Tag: mixed review

Radio Show Review: The Danny Kaye Show

The Danny Kaye show starred singer/comedian Danny Kaye and premiered in January 1945. It remained on the air until 1946 and was sponsored by Past Blue Ribbon Beer.

Kaye was a talented performer, and the show was good whenever he was given an opportunity to sing, to do zany skits, or do things that suited Danny Kaye’s talents. Yet, the show didn’t often let Kaye do that in its first season.

The first seventeen episode January-May season had the series as half a good musical/variety show and half a lame sitcom about making the show.

The series featured Eve Arden and Lionel Stander as Kaye’s sidekicks. Arden was a few years away from stardom with Our Miss Brooks, and Stander could be fun in the right role. However, they’re not  given much to work with.

The first season has some groan-inducing and tedious moments, but it’s more than made up for by the hilarious moments and Kaye’s crazy singing.

The second season that began in the fall of 1945 saw some big production changes that made the show better with a focus on Kaye interacting with guest stars, and with Butterfly McQueen becoming the show’s main comedic regular for about one scene a week.

Unfortunately, while most of the first season is in circulation, the second season is scarce. Two of the available episodes are shows for which Kaye was absent during a USO tour and had Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny filling in.  While they both did fine, they were essentially doing their own thing.

However, those episodes we do have with Kaye show a much-improved series. There’s one episode from January 25, 1946 where Kaye is his own guest star.  The episode for March 1, 1946 with Orson Welles as the guest star is my favorite as Welles critiques and analyzes the song Kaye sings at the start of each episode. The Carmen Miranda episode (February 15, 1946) is also really fun as well.  The Arthur Treacher episode (May 24, 1946) is kind of ho-hum, but still these four episodes suggest that Kaye’s second season was a good improvement on the first one.

Overall, these episodes are worth listening if you’re a Kaye fan. If you do start at the beginning and are disappointed by the weaker parts of the first season, check out what survives of Season 2 for a better experience.

 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Danny Kaye show is available for free download here

Book Review: Boston Blackie

Boston Blackie was the lead character in fourteen movies and two separate radio series’ in the 1940s and a TV series in the 1950s. Before that he was a character in a series of short stories by Jack Boyle, the first few stories were collected in the 1919 book called Boston Blackie.

In literature, Blackie was a master criminal. He was hardly alone in that as both the Lone Wolf and the Saint were reformed thieves. What made Blackie different is not only was he a thief but he was a thief written with exceedingly noble character. The book opens with an introduction where Boyle describing his first meeting with Boston Blackie in San Francisco after the San Francisco Fire where he was tenderly caring for children left homeless. Boyle highlighted his dedication to his own moral code and suggested readers were in no position to judge the man.

We learn that Blackie has a wife named Mary. This seems to be the one thing both radio and TV shows took from the book in naming Blackie’s girlfriend in both mediums. They are partners in life and in crime. Both are pillars of the criminal community.

They commit all sorts of crimes but stop short of murder. Blackie, Mary, and their friends live according to a criminal code of honor. And Blackie is the ultimate upholder of the code. In the first and best story, Blackie is robbing a safe when he meets the son of the owner, who is a poor little rich boy left all alone. Blackie manages to get the boy a better home life and bring his parents together while still getting away with a fabulous jewel.

Blackie has reasons that he thinks makes most of his crimes virtuous. He plots to steal from a ship as revenge on the ship owner for treating Mary’s father badly. Blackie gives up the fruits of one robbery to save a poor man being railroaded by the police. In keeping with the criminal codes, he goes to prison rather than turn in a criminal who killed someone.

The only tracking down of a criminal occurs when Blackie goes after a bigamist who got out of prison because of his practice of encouraging jailbreaks and snitching to the guards to get reductions in his sentence, getting several prisoners killed while escaping.

The police and prison officials are universally corrupt in the Boston Blackie stories. Framing people for crimes they didn’t commit and being willful sadists is part of the job description. In many ways, this reflects big city police corruption and plays into the distrust the public had for the police.

It may stem from writer Jack Boyle’s run ins with the law. Boyle spent 11 months in San Quentin and created Blackie while serving in Canon City near Denver.  Boyle’s stories embellished his criminal career, though. He actually was in prison for check forgery. (Source: In Search of Jack Boyle)

As a book, Boston Blackie has a twisted moral sense to it. Often times, I’ve heard old time radio police programs and various leaders from the era complaining about literature that glorifies criminals. I never understood the full thrust of what was meant by that until this book. I often imagined books that, like modern media, glorify sadistic murderers for being as bad as they wanna be. Boston Blackie instead glorifies criminals as honorable, saintly figures who live by a code of honor.

The book’s relation to the radio show and the later Chester Morris movies is a bit strained. While the Lone Wolf and the Saint shifted in literature, Blackie’s transformation from an honorable crook to straight-laced hero came exclusively on radio and film.  (Update: Curt notes in the comments that the last three Blackie stories which weren’t collected in this book saw a change in Blackie to the character he’d become in the 1940s films.) He began as a reformed thief in the Chester Morris movies. By the late 1940s, one episode of the radio series suggested Blackie had never been in trouble with the law at all.

The book comes from the same era as another book that launched a media franchise, Tracer of Lost Persons (See review here. Like Tracer of Lost Persons, this book has its share of pretty dated sappy melodrama. Unlike Tracer of Lost Persons, there’s far fewer surprises or goofiness to add to the entertainment value. The main draw of the book is if you want to see the origins of Boston Blackie as a literary character. On its own, the book doesn’t have a whole lot to commend it.

Rating 2.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season Six Review

After five seasons and thirty-six episodes, Black Jack Justice had established  the main characters of Jack Justice (Christopher Mott) and Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective (Andrea Lyons). Season six features a fair share of experimental episodes.

“Cops and Robbers” is a story told mostly by the supporting cast, “The Sky’s the Limit” is a story of a Poker game where the players try to suss out what happened on a case where no one has all the facts. “Man’s Best Friend is told from the perspective of the office dog, King.

Of the three, I think “Sky’s the Limit” was probably the best. It’s definitely fun to hear the story pieced together and to be learning details as the characters are. The ending is a bit ambiguous but it’s still a lot of fun. The other two stories have their moments but don’t work as well. The side characters are not as interesting as Jack and Trixie so that limited my enjoyment of “Cops and Robbers.” As for, “Man’s Best Friend,” the dog narration part landed flat. The approach seemed to be, “I’m a dog who thinks he’s a detective.” I think it would have been funnier had he been thinking more like an actual dog.

I personally preferred the other three episodes which were more traditional Justice and Dixon mysteries. “The Albatross” was my favorite as Lieutenant Sabian (Gregg Taylor) hires them to look into the murder of a black girl in a tenement which his superiors want him to lay off of. The episode examines the idea that certain unresolved cases haunt detectives, whether official or otherwise.  It’s a well-done episode.

Overall, while I’m not crazy about all the experimental episodes in this season, I still enjoyed it pretty well.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

You can download Black Justice Season Six from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Book Review: Dragnet Dailies Septemer-November 1952


Dragnet was not only a radio program, a TV program, and a movie in the 1950s, it was a pop culture phenomenon that not only led to spin-off novels and board games but a daily newspaper strip that spanned from 1952-1955.

Single strips have surfaced. Lewis Lovehaug (aka Linkara) did a review of an Australian Dragnet comic book which appears to have been made up of several edited newspaper strips. A few strips have appeared on various blogs around on the Internet. There does seem to be disagreement on the start date with many websites indicating 1953 as the start date, but this appears to be inaccurate. As best I can tell, it started in June 1952 and continued through May 1955.

This book collects an entire storyline from September 22-November 8, 1952. The overall plot is a good, standard Dragnet story about a search for a drug ring with the first clue coming at the scene of a drug-related accident.

The story features Frank Smith as a young police officer rather than the middle-aged character we came to know on TV. The Dragnet strip began in the interim period between the time Barton Yarborough (who played Friday’s first partner Ben Romero) died and when Ben Alexander was cast as Frank Smith. Clearly, the idea of having Friday with a younger partner appealed to Jack Webb. In addition to the newspaper strip, on a radio show, a young Martin Milner was cast as Friday’s partner Bill Lockwood for a month, but it didn’t work out, with Milner entering the military during Korea foreclosing the possibility. The newspaper strip Frank Smith does have a resemblance to Milner with a touch of Jimmy Olsen thrown in. The one plot complication is Joe Friday having a young partner makes Joe Friday going undercover as a college student seem silly. Smith would have been a more natural fit.

The art is decent with a fair likeness of Jack Webb as Friday. To be honest, it’s tough to tell how much of the mediocrity in the art has to do with the art and how much of it has to do with the quality of the scan of the material.

If you’ve read other collections of major newspaper strips, such as those published by the American Comics Library, this will probably not be all that impressive. Collections of major strips are often carefully restored. The collections are readable public domain comic strips of fair quality.

In addition, the price of $7.99 for a 42-strip story is a bit steep. Still, if you want to enjoy Dragnet as a newspaper strip and want to own a physical book as opposed to downloading them online then you may enjoy this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Mark of Zorro

On the big screen, Val Kilmer played iconic heroes such as Batman and the Saint. In 2011, he added the role of Zorro in LA Theatre works presentation of The Mark of Zorro, based on Johnston McCulley’s novel The Curse of Capistrano.

The play opens with Don Diego de la Vega (Kilmer) trying to woo the beautiful Lolita Pulido (Ruth Livier) to be his wife as his father is pressuring him to wed now that he’s in his mid-twenties. Lolita isn’t interested because of his foppish, bookish nature, however she falls in love with the masked adventurer and vigilante Zorro (also Kilmer). The villainous Captain Ramon becomes a rival for Lolita while also trying to capture Zorro.

The play has some great professional sound design and music. The cast is generally good, though a couple are very broad and big for audio. Unlike another Hollywood Theatre of the Ear Production I reviewed (The Maltese Falcon), this doesn’t have each character narrating their own actions. Instead, the events are narrated by the landlord at the local tavern (Armin Shimerman) giving the effect of the story being told to you by your friendly barkeep Shimerman. This is a fun choice and the casting may be a bit of a nod to his role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Ferengi bar owner and landlord Quark. I also think the story story did a good job establishing the culture and values of the time.

This story strives for book accuracy probably more than any other Zorro work. That does mean there are some surprises. In most adaptations, Zorro is an action hero who romances his lady. In this adaptation, Zorro is first and foremost, a romantic figure sweeping Lolita off her feet and protecting her from Captain Ramon. The story is a bit more romantic comedy than an action tale, and the dialogue and plot isn’t exactly out of Jane Austen.

Don Diego is never revealed to be Zorro, even to the audience. Zorro’s secret identity is nearly as well-known to the public as Batman’s and Superman’s, so this is odd. It’d be like a Batman movie that never showed Batman was Bruce Wayne despite the audience knowing it. Again, I think this is an example of being loyal to the book, but it didn’t work for me.

Overall, though, this was a good time. If you’d like a Zorro tale with some adventure, political intrigue, and some cheesy romance, this is a well-acted and enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Rating:3.75 out of 5.0