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

5Dec/090

What I’ve Been Listening To

I've gotten ahead a little bit ahead on my shows. (In fact other than Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, I've completed recording every episode until the end of the Year.)

I don't want to get too far ahead of my listeners. I like to discover the stories with you as we go, not to have listened to everything. (Confession: I have been listening to some of the 5-part Johnny Dollars. They are excellent and can easily fit into my day.)

I'll share some of what I've heard and my thoughts.

On the detective side, I've listened to Nick Carter, Master Detective, The Saint, Mystery is My Hobby, Philip Marlowe, and Candy Matson, and I've loved them all. I'll have a lot more to say when we get to show these old time radio classics.

Barrie Craig Confidential Investigator has to be one of the best characters, as a person that you'll find in the radio eye world. He's a true good guy, who cares about his clients, ethics. The most moral PI you'll find.

I was surprised by Charlie Chan, who has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. Some have viewed Charlie Chan as little more than an offensive racial stereotype. However, I was plesantly surprised when I listened to a Charlie Chan episode from the 1940s where Inspector Chan's daugther was kidnapped. What struck me while listening to the episode was the real core of Charlie Chan. He was dealing with a parent's worst nightmare, and it was effecting drama that everyone could relate to. In the show, the Chan kids are helping with the war bond effort and Inspector Chan pledges to do his part. The message of this World War II-era Charlie Chan radio show was not that Chinese Americans are different from us, but that they were Americans, particularly the kids who sounded like any other kids.  Earl Derr Biggers wrote the character to combat racial bigotry against Asians.

I think the one rule for enjoying a story is you have to take it not according to what we'd expect from a modern character, but the Spirit in which the story was written, which was one of good will. The late Fletcher Chan had a balanced look at the character from a modern Asian perspective. We'll have to wait a while to hear Chan, and we don't have that much to play.

I listened to Ellery Queen and I'm truly sorry that more episodes of that great detective show haven't survived.  There are generally about 20 actual Ellery Queen Mysteries (not counting the minute mysteries, which I don't) still in existence.

The show's got some clever plots and a very unique format when they step away from the radio show and ask an in-studio armchair detective their thought on the solution. You get a reminder of the fleeting nature of celebrity as most of these "celebrities" are totally obscure in the 21st Century.

One show has been the source of some confusion. The episode, "The Armchair Detective"  is often listed as guest starring Orson Welles. While, I could definitely see that based on the fact that the character has a Wellesesque voice and delivers a death line line include the word "Rosemary,"  I seriously doubt it was Welles himself.  At the end of the show, they let us know who'd been in the cast. It's really hard to imagine if Orson Welles had played a role in a radio show that his name would have been left out.

Frank Race is a favorite of mine, and truly had the best use of an organ in a detective show. It's really stirring.

Three that I'm not sure of are Bulldog Drummond and A.I. Moto. Bulldog Drummond seems to just not connect with me. A.I. Moto is okay, but it feels like it's a spy show rather than a detective show. And Bold Venture feels more like an adventure show than a detective show.

Non-Detective Shows

The Family Theater (a show made on the premise of the importance of family prayer and showcasing episodes about faith and family)...Simply incredible. Really, beautifully put together family drama. Don't want to listen to those in a public place. A grown man shouldn't be walking around with tears running down his face.

Greatest Story Ever Told (stories from the life of Christ and stories that kinda could have happened)...This show's okay, though I think some of the messages end up a little more ham-handed than Family Theater and their addition of extra-biblical details is hit and miss.

You Are There (A CBS News show doing radio news broadcast re-enactments of history): Simply awesome. I found this show stunning.  I've listened to a couple episodes, one about the passage of the Declaration of Independence and one providing news coverage of the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. They really took you back.  I was really emotionally moved by the Lincoln episode. My wife asked me what was going on. I told her I was listening to information about the assination of the President.  And had to clarify, it was Lincoln, not Obama I was hearing about.  This is an educational experience that really takes you THERE.

Life with Luigi: This is a really sweet comedy series about the little immigrant coming to America, and his experiences. I loved this show.

Couple Next Door: A late 1950s fifteen minute show with more than 700 episodes. Don't know quite how I felt about it. The first episode didn't tickle my funny bone, but maybe I'll take anothe rlisten.

Abbott and Costello: I listened to an episode where Abbott actually lost his place. Costello said, "Hey Abbott, what page are you on?" Those guys were a hoot.

Horatio Hornblower: I like this show, even though I find myself having mixed feelings about the protagonist. This is the first old time radio show I've found that actually had swearing in it (though relatively mild.)  and nudity (though that's not much of an issue over the radio.)  Horatio Hornblower is imperfect and insecure, but a good man who's got an often-unpleasant job to do. The sea battles are fairly realistic, but you have to use your imagination. This radio show definitely helps.

Finally, I have listened to more of the Shadow. Some of the shows are detective shows, others are more superhero stuff. It's all fun listening. I do think that Orson Welles was truly the best Shadow.

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