Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: Here Comes Cookie, Six of a Kind, Love in Bloom

George Burns and Gracie Allen won the hearts of millions by coming into their homes over radio and television for more than two decades. It’s often forgotten that the two also appeared in films in the 1930s. A 2003 DVD from Universal Home Entertainment collects three of these rare films.

Here Comes Cookie (1935): In this one, Gracie plays the daughter of a wealthy man who fears that his daughter’s beau is a fortune hunter, so he decides to leave everything to Gracie. Gracie gets the idea that her father wants the family to be as poor as possible. This is a screwball piece and Gracie has some good moments, though George is relegated to a bit role. The film is a fun screwball affair with some old vaudeville actors featured.

Six of a Kind (1934): Like many of the Burns and Allen films, Six of a Kind is an all-star comedy. This one also features W.C. Fields and Charles Ruggles, along with Mary Boland and Allison Skipworth.

The plot involves a meek man (Ruggles) going on vacation unwittingly carrying $50,000 from his bank. George and Gracie sign on as travelling companions to share the ride. W.C. Fields comes into the story as a Sheriff and replicates a famous scene shooting pool from his Vaudeville days. Gracie has some hilarious lines, and George even gets a few laughs in as well.

Love in Bloom (1935): George and Gracie get the least screen time in the longest feature on the DVD. While they’re featured prominently in the credits, they have bit roles as the heroine’s brother and sister-in-law. The heroine (Dixie Lee) comes from a circus family and wants a decent, honest life, but struggles to escape her background even as she falls in love with a talented young singer/songwriter (Joe Morrison) and they go to work in a music shop on the strength of her salesmanship skills and his talent. The film is really a romance rather than a comedy and George and Gracie are pretty much side characters with them having a couple funny moments: one where Gracie tries to get out of a ticket and another where she tries to “sell” the music store to its owner. Beyond that, the movie is worthwhile when given a chance. Joe Morrison isn’t the best leading man but he’s got a good voice and Dixie Lee’s performance coupled with the old fashioned decency of the story, give it a certain charm despite its flaws.

Overall, the rare films on this DVD, while by no means in the same class as the greatest comedies of the era, are enjoyable. If you’re a fan of Burns and Allen, it’s a bonus as you get to see some of their work in films. However, to get acquainted with them at their best, their radio and TV performances are still the best bet.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: Steed and Mrs Peel: A Very Civil Armageddon

This trade paperback collects Issues 0-3 of the ongoing Steed and Mrs. Peel comic book series from Boom Studios.

These issues are written by an Eisner award winning comic writer and Mark Waid and get off to a strong start in Issue 0 with several people with high security clearances apparently doing Rip Van Winkle acts and waking up to find its the future and people from the future want their now “out of date” knowledge for “historical purposes.” The solution to this is clever and it feels like something that could have been expanded and broadcast in the 1960s.

The problem becomes that the next three are a single story arc where Steed and Mrs. Peel witness the seaming end of the world and end up in an underground bunker surviving thanks to the villains of the last piece. What’s going on is painfully obvious based on the first story and disappointingly the writing falls a little short of capturing the fun of the original TV series.

The book isn’t bad. The art is fairly good throughout and the first issue is enjoyable, however the three-part story arc in Issues 1-3 makes this a bit harder to get into.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 3

Volume 3 of Big Finish’s Avengers: The Lost Episodes recreates four more lost episodes of Season 1 of the Avengers which featured John Steed (Julian Wadham) and Doctor David Keel (Anthony Howell).

The Springers: This story finds Keel undercover in prison as a notorious convict he hopes to impersonate. The story is a somewhat typical crime story but feels a bit more playful in places than some of the stories in the first box set. It’s a solid if unremarkable tale.

The Yellow Needle: An old friend of Keel’s is Prime Minister of an African nation about to declare its Independence from Great Britain. After an attempt on the Prime Minister’s life, Steed and Keel become involved in the case from several thousand miles away. The story reflects the process of breaking up the British Empire as former Colonies became Independent and the politics that often went into that. This gives it a definite historic value. Beyond that, it’s a taut and well-written political thriller.

Double Danger: Dr. Keel is kidnapped by desperate men who want him to treat a man they kidnapped so they can extract the secret of the location of stolen diamonds. This is set up like a traditional crime story but has a bit more going for it than many earlier stories. First of all, Keel’s adventures apparently have given him a bit of an edge of toughness as he’s far more calm than one would normally expect. There’s almost a hard-boiled aspect to some of the dialogue, and there’s more menace in the villains in this story than in many “thugs of the week” who have appeared before . The story moves at a fairly quick pace, and there’s a very effective use of humor with the old landlord.

The Toy Trap: This story takes a look at the seamier side of London life with a bit of a personal touch for Keel. Keel is to play chaperone to the wide-eyed innocent daughter of a friend, who has taken a job in London at a shop. They find one of her friends missing and that she’s been drawn off into a pornography racket exploiting naive young women. It’s a very well done crime story and it also introduces some genuine conflict between Steed and Keel. In the early going, Keel sharply disapproves when Steed starts doing his typical ladies man routine around his young charge, and then when Steed’s method for breaking the ring puts her jeopardy, Keel really lets Steed have it. Overall, this is probably my favorite episode in this series so far.

This collection contains some of the greatest Avengers Best Episodes Big Finish has produced and is my favorite of the four I’ve listened to.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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A Look at Elementary, Season One

The first season of Elementary finds a tattooed Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) living in modern day New York as part of his rehab from heroin addiction. Ex-Surgeon Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) has changed careers and is now a sober companion for recovering addicts and lands Holmes as a client. Holmes is called in frequently as a consultant for the NYPD in solving strange and unusual cases.

Probably the first thing to get out of the way is that this is Sherlock Holmes in name only. Unlike Sherlock, which seeks to bring Holmes into the twenty-first century and updates the character accordingly, Elementary changes almost every detail about Holmes other than his name and general methods, and a few personality quirks. You can’t change not only the period, but also the setting, the background of the character, but also the gender of Holmes’ assistant, and that character’s nature, personality, and potential and have something that can really be compared to Doyle’s originals. The series is least convincing when it tries to re-use names, concepts, quotes, and characters but in ways that have little relation to the original story.

The best way to enjoy Elementary is to enter it with no expectation that it will be anything like Sherlock Holmes and to enjoy it on its own merits.If it helps, take my wife’s joking suggestion and mentally rename him Bob.

The mysteries are well-crafted and engaging. The plots are clever, usually with Holmes reaching several mistaken solutions on the way. Sometimes, the actual solutions are quite shocking such as, “Child Predator,” but all really have a great deal of inventiveness, although it does seem that Holmes accuses way too many innocent people of murder in some of these episodes.

Elementary’s Holmes and Joan Watson both have histories that are slowly unraveled, with Holmes’ drug addiction and the events that surrounded it. While Elementary’s Holmes ends up on the side of the angels, he can go into some gray areas particularly as a matter of revenge.  Holmes tends towards arrogance, whicht makes him uncomfortable and awkward as he faces the world of drug rehab, which keeps forcing him into moments which cut against his pride.

Joan Watson is a bit of an enigma. Her career change from surgeon to sober companion was a come down in the world. She finds herself drawn into the world of criminal investigation. At the start of the season, she’s following him as part of the obligation to be in contact with him, but she becomes increasingly involved and engaged in the world of criminal investigations. She finds a new path through the course of the season and it’s very fun to watch.

The characters do work well together, and we learn quite a bit about them throughout the season. However, it’s very well balanced developed so that by the end of the season,  you have a sense that there are greater depths to explore. The supporting cast is understandably less explored. Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) has a few moments that reveal his differences with Holmes as well as his appreciation for him. Despite having an episode, in which he was accused of murder, Lieutenant Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) is mostly a functional role in this first season.

The series does have a bit of story arc in the second half of the season involving its Moriarty. It’s certainly not a bad arc, but I found myself unexcited by the ending which seemed to drag and not really end strongly.

Overall, this series is more like a non-humorous version of Monk than it is a proper Sherlock Holmes. It’s enjoyable for what it is,when it doesn’t halfheartedly try to be something it’s not.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Trent’s Last Case

Trent’s Last Case (1913) features amateur detective Philip Trent being called in to solve the murder of a business tycoon with many enemies and a complicated relationship in the tycoon’s own house.

Trent is  a departure from the thinking machines that dominated detective fiction of the time. He was an eccentric, a romantic, and a painter with a light touch and a good deal of humor. Still, he also has a sharp mind.

The case itself is a solid puzzle. Trent uses his deduction and wit to come up with a clever solution which proves to be wrong. We don’t learn who the murderer is until the very end, and the person who did it was someone you never would have guessed.

The story had a great impact on the future detective novels. There is a little bit of over-indulgent social commentary to wade through, particularly after the start. However, even after over a hundred years, the novel holds up well as a light and engaging read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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