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

16Nov/140

Video Theater 058: The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Wontner stars in this adaptation of The Valley of Fear. 

Release Date: February, 1935

9Aug/140

The Top 12 Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part Three

We continue our countdown of the top 12 Sherlock Holmes stories. (See: Part One  and Part Two.)

3) The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902): It’s no wonder that Sherlock Holmes' third novel  is  the most often adapted Sherlock Holmes story. It’s rich with atmosphere with its setting on the moor. It also has some genuinely scary moments with the menace of the titular hound as well as some great elements that add suspense such as the escaped convict. If the story suffers at all, it’s from the fact that Sherlock Holmes is off stage for much of the story. But this really gives Watson a chance to shine as both an observer and a man of action.

2) The Adventure The Red Headed League (1890) This is a good concept that comes with a built in moral. A man gets paid a fantastic salary by the Red Headed League for copying pages from the encyclopedia because he has an amazing head of red hair. However, the Red Headed League disappears as quickly as it appeared sending the confused shopkeeper to Holmes.

There are two things that are really fascinating about this story. The first is the idea of a superior intelligence preying on people’s greed and stupidity to victimize another person. This would be revisited (albeit without as much success) in "The Stockbroker’s Clerk" and "The Three Garidebs." The second thing is just seeing how Holmes puts this whole case together. It’s one of his finest pieces of deduction as Holmes faces a worthy and underrated foe.

1) The Sign of Four (1890): This is one of the best mystery novels of all time. The Sign of Four has so much working for it. It’s a book that was decades ahead of its time. The Penguins Classic edition of this book is only 160 pages. However, it’s tightly written and manages to work so much in. You have a great puzzle mystery, combined with creepy and memorable characters, a fast-paced quick moving story, and even a good action and chase scene. It includes a flashback to the past that reveals what happened in backstory but unlike in A Study in Scarlet, the flashback section is interesting and doesn’t drag on forever.

This story works on so many levels, particularly when you consider how dry and one dimensional detective fiction was for decades after that. While the Sign of Four is often overshadowed by The Hound of the Baskervilles,  from my point of view,  The Sign of Four is the better novel. The Sign of Four was decades ahead of its time. Decades after The Sign of Four, most mystery novels were rather one dimensional puzzle mysteries but The Sign of Four showcases everything a good mystery novel can be and that it was written in the 19th century is a testimony to Doyle's genius.

That concludes my list. I'd love to hear about yours. Please share about your favorite Holmes stories in the comments.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

2Aug/140

Top 12 Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part Two

We continue our countdown of the top 12 Sherlock Holmes stories. (See: Part One.)

7) The Scandal in Bohemia (1891)

A case that Holmes was mastered in. It’s a clever and satisfying story about Holmes attempt to obtain incriminating leters and a photograph that could compromise the King of Bohemia and his upcoming wedding. The story plays off of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” but takes the story in a different direction. The result is a very bold short story, particularly as a choice to lead off the first Sherlock Holmes short story collection.

6) The Adventure of the Six Napoleons (1904)

This is a story that illustrates what sets Sherlock Holmes apart from the Scotland Yard. It’s not just that he finds the right answers.  It's that he asks the right questions. When a series of burglaries occur involving busts of Napoleon, Scotland Yard concludes that its the work of a monomaniac and sets about finding him but Holmes sees the puzzle of why he’s smashing the busts to be an open question and that leads to a different investigation. Also, I really like the tribute Inspector Lestrade pays to Holmes at the end of the story. It says a lot about Holmes and how his relationship has develop with Scotland Yard over the prior two decades.

5) The Speckled Band (1892)

This was actually Doyle’s favorite of his stories and there’s plenty of iconic moments. The mystery and the solution to it are the stuff of nightmares. It’s a story with a lot of suspense and a thrilling conclusion. I also love Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s take on Holmes, “Holmes the meddler. Holmes the busybody. Holmes the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office.” It’s a classic scene of a man trying in vain to deflect Sherlock Holmes with invective and antics. Roylott makes for a fantastic villain and that makes this a particularly enjoyable read.

4) The Silver Blaze (1892)

Sherlock Holmes’ search for a missing race horse seems seems a simple enough problem at first with a mysterious stranger having been seen in the area on the night the horse disappeared, and its trainer was killed. The solution is far different than we imagined and is extremely clever. This is a wonderfully constructed mystery and was the only Holmes story cited by Father Brown creator G.K. Chesterton in his essay on how to write detective fiction. This is also a story where Holmes solves the case  with a nice dramatic flourish, withholding the solution to Watson, the owner, and Inspector Gregory until the day of the big race.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

26Jul/140

The Top 12 Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part One

The Sherlock Holmes stories are remarkable. While there have been some innovators in the detective genre in past 90 years or so that have added new wrinkles and and twists to the genre, Doyle’s work stands up as must-read for serious mystery fans.

There were countless genius detectives solving crimes, but none are loved or revered like Sherlock Holmes. While there were a few stories that didn’t work and some people read struggle with the Victorian setting, the Sherlock Holmes canon of fifty-six short stories and four novels has stood the test of time remarkably well. Which of them are the best?

Over the next three weeks, I’ll post my list of the top twelve Sherlock Holmes’ stories:

12) The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (1892):

This is one of the definitive holiday detective stories. This murderless mystery is a great puzzle that begins simply enough after a man lost his hat and a Christmas goose.  It really starts with what seems like an incident that seems like it should be beneath the notice of the great Sherlock Holmes but is really a fascinating puzzle. Doyle shows that while some mysteries involve sensational or salacious details, it’s not always necessary. I also love how the ending is both consistent with Holmes’ character and appropriate for the spirit of the Season.

11) The Devil’s Foot (1910):

The story tells of Holmes and Watson visiting Cornwall for a rest. However, Holmes  is pulled into investigating a mysterious death and insanity that afflicted a family. It is a haunting and chilling story that manages to merge the right elements of horror and the detective story. Great atmosphere throughout and a satisfying resolution makes this a winning story.

10) The Empty House (1903)

Sherlock Holmes was a character not even his creator could kill off. The “Empty House” is a wonderful story that tells us what really happened when Holmes faced Moriarty in, "The Final Problem" and then sets Holmes against the deadly Colonel Sebastian Moran. This was a great story to welcome Sherlock Holmes back to literary life.

9) The Adventure of the Naval Treaty (1893):

A truly engaging mystery. It manages to have major stakes with British national security, while also present a more personal problem for a young diplomat for whom the disappearance of this treaty has cast a shadow over his career. The story is engaging with some great clues, a great conclusion, and Holmes wrapping it all up with a theatrical flourish.

8) The Problem of Thor Bridge (1922)

This story of a seemingly sweet and benevolent governess facing a charge for murder is one of the best of the later Sherlock Holmes stories. The "Problem of Thor Bridge"  is engaging and the solution is classic. While many 1920s Holmes stories are disliked by fans and critics alike, this one is a true gem.

Continued Next week...

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

23Mar/140

Video Theater 050: The Sign of Four

Arthur Wontner stars in this adaption of Sherlock Holmes' greatest case.

Release Date: May 1932

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

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

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

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

f you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

19Jan/140

Video Theater 048: The Sleeping Cardinal

Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Wontner) is on the trail of Professor Moriarty in a tale of intrigue and murder.

Release Date: February 1931

3Nov/130

Video Theater 046: The Speckled Band

Sherlock Holmes (Alan Napier) investigates the case of a frightened heiress.

Original Air Date: March 25, 1949

Subscribers

Pages

Friends of the Show

GAR Links

Great OTR LInks

Other Old Time Radio Shows

November 2014
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Tags

Categories

Archives