Category: Golden Age Article

Three Old Time Radio Detective Shows That Could be Rebooted in the 21st Century

Most old time radio programs work in part because of the era they’re set in. For most programs, trying to update them to modern times would be silly. Taking Philip Marlowe, Barrie Craig, Nick Carter, or Candy Matson out of their original contexts wouldn’t make sense.

Of course, it’s always possible to do a period piece. Although modern period pieces often suffer from creators deciding they need to transport twenty-first-century sensibilities back into historical periods.

However, some old time radio detective programs could be made well set in modern times, with a few tweaks thrown in:

1) Box 13

The original concept: 1940s series starring Alan Ladd. The reporter and mystery writer Dan Holiday places an ad in the paper, “Mystery wanted, will go anywhere, do anything.” A few episodes in, Dan hired a secretary named Susie. It seems she had undiagnosed inattentive-type ADD, which unfortunately got her dismissed as ditzy at the time.

Twenty-first Century updates: He would post his ad online and receive replies to an email address with “Box 13” sneaked into it believably. He could be an adventure blogger who posts about his adventures and lives on Patreon income and Google AdSense revenue. Also, Susie could be portrayed as not being so dumb while steering clear of making her a Mary Sue.

2) The Big Guy

The original concept: 1950s radio series starring John Calvin as a widowed single father raising his two kids on his own while also being a private detective.

Twenty-First Century Update: I always thought the original concept of the show had a lot of unrealized potential. Probably the most important thing would be to pick a tone. The surviving episodes vary too much. Some try to be adult crime dramas, while others would have appealed more to kids. I would propose making it a good family show with some comedy and the kids stumbling into his cases.

3) Mr. and Mrs. North

The original concept: A publisher and his wife solve mysteries together.

Twenty-First Century update: It’s been too long since we have a loving mystery-solving couple. Tampering would be minimal. Pam and Jerry are already equal partners in the mystery- solving department.Listening to the radio programs or watching the TV episodes, it’s a coin flip as to who’ll provide the solution.

She could have a separate career which leaves plenty of time for sleuthing, such as a photo blogger. Whoever wrote it would need to be careful to avoid turning her into the  “Strong Independent Woman” stock character that has replaced the damsel in distress. Pam North’s portrayal on radio and TV is witty, resourceful, funny, and fairly well-balanced. That should be maintained in any adaptation.

Honorable Mention: Night Beat

The original concept: Reporter Randy Stone roams the night in Chicago in search of stories. He writes mostly human interest tales of the best and worst of humanity in the night. Randy has a touch of cynicism, but also a lot of compassion and morality which motivates him. He’s part philosopher, as he paints broad pictures of humanity through each encounter.

Twenty-First Century update: Wouldn’t Work.

Night Beat makes a tempting target for a Twenty-First Century reboot. However, I don’t think it can be updated successfully.

Randy Stone is at the heart of the series. Unlike Box 13, you couldn’t just have him writing for a blog. He also couldn’t still be working on a newspaper.

If there were ever reporters who were close to Randy Stone, they’ve gone extinct. In the last sixty-five years, people have become more cynical about the press, and the press has become more cynical about people.

Reporters want to bring change but through partisan reporting that brings about systemic societal change. Randy Stone’s goals were nonpartisan: to be a decent person and to call other people to be decent too, regardless of politics. His nonpartisan perspective no longer flies in modern journalism. It may have been a bit fanciful in 1950. In 2018? Totally unrealistic.

The only thing a TV or radio creator could do with a modern-day Night Beat would be to ruin it by making it partisan. This would probably happen even if it was attempted as a period piece.

However, I welcome reader comments on the programs I’ve mentioned as well as any others that you think might (or might not) work with a modern day reboot.

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Broadchurch Series 3 Review

Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch had a fantastic and brilliant first series (see my review here.)  It focused on the effect of the murder of a boy on a small British town and the search for the killer. The cast was superb, led by David Tennant as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and Olivia Coleman as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller.

Series 2 was, in my opinion, a bit of a mess. Miller and Hardy are in different positions within the police department. It focused on the ludicrous trial of the killer from series one that ends in his acquittal. Meanwhile Hardy and Miller work unofficially through a tedious mystery that had nothing to do with the small town but had some stakes for Hardy to settle an old case that had haunted him.

Series 3 is set two years after Series 2 and finds Miller and Hardy have both reset their lives. They’re back in their old positions when 49-year-old Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) reports she was raped at a party. Miller and Hardy investigate the case. Meanwhile, Beth Latimer (Jodie Whitaker) is the mother of the boy murdered in the first series. She shows up in series three, working as an advocate for SARA (sexual assault response association) but is estranged from her husband Mark (Andrew Buchan) who remains unable to find closure after their son’s killer was acquitted.

The process of investigating the crime is handled solidly. It’s a good procedural which was almost Dragnetesque at times (particularly in the first episode) as it took us step by step through the unique process of investigating the crime in the United Kingdom and showing what the victim experiences and what forensics they take as they try to preserve any evidence. It’s told with sensitivity and without sensationalism.

Julie Hesmondhalgh gives a believable and relatable performance as Trish. The story handles her in a realistic and sympathetic way. Not all of her actions are sympathetic, but they’re understandable within the context of what she’s going through. Hannah Millward plays Trish’s daughter well, creating a character caught between her mom and her estranged dad, who is one of the suspects in the case. She’s a likable and well-written character.

The stars turn in their usual great performances. The chemistry between Hardy and Miller has matured. Hardy is brilliant and caring, but he’s also no-nonsense and can be abrupt and harsh which Miller tends to soften out. In Series 1, they clashed frequently, but by Series 3, they’re comfortable with each other. Although, at times, it’s obvious he still annoys her.

However, there has been a balancing of the two characters. Hardy has softened a tad over time, while Miller has become a bit harder after the events of Series 1, which can be seen in her interactions with her father and her son.

Both are raising children on their own. Hardy has brought his daughter to Broadchurch so they can have a second chance while Miller is raising her young son and daughter alone.

The series runs headlong into the issue of the state of sexuality in Western Civilization today and the type of men produced by a society over-saturated with pornography. This is illustrated throughout the series and hits home for both detectives. Miller catches her son using and distributing porn, and sexual pictures of Hardy’s daughter are sent throughout the high school. This leads to one of the most memorable scenes where Hardy confronts the perpetrators and gets very Scottish on them.

The series message and the issues it raises are timely after the revelations of late 2017 and raises serious questions that society has to come to grips with.

The development of the Latimers is a realistic tale of contrasts. Beth has not forgotten her son and is dealing with the grief, although her husband’s drama is making that a challenge. She has taken stock of her life and taken that grief and used it to help others. The Latimers’ teenage daughter Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) has grown. Mark’s inability to deal with it leads to tragic territory but is also very brilliantly performed.

For all that’s praiseworthy about the Third Series of Broadchurch, there are issues. In many ways, the greatest problem with Broadchurch Series 3 is that it isn’t Series 1.

With the exception of Trish and her daughter, the new characters add little depth. They are suspects, witnesses, and the friends and family of them, unlike the vibrant characters of Series 1 with ticks that made the audience care about them. One such character was totally dropped from the series finale, with us not finding out what happened to her and her husband.

This is typical of a detective drama. With few exceptions, outside of the detectives and close supporting characters, we’re concerned about most characters to the extent that they can provide a clue to help us solve the case. Broadchurch Series 1 was unique it won’t be easy to ever recapture that lightning in the bottle. That might be a case for leaving well enough alone and only making one series of Broadchurch, but it’s not an argument against the quality of the subsequent series.

The problem is Chibnall tried to make it feel like series one, particularly in bringing back characters. Reverend Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) returns to deal with the declining church attendance in town. And newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles)faces the Broadchurch Echo’s scummy corporate owners. They plan to close the local office of the Echo. Both Darvill and Pickles are solid performers and did great work in the first series. However, in Series Two, their work is wasted. Both characters are thrown into random scenes throughout the first six episodes, only achieving tangential relevance to the “B” plot of the series in the seventh episode. Only Maggie has a scene that ties into the series’ main plot. It’s good, but I question whether it was worth all the wasted scenes throughout this entire series.

There were also new characters who didn’t make much of an impact. Veteran character actor Roy Hudd played Ellie’s widowed father David, who mainly served as an object for Ellie’s contempt and occasional tirades, as well as managing to kick the already depressed Paul Coates.

While there’s much to the series’ message, it may undermine itself by painting with too broad of strokes. It would be easy to conclude from this series that Alec Hardy is the only decent man left in Broadchurch, if not the UK, or even the entire planet. Every other man we get to know is a fiend, a coward, or otherwise weakly leaving the women in their lives to pick up after them. Even Hardy almost takes a passive approach to a problem that has his daughter wanting to leave Broadchurch and needs Miller to get him to man-up. A bit more balance would have made the series more impactful.

Overall, Broadchurch Series 3 is a good crime drama with two strong leads,  great supporting actors, and a timely message. However, its attempts to live up to the greatness of Series 1 fail to do so and detract from the viewer’s experience.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

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Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 2

While the first season of Black Jack Justice was twelve episodes along, the second and all subsequent seasons was six episodes long. The series continued to follow the adventures of hard-boiled detective “Black” Jack Justice and his beautifully but equally hard-boiled partner Trixie Dixon Girl Detective in post-World War II Canada.

The series maintains it’s quality while making a few changes. Noticeably, the play on words with “Justice” in episode names was discontinued. They also played with the format a bit in the series lead of the episode, “The Purloined Format Caper,” which begins with Jack playing secretary to Trixie and having to take down her report of the case, which explains how Jack ended up in this sorry condition.

They have their own play on doubles and mistaken identity in, “The Trouble with Doubles,” and “How Much is that Gumshoe in the Window?” finds them looking for a missing dog and discovering one of Jack’s few soft spots.

Overall, the entire series moves along nicely. The series has its tone and style down but still manages to make little changes to keep its feel fresh. The mysteries remain well-written and enjoyable to puzzle out. There’s an occasional issue with sound effects, but that’s about it. The second season of Black Jack Justice makes for an enjoyable treat for mystery fans everywhere.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

Click here to listen to Season 2 for Free on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

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Book Review: Enter the Saint

Enter the Saint is the first short story collection featuring Simon Templar after he appeared in the novel Meet the Tiger.

The book collects three stories:

“The Man Who Was Clever” sees the Saint trying to take down a drug smuggler and blackmailer. It’s a good crime-busting yarn that allows the Saint to show his pure unadulterated nerve and ability to bait a trap.

“The Policeman with Wings” has the Saint investigating the curious case of a wealthy man who disappeared from his house after being escorted away by a mysterious policeman. This leads an elaborate and somewhat high-handed set up to uncover the true motives of the kidnappers and prevent them from harming the kidnapped man’s niece and heir.

Finally, there’s “The Lawless Lady” which finds the Saint in the background as one of his men. Dicky Tremaine goes undercover with a gang planning a big jewel heist at sea, and finds himself falling for female leader of the gang. Meanwhile, another member appears to be playing to eliminate him. The Saint does make his presence known at the end, but this is an unusual story to say the least.

The stories this book are enjoyable crime tales for the most part. It’s clear that Leslie Charteris is still developing the nature of the Saint. However, this book features most of what makes the Saint work.  You have dashing escapes, the Saint’s absolute audacity and laughing in the face of danger, and you have three good rogues who are worthy adversaries. The third story is a little strange, but it’s still entertaining.

Probably, the book’s biggest shortcoming is giving the Saint an entire organization of agents in support of him. I can see why this was done. Other popular literary figures of the era such as Doc Savage, the Shadow, and Nick Carter had their men to support him. Besides that it supported Charteris’s attempt to brand the Saint the Robin Hood of Modern Crime. After all, what’s Robin Hood without his merry men?

Yet, the Saint is really best when working with one assistant or two at most. In effect, in most of these stories, that’s what he’s doing. We really don’t get to focus on the Saint’s band, and eventually, they’d be discarded as surplus.

If you enjoy some good crime stories from the Golden Age of fiction, you could do far worse than this book. Despite its flaws, the book showcases the talent and style that would make Leslie Charteris a literary fixture for decades to come.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Third Man

LA Threatre Works adapted Graham Greene’s The Third Man in 2009.

The story follows novelist Holly Martins (Kelsey Grammer) as he arrives in post-War Vienna hoping to get a job from his old friend Harry Lime, only to find Lime has died of an apparent car accident. However, he stumbles on evidence that there may be more to Lime’s death than meets the eye, and his friend may not be the man Holly thought he was.

This audio drama is a well-done retelling of the classic film with few deviations along the way. Kelsey Grammer is superb as Martins bringing just a right mix of toughness, romance, and innocence to the role. The rest of the cast is generally good, though John Mahoney used an American accent when playing the British Major Calloway which took me out of the story a few times.

The production quality was pretty good, with only a few scenes having minor issues. The entire production feels authentic to the original movie, helped by a good rendition of the classic theme. Overall, LA Theatre Works provides a worthy adaptation of a great story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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