Month: September 2021

EP3570: Philo Vance: The Case of The Girl Who Came Back

A wealthy man calls Vance in claiming a twenty-year-old woman is pretending to be his daughter that drowned nine years previously.

Original Air Date: July 26, 1945

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EP3569: Man Called X: India

Herbert Marshall

The Man Called X goes to India to safeguard efforts to prevent a famine in India and overcome propaganda against those efforts.

Original Air Date: April 7, 1951

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EP3568: Jeff Regan: The Lady By the Fountain

The Lyon wants Regan to horn in on the investigation of some insured stolen jewels.

Original Air Date: October 5, 1949

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EP3567: Casey. Crime Photographer: Hot New Year’s Eve Party

Stats Cotsworth

Casey and Ann begin in New York by looking into an arson/murder and the related kidnapping of a college professor.

Original Air Date: January 1, 1948

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Video Theater 212: Sheriff of Cochise: Red-Haired Stranger

A wanted man comes to town, dyes his hair to lay low and then kills a local mechanic.

Season 1, Episode 10

Original Air Date: November 23, 1956

EP3566: Tales of the Texas Rangers: Just a Number

Ranger Jace Pearson’s called in when an entire family was murdered on their farm.

Audition Date: April 19, 1950

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Telefilm Review: The Magician

The Magician was a 1973 pilot film for a TV series starring Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.) Bixby plays a stage magician who solves mysteries. The pilot has a 70-minute runtime as opposed to most later pilots that opt for either a forty-five-minute regular pilot episode of a series or a TV Movie length. This was aired over NBC which was doing the “Mystery Wheel” format at the time with rotating 90-minute mystery movies being aired, so that’s the reason for the odd length.

Tony Dorian*(Bixby) is sought out by a mother who’s daughter supposedly died in a plane wreck after a man who had been on the plane (and also was supposed to have died) has a spontaneous heart attack at Dorian’s performance. Dorian has to find out what happened to the woman’s daughter and thwart the very dangerous and powerful people who want to stop him.

The 1970s was a golden age for the TV Detective. The Magician has a lot of gimmicks that make it stand out from its contemporaries.. The wealthy playboy aspect of Dorian’s character is somewhat reminiscent of Banacek but Dorian’s different style plus the fact he cared not one whit for money makes that comparison strained. From this movie, the best comparison I could make is that Dorian is the Saint, if the Saint were a magician.

Bixby’s performance is good. He was superb at playing characters with a kindly nature. At the same time, he manages to play the mystery and the ultimate coolness of his character in a way that’s relatable and pleasing to watch.

With a name like The Magician, the series promises magic and spectacle and delivers. We get the same magic trick twice, but it’s an impressive and fun illusion to watch. 1970s was also a great era for chase scenes in detective shows and this featured one of the best-filmed and most-fun ones to watch (even if the logic of why the chase is done is a bit elusive.)

The series also cast a solid actor to play the first guest villain in Hollywood veteran Barry Sullivan. Sullivan could still really bring a sense of menace to his character and he made a great foil for Bixby.

The theme tune is a solid fit for the era and a good listen, with some real complexities in the composition. It’s great to listen to, though I doubt it’s an earworm that sticks with you unless you grew up with it.

The plot of the episode was a bit convoluted and had a couple holes such as the puzzling actions of the security team pursuing our hero in the final act.

The movie’s biggest fault is it may try a little too hard. We learn our hero lives on a plane piloted by Jerry (Julian Christopher) and is also friends with a sophisticated but unconventional columnist named Max (Keene Curtis) who lives with his wife and computer genius wheelchair-bound son Dennis (Todd Crespy.)  We also get quick exposition explaining that Tony’s life is a real-life version of the Count of Monte Cristo. 

Some of this may have benefitted by a feature-length pilot episode, but there’s too much going on for a series like this which is always going to focus mostly on Tony investigating the case on his own. When that’s going on, the film is a lot of fun to watch. At other times, it just feels like we have too many characters on-screen that we hardly know anything about.

If you like Bill Bixby’s acting, or enjoy a 1970s detective series with a little bit more flash, this film is worth watching.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The telefilm is included on the Complete Series disk for The Magician. 

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EP3565: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Syndicate Matter

John Lund

Johnny investigates the “accidental” deaths of three men working on an oil operation.

Original Air Date: March 24, 1953

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EP3564: Philo Vance: The Case of the Cellini Cup

Philo Vance investigates the murder of the owner of a curio shop.

Original Air Date: April 29, 1943

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AWR0175: The Eternal Light: A Man is Not a Thing (Ed Asner Tribute)

Amazing World of Radio

Two American G.I.’s in Casablanca meet a young Moroccan Jew and encourage his dream of going to Jerusalem. Features Ed Asner.

Original AIr Date: April 22, 1956

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EP3563: Man Called X: The Blue Unicorn

Herbert Marshall

The Man Called X goes to Ireland to stay in a full of suspicious characters in hopes of recovering stolen papers.

Original AIr Date: March 31, 1951

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EP3562: Bill Lance: Special Delivery

Bill Lance is hired to deliver a rare necklace to Paris.

Original Air Date: October 19, 1947

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EP3561: Casey, Crime Photographer: The Life of the Party

Stats Cotsworth

A practical joker is killed at the house of a famous sculptor.

Original AIr Date: December 18, 1947

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Book Review: The Benson Murder Case

The Benson Murder Case (1926) is the first Philo Vance novel written by S.S. Van Dine. The series was popular and spawned multiple film and radio versions into the 1950s. In this novel, a wealthy man about town is murdered. Philo Vance is a wealthy dabbler in a variety of topics and a friend of District Attorney Markham. Vance decides to apply his mind and unique theories of crime-solving to the murder case.

The best thing you can say about Philo Vance in this book is that he’s a man of his times. There was an appeal to many in the 1920s for a hero who was utterly cynical, flippant, was better and smarter than anyone else and was not afraid to say so and put down his inferiors. However, I found him rather insufferable through most of this book. This is hurt by author S.S. Van Dine who goes on and on about him and spends much of the first third of the book highlighting every aspect of the personality of what he seems convinced is the most fascinating person on Earth.

He also had a premise that he was seeking to prove: the importance of psychology in solving crime. This actually wasn’t all that uncommon of a notion among golden age literary detectives. This was a response to the way police forces had evolved. When Sherlock Holmes was introduced, the premise was that the police were dull when it came to observing and interpreting due to a lack of imagination and a lack of ability to apply scientific methods to the classification of evidence. The popularity of Holmes’ stories led to an increase in the use of scientific methods and forensic evidence.

In the world of many golden age detectives, the police were no longer dunderheads who couldn’t understand the importance of things like fingerprints and not traipsing through murder scenes, destroying valuable clues. Rather, according to the new theory, police relied too heavily on the physical evidence and would use it to build circumstantial cases against innocent people. Many golden age detectives would find the true guilty party, not through some elaborate or clever method of detection, but through an understanding of the human condition and human tendencies. This understanding often told the detective what happened and then with that knowledge they could find corroborating evidence to prove their theories. To an extent, this idea of using this sort of method was practiced by golden age detectives such as Father Brown and Hercule Poirot.

Whether this was true or not in real life, the masters of the genre made it believable enough that the reader bought it for the purposes of the story. In the case of Philo Vance, though, his advocacy for psychological evidence is made fatuous by his over-the-top argument against physical evidence having any significance at all. That makes watching him solve the case and be  (in some way) proven right a somewhat annoying experience. Reading this book is like watching the most annoying person you can imagine spending hours spouting rubbish and come up with the right answer.

That said, once you plow through the first third of the book, the mystery itself isn’t all that bad. It’s pretty clever and well-plotted once we get past all the preliminaries. But again, there are mysteries just as good with protagonists who are not nearly as aggravating.

This is a book I can only recommend if you’re curious about the origins of a detective that ended up featured in numerous films and radio programs and\or if you’re into unlikable golden-age detectives. It’s worth checking out from the library, but I can’t recommend a buying it. The book enters the public domain in the United States in January and will be free to download from sites such as Project Gutenberg soon thereafter. If you’re curious about the book, there’s really not a good reason to not wait for it to become freely available.

Rating: 2.75 out of.5

EP3560: Squad Room: Body Found in a Plastic Bag

The police investigate when dismembered body parts are found in a plastic bag.

Original Air Date: 1955

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