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

17Aug/130

A Look at John J Malone

John J Malone was the best known creation of mystery writer Craig Rice a pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig that was pretty popular in the 1940s, spawning two movies, a TV series, and several radio incarnations. I've read two of the out of print books ahead of the launch of the Mr. Malone programs

I actually found The Fourth Postman at my local public library, but wasn't thrilled with it, so I decided to give an earlier book a chance.

The Corpse Steps Out was the second John Malone mystery comedy. Jake Justus is a publicist for a radio star who is being blackmailed. She and Justus find the blackmailer dead, and then the body disappears. Quickly, the book becomes a tale of disappearing bodies, bodied being moved, and more murders follows while Jake, Helene, and Malone seek to solve the mystery and get married.

The theory behind the Malone stories was that everything was better with booze. Characters have drinks to be social, drinks to calm down, drinks to think, drinks because it'd been twenty minutes since their last drink. In that way, it was similar to the Thin Man, only moreso. As post-prohibition America embraced these stories of over the top fantastic drinking as catharsis or a weird sort of alcohol fantasy.

At any rate, readers we're treated to a good enough mystery, some decent humor, and some keen philosophical points that were obtained when the characters were, of course, drinking. The big downside to the book was that no characters was all that likable or human even other than the murderer. The drinking buddies didn't really care about catching the murder or justice, only protecting the reputation of Jake's client, a well-beloved radio singer who was like one of ancient sirens who led men to their ruin. So perhaps that gave it a cynical element of realism.

The Fourth Milkman finds John J Malone investigating the murder of three postmen with a wealthy and meek man accused of the crime.

It was released in 1948, fifteen years after the end of prohibition. Orgies of alcohol were really out of fashion. Perhaps more than that, the talents of Craig Rice were in decline. Call Ms. Rice many things, but she was no hypocrite. She practiced the wild hard drinking lifestyle her books uplift and perhaps that caused a decline of her writing ability ahead of her too early death.

Jake Justus was the main on-stage character in The Corpse Steps Out and had been relegated to third banana. He finally married the wealthy woman sometime after that book and seems to have become a shiftless derelict whose main scene involved waltzing into the crime scene with a murder weapon while in a drunken stupor.

Malone investigates the case somewhat ably in his constantly pickled state. The book is a notch below The Corpse Steps Out with no real likable characters and even more of its humor falling flat.

Jake Justus was the main on-stage character in The Corpse Steps Out and had been relegated to third banana. He finally married the wealthy woman sometime after that book and seems to have become a shiftless derelict whose main scene involved waltzing into the crime scene with a murder weapon while in a drunken stupor.

Malone investigates the case somewhat ably in his constantly pickled state. The book is a notch below The Corpse Steps Out with no real likable characters and even more of its humor falling flat.

Overall, neither book is horrendous, but neither holds up well over time. The radio shows are a different matter of course. While the best known detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe were defined to some extent by their literary counterparts, most other detectives from books took the names of their literary counterparts and a few elements of their stories but made their own way. The Malone radio shows did this under several different actors and we'll look forward to bring you these radio episodes in September.

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11Aug/130

Book Review: The Thin Man

Dashiell Hammett's novel, The Thin Man  launched one of the golden age's greatest detective movie franchises, along with a popular radio program, as well as a 1950s syndicated TV series. The movies remain a fantastic showcase of the talents and chemistry of William Powell and Myrna Loy.

The Nick and Nora in this book don't have the pure level of charm and chemistry that made the movies so enjoyable. That was all the work of Powell, Loy, and direct W.S. Van Dyne. The book is good but different. The Thin Man is a comedy of manners mixed with a solid mystery.

Nick Charles is a retired private eye who gets pressed into investigating the murder of a woman in which a former client of his named Clyde Wynant is a suspect, though Wynant (who was the actual thin man not Charles) has been missing for quite some time. The mystery is actually pretty well done. The interaction between Charles and the policeman investigating the case are great detective work and thinking.

The comedy of manners portion works on many levels. Nick Charles is the ex-detective and committed husband who operates and understands many circles in life: from the wealthy socialites to the petty hoods that predominated during prohibition. The Wynant family is a freak show of children ruined by money and an ex-wife who is a compulsive liar. Compared to high society, the criminals and mobsters in the story are a far more sane and decent lot.

Of course, that leaves us with a story where the only sympathetic characters are Nick and Nora. Nora tries to help the daughter, Dorothy Wynant despite the fact that she's just as much a part of the craziness as everyone else. Nick is a mature man whose grounded and wants nothing more to do with the Wynants (understandably) or the murder, but is fully settled down from his hard-scramble days as an operative.

Hammett does make a few odd decisions. Most notable was the verbatim inclusion of a story of the Donner party or a reasonable facsimile thereof that took more than ten minutes for the audiobook narrator to read. And there were a few characters that were just plain tiresome rather than amusing, particularly the ex-wife Mimi and the son Gilbert. Also the conclusion lacks the class of the silver screen denouement.

Still, it's amusing mix that features Dashiell Hammett's talents at his peak.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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10Aug/131

Telefilm Review: Murder in Mesopotamia

While on vacation in Iraq, Poirot meets up with an archaeologist and his wife. The wife confides in Poirot that she fears her former husband, a traitor who was declared dead, but was secretly alive and menaced nearly every relationship she entered after his apparent death until she met and married her husband. She gives Poirot a threatening letter she received. Before Poirot can get to the bottom of it, she's murdered.

This is a solidly told mystery with a great surprise ending that is thoroughly well-adapted. The second episode of the eight series is noteworthy for being the last episode to date featuring Hugh Frasier as Captain Hastings, though he's expected to appear the 13th series episodes, The Big Four and Curtain. The Hastings character wasn't in the original book and he didn't add much to this adaptation, so it was definitely time to move on.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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4Aug/130

Book Review: Over My Dead Body

In Over My Dead Body, Wolfe's a young Yugoslav woman claiming to be Wolfe's long lost adopted daughter shows up at the Brownstone door needing help with a small matter of being accused of stealing some jewels at a fencing academy where she works. However, the case quickly escalates when a murder happens at the academy and key evidence ends up planted on Archie. Also, the book was published in 1940, and the shadow of the European War looms large with plenty of International intrigue.

The mystery is above average and the final twists took me by surprise, but what makes this book a worthwhile read is the insights it provides into Nero Wolfe's character. Most of Wolfe's life prior to coming to America remains shrouded in mystery and is rarely addressed in the rest of the corpus. How does a man of action and passion, as Wolfe once was, become a very large detective who toils with life's intellectual puzzles and avoids as much rigor and action as possible. Over My Dead Body provides more clues on this question than any book in the corpus. While it doesn't provide explicit answers, we do get a picture of Wolfe's world-weariness and his dread of the new European War which would later give way to enthusiastic anti-Nazi sentiment that would have Wolfe trying to get into the US Army to fight in, "Not Quite Dead Enough."

Also in contrast to, The Doorbell Rings, we're treated to an earlier more cooperative encounter with the FBI as representative of the American people that's both informative and amusing, with the G-man mostly played for comic relief. In this story, Archie much more of a by-stander and witness, but Wolfe puts on a good show, and Over My Dead Body is a solid entry in the series.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

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

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4Aug/130

Radio Review: Can You Top This

(image courtesy of Digital Deli FTP)

Four guys sitting on a sound stage telling jokes, seeing if anyone can top each other in getting laughs from the audience. 
 
This was the basic concept of, "Can You Top This?" which ran for 12 years. Listeners would send in their jokes, and it would be read by actor Peter Donald who would spice it up with his own mix of dialects and delivery and then Edward "Senator" Ford, Joe Laurie, Jr., and Harry Hirshfield wouldtry to top Donald's joke with another one on the same topic. 
 
Some of the jokes were already had whiskers in the 1940s and 50s, but the timing of the clown table managed to usually make for quite an entertaining show. As mentioned before, dialects were used, but it was only on a rare occasion that a joke was told that would be truly offensive, and never dirty. The show is a great example of the best of the golden age. The program didn't offer fabulous prizes (the most anyone could win was $25). It was a show that was about, fun, camaraderie, and talent, ledby Peter Donald and the men who made up this fantastic Clown Table.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
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28Jul/133

Radio Drama Review: Powder River, Season Two

Season 2 of Powder River finds Britt MacMasters (Jerry Robbins) having resumed his role as a US marshall, a new sheriff  (Joseph Zamberelli) in town, and the continued process of Chad MacMasters (Derrick Alerud) coming of age.

As the season begins, Sheriff Dawes takes over as the town's full time law man and immediately clashes with the town's  people, arresting the town's best shot Doc (Lincoln Clark) for carrying his pistol on the city streets. Dawes also seems uncomfortable with having a US Marshal in town and wants to assert his authority. However, the coming of Indian raids forces him to abandon these pursuits in order to ensure the town is protected.

While the first season of Powder River (originally intended as a limited series) was good, Robbins and the Colonial Theater players really stepped it up a notch, producing a  consistently great Western adventure series.  The highlights for me:

  • Jenny White singing: Due to an Indian attack on the Overland stage, a great singer from back East ends up stranded in Clearmont and she agrees to perform at the local saloon while she's there.  The singing was authentic and the sound quality on the musical performance: superb. It's fantastic for a series that really didn't deal much in music.
  • Chad MacMasters kidnapped:  This four part story arch has so much going for it. The basic premise of Chad being kidnapped by a vengeful enemy of the Macmaster clan has a very old school feel to it.  Colonial really took their time on this and developed this story perfectly.  It's one of the most emotionally engaging radio stories you'll ever find. The drama and suspense reach high levels as the villain drags Chad into the unforgiving Eastern Montana winter, with Britt and friends right on their trail. This is a story that works on every level from start to finish.
  • General Custer shows up:  The appearance of General Custer in Clearmont is a great story. Chad is grabbed by the idea of becoming an Army Scout under Customer, but as a former Army man that served under the egotistical general, Britt knows better. My favorite scene in this three part story was Britt's confrontation with General Custer.
  • The Stunning Season Finale:  The last two episodes of the second season really created a fantastic contrast. The fourteenth episode of the season found Clearmont celebrating America's Centennial in grand fashion. The season finale, "Nothing Lasts Forever" is about the day after as the citizens of Clearmont learn of General Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The contrast between the celebratory mood of one episode and the mournful feeling of the other was striking.  The programs originally aired in 2005, and the reactions of the people of Clearmont to the news seemed similar to how Americans felt on September 11, 2001 with the terrorist attacks. Chad decides to take a dramatic new step in his life, but his father doesn't approve, leading to a tense conclusion that reveals a lot about the tough as nails US Marshal. In many ways, the whole season led up to this moment, particularly a shooting contest that father and son competed in earlier in the series.

I'm not a huge fan of westerns, but Season 2 of Powder River is just a very well-produced radio drama that's worth a listen. If you're curious about Powder River, I'd probably recommend starting with this season first as it's a higher quality production and it's not necessary to listen to season one to understand the series.

Overall, Season 2 has plenty of action, adventure, and drama and is a must listen to for your radio drama library.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

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27Jul/130

You Ought to be on DVD Revisited: What’s New in Old Movies

Last year, I wrote a series of posts about TV series and movies that were due a DVD release and hadn't received one. I'm pleasantly surprised to see some movement on this thanks largely to the efforts of Warner Brothers and their Warner archives collections. Here are some long lost treasures that can be brought home on DVD mostly due to the efforts of Warner Archives:

Perry Mason Movies: Before Raymond Burr made Perry Mason a television icon in the late 50s and early 60s, actors such as Warren William, Ricardo Perez, and Donald Woods took their turn playing the iconic lawyer in the 1930s. Warner Archives has released all six movies on DVD which will give audiences a chance to enjoy a Perry Mason closer to Erle Stanley Gardener's hard-boiled intention.

Philo Vance Movies: Warner Archives is out with a sampler of Philo Vance movies covering several actors. There's the Bishop Murder Case with Basil Rathbone, The Kennel Murder Case with William Powell, The Dragon Murder Case with Warren William, The Casino Murder Case with Paul Lucas, The Garden Murder Case with Edmund Lowe, and Calling Philo Vance with James Stephenson. There's actually three more Powell entries and another William entry that I hope will see release.

Lone Wolfe Movie: This release of the Vance and Mason movies may be tied to a recent book about Warren William. That also will explain why one entry in the Lone Wolfe series has finally seen the light of day with the release of, The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady.

While I didn't mention the relatively short Nick Carter detective movie series with Walter Pidgeon, those have also been released.

It's not just Mystery Series that Warner Brothers is releasing, but also standalone mystery classics. We played the Screen GUild Theater presentation of, The Mask of Demetrios for one of our specials and at last this film has earned a DVD release. The thriller is rare as it stars Peter Lorre as a hero not named Moto and Sidney Greenstreet plays a heavy.

On the comedy front, the Great Gildersleeve movies with Harold Peary have seen release along with one movie (Seven Days Leave) in which Gildersleeve is a supporting character for Lucille Ball's lead.

Finally, while I haven't gotten my wish about more Dr. Kildare movies making their way to DVD, the first season of the Dr. Kildare TV series starring Richard Chamberlain has been released.

Overall, Warner Archives deserves a debt of thanks from fans of classic golden age entertainment. There's still much more unreleased material that's part of America's cultural heritage. From Johnny Midnight to Dick Powell's To the Ends of the Earth, but Warner Brothers has taken some great steps by making so many productions available to a mass audience. Well done. I've added many of these movies to my Amazon wish list and hope to see them very soon.

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21Jul/130

A Look at Nick Carter

In in a little less than two weeks, the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio will turn its attention to an almost forgotten character who appeared in books, radio, and movies for over a century.

Nick Carter made his debut in 1886, the year before Sherlock Holmes came on the scene in London. That's where the comparison ends.  None of Carter's mysteries or adventures were in the ballpark of the greatest detective of them all, but what Carter didn't have in quality, he made up for (as best he could) in quantity with hundreds of novels and short stories being written.

Scores of Carter's books from his first 37 years are in the public domain.  The Nick Carter Collection from  Halycon Press for Kindle has one and only one virtue: you can find all the books therein  without having to search for them in online. Otherwise, most of these can easily be obtained off Project Gutenberg for free.

Nick Carter was a corporate property with multiple authors writing the stories and what exactly Nick's adventures liked really seemed to depend on who was writing the story and probably the trends of the day.

Looking at the novels in the  Nick Carter Collection,  The Crime of the French Cafe and Nick Carter's Ghost Story are both somewhat typical classic mystery stories. The solutions aren't amazing, but they're not weak stories either.

The Mystery of St. Agnes’ Hospital adds an element of the macabre and wasn't as good a story. The Great Spy System decided to become an espionage adventure acting on behalf of the President (then Theodore Roosevelt) to track down some Japanese spies.  Both of these stories contained an inordinant amount of racial stuff with on World Wars to even justify it.  The  racism seemed to be more or less isolated to these two novels, at least among the ones I read.

The novel, The Link of Steel  was only a so-so detective adventure story.  The final book in the collection was actually the best which is unfortunate if you're buying the collection as many people will have stopped reading hundreds of pages before they arrive at this one. In A Woman at Bay, Nick Carter goes undercover to capture the king of a criminal empire of hobos to find out the king is actually a teenage girl named Black Madge. He's able to capture her, but that's just the beginning of the story.  She won't stay captured.  If you want a really fun adventure story, A Woman at Bay is actually a diamond in the rough.

The Carter stories were discountinued in 1915, brought back from 1933-36, then in 1939 and '40, there were three movies made. In 1943, Carter came to radio with Lon Clark as the star. The main thing the radio series borrowed from Carter was the Nick Carter brand that people had read in their childhood, for the better part of sixty years. They also borrowed the name of Nick's assistants from the books, but made a key change. The Patsy introduced in the 19th century was a male detective, Patsy in the radio series was a female assistant. The series for an amazing 12 years.

But the Nick Carter brand wasn't done. Nick Carter-Killmaster became a very successful spy series that would last from 1964-1990 and publish 260 paperback books.

For more than 100 years, Nick Carter brought excitement and action to Americans. There was little of what we call continuity. The Carter character like so many corporate properties was made and remade to suit the tastes of the public.  The Nick Carter I read about had very little relation to the one I heard on the radio. The only continuity in Nick Carter was action and adventure.

However,  by 1990, the Spy Genre was in decline and the Carter series was cancelled for good. Thus, the end of the Cold War succeeded in doing was hundreds of criminals and madmen around the world had failed to do:

Kill Nick Carter.

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20Jul/130

TV Series Review: Banacek

More than a decade prior to becoming universally associated with the character of Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith, George Peppard played Thomas Banacek, a Boston-based Polish proverb-spouting insurance investigator who made a comfortable living solving cases the insurance company couldn't crack and collecting ten percent of the insurance company's savings.

The series aired from 1972-74 and it focused on classic impossible mysteries. How does a football player on the field disappear in front of thousands of fans? How does a million dollars in cash vanish from behind a locked display case? And how does $23 million in paintings vanish from a truck transporting it? These are just a few of the stories that occupied Banacek's time and how he made his money. Banacek takes no case where the missing item is less than a million dollars in value. While a murder usually happens in the course of the investigation, it's not guaranteed. The focus is on the big property crime, not on violence.

Banacek was part of NBC's Mystery wheel, so its original running time with commercials was 90 minutes, with the shows themselves running a shade over 70 minutes in length. This allows for plenty of development, particularly in the early episodes, without a lot of fluff. A grand total of 13 films were recorded.

Throughout the series Peppard was supported by Ralph Manza who provided the comic relief as Banacek's chauffeur and erstwhile sidekick who would occasionally take a crack at the solution that would be invariably offbase. Murray Mattheson played Felix Mulholland, a book store owner that seemed to know everything about everything.

In addition to the mystery, Banacek was portrayed as God's gift to women, at least those who weren't looking for a serious relationship. Among the Banacek women was future Lois Lane Margo Kidder. However, actual scenes in bed were avoided throughout the series, as mere verbal hints were all that would be allowed.

The second season did see some changes. In the first season, the insurance company was more than happy to hand over six digit checks in order to avoid seven digit losses. However, in the second season, an insurance company exec tried to thwart Banacek with the help one of his own investigator Carlie Kirkland (Christine Belford) who tried to maintain an on-again, off-again romance with Banacek while trying to beat him out of his exorbitant fees.

This was a bad move, as it tampered with the show's dynamic, slowed down the stories and didn't add anything to the plot. Kirkland wasn't particularly likable. In one story, she wormed her way into an investigation asking to learn from Banacek while on a leave of absence from the company  and then tried to sell him out to her insurance company. The character didn't appear in the last two episodes of the second season which were set outside of Boston.

The second season disc for Banacek contains the original pilot which shows a bit of the original conception. The insurance company executive who began using Carlie as a foil for Banacek in the second season was played as respecting Banacek to an uptight investigator who hated Banacek horning in on their cases even though Banacek managed to solve them. In the original conception, Banacek only worked cold cases that hadn't been solved in sixty days and the executive commented on how much money the insurance company has squandered on investigators' pay and expenses searching for millions of dollars in gold. Perhaps this is why the producers went with a format where Banacek came on with a promise of reward soon after the items were stolen. It made more economic sense. In the case in the pilot, they ended up out all the money they paid the investigators plus the reward.

Peppard played Banacek differently in the pilot. He was quieter, less flip character. He spent a good fifteen minutes straight on screen at one point saying nothing. He spoke with conviction explaining why he didn't change his last name to something less obviously Polish.

Jay and Carlie were also in the pilot. Jay was quite different. He owned a limo rental business based in Dallas rather than being Banacek's employee and simply drove him around. He also pulled a classic doublecross when he bribed the operator to listen in to Banacek's phone call and overheard a key clue which he used in hopes of collecting the reward. Definitely a different conception than the loyal, albeit dimwitted character who'd appear in the rest of the series.

Carlie was staying in Banacek's hotel room and was pretending to be asleep. She'd wormed her way into the room with use of feminine wiles and then tried to pounce on the lead just ahead of Jay. At the scene of the dig, Banacek (prematurely) congratulated Jay. She asked why Banaceck didn't congratulate her. Banacek replied that all he and Jay had shared was a limo.

At least, the Carlie character was consistent.

Overall thoughts:

Banacek is certainly not an essential mystery series. Unlike Columbo or Monk, Banacek is one of those shows you can take or leave.

Peppard is at his best as the wise-cracking detective who stays one step ahead of cops and official insurance investigators while hunting down items of unbelievable value.

The first season is a solidly performed series with great mysteries, solid plots, and great solutions. The second season has too much airtime taken up by Carlie Kirkland and that drags down the stories. Still, even that season has the great entry, "If Max Is So Smart, Why Doesn't He Tell Us Where He Is?" as well as the fairly good, "Rocket to Oblivion."

Overall, I'd give the series three 3.5 stars out of 5.0 with Season 1 getting 4 stars and season 2 getting a 3.

In terms of availability, the Banacek series has gone out of print, so the DVDs are absurdly over-priced. The best way to view the series is through a Netflix subscription.

If you don't subscribe to Netflix, the best bargin as of this writing is the Best of Banacek DVD which is selling on Amazon for $6.05 plus shipping with a very limited supply remaining. The DVD comes with 4 episodes from the first season.  Given that the complete 17 episode series is selling for $150 + shipping on Amazon, it's a decent deal-while it lasts.

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14Jul/130

Our Ten Most Dramatically Powerful Episodes

We continue our march to 1000 episodes and our look back at our best shows.

In previous posts, we've examined our most exciting episodes,  our most humorous,  and our best mysteries.

This time we take a look at our most dramatically powerful episodes. Many of our shows are light entertainment, but some go to another level. Some are thought provoking, heart warming, or heart breaking. They're  stories that move us, inform us, and challenge us. They engage the mind and heart. They are brilliantly conceived and executed. Whittling this down to ten was challenge, but here's my list:

10) Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Trans-pacific Export Matter

This script was the basis for both John Lund and Gerald Mohr's auditions, but for my money no one did it better than Edmond O'Brien in 1950 who deals with tragedy when a beautiful young woman is murdered as a result of his investigation of an apparent insurance fraud.

9) The Abbotts: The Dead White Flame 

The Abbotts are involved in a plane crash that sees a famous psychiatrist die. However, Pat suspects there's more to this murder than meets the eye. And Pat and Jean get a peak at how dangerous this new post-war world is when they get Pat admitted to a sanitarium.

8) Barrie Craig:-A Time To Kill

Barrie finds a beautiful girl in his car, and someone is after her. She tells him one amazing whopper after another while at the same time,  Barrie takes a beating from his pursuers. The episode at times seemed like one of his biggest oddball cases, yet the ending is one of Craig's most moving and tragic.

7) Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Broderick Matter, Parts 1-2, 3-4, and 5

Johnny begins with a simple case that seems to have the making of a heart warming tale. A poor man who sold newspapers took out a $1500 on his life with the beneficiary a sweet 11 year-old girl who helped him sell his papers one day.  He paid his policy faithfully and Johnny sets out to find her.  He quickly runs into disillusionment as he learns that her life didn't seem to justify the old man's faith as she's left behind a line of frauds, thefts, and spurned lovers. When he finally finds her, can he stop her from making the greatest mistake of all?

6) San Francisco Final

There are many unaired pilots that are in circulation among OTR fans. Some you know exactly why they weren't picked up. Others just make you scratch your head. Such was the case with San Francisco Final.  This pilot not only had star power in Jeff Chandler but a brilliantly written and acted first script that told the tale of Chinese American families hit by blackmail that drove them to crimes of violence and passion. Reporter Mike Rivera looks for the root of the problem. The solution is shocking and the denouement of the story is brilliantly done.

5) Box 13: The Treasure of Hang Li

Dan Holiday follows the instructions in a letter to purchase "the Hang Li" piece. The shop owner gives it to Holiday and insists he not pay for it.  It's a very surprising story, and perhaps the most profound of the series.

4) Frank Race: The Istanbul Adventure

Frank Race flirted with many women during the course of the series, however he fell hard for a woman named  Lisel in this episode.  She's engaged in vital work as she's trying to get medicine to suffering people in post-war Europe but they're facing ruthless black marketeers who are selling weak and ineffective medicines that are spreading death and misery.  The program brings home the pain and suffering the black market inflicts on the wold. The episode ends with a mix of tragedy and irony that makes the episode a true dramatic gem.

3) Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Valentine Matter, Parts 1 and 2, Parts 3 and 4, and Part 5.

Johnny has a chance encounter with an ex-boot legger who has retied from crime and chosen to live a quiet,  simple life. However, someone's determined not to allow him to. Assassins come after him with no known motive.  He ends up meeting the daughter of the gangster: a lovely and unassuming young woman who didn't know she was the daughter of the infamous  Dan Valentine until he was shot down in cold blood. The story is a tragic one and it's a powerful story because the impact of each death is felt, unlike many episodes where person X dies. The story explores the humanity of Johnny Dollar and is almost a meditation on the destructive power of hate and unforgiveness, as well as that there can be good even in some people who have done bad things.

2) Pat Novak for Hire: Little Jake Siegel

This episode is not technically complete. The sound quality isn't great and the last few seconds of Novak's closing monologue are missing. That said, what we have is an amazing story that's groundbreaking. It's a modern tradition, dating to perhaps the 1980s or 90s to have a powerful season finale and certainly series finale, that shakes the lead character's world up.  No one did this in 1949. Characters continue to be pretty much who they were regardless of what happened.

However, in the Summer of 1949, Pat Novak for Hire was headed off the air for the Summer, and because Jack Webb was forced to take up work on a new summer show called Dragnet, this would turn out to be Pat Novak's last episode, and writer Richard Breen penned a very different story.

Novak visits a church at the request of a priest. A gunman enters and shoots a nine year old altar boy who died saving Novak's life. Novak sets out to find out who the killer is. There's less humor in this episode and Novak is believably more intense as he's determined to square for things for Little Jake. At the end of the day, it seems unlikely that things could ever be the same again for our wisecracking waterfront hero. It's a tour de force, and hopefully the whole episode will be available in a complete form some day, but even with its flaws, it remains an amazing story.

1) Sherlock Holmes: The Guileless Gypsy

Basil Rathbone was stuck with Sherlock Holmes, which could limit this talented star. However, Rathbone's New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes provided many touches such as Rathbone performing other works as  Holmes, or the use of music, or the show's meticulous research on mysteries. All this came together in a beautiful package called The Guileless GypsyA powerful man  asks Holmes to investigate and accuses a band of gypsies of threatening to kidnap his nephew, the heir to his brother's fortune. Holmes visits the gypsy camp and strikes up a friendship with a beautiful gypsy woman. In one of the best radio scenes ever, they get acquainted and break through the ice with music. First Holmes plays what passes for gypsy music in London. Then she plays the real thing, and then the two violins play together in a beautiful and moving melody. There's no romance in this story, but genuine affection. The story also had a timely yet timeless message about bigotry and inciting race hatred. In 1946, Americans no doubt would remember that Gypsies were a group singled out for persecution by the Nazis. This episode speaks to the common humanity and both Holmes and the girl, with a powerful twist in the plot. This episode features  Basil Rathbone at his dramatic best in this series.

That concludes our series. I'd love to hear what your favorite episodes were. Let me know in the comments.

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