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

15Mar/140

DVD Review: Nick Carter Triple Feature Mysteries


Walter Pidgeon played Nick Carter in a series of 3 MGM films in 1939 and 1940 and the three films were released in the last few years by Warner Archives.

The first film was, Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939) which saw Nick heading to California to investigate the theft of plans for an advanced aircraft and sabotage of the factory.

This film is engaging  and breezes by in 59 minutes. The mystery isn’t all that complex, but the film is interesting for its look at a time when the aviation industry was very young.

Carter as portrayed on the film, jumped to conclusions and made plenty of surmises about people's guilt, some of which were far fetched but promised repeatedly, “If I’m wrong, I’ll apologize later.” A line that would be used in other films, though not as frequently as  here.

The second film was Phantom Raiders (1940) and it was probably the worst of the three. The film was expanded to 70 minutes, but really didn’t seem to know what to do with the extra time, so it opted for padding. You could start watching the film ten minutes in and really not miss anything.

Carter is brought in on a case where several boats are being blown up at sea by the same company leading to massive insurance payoff. This film because of the first ten minutes (which gives away the plot) is much less of a true whodunit and more of a battle of wits between Nick and the villain which does work fairly well.

The location shots are good and the plot progresses nicely. Other than the very boring first ten minutes, my big complaint is that Nick keeps trying to bow out of the case in a way that hardly seem consistent with the heroic reputation of the character.

Finally, we have the best film of the series Sky Murder  (1940) which has Nick investigating a murder that occurred in the air. The movie was one of those pre-war films that really dealt with the war in Europe and fifth columnists in the US. This 72 minute film was exciting, well-paced, suspenseful, and with some lighter moments included as well. In terms of B Detective movies, it didn’t get much better than this. This movie makes the whole set worth buying.

Overall, I found this to be a very good series of films. The glaring flaw with the series was that the Nick Carter on the screen had very little relation to the Nick Carter off the books. Through fifty years of pulp fiction, Carter had been established as a resourceful tireless he-man who looked at danger and laughed in its face. Carter also surrounded himself with younger detectives who he was mentoring, thus the title master detective.

Pidgeon plays Carter as much more typical Mystery Comedy lead. Carter’s no fool, but he’s also a bit of a lady’s man and in The Phantom Raiders he’d rather catch up with the ladies and take a vacation than bust up the ring.

And as for assistants, Nick has Bartholemew (played by Donald Meek), a middle aged bee keeper and wannabe amateur detective who attaches himself to Nick with Nick’s sufferance more than anything else.

It was Hollywood’s practice in the 1930s to pay to adapt characters to the screen and then shove these characters into the formula of the moment, which is why there was a series of Nancy Drew where Nancy was a little bit ditzy, and two Nero Wolfe films where Archie Goodwin was played as a typical punch drunk Lionel Stander character.

Even with this flaw, these three movies are good in and of themselves. The stories are well-written and there’s plenty of action for a film of its era though it's not bloody. There were a couple of machine gun scenes in this series that were thrilling.

Even Bartholemew works as a sidekick, particularly in the last two movies. While similar characters from the golden age of film usually became  nothing more than annoying comic foils, Meek turns in a solid performance and Bartholemew actually becomes a valuable asset to Nick in the second and third movies, comfortable with a gun and with using some trick action to get the upper hand on the bad guys.

The series stands up well. Only lasting for three installments meant that unlike Mr. Moto or The Thin Man, the Nick Carter series didn't stick around for one film too many.

The DVD itself is up to the usual standard of Warner Archives with no thrills but three good and very rare films with decent transfers. The only mistake made was that Warner put Phantom Raiders before Sky Murder but this is only of trivial importance as it really doesn't matter which order you watch these in.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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8Mar/141

Book Review: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes


"The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes"  is  the very last Sherlock Holmes short story collection, published in 1927. It is a proverbial mixed bag. There are some stories in the book that are essential reading for Holmes fans ("The Problem at Thor Bridge" and "The Sussex Vampire"), and then there are some of the weakest stories in the Canon ("The Lion's Mane", "The Blanched Soldier", and "The Veiled Lodger"), and then others that range between average to fairly good.

"The Problem at Thor Bridge" is simply one of Holmes' best cases. There's so much in the story and the solution is classic. The same thing goes for "The Sussex Vampire" which presents Holmes a problem that's evocative of the supernatural but with a surprising natural solution that is pretty emotional in its own right.

Most of the worst stories came towards the end of the book. Both "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane" were attempts to tell Holmes' adventures from Holmes own perspective. While "The Blanched Soldier" was slightly better of the two, both stories were somewhat dry and uninteresting tales that it was hard to care about. The biggest failing of  "The Veiled Lodger"s is that Holmes really does nothing. He describes a mystery and then has one of the perpetrators tell him what happened. While Holmes did say something very wise in response to that, it wasn't really a detective story.

Looking at the rest of the stories:

"The Mazarin Stone": Told in third person, I actually thought it was a pretty fun story showing Holmes cleverness. It was a similar story to the Dying Detective, but I liked this story better.

"The Creeping Man": This is a bizarre story and I know some people really don't like it because it's almost into the realm of speculative fiction, but I thought it was carried off fine and is a classic mix of horror and the detective genre, though good luck trying to guess as to what's happening.

"The Three Garidebs": This is once again a story that calls to mind previous adventures. In it, a man with an unusual last name stands to make a fortune just for his last name, but he brings in Holmes to discern the truth of the business. This story is not as good as "The Red Headed League" but is actually better than "The Stockbroker's Clerk."

"The Illustrious Client": This isn't a whodunit but a challenge for Holmes to stop the marriage of a naive woman to a scoundrel. This is a very well-executed story where Holmes is put to the test.

"The Three Gables": This story of a bereaved mother receiving mysterious offers to buy her house is a very good and enjoyable story.

"The Retired Colourman": This is actually a pretty enjoyable story though Holmes doesn't seem as warm towards Watson in a few places. The solution is a good change of pace, if perhaps a bit melodramatic.

"Shoscombe Old Place": The last Holmes story by Doyle and its solid. Its clearly not at the high quality of Doyle's prime but Holmes gets a pretty engaging case with a clever and unexpected solution revolving around a race horse and the odd behavior of the lady of the manor.

Overall, this is a must for mystery fans even if Doyle is clearly past his prime as a writer in this one.

Let me add that this Oxford edition I read really was splendid and added to the reading experience. The explanatory notes section was helpful to me reading this as an American in the 21st century, as so many phrases that I'd have just glossed over or imagined what they meant. There's also a copious amount of introductory information that provides some great background on the book and is a great resource if you can get a hold of it.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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1Mar/140

Audio Drama Review: Doctor Who: The Highlanders

Just like the first of the Second Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, only the audio remains for the second serial, "The Highlanders."

In The Highlanders, the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions Ben and Polly find themselves caught in the midst of a war between the British red coats and the Scottish highlanders.  The Doctor and his companions have to escape from the British and get back to the TARDIS while also thwarting the plot of a corrupt government barrister who plans to ship captured Scots to brutal slavery on Carribean Islands.

This story isn't as good as Power of the Daleks, but it definitely is worth a listen. This serial features some great comic scenes for Troughton and the Doctor certainly shows some cleverness in this tightly plotted story.  This was actually a surprisingly strong story for Polly who in two previous stories I've seen/heard her in, her role was limited to making coffee as serving as a hostage. In this case, she's the one member of the TARDIS not captured and key to their rescue.

This serial was noteworthy for a couple other reasons. After about a third of the First Doctor stories were historicals, Troughton wanted to get away from them, so this would be the last purely historical Dr. Who episode until 1982. Also, this episode introduced the character of Jamie McCrimmon (Frazier Hines) who appeared in more Doctor Who episodes than any other companion.

Overall, this is a historic serial with plenty of fun, swashbuckling action, and the introduction of a great companion in Jamie, so it's definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

24Feb/140

Book Review: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

This book is the proverbial mixed bag. There are some stories in the book that are essential reading for Holmes fans (The Problem at Thor Bridge and the Sussex Vampire), and then there are some of the weakest stories in the Canon (The Lion's Mane, the Blanched Soldier, and the Veiled Lodger), and then others that range between average to fairly good.

"The Problem at Thor Bridge" is simply one of Holmes best cases. There's so much in the story and the solution is classic. The same thing goes for the Sussex Vampire which presents Holmes a problem that's evocative of the supernatural but with a surprising natural solution that is pretty emotional in its own right.

Most of the worst stories came towards the end of the book. Both "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane"  were attempts to tell Holmes' adventures from Holmes own perspective. While "The Blanched Soldier" was slightly better of the two, both stories were somewhat dry and uninteresting tales that it was hard to care about. "The Veiled Lodgers" biggest failing is that Holmes really does nothing. He describes a mystery and then has one of the perpetrators tell him what happened. While Holmes did say something very wise in response to that, it wasn't really a detective story.

Looking at the rest of the series:

"The Mazarin Stone": Told in third person, I actually thought it was a pretty fun story showing Holmes cleverness. It was a similar story to the Dying Detective, but I liked this story better.

"The Creeping Man": This is a bizarre story and I know some people really don't like it because it's almost into the realm of speculative fiction, but I thought it was carried off fine and is a classic mix of horror and the detective genre, though good luck trying to guess as to what's happening.

"The Three Garidebs": This is once again a story that calls to mind previous adventures. In it, a man with an unusual last name stands to make a fortune just for having his last name, but he brings in Holmes to discern the truth of the business. This story is not as good as "The Red Headed League" but is actually better than "The Stockbroker's Clerk."

"The Illustrious Client": This isn't a whodunit but a challenge for Holmes to stop the marriage of a naive woman to a scoundrel. This is a very well-executed story where Holmes is put to the test against a clever adversary who is a master at manipulating the sympathy of women.

"The Three Gables": This story of a bereaved mother receiving mysterious offers to buy her house is a very good and enjoyable story with a satisfying solution.

"The Retired Colourman": This is actually a pretty enjoyable story though Holmes doesn't seem as warm towards Watson in a few places. The solution is a good change of pace, if perhaps a bit melodramatic.

"Shoscombe Old Place": The last Holmes story by Doyle and its solid. Its clearly not at the high quality of Doyle's prime but Holmes gets a pretty engaging case with a clever and unexpected solution revolving around a race horse and the odd behavior of the lady of the manor.

Overall, this is a must for mystery fans even if Doyle is clearly past his prime as a writer in this one.

Let me add that this Oxford edition I read really was splendid and added to the reading experience. The explanatory notes section was helpful to me reading this as an American in the 21st century, as it gave meaning to so many phrases that I'd have just glossed over or imagined what they meant otherwise. There's also a copious amount of introductory information that provides some great background on the book and is a great resource if you can get a hold of it.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

15Feb/140

DVD Review: Poirot Series 10

Some things are very hard to mess up or turn to something catastrophically bad. Agatha Christie's Poirot stories combined with the acting of David Suchet are one such combination. It's a recipe for success.

Any joy or success that the tenth series of Poirot had was due to this combination, but the result was a mediocre series of feature length telefilms.  When you had someone a recipe for Prime Rib and you end up with something that tastes more like Hamburger steak, you have to ask why.

The answer is a creative team who decided to change some of Christie's stories. I've been clear in the past that I can stomach or even enjoy some revisions. I'm a huge fan of the Series 11 episode Appointment with Death which arguably is the most radical departure from Christie's original story in the entire first twelve series.

The difference between Appointment with Death and the episodes in Series 10 is that the telefilm of Appointment with Death was actually a well-thought out story and its revisions held in a very cohesive narrative and there was an actual point in mind

The addition in Series 10 stories on the other hand seemed to randomly insert revision with names changed and characters motivation being different for no particular reason whatsoever.  These were obvious hack elements inserted into a much better story.

To be fair, Mystery of the Blue Train was not one of Christie's favorite stories, but the additional changes such as having a rich man (Elliot Gould) having locked his disturbed wife in a convent or giving the idiot husband of Lady Tamplin a major role in the denouement of the story made the telefilm vision worse.

However, Cards on the Table should have been one of the best stories of the entire program's history. The premise was brilliant: four different  invited by the mysterious Mr Shaitana to dine with four sleuths and four potential murderers invited to dinner and the host is murdered. And arguably it was looking that way for the first seventy percent of the film as we saw the detective interact. It continued until the writers felt the need to insert some Jerry Sprnger-appropriate sexual situations including one of the detectives having hired the very creepy Mr. Shaitana to take compromising photos of him.

The best episode of the season was After the Funeral which was the most logical and consistent story the whole season and didn't tamper too much with Christie's original plot except for the addition of another Jerry Springer sex situation.

Finally, we had Taken at the Flood which has two problems. One, the villain is too obvious and second is more central to the essence of the story.  The title of the book comes from Julius Caesar, " "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune..." which is about taking advantage of an unexpected situation that comes to you. In the book, the villain takes advantage of an accident that occurs to gain power and wealth. In the telefilm, the incident has been changed so it's no longer an accident and thus title Taken at the Flood no longer makes any sense. Bravo.

This isn't to say Series 10 wasn't without its good moments, but these were often undermined by horrible production decisions and writers who haphazardly rewrote Christie's stories in ways that just didn't work. Series 10 adds gratuitous sex but  loses a lot of intelligence.

Having seen all the Series 11 episodes, the good news is that Poirot films did get better. Thus Series 10  marked a dip in series quality rather than a legendary and irredeemable "Jumping the shark" season

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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8Feb/140

Review: Sherlock Series 3

After an obligatory two year hiatus, BBC's Sherlock returned with the third series of 90 minute Sherlock movies where we find out what happened at the end of Series 2 in The Reichenbach Fall where viewers seemed to witness Sherlock Holmes committing suicide in order to save the lives of his friends.  I expressed in great detail my issues both with The Reichenback Fall and with the first and last episodes of the series. So how did the third series of 90 minute episodes go?

"The Empty Hearst": Sherlock Holmes has his completely expected return from the dead in this episode, after Watson apparently stood across the street and watched him commit suicide in the last Series 2 episode which was based on “The Final Problem.” Of course, the “The Empty Hearst” has the solution to how Holmes avoided death as well as two other theories that were propounded by in-world theorists. While some doubt is left as to whether Holmes is telling the truth, the theory propounded is as ludicrous as that provided by the theorists and just makes me hate the Series 2 finale even more.

The good news is that “The Empty Hearst” doesn’t focus on the absurdity of the way this played out, leaving the explanation for the final twenty minutes of the show. This episode’s main focus is Sherlock’s return to Baker street and his relationship to Watson. Here, I have to give respect to the writers for giving Watson realistic reactions to this turn of events, which leads to Watson assaulting Sherlock not once but four different times.

Sherlock shows some character development. He remains socially clueless, particularly as he expected Watson to be ready to pick up right where he left off and had no conception that the people in his life would at any point move on with him gone. He also professes his love to a woman, only to find she too has moved on and gotten engaged..

The main mystery to occur is kind of left hanging for most of the episode and is resolved in plenty of time, but there’s a hint that events in this episode were only part of a far greater threat with the focus in this episode being on the relationship and establishing the character. I also appreciated how Doyle stories worked into this episode. A sidebar case that Holmes quickly solves in this episode is based on, “The Case of Identity” while the main mystery borrows from the non-Holmes Doyle mystery, “The Lost Special.”

Overall, I found the episode fun, which wasn’t something I said a lot about the Series 2 episodes.

Grade: A-

"The Sign of Three": It’s the wedding day of John Watson and Mary and Sherlock is the best man and he has to give a speech and boy is out of his element as he begins a meandering speech that’s at time offensive to many members of the audience and at times awkward.

This isn’t the whole episode as the wedding speech serves as a framing device to discuss a fantastic locked room case involving a guardsman who was nearly stabbed to death, Sherlock attempting a stag night out that has Holmes’ best calculations of how to avoid getting drunk go horribly wrong, and a case of many women who are dating a ghost. Both cases are not completely solved but they’ll have to be or they’ll be at murder at Watson’s funeral.

The human element continues to be big this series and that’s a mixed blessing. On one hand, the fondness of the two main characters for each other and the real buddy nature of the relationship. On the other hand, this episode does tend to meander a bit, and I feel like the story got lost somewhere for about half an hour.

In addition, some of the moments didn’t work. Watson and Holmes getting drunk by mistake was supposed to be cute. The way it was portrayed was just stupid.

But on the awesome side of the ledger, I liked how they managed to have a physical portrayal of Holmes doing an online chat and then we got taken actually inside Holmes’ head to see how he was reasoning. It was a great moment and a good solution to the case. Far from perfect, but I still enjoyed it.

Grade: B

"His Last Vow": While the title of this story is inspired by the short story, “His Last Bow,” the basis for the plot was “The Adventure Charles Augustus Milverton.” In this version, foreign newspaper baron Charles A. Magnussen holds blackmail over the heads of nearly every one of any importance in the Western World. They try to make him even more disgusting by having him lick a woman he was blackmailing and urinating Sherlock Holmes’ fireplace (subtlety thy name isn’t Stephen Moffat.)

Sherlock manages to finagle his way into Milverton’s estate only to find someone very close to him and Watson about to kill Magnussen.

Beyond that, I can’t go into much more without spoiling it and I don’t want to spoil it. The program features some great developments in the relationship between these three characters: John, Mary, and Sherlock. In the first episode of the series, Watson was told that Sherlock was a great man and might even become a good one, and you have a sense that he’s growing towards that end. The reveal of where Magnussen’s files are hidden is a bit of a surprise as well.

Of course, there are a few bumps in the road. Sherlock toys with a woman and proposes to her to get into Magnussen’s apartment. This was something that was extrapolated from Doyle’s original story. And then there’s the end of the episode where he once again crosses a line as he did (or seemed to do) at the end of Series 2. However, I found his action while wrong, to be quite believable. I think the Sherlock Holmes of the nineteenth century probably would have done the same thing facing similar circumstances. In the 21st Century Holmes’ case, his actions were to keep the vow he made to protect John, Mary, and their child at the end of the previous episode thus the name of the episode.

Some critics have pointed out that this story lacks a satisfying whodunit feel to it. Well, so does Doyle’s original story, so I can’t fault the writers too much on how this ended up. In the end, this episode was a powerful story of evil, honor, forgiveness, and love

Grade: A-

Overall:

I was delighted by Series 1 of Sherlock, I was repulsed and irritated by much of Series 2. Series 3, on the other hand, really surprised me.

I never expected the emotional depth of this series. After Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Holmes as a selfish egotist who made Watson’s wedding and marriage difficult, I never expected Cumberbach’s Holmes that would be intelligent enough to extend his absolute dedication to John Watson to his new bride. (As an aside I have to wonder whether the Downey pictures, the CBS series, and the BBC series don't play off one another to some degree.)

This is a series where the cases were rarely as flashy, but there was some great substance in each episode. The production team topped themselves in making Sherlock’s though processes themselves look great.

Despite my complaints about Milverton’s over the top disgustingness, this series actually was less full of blood, guts, and shock value than the previous two series.

At times, the episodes were padded and they could lose focus, but overall I’m fairly happy with this series and looking forward to Series 4.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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1Feb/140

Radio Drama Review: Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr

Eight months ago, I reviewed Tarzan and the Diamonds of Asher, a thoroughly thrilling 1934 Radio 39-part radio serial starring Carlton Kadell as Tarzan faces many challenges in the jungle in a complex and compelling story in which Tarzan's feats of courage and strength are totally enthralling.

Two years afterward, a sequel was released The Fires of Tohr. According to Robert Barrett,  the Fires of Tohr was heard by few people because they waited too long to offer it for syndication and radio in the mid-1930s was certainly a fast-moving medium.

In this series Carlton Kadell and Ralph Scott reprised their roles as Tarzan and Lieutenant D'Arnot. Cy Kendall who'd played the Egyptian villain Atan Thome in Diamonds of Asher returned playing Chinese Dr. Wong Tai. Also featured in the cast was the great Gale Gordon.

The plot has Tarzan and D'Arnot helping a party of explorers who've been abandoned by their native guides. The party is looking for the lost city of Tohr. They find it and are quickly imprisoned by Ahtea, the White queen of the Tohrians (who are somehow "Yellow")  who wants Tarzan to marry her and become king to preserve the white royal line. Tarzan refuses because she's totally crazy, cruel, and stupid. 

So we commence with a very long and drawn out plot where Ahtea imprisons Tarzan and the rest and promises to kill them. Some or all of the party escapes and they are recaptured, and so on.  One of the story's biggest faults is that it's padded.  It bears some similarities to the plot of The Diamonds of Asher except the type of story that takes more than 30 episodes to tell in Fires of Tohr was only about 17 episodes of The Diamond of Asher.

The story really drags and seems to repeat through the middle, with our heroes often doing stupid things that are out of character. D'Arnot blows an escape attempt and Tarzan is unbelievably helpless based on the previous serial. This is particularly hard to buy as Athea is just not a good enough villain to give Tarzan this much grief.

Janet Burton, the designated damsel in distress for this series is a definite downgrade from the previous serial's heroine Helen Gregory. Helen Gregory had engaged on a dangerous trip to find her brother while Janet Burton seemed to do so for no good reason other than to serve as a plot complication.

Finally, lazy ethnic stereotypes get out of hand in this story.  I'm the last one to complain about this type of stuff, but the character of Terrance O'Rourke's constantly "Sure and Begoreying" and other "Irish" phrases is grating. He can't even begin a sentence without doing it.

Doctor Wong Tai's dialogue is also quite  stereotypical but unlike O'Rourke, he's actually a pretty interesting character and one of the program's saving graces.  While it's clear that Wong Tai is madly greedy (which leads him to side with Athea against his friends int he party), he's more than that. He practically steals the show by keeping the audience guessing  where he actually stands.

Overall, this isn't a great serial but it's not a horrible one. Wong Tai is an interesting characters, the last half dozen episodes or so are pretty exciting, and there are quite a few episodes throughout that have good action and good cliffhangers, but this serial has a lot of padding, some of the secondary characters are not likable, and the main villain is just over the top foolish and cruel.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5.0

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25Jan/140

Book Review: Too Many Clients

In Too Many Clients, Archie is asked by a man named Thomas Yeager to find out if anyone is following him and gives him an address in a poor part of town. However, the man turns out to be Yeager and the real Yeager’s body is found near the address, Archie visits it and is shocked to find a very elaborately designed love nest.

Archie and Wolfe have a mystery on their hands and the “client” who hired them set them up to discover the body and they have to get to the bottom of who hired them and who committed the murder and pick up multiple several offered clients, many of whom want to suppress the existence of a very embarrassing room.

Overall, this was a very well-crafted later Wolfe mystery with a wide range of suspects, a great premise, and some solid scenes in the Brownstone. It doesn't quite deliver those little human touches that the very best Wolfe’s do, but I still highly recommend it.

Rating: Satisfactory

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18Jan/140

DVD Review: The George Sanders Saint Movie Collection

The Saint, created by Leslie Charteris, hit movie theaters in 1938 with Louis Heyward in the title role. George Sanders took over in 1939 and played the Saint in five films.  This Warner Archives collection collects all five films on a two DVD set.

The films, are somewhat above average B movie fare. The Saint is a figure who walks very close to the edge of the law and is as often hunted by the police as he is the hunter of criminals. Each film includes the Saint teaming up with some recently formed though not all too bright criminal.

The films really work thanks to Sander's debonair portrayal of the Saint as well as some great supporting characters in the typical roles of police, sidekick, and leading lady.  In four of the five films Jonathan Hale plays the affable and sympathetic Inspector Fernack who is often torn between his sense of duty and his friendship for the Saint and also serves as a comic foil.  Paul Guifoyle plays a criminal who reforms in The Saint Takes Over and then appears as the same character who is now a house detective in The Saint in Palm Springs.  Finally, Wendy Barrie plays three different female leads in the first, fourth, and fifth films.

With that said, here are my thoughts on each film>

The Saint Strikes Back: The Saint helps a female mob boss escape from the scene of a shooting, then flies back to New York to contact Inspector Fernack and get him out to San Francisco with many in San Francisco wanting Fernack to come out any way because it's suspected the Saint's involved in the murder. The Saint tries to ensure justice is done and to reform the female mob boss who became a crime boss after she believed her father was framed for murder. The plot's a bit convulted but really it's a well executed and tight story that that wraps up nicely in a little more than hour.  Grade: B+

The Saint in London:  The Saint returns to London, hires a pickpocket as a valet, and then is called into a case by an old friend that involves kidnapping, embezzlement, and of course, murder. This is just a very fun movie. Sally Gray is great as the adventurous female lead. David Burns is good as the Saint's sidekick, Dugan and Gordon Macleod does very well as Inspector Claude Teal of Scotland Yard. This was just a solid film overall. Grade: A-

The Saint's Double Trouble:  Easily the weakest of Sanders' five films as the Saint has a double who happens to be a crime boss. The film does have some good moments, but in most places the movie seems kind of forced and silly and not in a good way.  Bela Lugosia can't even save this one.   In addition, the casting of the film's heroine and sidekick were the worst of the series. Grade: C-

The Saint Takes Over:  With Fernack framed for murder, the Saint once again journeys through the New York underworld but finds himself as a race against crime as potential witnesses who can save Fernack keep dying off. This film also presents the Saint with the toughest dilemma in his career and perhaps most downbeat ending in the series. Grade: A

The Saint in Palm Springs: Fernack asks the Saint to guard a $200,000 postage stamp for a friend and deliver it to Palm Springs. The friend is killed but the Saint is determined to ensure the stamp  reaches the dead man's heir. The Saint goes to Palm Springs determined to deliver the stamp and reveal the characters. Overall, this was a fun suspense story with something as tiny as a postage being the desired object, it was always a question as to where it was and who had it, as well as whodunit. The Saint shows a lot of cleverness, unfortunately he also shows a lot of stupidity as he exposes himself and others to unnecessary peril. Still, this was entertaining with a great reveal at the end. Grade: B

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Overall, this was a very enjoyable collection and a great opportunity to see George Sanders at his best.  While the films aren't perfect, they are really enjoyable.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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11Jan/140

Audio Drama Review: The Power of the Daleks

Last Christmas, Time of the Doctor marked the end of Matt Smith’s reign as the Eleventh Doctor, and this fall the BBC will kick off a new series featuring Peter Capaldi in the role. Today, we take a look at the first regeneration from First Doctor William Hartnell to Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, “Power of the Daleks.”

Due to the BBC's horrible archival policies in 1960s, this isn’t a story people can “watch.” This is one of several stories that are completely missing on video and the only way they can be enjoyed is as audio dramas using the TV soundtrack recorded by fans and narration by a star from the series..

Without belaboring the point, in the “Tenth Planet,” the last First Doctor story, it was clear that William Hartnell was pretty well played out in the role. The four episode story featured almost no action from the Doctor in the first, second, and the fourth episode, and the third episode was spent with the doctor asleep. The fourth ended with the Doctor changing into Patrick Troughton.

Troughton actually really gets into the role right off the bat. While long time Whovians have seen newly regenerated doctors go through the process of picking out their wardrobe and getting used to new appearances, Troughton was the first and does it quite well. His character is fun and clever. The Second Doctor plays a recorder which is another nice bit of characterization.

Of course, his companions, who were with the First Doctor, are skeptical that this is really the same Doctor, with Ben being far more skeptical than Paulie.

The Second's Doctor’s inaugural adventure is a blast. The TARDIS lands in the future on Earth's colony Vulcan where they discover the murdered body of a government official called an examiner. The Doctor assumes the examiner's identity and is determined to uncover why the Examiner was killed and what was going on in the colony.

In the course of his investigation, the Doctor comes across his most dangerous enemies, the Daleks. One of their ships has crash landed and a scientists is studying the dead Daleks. The Doctor wants them destroyed but finds out to his horror that the scientist who discovered the Daleks is actually trying to revive one and that he succeeds.

The revived Dalek, whose gun armed has been removed insists, "I am your servant." The Doctor of course doesn't buy it and is trying to stop the crazy scientists from reviving more Daleks. However, the whole Dalek issue is caught in a web of political intrigue which has more than one person thinking they can use the three revived Daleks as pawns. Some consider the small numbers of Daleks to be minor matter, but the Doctor warns that one is enough to destroy the entire base.

This is a wonderful serial that really works on every level: it has intrigue, mystery, suspense, and fantastic sci fi action. This is a story that illustrates the true power of audio story telling. The early writers of Dr. Who had great imagination, but lacked in special effects. That's no problem here. The music and the dialogue tell the story powerfully.

The story has some genuinely scary moments that are really brought home by the audio. Of course, the Daleks are up to evil and two separate episodes end with Daleks chanting and there are few things more scary than a group of Daleks chanting, "We will get our power! We will get our power!" as they circle the scientist brought them back to life.

The scientist, Dr. Lesterson also has a fascinating character arc as the Daleks true nature becomes more apparent and things go from bad to worse. His final scene is the last episode of the serial is just haunting and fascinating at the same time.

Bottom line: "The Power of the Daleks" packs a powerful punch with a tone that's often a bit dark, but also brilliantly conceived and executed.
Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0.

The Power of the Daleks is available at Audible.

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