alone makes them worth viewing.

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17Jan/150

Audio Drama Review: The Condemned

In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama The Condemned, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) picks up a distress signal and rescues Charlotte “Charley” Pollard (India Fisher), not knowing that she was a companion of a future Doctor.

Wary of creating a paradox and uncertain what to do, Charley feigns amnesia, but the Doctor is immediately suspicious. However, the question of who Charley really is is put aside when the Doctor lands the TARDIS in an apartment in Manchester where a murder just been committed. And when Detective Inspector DI Menzies (Anna Hope) finds him in the murder room which no one else could have entered, he’s arrested while Charley is kidnapped and locked in the apartment of one of the building’s tenants.

The story features the Doctor playing detective as he ends up teaming up with Menzies to solve this locked room mystery. Of course, calling this an “old fashioned” would be a bit of a misnomer as this story also involves aliens. It’s a Sci Fi mystery that reminded me a lot of Men in Black. The ending has a mix of tragedy, and a bit of light horror that feels almost Noirish in a sci fi sort of way.

The guest characters are well-written and the casting is superb. Hope’s performance as DI Menzies is top notch. The character is tough and realistic with a rye sense of humor. Everyone else is pitch perfect including Will Ash as the tragic Sam and Sara De Freitas who plays Charley’s surprisingly mellow captor.

As for the leads, Colin Baker turns in a great performance as the Doctor. I was generally surprised as I’d heard very bad things about Baker’s doctor as an arrogant and annoying guy in a garish costume. However, Condemned portrays a Doctor who has mellowed much since the time of the TV series. He’s superb in the role of the sleuth, also kind, particularly towards Charley who he lets travel with him despite distrusting her.

India Fisher is solid as Charley, a character who loved the Eighth Doctor and finds herself really disoriented with this prior doctor and having to keep this secret or risk severe consequences to time itself as well as being barred from future travels. One of the oddities of The Condemned is that this new Doctor/Companion pair spends so little time together in their first adventure. In this story, it works because Charley really needs time to process this new situation. The scenes between Charley and the Doctor in the TARDIS particularly at the start of the story are strong and would set the tone for the rest of this duo’s run.

In one classic bit of dialogue, Charley explains her surprise at seeing the Sixth Doctor in his TARDIS by saying she was expecting someone. The Doctor replies, "I hadn't realised dimensionally transcendental time machines disguised as police boxes were so common!"

The story also represents a good entry point for those who want to listen to Doctor Who Audio. The first Big Finish Doctor Who Audio Drama I listened to over BBC Radio 4 Extra related so much to things that had happened in TV episodes I hadn’t seen that I felt lost. In comparison, this makes a solid jumping on point even if you’re not a fan of Baker’s run as the Doctor or even the Classic Series. To understand this episode, all you need to know is that: 1) The Doctor travels in time and space in the TARDIS and 2) That Charley previously traveled with a future version of the Doctor. The same can be said of the entire run of seven Big Finish stories featuring this pairing. It is very self-contained.

Overall, The Condemned works as a fun Sci Fi mystery with solid acting and a superb story. It's a great jumping on point for anyone who's curious about Doctor Who audios but doesn't want to figure out 50 years of continuity.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

The Condemned is available from BookDepository.com

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10Jan/150

Top 10 Nero Wolfe Novellas, Part Three

I continue my list of the top 10 Nero Wolfe Novellas. See Part One and Part Two.

3) Disguise for Murder (1950)

This one was adapted for A Nero Wolfe Mystery and it was also done for CBC’s Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. So, it’s a stand out whenever anyone looks at adapting the Wolfe canon, and for good reason.

Wolfe has been talked into opening the brownstone and his orchid to a flower club. At the event, a woman takes Archie aside to confide him that she recognized a murderer at the party, but she’ll only confide it to Wolfe. It goes without saying that before Archie can get Wolfe back to the office, the woman is killed in Wolfe’s office.

This is not only unfortunate, but very inconvenient for Wolfe as Inspector Cramer peevishly orders the office sealed and Wolfe just as peevishly refuses to divulge a key observation to Cramer. Cramer uses Wolfe’s dining room to interrogate the witnesses and Wolfe orders Fritz to make sandwiches for everyone but the police. The novella is far more subtle than the Television version for A&E, as it quietly shows the tension between Wolfe and the official police rather than Wolfe shouting at the police.

The story than features one of the most memorable climaxes in the Wolfe canon with Archie facing more physical danger than ever and a truly surprising solution.

2) Counterfeit for Murder (1961)

A woman named Hattie Annis comes to Wolfe's door looking quite disheveled and unlike the high value clients that Wolfe usually pays for and Archie's not inclined to let her in. However, Archie's willing to let her see the big guy because Wolfe is under the impression that he's a sucker for a certain type of woman and Archie thinks it'll be fun to show Wolfe up.

Hattie has a stack of money that she found in her boarding house which shelters showbiz people whether they can pay their $5 a week rent or not. When Wolfe sends Archie to the boarding house to investigate, they find an undercover female Treasury Agent dead.

The cop-hating Hattie Annis is without a doubt Wolfe's most interesting client so far. Her speech and personality (she calls Wolfe "Falstaff") make the story one of the most enjoyable to read in the canon.

The mystery isn't half bad either. Throw in some T-men and the NYPD in a turf war and there are Few Wolfe stories of any length that can beat this one for pure entertainment value.

1) The Next Witness (1951)

"The Next Witness" finds Wolfe called as a witness to a peripheral matter in a murder trial. While being out and watching the trial, he becomes convinced that the prosecution's case is wrong and leaves the courtroom with Archie, going on the run from the law while Wolfe tries to find the truth.

It's fascinating to read of Wolfe out in the light, asking questions of people in their own place of business is an incredible change of pace. There's also a classic scene with Wolfe in a diner eating Chili and waxing philosophical about it.

"The Next Witness" is truly a top notch story and it shows Wolfe at his wiliest and most resourceful as he's forced to stay in a strange house, travel around in a car, and question witnesses in strange places. The payoff scene in the courtroom features one of Wolfe's most brilliant stratagems.

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

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3Jan/150

Top 10 Nero Wolfe Novellas, Part Two

I continue my list of the top 10 Nero Wolfe Novellas. See Part One

6) Door to Death  (1949) : When Theodore has to take care of his ailing mother and take an indefinite leave as orchid nurse for Wolfe, Wolfe is left with the full time job taking care of them. This becomes so intolerable that Wolfe not only leaves the brownstone, but gets in a car and travels to hire away Andy, the gardener of a wealthy upstate family to tend the orchids. However, before Wolfe can get away with the replacement orchid tender, a dead body is discovered and Andy is the prime suspect.

Wolfe’s determination to find an acceptable replacement for Theordore was enough to interest him in solving the case. However, when a young woman has the impertinence to call him Nero, Wolfe becomes determined to solve the case even as he’s being ordered out by the local police. Wolfe goes to extreme measures to get back into the house and obtain an opportunity to investigate it.

This story that showed both Wolfe’s genius and self-awareness as Wolfe insists on staying away from home knowing that if he goes home, he’ll be impossible to get back out. And this is a case Wolfe wants to solve.

5) Help Wanted, Male (1945): In this last war-time Nero Wolfe story, a man comes to Wolfe for help when someone sends him a letter threatening murder. Wolfe provides his stock response and refuses the case advising him that there's little that can be done to prevent a murder and suggests he tries hiring someone else.

When the man is murdered, Cramer questions him and Wolfe informs Cramer that he is, "not interested, not involved, and not curious." However, this all changes when Wolfe receives a letter identical to the one sent to the murdered man.

Archie leaves for Washington on Army business, when he returns to New York, he finds that Wolfe has hired a king-sized decoy at $100 a day until Wolfe is able to identify the real killer.

The story is well-executed a nice variation on the Wolfe formula and the identity of the murderer is a great twist as well.

4) Before I Die (1947): In two prior novellas set during World War II, particularly in "Booby Trap," Archie made a point of Wolfe's kitchen being free of black market goods. Wolfe was extremely patriotic during the war.

By the time 1947 came around, the war was over but the meat shortages were still going on as the U.S. was trying to feed war-torn Europe. Wolfe had about had it. His hunger for some black market meat leads him to take on a job for a notorious mobster who might help him score some meat. The mobster had hired a convict from Salt Lake City to pretend to be his daughter in order to protect his real daughter from his rivals. But the fake daughter commences to blackmail him and wants Wolfe to make it stop.

Before Wolfe can do that, Archie is present for the murder of the faux daughter and the mobster. Wolfe has landed he and Archie in a tight spot. Will Wolfe uncover the identity of the true killer or will his appetite finally be the death of he and Archie?

The characters in the short story are fantastic, particularly the mob boss. With three on-screen shootings in the story, it has more action than the average Nero Wolfe story. "Before I Die" is also fun because Stout manages to take Wolfe out of his comfort zone as he deals with New York mafiosos, but still manages to handle himself surprising well.

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

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27Dec/140

The Top 10 Nero Wolfe Novellas, Part One

This week, we begin a look at the very best of Rex Stout's 39 Nero Wolfe novellas.  Note, the 33 Novels will be covered at a later date. We're only counting down the most memorable short stories featuring one of fiction's greatest detectives.

10) Murder is No Joke (1958): A woman comes to Wolfe's office concerned that her brother's business is being destroyed by a woman who has some hold over her. She wants Wolfe to investigate her but doesn't have the money to pay him. However, she offers to pay Wolfe to call the woman. Wolfe dials the number and is promptly insulted by the woman and then hears sounds that indicates violence has occurred. Archie calls the woman's office and finds she has indeed been murdered with Wolfe and Archie as likely ear witnesses.

However, Wolfe has a sense that someone is trying to make a fool of him and sets out to uncover the truth of what really happened and how the suicide of a formerly promising actress plays into what happened. He sends Archie down to the office where the murdered woman worked to ask about correspondence from the actress who committed suicide.

The highlight of this story is when Archie wants to know why Wolfe is an investigating and Wolfe and Archie share a moment of detective zen when Wolfe opens Archie's eyes to a key clue. All in all, the story has a good cast of characters and a solution that really shocked me.

9) Bitter End (1940): This was a reworking of Bad for Business, a novel for Rex Stout's other Detective Tecumseh Fox. It was necessitated by Stout's desire to make some money before he put all of his energy into fighting against Nazi Germany. It was published in a magazine in 1940, but not actually published in book form until ten years after Stout's death.

I read the original novel but that's hardly necessary. The reworking here is seamless. The plot begins when Wolfe gets a spiked candy from Tingley's Tidbits. While the poison's not deadly, it's bitter and this is enough to get Wolfe on the warpath and make him more than willing to help the niece of the hated CEO of Tingley's. Of course, the case takes on a whole new complexity when the CEO is murdered and the niece finds herself unconscious at the scence of the crime. The story is one of the best in the corpus and Archie really shines.

8) Christmas Party (1957) Archie connives to get a fake wedding license for a dancing partner who wants her to boss to marry her. The boss is being stubborn so Archie gets a fake marriage license blank with both their names on it to force the issue.

When Wolfe starts to get bossy and unreasonable in demanding Archie drive him to meet an orchid expert, Archie springs the marriage license on and tells him that he's getting married. Wolfe is displeased but Archie gets out of the errand.

Archie ends up attending the Christmas Party where the boss is murdered and Santa mysteriously disappears after the crime is committed. Archie also can't find the fake wedding license which has him at risk of a forgery charge. When Archie gets home he finds out that Santa was none other than Nero Wolfe, spying on him and his supposed fiancée. To make matters worse, a jealous young woman who believes Archie's Faux fiancee was the murderess demands that Wolfe connive to help frame her. Otherwise, Wolfe will have to endure the embarrassment of being exposed as Santa. Wolfe and Archie are in a pickle and it takes all of Wolfe's wits to get them out.

7) Instead of Evidence (1946) A partner in a novelty company comes to Wolfe convinced that his business partner's going to kill him. He doesn't Wolfe to prevent the murder, only to catch the murderer. Wolfe balks at the paltry $5000 offered to him as the bulk of it will be taken by taxes. However, he offers to report what the man has told him to  the police and take whatever action he deems appropriate.

The man is murdered by a potent exploding cigar  and Wolfe reports his visit to the police.  Dealing with people in the novelty industry allows Stout's humor to run wild as the murder victim's partner manages to chase Wolfe out of his own office. As usual, Archie is frustrated with the pace of Wolfe's investigation. But don't worry, this is one story that ends with a bang.

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20Dec/140

Book Review: Hang by the Neck


I picked up a copy of Hang by the Neck out of curiosity as I’d listened to the Crime and Peter Chambers golden age radio program and was curious what the books were like.

The answer is very much the same, only with a more complex plot.

In the book, Pete is hired by Johnny the Mick to go pick up a suitcase from Johnny’s apartment. However, Pete finds the body of a beautiful woman and then the police come up and haul Johnny and Pete off to jail. Chambers released only to come home and find the body of Johnny the Mick hanging from his window.

The police conclude that Johnny murdered the girl and committed suicide but Pete knows Johnny the Mick well enough to not buy the explanation.

What follows is Chambers’ questioning and conversing with a wide variety of shady characters to get to the truth. The suspects are pretty much stock characters for a hard boiled detective novel: the seductive performer, the charming model, the shady night club owner. The one exception to this is an ex-boxer turned painter which was a nice touch. There’s also a great speech from a cop about what private investigators are for and what they ought stick to investigating. Though later events in the book make the speech more than a tad ironic.

Radio programs were known for taking massive liberities when bringing detectives not named Sherlock Holmes to the microphone, so I was surprised to find that the characters in the book spoke exactly like the radio program with some very stylized dialogue. However, reading it, there were points were the style could be a tad wearying with a few too many pages filled with rapid fire one-liners between Chambers and someone he was questioning.

Rating the book is hard. Overall, Hang By Your Neck is average or perhaps a bit above average hard boiled detective novel. However, it doesn’t approach greatness and is by no means essential for fans of the genre. Certainly Peter Chambers isn’t in the class of Philip Marlowe, Archie Goodwin, or Nick Charles. However, if you want to read a 1950s Detective novels to pass the time, this isn’t a bad choice.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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13Dec/140

DVD Review: Bancroft Of The Secret Service Mysteries Collection


These films star future President Ronald Reagan as Brass Bancroft, a flyer turned Secret Service Agent who battles alien smugglers, counterfeiters, thieves, and fifth columnist in these films from 1939-40.

From my experience of watching B films, these are about average. The films are not as good as the Nick Carter films for the same era. And despite being about a law enforcement officer, these really aren't detective stories (except perhaps the third film). The strength of the franchise is really two fisted action and adventure.

As a historical curiosity, it's interesting to see the future leader of the free world at work in his late 20s and looking his best. Reagan is great whenever he's on screen exuding great charm and charisma.

The action sequences are pretty good in this one. While not up to the standards of our special effects driven world, the various chases, fistfights, and peril of these four films are fun to watch and there are some standout moments that are great for various reasons. The first film did a great job casting our villains as true menaces to decency when (in response to another Secret Service man trying to bust the plane mid-flight), the pilot opens a hatch in the plane that drops the Secret Service men as well as all the illegal aliens being smuggled right to Earth in a scene that's very shocking. While the identity of the bad guy is not much of a secret in the third film despite the attempt at a veneer of mystery, the reveal of the "boss" is a beautiful work that's just great to watch.

Also, viewers of the 1950s Superman TV show will recognize John Hamilton (who played Perry White) who appears in three of the four films as various authority figures.

On the downside, unlike Donald Meek's character in the Nick Carter series, Eddie Foy Jr.'s comedic sidekick character Gabby Walters doesn't really help the series and from a plot standpoint, it only made sense for him to be in the first film. While there are  amusing moments where Foy's charm shines, the character far too often is annoying, particularly in the last film.

The rest of the cast was mostly serviceable. Nothing amazing but nothing really bad either. The writing was dodgy at times. In the first movie, the film really took a long round about way of achieving its goal with the Secret Service going to great pains to have Bancroft convicted by a jury under his own name on a trumped up counterfeiting Charge so he could go undercover in prison rather than simply have him imprisoned under an assumed name. as would happen in the third film In the final film, the plot involved a secret fictional weapon which the filmmakers tried to demonstrate. Unfortunately they didn't have the budget to do it effectively and the result is a somewhat confusing end.

It's also worth commenting on as to the dearth of women in these features. Each film has one woman each in the main cast and except for Lya Lys in Murder in the Air none of them actually stand out.

Overall, the films are okay B-movies with some nice acting by Reagan and a few standout moments. But there's a lot of this that's also pretty forgettable even by B-movie standards.

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6Dec/140

Audio Drama Review: The Innocence of Father Brown, Volume 3


Colonial Radio Theatre relaunched its Father Brown line earlier this year. Previous releases of Father Brown had stories taken throughout the Father Brown canon. A release might include a story from the Innocence of Father Brown, one from the Wisdom of Father Brown, and another two from the Scandal of Father Brown.

With the relaunch, Colonial Radio Theater is grouping stories from the same book together. The first two volumes of the Innocence of Father Brown include only stories that were released previously. However, Volume 3 contains two newly adapted stories, both of which have pitfalls for would be-adaptors. Each story features JT Turner as Father Brown and is adapted by MJ Elliott from stories by GK Chesterton.

"The Eye of Apollo" is a classic story which pits Father Brown against the founder of a sun-worshiping cult who has convinced a strong-headed wealthy woman to follow his way. When she dies, it appears to have been accident with the cult leader having a perfect alibi. The actual solution has a great ironic twist that's pure Chesterton. Colonial does a spot on job creating all the characters exactly as Chesterton wrote them.

"The Honour of Israel Gow " is difficult to adapt because the solution borders on the absurd. Father Brown, Flambeau, and a Police Inspector go the estate of a late Scottish lord and find inexplicable occurrences including candles, snuff, unset precious stones, springs and cogs, and an odd bamboo stick out loose.

This is an interesting story as Father Brown is wrong several times. The first few time are intentional. The story has fantastic scene where Flambeau and the Inspector insist that there’s no way to explain all this and Father Brown comes up with one mind-blowing explanation after another just to prove that you could think of a solution. However, Father Brown’s tone changes considerably when he finds Catholic texts have been defaced leading him to jump to a conclusion far more sinister than what really happened. Overall, the three actors really carry the story and the result is fun without being ludicrous.

"Sign of the Broken Sword" is one of Chesterton’s most influential stories in terms of impacts  other mystery writers. It’s also a very hard story to dramatize because it consists of Father Brown and Flambeau discussing a mysterious historical event that occurred half way around the world in Brazil. I was curious how Colonial would adapt the story and they didn’t depart from the original concept. As I think about it, I believe they made the right call.

It’s easy to imagine doing an adaptation with flashbacks to Brazil or with a greatly expanded investigation by Father Brown. However, I think that would make the story weaker as the sagacity and wisdom of Father Brown is what takes center stage. The adaptation works because of a strong performance by JT Turner as Father in carrying the play and his strong chemistry with James Turner as Flambeau. It's fascinating as Father Brown reveals takes the accepted facts of a story in which a very wise general behaved foolishly and very merciful general behaved cruelly and peels away the layers of deceit and mystery to discover a diabolical secret. Because the story doesn't have much action, it's not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

"The Three Tools of Death" is one best Father Brown mysteries.  I actually based much of my Father Brown chapter in my book, All I Needed to Know I Learned from Columbo on this story. However, it's not always gotten the respect it deserved. In the 1970s, ITV ruined the story when they adapted Father Brown for television because the original story was too politically incorrect.

Colonial, on the other hand, didn't try to airbrush the story. Instead, they let it speak for itself and produced a faithful and well-done adaptation of this mystery that centers around Britain's leading optimist and teetotaler being found murdered. At first, there are no weapons found, and then all the sudden, there are too many. Father Brown says something's wrong with the crime scene, that all these weapons are "not economical."  This is a very faithful adaptation. They even preserved the post-solution ending. Father Brown, after having unraveled one of the greatest mysteries in the history of detective fiction, goes on about his rounds as a Priest. That  tells you all you need to know about Father Brown.

The one thing that may throw some listeners is that the first and last stories have a different theme and score than the middle stories since they were first released earlier.

Overall, this collection contains four solidly produced and faithful adaptations of the Father Brown mysteries. Colonial gets high marks for being willing to take on some of the tougher to adapt early Father Brown stories and doing them justice. The result is a very entertaining two hours of classic audio mysteries.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

Note: I received a digital copy of this production in exchange for an honest review. 

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