Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: The Classic Comedy Team Collection

The Classic Comedy team collection offers viewers a chance to see three of the all-time best comedy teams in action: the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. The films, rather than being public domain works, are rare films that were made by MGM. This is particularly notable for Abbott and Costello as most of their pictures were made with Universal.

The Three Stooges discs offer two films, Gold Raiders, and Meet the Baron. Both films are obscure. Gold Raiders is an extremely low budget 1951 Western  notable for being the only film made with Shemp, but  unremarkable otherwise. Meet the Baron (1933) is an interesting film for fans of 1930s entertainment as you get some great performers all in one film, including Edna May Oliver, Jimmy Durante, and Zasu Pitts,  who all had pretty good performances elsewhere. In fact, the Stooges barely feature. This is a film where the whole is far less than the sum of it’s part as it falls short under the weight of weak writing, as do many of the all-star comedies of that era.

Laurel and Hardy were past their prime but I found both of their war time films to be entertaining. Air Raid Wardens (1943) finds them taking on volunteer war work in an effort to help the country. It’s not only patriotic, but it was so hilarious, when I watched it while giving blood, it ended the donation because I was laughing so hard, the needle moved, so consider yourself warned. Nothing But Trouble (1944) offers a nice contrast between the Depression and World War II with Laurel and Hardy’s butler/cook team having left America in the 1930s when jobs were scarce and returning in the middle of war when demand for any job was high. The story features political intrigue and they find themselves in the middle of a plot to kill a pro-Democracy, football-loving teenage king. It’s not quite as good as Air Raid Wardens, but it’s funny and charming in its own right.

Abbott and Costello are the only duo to be at the height of their popularity and talent in this collection. Lost in a Harem (1944) finds them as magicians helping an Arabian prince regain his throne, and then, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood has them playing barbers who end up playing agent for a young star who is hated by a stuck up and egotistical actor determined to stay on top at all costs. Both films are great comedies with some classic sketches and I think they do a better job of balancing the pair vs. the romantic story line involving other actors, something Universal struggled with. Of the two, I like Abbott and Costello in Hollywood  the best. The film has hilarious madcap sequences, such as when Costello pretends to be a dummy on a movie studio set. For fans of old films, there are brief appearances by Lucille Ball, Mike Mazurki, and Rags Ragland, with Carleton Young making a very good villain.

Overall, this is an enjoyable DVD set. While the Stooges films are more curiosities, the Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello installments are delightful wartime entertainment.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Audio Drama Review: The Rivals (BBC)


For the average mystery fan, when it comes to Victorian detectives, one name stands out: Sherlock Holmes. Other than perhaps Father Brown, most will know of no great detectives who were published between the first appearance of Holmes and that of Hercules Poirot. Yet detectives proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

BBC Radio 4’s series, “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes,”  introduces us to a few of Sherlock Holmes’ contemporaries. The collection from the BBC contains all twelve episodes from three series of audio dramas. In the first series, Lestrade is relaying the incidents to a reporter who originally approached him for insight on Holmes. Instead, Lestrade gives her tales of these rivals. In the latter two, Lestrade is writing his memoirs. He’s essentially a Victorian Age Forest Gump of detecting, rubbing elbows with nine different detectives and sharing their adventures. Paul Beck, Max Carridos, and Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen make two appearances each.

Overall, fans of mystery fiction owe a debt of gratitude to the BBC of the series. Like a similarly themed Television series from the 1970s, it succeeds in bringing to life forgotten detectives and clever mysteries. The acting and production values are top notch, as you would expect with a recent BBC radio 4 series. The stories are (with one exception) true to their era with few embellishments. We get a great variety of detectives, including a fat gourmet detective in Eugene Valmont, a blind detective in Carrados, and a Columbo-esque gardener in Paul Beck, as well as three different lady sleuths, most notably Lady Violet Strange and Loveday Brooke.

On the negative side, the Series episode “Seven, Seven, Seven” added an adult plot element that wasn’t in the original story, was gratuitous, and untrue to a story of that era. In addition, Lestrade is written as having a huge chip on his shoulder about the prominence and fame of Sherlock Holmes. It seems like this series could have been made without making Lestrade into a man who is so bitter against Holmes and his portrayal in the Holmes story that he has to find every way he can to undercut Holmes.

Despite these flaws, this is a solid collection and will introduce fans to many interesting and long-forgotten detectives.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: The Golden Game

The Golden Game collects two separate graphic novel stories featuring the characters of John Steed and Mrs. Peel from the 1960s TV show, the Avengers. The comics are set after Mrs. Peel’s departure from the TV show and were originally published in 1990 as three comic books by Eclipse and then reprinted by Boom Studios in 2012.

The first story, “The Golden Game” was written by famed comics writer Grant Morrison and takes up two thirds of the book. It finds Tara King (Mrs. Peel’s replacement) having disappeared, leading Steed to turn to his old protégé for assistance as they find a tie-in to a mysterious group of game player.

“The Golden Game” does feel like it could have been done on TV if they’d had the budget. The art by Ian Gibson is superb. From the colorful characters to the imaginative solution (complete with a world-threatening danger) to the final pages, everything about the story feels genuine to the era and very imaginative.

“The Deadly Rainbow” was written by Anne Caufield and finds Mrs. Peel reunited with her husband for a second honeymoon in a quaint English village after his return from the Amazon. However, trouble has followed them. There are some interesting character insights with Mrs. Peel trying to reassure herself that she was back with her husband and nothing crazy was going to happen, though of course it did.

The plot is a bit more outlandish, and it isn’t told with the same panache as “The Golden Game.” In addition, while the art was done by the same artist, the visual realization of this story is not quite as good as in the other tale. Still, it’s an okay story with a few interesting features.

Overall, this a nice collection with Grant Morrison’s story making the book a must-read for fans of the 1960s classic.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: The Frightened Fish


In the Frightened Fish, a man travels around New York city panicking every time he sees a silver fish. The last time he does, it’s in front of the building containing the office of Doc Savage, which sets the Man of Bronze on the trail of a mystery that leads him to post-War Japan and a plot to take over the Earth.

The timing of the book is different from most Savage books, which are set in the 1920s and 30s. This story is set in the heart of the Atomic Age when a whole new slew problems have risen to test the man of Bronze. The story is shorter than the other Doc Savage novels I’ve reviewed, but I think the brevity helps as it gives the tale a bit more focus and the plot builds at a solid pace.

The set up is a bit artificial when you get down to the explanation which adds up to “supervillain ego” mixed the idea of being so desperate to make sure our hero doesn’t foil his plot that the villain reveals it to him. Still, the plot is clever enough, with plenty of intrigue and adventure along the way.

In this story, Doc Savage is a bit more gruff and occasionally abrupt with aides, but  he is also a bit more human and relatable as he even falls in love, something that shocks his aides.

Despite its difference, the story remains true to Doc Savage, while also managing to explore many interesting dynamics of the time and featuring a solidly memorable villain. This makes a great read for Doc Savage fans.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 5

The fifth volume of lost episodes of the Avengers featuring John Steed (Julian Wadham) and Doctor Keel (Anthony Howell) offers four more adventures from that mostly lost first season of the 1960s classic.

In, “Nightmare,” a researcher who is one of Dr. Keel’s patients disappears and Keel impersonates him while a search is made to find the missing man. Keel finds himself the target of gangsters who want to make use of his patient’s research in psychological drugs. Overall, a pretty standard crime drama story that’s reproduced in a way that feels completely authentic to the era. I do wonder if the original screen version might have made the psychotropic drugs used feel more trippy which would have added to the period feel.

“The Girl on the Trapeeze” is a rare Steed-free episode as Dr. Keel appears to witness the suicide of a woman who he remembers from somewhere. A magazine picture leads him to a circus where a big secret is being hidden. It’s a nicely done mystery with some great moments between Keel and Carol.

“Crescent Moon” features Steed going to the Caribbean to investigate the kidnapping of the daughter of the late dictator of an island. It’s very well-done multi-layered story with a lot of great guest characters. At first, it appeared that, following the previous Steed-free story, we were going to have a story without Dr. Keel, but he ends up appearing in the second half of the episode and plays an interesting role in the denouement without ever leaving England. This has actually been my favorite lost episode so far.

Finally, “Diamond Cut Diamond” finds Steed going undercover as an Australian Airline steward to bust a diamond smuggling racket. It’s a solid and well-paced adventure even though it’s very similar to many earlier stories in the Avengers series. Okay, but not remarkable.

Overall, this collection is enjoyable and has a more solid sense of identity than many of the earlier sets partially because the original 1960s writers had a better sense of what they wanted the Avengers to be as well as the fact that Big Finish is very comfortable with these characters.

While there’s no “Making Of” extras on this CD, there’s a tribute to the late Patrick Macnee from the writers and cast. It adds a touch of class to an already very classy release.

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