Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season Three

Season Three of Black Jack Justice features six half hour episodes and finds the team in a fairly well-established routine with Jack (Christopher Mott) and Trixie (Andrea Lyons) joined by the office dog, King.

The types of cases they solve this season are far from unheard of, yet the series is enjoyable due to their great sense of style.

The season opens up with, “Payback” where Jack is determined to solve a murder case that led to him getting thrown into jail for thirty days and to get payback on the client who caused the incarceration.

“Sabian’s Law” finds Jack and Trixie on opposite sides as Trixie would rather lose a reward to the firm than have to deal with the indignity of losing a bet to Jack, which leads to an unlikely team up with their police foe Lieutenant Sabian. “Trixie’s Pet” finds Trixie getting the firm involved in investigating a case where Button Down Theo, an operative for the big detective firm in town, has landed himself in trouble.

“The Reunion” finds Jack and Trixie trying to help a wealthy widow facilitate a meeting between her and her estranged twin sister.

“Much Ado About Norman” has the two searching for their emotional client, because they fear he’s about to do something stupid, rash, and illegal.

The season concludes with, “Dance, Justice, Dance” which opens with Jack and Trixie in a firefigh. Then Jack reveals the true version of the oft-misquoted statement, “Music soothes the savage beast,” before explaining how they got a job protecting musicians who got a contract with a big casino along with anonymous warnings that they might not live to fulfill it.

There’s not a bad episode in the bunch and each has its own unique features that make for fun listening. “The Reunion” may have been the best mystery of the season. I also loved the more character-driven nature of “Much Ado About Norman.” And “Dance, Justice, Dance” has a great bit of world-weary narration, particularly the ending.

The sound effects continue to be a bit dodgy. This could be heard during the gunfight in the finale. Other than that, though, the third season of Black Jack Justice was quite a delight.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Listen to Season 3 of Black Jack Justice for free at the Decoder Ring Theater website.

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Book Review: Three for the Chair

This review was originally published August 27, 2011.

While shopping in the thrift store, I found a 1968 Bantam Paperback copy of Three for the Chair, a 1957 compilation of three Nero Wolfe novellas. While the book was not my planned next Nero Wolfe read, I decided to grab it cheap and enjoy the book.

Each story in this book will be reviewed in its own right.

A Window for Death

A man left his family under a cloud of suspicion and then made a fortune in mining. He returns home and apparently dies of natural causes. Members of the family aren’t so sure, and are suspicious of the man’s partner who inherited the entire mining interest. Wolfe is hired to determine whether there is enough to call the police in.

This story is very workmanlike. There’s little action. The majority of the story involves Wolfe questioning witnesses in the Brownstone and the rest involves Archie doing so outside. No added deaths occur and there are no real plot twists. Inspector Cramer does not appear in the story. A Window for Death ends with Wolfe composing a note to him. Still, the actual solution is pretty clever.

Rating: Satisfactory

Immune to Murder

At the request of an Assistant Secretary of State, Wolfe leaves the comfort of the Brownstone for a rustic fishing resort to help with sensitive oil negotiations by cooking fish for the ambassador who had specifically requested Wolfe. Wolfe hates the locale and plans to leave after lunch. Wolfe’s plans are upset when Archie discovers the Assistant Secretary of State lying dead in stream.

The potential suspects include members of a diplomatic delegation who are immune to prosecution and two rich oil magnates. The District Attorney suggests absurdly that Archie was there as a hired assassin. The truth doesn’t come out until the murderer does something that insults Wolfe’s vanity.

This story was adapted for television on a Nero Wolfe Mystery as the last episode and was panned by fans. In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with either the episode or the story. It was, however unfortunate to make this the last episode. We had none of the familiar supporting characters that fans loved, plus in the context of a final episode, the solution was unsatisfying. However, in the context of a Nero Wolfe reading binge, the story represents a nice change of pace.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Too Many Detectives

Thanks to Archie’s interest in learning about wiretapping, Wolfe agrees to help a man tap his own phone. Later, Wolfe learns he was duped and the man who hired him didn’t own the phone being tapped.

Wolfe’s embarrassment is deepened when he’s summoned to Albany and forced to endure a long car ride to discuss the matter. Wolfe and Archie find several other detectives waiting.

When it’s their turn to testify, they learn the man who fooled them claimed they knew the wiretap was illegal. When it was time for the phony client to testify, he’s found dead, and Wolfe and Archie are arrested as material witnesses.

While Archie and Wolfe are released on bail, they can’t leave the jurisdiction, a situation Wolfe can’t tolerate. The only way out is for Wolfe to find the killer.

Wolfe compares notes with the other detectives and finds all but one of them was taken in by the same scheme as Wolfe. Wolfe then gets all six detectives to share every available operative back in New York City to solve the case, leading to a surprising and satisfying solution.

This story is notable for featuring Dol Bonner. Ms. Bonner had appeared in her own novel in 1937 and also appeared in a Tecumseh Fox novel. She and Wolfe got along well which had Archie nervous. He figured Bonner was that rare woman Wolfe could actually fall for. Archie even imagines a situation where Archie, Wolfe, Bonner, and Bonner’s assistant Sally Colt are all in the Brownstone solving cases together. Thus, even great authors have intriguing ideas occur to them which, if tried, would wreck their franchise.

As an aside, the story makes me curious to read Stout’s Dol Bonner novel.

As for Too Many Detectives, it was truly a good use of an hour and deserving of a:

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Overall rating for the Collection: Very Satisfactory

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TV Episode Review: The Avengers: The House that Jack Built

Series: The Avengers
Season 4, Episode 23
Original Air Date: March 5, 1966

“The House that Jack Built” begins atypically for an Avengers episode. Mrs. Peel (Diana Rigg) shows up to find John Steed (Patrick Macnee) developing photos. There’s no big case. She just stops by for a friendly chat before heading off to look at a house her solicitor sent her a letter saying she’d inherited.

When Mrs. Peel arrives, she’s trapped inside the house and forced to wander through a series of confusing rooms, traps, and weird contraptions seemingly meant to reduce her to a state of terror.

This is a brilliant episode. The directing is superb, giving this situation a very haunting claustrophobic atmosphere throughout. The design of this house and the all related traps lends to the suspenseful feel.

This episode is also a showcase for Diana Rigg. While Steed finds clues that put him on Mrs. Peel’s trail and allow him to be in on the finale, the focus is on Mrs. Peel as she creeps through this house with few words. Rigg is superb. Mrs. Peel is one of the few female characters on television in this era who wouldn’t break out in hysterics. Rigg plays Mrs. Peel with appropriate coolness, without portraying a flippant bravado that would take the viewer out of the episode.

While the Avengers had a fun light touch, this episode shows the series could work with a serious and suspenseful tone, too. This episode is a classic that’s well worth watching.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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My Favorite Non-Detective Old Time Radio Dramas

While we play detective shows on the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio, I love many other programs from radio’s golden age, too. If you’re looking for family drama or for an exciting adventure, this list might provide some programs that are good for you.

Family Theater (1947-57):

The program was brought to you by the idea of family prayer. This is a lovely program that engaged some of Hollywood’s finest actors from Vincent Price and Bob Hope to Edmond O’Brien and Maureen O’Sullivan and Raymond Burr. The stories range from retellings of classics to dramatic tales that illustrated powerful lessons. The program’s messages are positive, inspiring, and thought-provoking. Some dodgy moments may offend modern sensibilities. Otherwise, this is a great example of what a family program can be. My favorites include the original story, “God and the Red Scooter” and their adaptation of “The Hound of Heaven.”

Cavalcade of America (1937-55):

Cavalcade of America would occasionally tell well-known stories of American history. Those episodes are okay. However, what makes me listen to Cavalcade are all of their obscure stories. They’ll tell about some aspect of a founding father’s life few remembered back in 1937 or talk about some now unsung hero who made a great difference in American history.

Cavalcade of America tells stories about how an American began selling ice overseas or the first American to become an opera star overseas. There’s the story of a lawyer who set out to protect an abused child in the absence of laws against child abuse by trying to apply laws for the protection of small animals. I learn so much from this show, and I am more historically aware than the average person. Most Cavalcade episodes are entertaining and enlightening. A few are a little too pedantic, particularly some early episodes. This anthology series also has a great cast, including episodes featuring Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Basil Rathbone.

Dr. Christian (1937-54)

After playing a kindly doctor in a series of films featuring the Dionne Quints, the Danish-born actor brought to life the kindest country doctor imaginable. As Dr. Christian, he stood at the center of the upstate New York community of Rivers End. Dr. Christian lived a life of selfless love and care for everyone in the community. He not only cared for broken bodies but broken hearts and the health of the whole community. Later episodes in the 1940s were chosen from fan-submitted scripts. The lessons in Dr. Christian are often out of fashion, but few are useless relics. Usually, they’re timeless truths that we have forgotten.
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Fort Laramie (1956)

Just before he achieved stardom on TV, Raymond Burr stars as the rugged and wise Captain Lee Quince, second in command of Fort Laramie. The program featured uncompromising realism in its portrayal of life in the army in this Old West fort. Despite this, the show wasn’t dry or constantly dark or humorless. It was intelligently written. One episode would be funny and light, reflecting some odd but true aspect of life in the West. Then it would be followed by a tragic story. That meant the tragic story hit harder than it would have otherwise. The feature has a solid recurring cast including Harry Bartel and Jack Moyles and great production values.

Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (1947-48)

Captain Phillip Carney (Elliot Lewis) captained the Scarlet Queen as she sailed across the world. He various adventures with the aid of his first mate Red Gallagher (Ed Max). This was one of the few adult adventure series on the radio. It’s brilliant, filled with great characters, suspense, and an ability to bring exotic ports to life in a Hollywood radio studio. While all 35 episodes of the series are good, the first 20 are superb. They have a running plot of a particular cargo Carney is trying to deliver with a big enemy that’s trying to stop him through the villain of the week. It’s a pretty interesting approach and not something done in the 1940s.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1947-56):

A lot of religious dramas aired in the 1940s and 50s. In my view, this was the best. It dramatized stories from the Bible, mostly the New Testament. It features a good (but uncredited ) cast and almost no commercial interruption. Much like some later dramatization of the Bible for television, it expands on some stories to fill half an hour. Usually, this works. On occasion, new themes are drawn from the added material and take the story in an odd direction. Again, most of the time, it worked quite well. It’s a shame more episodes of the series didn’t survive, with only about 1 in 7 circulating today.

I’ll also offer honorable mentions to Bold Venture and I Was a Communist for the FBI.

Share your favorite radio dramas in the comments below.

Audio Drama Review: Agatha Christie: The Lost Plays:

Agatha Christie: The Lost Radio Plays collects three BBC radio plays that aired between 1948 and 1960. It also includes some bonus material.

“Butter in a Lordly Dish” from 1948 stars Richard Williams as Sir Luke Enderby KC, a skilled prosecutor who is also a philanderer, who is headed out on his latest fling. Then there’s Personal Call, a 1955 original story about a man receiving calls from someone claiming to be his dead wife. It stars Ivan Brandt and Barbara Lott. Finally, Williams stars as Poirot in the hour-long adaptation of Christie’s “Murder in the Mews.”

The acting is mostly solid with a few exceptions. There is a slight bent to the melodramatic in the original radio plays, and Williams isn’t the best Poirot ever.

As for the writing, anyone expecting new masterpieces will be disappointed. “Butter in a Lordly Dish” is comparable to an above average episode of the 1960s American series Theater Five.  “Personal Call” is comparable to an average mid-1950s episode of Suspense. “Murder in the Mews” is a good story undermined by direction and style that is competent at best and Williams is a somewhat mediocre Poirot.

The extras include Agatha Christie-related audio recordings and interviews with actors who appeared in the original London stage production of her play the Mousetrap. In addition, comedian Toby Hadoke interviews the last-surviving cast member of the radio plays. In that extra, they discuss his showbiz career and how he became a successful costume designer on both sides of the pond. Hadoke is a talented interviewer who shows great interests in his subjects and makes this far more interesting than you might otherwise expect.

Overall,  major fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy this release. It features rare and little-heard radio productions featuring her work that are okay, but not remarkable. In addition, the bonus material is well-presented and engaging.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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