Tag: Golden Age article

DVD Review: Forgotten Noir, Volume Seven

Forgotten Noir, Volume 7 collects three B-movie mystery/adventure films from the 1950s, all of which had interest to me as a fan of old time radio.

The first is David Harding, Counter Spy. Based on the long-running Phillip H. Lord radio series, the film has a framing device of a commentator who blasted the government, having the idea of counter-espionage explained to him through a story that occurred during World War II as a Navy Lieutenant Commander is called in to find out how information is being leaked from a torpedo manufacturing plant. The framing device is unnecessary and the film has a few slower moments, but this is the best film in the set as it was made as a studio B picture for Columbia rather than as an Independent release.

Next up is Danger Zone. There’s some confusion around this movie. Some say it’s based on Pat Novak for Hire starring Jack Webb. It’s actually based on the Pat Novak for Hire ripoff Johnny Madero, Pier 23 also starring Jack Webb. Future Ward Cleaver Hugh Beaumont stars as Dennis O’Brien, who is Johnny Madero by another name. This movie adapts two different stories made over radio with little to link them, apparently to allow the option of splitting them to air on television. One of the stories adapts an existing radio episode, “The Fatal Auction” and follows the plot beat for beat.

The biggest change is that rather than having his confidant be a waterfront priest, Dennis’ go-to guy, Professor Frederic Schiker, is a Jocko Madigan-type drunk who lives with O’Brien, which does save on scene changes. I did miss the character’s chiding (which was a feature of both Pat Novak and Johnny Madero) and without that the performance is a bit flat. The stories are decent, but the acting is a bit off. Even Beaumont, true pro that he was, seemed to not totally believe the off-the-wall hard boiled lines he was being asked to deliver. It does make me appreciate the unique quality that allowed Jack Webb to deliver those lines with as much conviction as he did.

Finally, we have The Big Chase. I was interested in this film as it starred Mystery is My Hobby and Stand by for Crime star Glenn Langan and his wife (and Stand by for Crime co-star) Adele Jurgens as a rookie policeman and his expectant wife. The story does have some nice features. Langan’s character is given depth as we learned why he joined the force and why he wants to get into the juvenile division. Langan does a good job and plays his part without the more refined voice he does his most famous radio voice in.

The story features better talent than you’d expect with a film like this with Lon Chaney, Jr. playing one of the bad guys and Douglas Kennedy playing our hero’s police Lieutenant buddy. It also featured Joe Flynn (of McHale’s Navy fame) in one of his earliest film roles as a reporter in yet another unnecessary set of framing scenes. The film is called the Big Chase for a reason. It has a twenty minute chase scene that’s a lot of fun. It involves cars, trains, a helicopter, boats, as well as some fisticuffs, and gun play. It’s not perfectly executed but makes up for it with some nice location shooting which can cover a multiple of film-making sins for many fans.

The big problem with the film is that it is severely padded. It runs a little over an hour and has enough interesting material to fill somewhere between 25-35 minutes. The chase really gets started nearly 40 minutes in, and prior to that the pacing was positively glacial.

I was glad to watch the films, but this is one of those ones I couldn’t recommend for everyone. This is a film that you have to be an OTR buff to appreciate. We have a well-known radio series coming to film, an obscure radio series coming to film, and a star of two lesser known radio series playing a policeman in a slow, dull film that gives way to an impressive low budget chase. As the saying goes, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you would like.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

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Book Review: Dick Tracy: Dailies and Sundays: 1931-33

Dick Tracy is the legendary detective created by Chester Gould whose comic strip adventures continue until this day. Dick Tracy first hit newspapers in 1931 and this book collects his first strips from October 1931 to May 1933.

This collection is notable for what you won’t find: any of Tracy’s garish rogues gallery. No Flattop, Mumbles, or Pruneface. The most prominent villain is Big Boy, but in here he’s a regular mob boss. The colorful villains would come much later for Tracy. This book features Tracy taking on thieves, kidnappers, and racketeers that were typical 1930s villains.

The book opens with the father of Tracy’s fiancée being murdered. Tracy joins the police force in order to catch the killer. The most unrealistic part of this entire collection is when Tracy is so quickly graduated and placed in a leadership position on the force with no explanation. Three months later, he slacks off because of personal problems with Tess and is demoted to uniform duty and complains about how he was demoted despite all he’d done in the three months on the force. 

Once you get past that silliness, the book is good. The crimes aren’t outlandish and Tracy’s methods are pretty solid for a 1930s newspaper strip, featuring some real detective work. The book also did go for some “ripped from the headlines” cases. For example just after the Lindbergh kidnapping, Tracy had to solve a similar baby kidnapping case.

Other than introducing Tracy and Tess Trueheart, the book’s important contribution is introducing Junior, the homeless, seeming orphan who Tracy adopts, or perhaps it may be he adopts Tracy.  He becomes part of the action on several occasions and you can see why he’s often viewed as a precursor of teenage sidekicks like Robin, the Boy Wonder and Captain America’s sidekick Bucky Barnes.

The art in the book starts off looking a bit primitive but as Gould continues to draw, it becomes a lot more polished. The book is mostly in black and white with the exception of the earliest Sunday strips. These strips didn’t follow the daily strip plot, opting instead for a separate mystery or  sometimes just a one-off gag strip. They continued until May 1932.

The book also includes an interview with Gould by his successor on the Tracy comic strip, Max Allan Collins. 

Overall, while the book doesn’t capture Tracy at the peak, it does manage to capture Tracy’s beginnings and also help readers understand how Tracy became so popular in the first place with fun and exciting stories, detective work, and a broad-based appeal to multiple members of the family with character drama and a kid sidekick. Worth a read for both Tracy diehards and those who are curious about the beginnings of this iconic character.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Is a New Golden Age of Audio Dramas Coming

As we hunker down during the global pandemic, those with more leisure time have binged a whole lot of television and been able to find distraction in new episodes of their favorite programs.

Many live late night programs have continued with the host at home and guests also at home. While this can work to an extent for Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, it raises a point.

How is this going to work for scripted dramas? There are so many logistical issues with filming a TV show or movie. The sheer number required to be working together on the set, the close proximity that actors have to get to each other, etc. If some form of social distancing continues to be enforced, any TV shows and movies produced during this time are going to look quite odd. That’s if they can be produced at all.

While it’d be an interesting idea to do more animation of popular TV shows, the truth be told, there’s not going to be time before the Fall Season to produce high quality animation to continue beloved shows.

The answer may be for the shows to re-embrace the audio medium they abandoned nearly sixty years ago and work to release new programs over radio. British Audio Drama company Big Finish announced on March 17th that it was suspending recording due to the COVID-19 virus and therefore would not be in studio. However, 9 days later, they were back in production having discovered that most of their stars could work from home and the direction could also be done remotely.

Dramatic podcasts around the world have been doing the same thing for years, as producers using affordable software have been able to mix and blend voices from thousands of miles away to tell stories via audio that sound just like they were recorded with all actors in the studio together.

While it might be tempting for any audio content to go to a premium provider like Audible, there’s going to be a larger audience for radio and a good potential to earn advertising revenue during a time when filming’s going to be difficult. The added listeners might also help radio stations who have seen their listening numbers decline with less people on the roads.

Several types of radio programs could work over radio during this period:

  1. Exploring Continuity Gaps:

A lot of dramatic television is highly serialized today. In an earlier era of television where continuity was light, it’d be easy if you made one-off radio episodes that told previously untold one-off adventures. That’s harder today because so many episodes are interconnected. TV shows also won’t want to continue their ongoing planned storylines over radio because we hope that television will eventually return to normal and they don’t want to mess up their reruns and resyndication plans by having audio episodes you have to listen to in order to understand what’s going on. They would have to re-record the audio shows for TV and I assume they won’t want to do that.

Some series could return and explore gaps in the continuity. For example, months often pass in-world between the end of one season and the start of another. If a TV series has already shot its season finale and knows that it wants to start the next season by jumping forward several months, it might do a radio series that explores what happens in those intervening months.

It might also explore past gaps in continuity. For example, the third season of the CW Series The Flash ended with the hero being imprisoned in the otherworldly Speed Force. The fourth season began after his friends had protected the city for six months in his absence. In the premier episode, they bring him back from the Speed Force. CW could commission a radio series based on what happened during that six-month period.

2. Spin Offs

Many programs have had popular guest characters and this might be a great time to explore whether their stories might be worth exploring in their own right. Creating Spin Offs will once again spare the main series from having to mess with its continuity. If the radio spin off works well, then a TV spin off may make sense once all returns to normal.

3. Return of the Cancelled Shows

Some shows continue to be popular even though they’ve gone into reruns. A new Golden Age of Radio could see them return for a limited run. There are two approaches that could be taken. First, is the continuity gap solution listed above. Secondly, you could set a show after its finale.

Monk would be a fun program to bring back by either approach. Attempts at making a Monk movie over the last 11 years have been stymied, but a series of radio dramas could hit the spot in these difficult times.

4. Original Programming

The networks have a whole host of ideas for concepts for new TV programs. Many of these could be adapted to radio, as well as bringing programs especially created for radio to light. Radio could provide a low-cost way to test the market for shows that would have high production values on TV.

5. Movie Adaptations

During the Golden Age of Radio, the Lux Radio Theater, Screen Guild Theater, and Screen Director’s Playhouse were dedicated to adapting movies to an audio format and recreated great big screen moments over the radio.

In the 1980s, George Lucas sold rights to adapt the Star Wars Trilogy to NPR for $1 per film and NPR produced adaptations of each of the first three films in the trilogy.

Adaptations of other popular films to radio with some of the original cast would be worth exploring. The Star Wars adaptations were popular even though fans could now watch the original films on VHS or TV.

Star Wars has a devoted fan base, which was key to the success of the audio dramas. Any successful adaptation of film to radio would have to be of a film which features equally devoted fans.

Overall, a new golden age of audio dramas would offer the entertainment industry a chance to bring something positive out of the awful events of the last few months, and I hope they avail themselves of the opportunity.

TV Episode Review: Murder She Wrote:A Christmas Secret

In “A Christmas Secret,” a Gulf War Veteran is set to marry Elizabeth, the daughter of a prominent Cabot Cove couple. While visiting for the holidays, Charlie receives an anonymous blackmail tape. When the woman who made the tape is nearly murdered, Jessica seeks to unravel the mystery.

What Works:

This episode has nearly everything you’d expect from a Murder She Wrote Christmas episode. The mystery has lots of suspects and potential motives as well as its share of red herrings

As this was from Season 9, the show was past the point where old Hollywood legends were showing up every week, but the recurring Cabot Cove cast is fun and the guest cast is solid.

The story has the right holiday flavor. It has just the right sentiment and rarely becomes saccharine or cheesy.

What Doesn’t Work:

Cabot Cove is supposed to be in Maine, but the show is filmed in California. That was never more obvious than seeing the streets snowless in December. The story features a Christmas trope of, “Will there be a White Christmas, it means so much to Character X.” I can’t help but feel the plot is a Hollywood ploy to avoid having to cover sets in fake snow for Christmas-related stories. It certainly feels that way here.

The solution requires a colorblind person to be completely incapable of making adjustments for her disability, and I have to admit I’m not entirely sure whether the writers have portrayed it accurately.

Overall:
This is a nice little Christmas treat. It’s neither the best Christmas mystery or the best Murder She Wrote, but it makes for fun holiday viewing.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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What Joe Friday Did

We offer a t-shirt that tells us Joe Friday never said “Just the facts, ma’am.” This often lead to the question, what did Joe Friday say and do?  In this article, we’ll break down highlights from Sergeant Friday’s appearance in more than 600 television and radio show episodes, two movies, and one novel I’ve read. Some are serious and some are fun, but it’s all in the spirit of celebrating one of the most iconic character of TV’s golden age. For simplicity’s sake, all programs first broadcast on radio will be cited using their radio dates. Programs aired after 1955 will not include a reference to medium unless it’s a book.

General facts:

-Friday and his partner were so in demand, they changed departments often (sometimes every week)

-Friday spent hours waiting for suspects to show up, spent days on fruitless stakeouts and spent entire patrols waiting to catch a criminal.

-While Friday is known for the epic speeches entered into congressional record, he favored the snappy one-liners he delivered nearly every episode.

Friday career highlights and facts:

-Friday joined the force sometime before 1939 (Radio: 07/14/1949) His time on the police force was interrupted by service in World War II (Radio: 01/05/1950) where he made a friend who subsequently committed a crime that got him sent to prison.

-He nearly blew up City Hall when he tripped while carrying a bomb in a bucket. Thankfully, it didn’t go off due to a flaw in the wiring.

-Friday lived with his mother  (Radio: 05/04/1950) for many years until she went back East to live with other relatives.

-While undercover, Friday was twice hired to kill a woman. (Radio: 09/28/1950, TV: November 6, 1967)

-Friday was sent undercover to buy drugs, but when it came time to do the buy to arrest the suppliers, the police didn’t have money to complete the buy. Friday was given a stack of whatever money various captains could get at the last minute, pieces of newspaper, and good wishes that the suppliers wouldn’t insist on examining Friday’s roll too closely. (Radio: 10/26/1950)

-Friday helped a convicted narcotic’s dealer’s kids and helped his wife get a job. This led the convict to give a Friday a lead on a $100,000 narcotics ring. (Radio:01/03/1952)

-After a woman tried to abandon her baby born out of wedlock, Friday and his partner intervened to help her and to gain understanding from her husband. (Original Air Date:04/10/1952)

-Friday once had a girlfriend named Anne who stood by him after he was forced to kill a young man in the line of duty (TV:12/17/1953). However, she was never seen again once he made the fatal relationship move of getting her a stationary set for Christmas despite warnings from Frank Smith. (Radio:12/22/1953)

-Joe Friday and Frank Smith once got into an epic indoor technocolor fist fight against a mob boss’ local hoods. (Dragnet Movie:September 4, 1954)

-Friday once stood silently on a porch for ten minutes in the middle of an investigation while an old man read a long essay about the love of dogs. (Radio:11/16/1954)

-Friday played charades when he was eleven but doesn’t understand why adults would do that. (Radio: 08/09/1955)

-Friday and Smith went out of their way to make sure an escaped convict doesn’t suspect his wife came to them and told them about him. (Radio:08/09/1955)

-Friday watched the Boston Blackie  TV show. (Book: Dragnet: The Case of the Courteous Killer)

-Friday stopped a neo-Nazi from blowing up a school that was integrating. (TV:January 19, 1967)

-Friday failed to sign a receipt for ransom money leading to a frown and a long conversation with the Captain. (Original Air Date: February 9, 1967)

-Friday wrestled a teenager with a live grenade. (Original Air Date:  September 14, 1967)

-Friday was brought before a shooting board and found justified in shooting a burglar at a laundromat. (Original Air Date: September 21, 1967)

-Friday once took half an hour out of his date to hold a debate with a drug guru. (Original Air Date: January 11, 1968)

-In the premier of Dragnet 1969, Friday and his partner went on a TV panel show and spent the entire program debating a calm professor and an over-the-top rebel setting the tone for all the excitement in that season. (Original Air Date: September 19, 1968)

-Friday worked to recruit African American police officers, including a character played by O.J. Simpson. (Original Air Date: October 3, 1968)

-Friday and his partner provided support for the LAPD Command post when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. (Original Air Date: October 10, 1968)

-Friday helped the Secret Service with an uneventful visit by the President, since it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: November 14, 1968)

-Friday helped with the training and recruitment of policewomen. (Original Air Date: November 21, 1968)

-Friday and Gannon went out in the woods and wore casual clothes to have internal police conversations about community relations because once again it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: January 2, 1969)

-Friday and Gannon tracked down a dog that bit a little girl and saved her  from having to take an anti-rabies serum she was allergic to. (Original Air Date: March 27, 1969)

-Friday went back to college to get a Master’s Degree in order to become a better police officer.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Friday showed a fellow student he knew the difference between cooking spices when a student was openly carrying a bag of marijuana. He claimed, “It’s oregano,” and that he was no different than any other student carrying cooking spices to class in plastic bags.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Joe, in making the arrest, strained his friendship with a woman in class he’d been friendly with. Thus she never received a stationery set for Christmas. However, despite losing any chance at a close relationship, Friday was saved from being thrown out of class by a one-eyed lawyer. (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

For the purpose of this list, I consider all Dragnet productions featuring Jack Webb to be connected. Two episodes of Dragnet present a combined problem. In the July 10, 1949 radio episode of Dragnet a criminal who Friday and Romero put away 10 years ago comes for a visit. This indicates Friday had been a cop for at least 10 years (when this was interrupted by war service as detailed later in 1950 in the Big Escape.) However in the Dragnet TV episode, the Shooting Board aired on September 21, 1967, Friday stated he’d been on the force twelve years then and contradicted the radio/1950s TV series about the number of times he’d drawn his weapon.

It can be argued that Dragnet 1967 was neither a continuation or a revival of the original radio/TV series but a soft reboot in the same way DC Comics subtly changed the timelines of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to reflect a more recent beginning for each of these iconic characters. This theory is bolstered by the fact Joe Friday ended the original series as a Lieutenant but was back to being a Sergeant in the 1960s series.

However, I’d rather not go for the Dragnet multiverse and just acknowledge the series was not into continuity. The reference to breaking a case ten years previously in 1949 made Joe Friday older than Webb (who had just turned 29) while the reference in 1967 to having been on the force twelve years served to make Friday younger than the forty-seven-year-old Webb.

At any rate, here are a few stand out facts about Joe Friday. If there are any that I stand out to you, please share in the comments.

Other fun quotes. Check out some great Joe Friday/Dragnet quotes at the Internet Archive or Wikiquote.

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