Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles


The Hound of the Baskervilles is like the Christmas Carol. You don’t watch or listen to an adaptation to find out what happens but to see how well the creators have captured the story. Big Finish does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Hound of the Baskervilles in  a very traditionalist adaptation. Amazingly, the entire program was recorded and rehearsed in a single day.

The cast is  wonderful. Richard Earl has got the part of Watson nailed and that’s vital since most of the story centers around him. John Banks and Charlie Norfolk did Yeoman’s work, playing five parts and three parts respectively. They did it so seamlessly, I didn’t know they didn’t have separate actors for each part until I listened to the Extra’s CD. Samuel Clemens is very compelling as Sir Henry Baskerville. And of course, Briggs is great as Holmes.

Of course, what  makes the piece so atmospheric over audio is the sound design and music, coupled with Earl’s narration and they did an incredibly good job in post-production. It captured the spookiness and suspense of the story. Overall, Big Finish does Doyle’s most legendary story justice in a superb adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Black Eyed Blonde

In Black-Eyed Blonde, mystery writer John Banville writing under the pen name of Benjamin Black takes on the task of writing a new Philip Marlowe novel more than a half century after the passing of Marlowe’s legendary creator Raymond Chandler.

The plot is a well-done but typical hard-boiled story line. A strikingly beautiful woman walks into Marlowe’s office and hires him to find her boyfriend.  Marlowe finds out the boyfriend was killed, but the woman claims to have seen him in San Francisco after that.

Banville doesn’t come close to matching Chandler’s powerful prose and snappy dialogue. In many ways, while this Marlowe isn’t a pushover, he’s far more polite and measured than Chandler’s Marlowe ever was, certainly far softer than he was in The Long Goodbye which this book is set after. To be fair, I don’t think that’s entirely a bad point, given Marlowe was almost over the top in that.

However, what Banville does get right are the Chandleresque characters, these sort of quirky and engaging side characters that hold not only Marlowe’s attention but ours. The plot is a  solid and engaging piece of classic hard-boiled detective fiction until the last couple chapters,  which isn’t common in pastiches. I’ve read some of Robert Goldsborough’s Nero Wolfe novels and spent most of the books unable to get into the unsubstantial plots and have stewed over how unlike Nero Wolfe the story is.  In Black-Eyed Blonde, there were a couple minutes where I thought, “This isn’t really Philip Marlowe but whatever it is, it’s very good.”

However, the ending was a bit of a letdown. Without going into details, the book becomes, in many ways, a sequel to The Long Goodbye.  There’s no need for a sequel to The Long  Goodbye, and the ending of this book doesn’t add luster to that classic tale.  Too often pastiche writers assume we want sequels and follow ups to previous stories. With Marlowe, what I want are new standalone mysteries that measure up to what’s come before.  Unlike Nero Wolfe, Marlowe was never a character whose existence depended on a regular cast or continuity.  And to be fair, this element  only looms in the end of the book. Still, I would have preferred a conclusion that made the book standalone rather than on the shoulder’s of a predecessor.

Overall, if you like classic hard-boiled novels, you’ll enjoy this book provided you’re not turned off by it’s attempt to make itself a sequel to one of the most beloved hard-boiled novels.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: Red Skelton Whistling Collection


The Whistling Collection from Warner Archives features all three MGM films from the 1940s in which Red Skelton played Wally Benton, an actor/writer who plays the Fox, a radio detective who comes up with his own plots.

In Whistling in the Dark (1941) , Wally, his girlfriend Carol (played by Ann Rutherford), and the sponsor’s daughter are kidnapped by a racketeer who wants to murder a man who is en route to New York. Wally poses a threat to the racketeer’s plans to lay claim to a wealthy woman’s fortune. Wally is forced to come up with a perfect murder plot and he has to figure out how to save his life from it and the life of the two women with him, as well as an innocent man set to die. He does so in a way that’s both ingenuous and hilarious, and it involves a brilliantly madcap fight with the thug Sylvester (Rags Ragland).

In Whistling in Dixie (1942), Wally and Carol travel down South to investigate mysterious goings on in a Southern town including the disappearance of a young man. There the Fox seems to have found Sylvester working for a local judge but it turns out to be his not so evil but just as dub twin brother Chester (also played by Rags Ragland.) There’s a genuine mystery, political corruption, a Confederate treasure, and lots of shenanigans involving twins.

In Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), Wally is framed as Constant Reader, a murderer who has been sending notes to a politician after committing his crimes. Wally has to prove his innocence and his efforts including going undercover as a pitcher on a Major League baseball team in which every player wears a beard. Several real-life Brooklyn Dodgers appear, including then-manager Leo Durocher. Ragland returns as Chester. The whole thing ends up in another madcap fight scene, this time aboard the ship.

Overall, the Whistling movies are a lot of fun. Unlike some lesser comedy detective mysteries, they never seem to forget that the lead isn’t just supposed to be funny, he’s supposed to be a detective. Throughout Wally shows  clever thinking, although his good plans occasionally go wrong. Skelton and Rutherford have strong chemistry. No one will confuse them for William Powell and Myrna Loy, but they make a nice on-screen pairing.

The stories’ take on the radio drama of the era is fun and cute. The first two stories have quite a bit of cleverness behind their plots. The third is a bit more thin. The way Wally is framed weak, and like the second movie is centered on him and his girl trying to get married even though there wasn’t a reason why they wouldn’t have married after Whistling in Dixie. The final third of the movie is funny, but essentially it’s two very long slapstick scenes at the ballpark and aboard the ship with the only breaks being people taking cabs to get one from scene to another. Nothing against slapstick, but I preferred the style of the other two movies better.

Still, all three films are good, and they all work with good performances from the returning cast and nice gags throughout. If you love detective movies with a dash of comedy or just love Red Skelton, this is a great collection to purchase.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Reification of Hans Gerber

The Reification of Hans Gerber is an original Sherlock Holmes audio drama written in the twenty-first century. However, if you weren’t familiar with the Doyle canon, you’d be hard pressed to know that this was written by Doyle himself.

The plot captures the feel and atmosphere of Holmes without retreading over old ground. Holmes is called in to investigate the death of a wealthy man who left behind three nephews and a niece who expect to inherit until the will disappears, then one man is set to inherit. At first, it’s the eldest cousin, but a disowned relative named Hans Gerber emerges to claim the estate. It appears he’s out for more than the old man’s money when one of the cousins is murdered. The mystery is thoroughly engaging from start to finish.

Nicholas Briggs turns in his usual superb performance as Holmes, and Richard Earl plays Watson perfectly in the Edward Hardwicke tradition. One of the reasons the story feels so authentic is the amount of narration and description involved and Earl is a superb narrator. The other outstanding performance was Terry Malloy who plays Inspector Bainbridge, a police inspector who shows an amazing amount of competence.

It’s hard to overstate how much I enjoyed this. Pastiches so often fail to capture the feel of the original or are so busy inserting modern sensibilities and personalities into the story that they feel out of place. The authenticity of the story is outstanding. It’s tour de force  in writing, acting,  and production values.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Movie Review: Smart Blonde

In the 1930s, a lot of detective movie series were made, particularly as “B” features. The Torchy Blane series was notable for featuring a female lead.

The first film in the series is Smart Blonde which was released in 1937 and introduced Torchy (played by Glenda Farrell) and her hotheaded boyfriend Police Lieutenant Steve McBride (Barton Maclane). It centers around the owner of a night club and several sports establishments wanting to sell out and live an honest life with his fiancee.  He’s run his businesses honestly and called in a friend who’ll keep them honest to buy his businesses. However, when the would-be buyer is killed, Torchy sets out to solve the case.

The beginning of the film is one of the best character introductions you’ll see in a “B” movie. It used the era’s trope of newspaper headlines to reveal Torchy Blane wrote big stories, hard news stories, front page stories, and then immediately we have Torchy speeding up in the back a cab which drives up near a moving train which she then jumps on to. Really, with her saying very little, the film establishes Torchy as this intrepid, no-nonsense reporter.

She’s a fascinating character and Glenda Farrell plays her beautifully with a mix of charm and pure grit, determination, and energy. The film moves at a very fast clip.  Smart Blonde clocks in at fifty-nine minutes, so it’s got a short time to unravel its mystery, but it does with snappy dialogue and a plot that doesn’t slow down much at all.

The story isn’t a screwball comedy, as so many early detective features were, but it is played for comedy and perhaps at times a bit overplayed. Steve McBride is a comic relief cop in the mold of Captain Street form the Mister Wong movies and he has an even more comical cop as his chauffeur and sidekick.  Some of the comedy is weak and there are unintentionally funny aspects of the film such as the costuming department had policemen in one scene wearing an entirely style of uniform from policemen in another. And of course, there’s a little bit of underworld sentimentality mixed in.

Still, it’s a fascinating bit of B-movie making that’s a cut above most B-films, particularly in this era. It gives Farrell and Maclane the opportunity to play the leads and the result is a fun and pleasing hour of entertainment that should dispel the idea that a “B” movie automatically means a “bad” movie.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0