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

28Dec/130

Radio Drama Review: Gregory Keen: Deadly Nightshade

The character of  Gregory Keen was introduced in the Australian radio serial Dossier on Dumetrius. In that serial, Keen, a MI-5 Major played by New Zealand Actor Bruce Stewart, hunted down an international war criminal named Dumetrius through the streets of London. (see review here). The second Keen serial turns to more familiar territory for the writer and original audience: the streets of Sidney, Australia.

In Deadly Nightshade,  Stewart returns as Keen. Also returning was the actor who played the villain from Dossier. The character of Felix Huberman is the half brother of the Keen's archenemy. (Yes, it's contrived but work with us.) Huberman is an official with Australian federal law enforcement who is also the chief lieutenant of Carla Mingione who is trying to get organized crime established in Sidney. Keen is sent by MI-5 because of the disappearance of scientist Bruno Kesselring who is feared to have defected to the Russians, though this is largely forgotten through most of the serial as Keen finds himself trying to find the truth behind the Nightshade ring, believing it will lead to Kesselring.

Deadly Nightshade has its strong points. Like its predecessor, it is a  highly addictive and is a fairly complex 104-part story.  In many ways, it's a better  Keen story.  Dossier featured our hero, Major Keen as a somewhat dense character who did majorly stupid things for a huge number of episodes including his 40+ episode manhunt for innocent bystander Peter Ridgeway and believing the treacherous Heddy Bergner innocent for nearly 70 episodes because he was in love with her. Here Keen is not gulled for that length of time. To be sure, there are some stupid moments. Early on, Keen concludes that Huberman's up to no good but decides he has no choice but to play along with him which involves not introducing himself to the police and not meeting up with the contact that'd been designated for him by London. This stupidity ends after less than ten episodes and other lapses of sanity and reasonable judgment are short.

Keen in Deadly Nightshade  is a man to be feared in a story that's far darker than Dossier. Keen is clearly a much more ruthless character than in the previous serial.  Keen is driven and at times, seems almost mentally disturbed in his pursuit of the Nightshade Ring, even being willing to kill unarmed men to achieve his ends. He's still haunted by his memory of Heddy Bergner, much to the chagrin of Sherry Reed, a party girl who fell for Keen and became involved in his adventures, only to find Keen constantly spurning her.

The story is darker but not necessarily better in places. While Deadly Nightshade is a far more logical tale with a minimal number of plotholes, it was also a little less fun than Dossier.  The story is interesting due the concerns with organized crime making its way to Australia and the wide variety of plot twists that can fit into a story of this length.

This makes a decent listen, but definitely not for kids under 13.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.0

14Dec/130

Audio Drama Review: The Father Brown Mysteries Volume 5

Colonial Radio Theatre's fifth collection of Father Brown Mysteries starring JT Turner showcases CRT's increasing  production values. The whole collection is graced by a much more polished theme, and the general quality of acting and dialects were also up from when the series first started.

This collection features three of the most popular Brown stories.  Three of these were adapted for the 1970s ITV Father Brown television, and two by the 1980s BBC radio series and Colonial's adaptation is at least the equal of these previous adaptations.

The stories included are:

  • The Hammer of God: The wealthy reprobate brother of a local minister is found murdered with a small hammer that hit him with a seemingly impossible amount of force.  This is one of Chesterton's most thoughtful and clever stories. JT Turner's portrayal of Brown's compassion even in the midst of confronting the murderer really gives a whole new spin on that part of the story.
  • The Curse of the Golden Cross: A professor  acquires a rare golden cross, but also a deadly enemy who is determined to kill the professor and claim the cross. The professor he's been followed to England where a vicar claims to have found the rare cross' twin. All is not as it seems. The original story wasn't Chesterton's greatest, but this is a faithful adaptation that hits the key points quite nicely.
  • The Mirror and the Magistrate: A respected magistrate is murdered and suspicion falls on a radical poet who had a grudge against him. However, Father Brown is certain the poet is innocent. This one is a fun case as we hear Brown's deconstruction of the prosecution's case and how the fact that the prosecutor wears a wig plays into the startling conclusion.
  • The Wrong Shape:  If there was one story in this collection I expected not to like, it was this one. I didn't get Chesterton's original story when I read it. The written version seemed a little too metaphysical. However, I have to say I really enjoyed the radio adaptation. Colonial did a great job of bringing this more obscure but still very clever mystery to life.

Overall, I was thoroughly entertained by this set.  CRT continues to bring  these great stories to life with the humor and social commentary that Chesterton brought to the originals.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

Note: I received a copy of this production in exchange for an honest review. 

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30Nov/130

Audio Drama: The History of Harry Nile, Set Six

The History of Harry Nile Set 6 covers 24 cases in which the late Phil Harper portrayed the Seattle Private Detective, set between May of 1956 and Summer of 1958.

At this point, it’s tough to add much to what I’ve written in the previous five reviews. The series while produced in the 1990s and early 21st century sounded just like a vintage detective series from radio’s golden age.

Both Harry (Phil Harper) and his red-headed assistant Murphy (Pat French) were well-established in their roles and had them down to a tee. And producer/writer Jim French really knew how to do a 19-23 minute radio drama and make it shine.

The stories are mostly typical PI fare but with a few surprises thrown in such as, “Submarine Warfare” which has the owner of a new subshop asking for Harry’s help with vandals while his wife is sending Harry notes that her husband wants to kill her. Harry’s cases take him to New Orleans, to California, and to three different western cities where a salesman is keeping different girls and runs into predictable problems. There’s a theft at a mission around Christmastime. And the story of a missing fire extinguisher salesman where Harry has to live up to the bill of one of America’s top ten private investigators.

These are well-done tales with no real clunkers, but consistent quality from episode to episode. The only downside is that on occassion, the motive may be a little thin. Some listeners may be bothered by the relationship between Harry and Murphy with Harry, with Murphy pining for Harry but Harry showing no interest whatsoever. However, this too is a throwback to some golden age programs like Let George Do It.

Overall, this set lives up to the high standards of its predecessors and is a must for fans of Phil Harper’s Harry Nile.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

The set is available at French's website for $49.95 on CD or as a digital download for $25.

The History of Harry Nile, Set 6  (along with Sets 1-5) are available on Audible for $19.95 for members or 1 Credit. I bought this set with my an Audible listener Credit ($14.95).

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12Oct/130

Radio Drama Review: Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie  came to radio in 1956 in the midst of both the decline of radio and the rise of the adult Western on both radio and television that began with Gunsmoke and featured such programs as The Six Shooter and Have Gun Will Travel.

The program centers around Lee Quince (Raymond Burr in the series, John Dehner in the pilot) a Captain of Cavalry assigned to B Company at Fort Laramie under the command of Major Daggett (Jack Moyles). Their job is simple: keep the peace by enforcing the treaty and avoiding a war with local Indian tribes.

The series sets a high standard for realism on every level.  It takes a look at life on an old West fort from so many different perspectives. What happens when the company payroll is delayed? How are outbreaks treated? What type of people joined the Cavalry during this time? What would life be like for a widow of a soldier or for a young wife married to an officer and unused to the rigors of the West? The series uses thorough research, mixed a solid imagination, and good human drama to create memorable scripts.

The ugly reality of war is portrayed. The series is brutally honest about the terror of falling into the hands of Indians. In one episode, a woman talks about using a gun to defend herself but saving the last bullet for herself to avoid being captured by cruel Indian tribes. At the same time, the series also shows the prejudice, neglect, and in one case, outright insane slaughter that was heaped on Native Americans. The series keeps in balance.

The cast of the show is great. This series is Raymond Burr's only starring role over radio. Usually he played heavies, but he shines as the experienced, sly, and Indian-wise hero. He's ably supported by Moyles, the former star of Rocky Jordan Vic Perrin as the veteran enlisted man Sergeant Gorce, and Harry Bartel as the green Lieutenant Siberts.

With such a talented cast, Director Norm Macdonnell was able to do some interesting things. For the first half of the series, Quince was constantly cutting down the inexperienced naivete  of Siberts until Daggett called Quince out and said he was going to ruin Siberts, which forced Quince to address his own bad attitude and get Siberts to feel free to relax. This was really not the type of topic you'd see discussed with two ongoing characters a series in the 1950s.

However, the show dealt with a lot of very human issues, not all of them dark and serious. There were the humorous episodes that brought lighter touch. What made them work well was that these humorous shows were not thrown in randomly. They'd often come before  a very dark and serious episode,  as if to deepen the emotional impact of the next week's show.

Like many shows from the mid-1950s, the programs that survive are in wonderful condition, making for great listening.

The full run was done by Andrew Rhynes as a podcast over at the Old Radio Westerns and is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

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28Sep/130

Radio Drama Review: The Thinking Machine

The period between Sherlock Holmes and the coming of iconic characters such as Hercules Poirot, Nick Charles, Philip Marlowe, and Nero Wolfe is littered with a series of mostly forgotten detectives. One of these Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen created by Jacques Futrelle. Van Dusen appeared in one novel and fifty short stories between his creation in 1905 and the tragic death of Futrelle aboard the board the Titanic in 1912.  Colonial Radio Theatre has brought Van Dusen back to life in its new series, The Thinking Machine.

In the early 20th Century were viewed primarily as puzzles and the two mysteries in the first volume of stories released by Colonial falls firmly into this category and they're quite good puzzles: "The Problems of Dressing Room A" deals with an impossible disappearance from an actress from backstage during a performance in attire that could hardly be worn on the street. The second, "The Phantom Motor" deals with a motor car that impossibly disappears when passing between two police officers across a road known as, "The Trap."

Professor Van Dusen (Lincoln Clark) is a genius (which he'll gladly let you know) but he is not a detective. His process for solving mysteries is not so much deduction as thinking through the problem and finding a way to the solution. That's one of the great highlights of the stories is how Van Dusen and newspaper reporter Hutchinson Hatch will hash out nearly all conceivable solutions with incisive and clever logic. Then Van Dusen thinks through a way to find the solution that most of the professionals have missed.

If there's a downside to the production, it's this: Van Dusen, like  many amateur detectives during this period,  knew they were smarter and better than you and had no qualms about letting others know it. In the early 20th century, readers were kind of tolerant of this as long as the detective  got the job done.  We live in an age where really don't like people being better than us, and we certainly don't like them making a point of it. Hercule Poirot has this problem to an extent but he makes up for it with a ton of charm. Van Dusen has no such endearing qualities. With Clark's solid acting, the character could grow on listeners, but with only two mysteries in this first set, it's kind of hard to gauge how successful he could be.

However, Clark ad the rest of the cast are solid, showcasing the high production values I've come to expect from Colonial Radio Theater. Overall, these are well- acted well-produced puzzle mysteries that's worth a listen particularly if you're curious about forgotten detectives of the early 20th cenury.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0

Disclosure note: The reviewer received a free review copy for an honest review of this production.

The Thinking Machine is available as an audible download here.

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