Audio Drama Review: Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1, Week Three

This is the third part of our review of Radio Archives’ Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1 covering the third week of the series. For a look at an overview of the set, see the first week review.  Also see week two.

Oh Really, No O’ReillyIn a Western town that’s dying out since the railroad came through Denver, a crooked saloonkeeper and a dishonest undertaker engage a corrupt insurance salesman to take out a policy on a drunk drifter named O’Reilly when plans to poison him and collect the insurance money. That becomes a lot harder than they think. Golden Age Stars: Tyler McVey, Daws Butler, Marvin Miller, Don Diamond, Barney Phillips, and Howard Culver 

Review: This was based on a true story that was the basis of many stories including the 1955 Johnny Dollar serial “The Indestructible Mike Matter.” The story is hit and miss as a dark comedy but really does turn in a few very good plot twists at the end. Grade: B- 

The First National Radio Aptitude Test. An on-air radio aptitude quiz is conducted with some interesting answers.  Golden Age Stars: Alan Young, Marvin Miller, Daws Butler, Lillian Buyeff, Mary Jane Croft, Shepard Menken, Don Diamond, and Jerry Hausner 

This is a bit different. Andy Griffith gives a monologue about radio, its history, and the golden age of radio. I did have to chuckle when Griffin said he wouldn’t say anything about those headsets being worn by joggers and young people and wondered what he’d say to our modern world’s ubiquitous all-ages use of earbuds. He then sends the show over to a radio quiz master (Young) who provides a wacky quiz while receiving constant interruptions. 

There’s a lot to like. There are some funny jokes and if you’re a fan of the golden age of radio, there’s a boatload of talent from the era represented in this little production. 

On the other hand, this is a production that tries to overwhelm you with jokes, a lot of which don’t hit. There’s a Groucho Marx/You Bet Your Life parody that goes on too long. In addition, there’s a lack of logic. It was decided they wanted to include parodies of old time radio shows and poke fun at collectors, so without explanation they stop the quiz and do that. 

Still, this was entertaining. It plays well to nostalgia, has some funny bits, but could have been better. Grade: B 

The Mask: A businessman/art collector steals an old, sinister-looking mask from Africa with a bad reputation. He gets home and finds that reputation is deserved. Golden Age Star: Ben Wright 

This is an odd one, honestly. The businessman and a corrupt local official steal the mask and then the official is hospitalized with serious burns when his stove blows up and the businessman’s family start having minor fire-related injuries. Than the story has a twist…that’s almost absurd, but I think gives it a Twilight Zone feel to it. It does have some interesting turns, but there are also some flaws in the story logic. Still, it wasn’t a bad listen. Grade: B- 

For the Love of Laura: An actress and party girl frequently proposes marriage but never follows through until she asks herself who she’d really like to marry. Golden Age Stars: Janet Waldo, Shepard Menken,  Barney Phillips, and Vic Perrin.   

Janet Waldo does as good a job with the material as anyone could and the same can be said of all the actors. That said, Laura is just not a likeable character. The whole of the story is a combination of Laura leading men on, and imagining how good/how bad it might be to be married to each one.  She remains self-absorbed and shallow and strings each of these men along while she made up her mind. I will say she does show some character growth. She’s still shallow by the end, but not nearly as shallow as when she started. She’s self-absorbed but without being as foolish about it. 

I also think there are too many guys in the story. She has five beaus: a smart guy, a weightlifter, a golfer, her agent, and a guy who looks good but whose chief personality trait is breaking out a racist joke whenever there’s a lull in the conversion. Each time she remembers or fantasizes about one of them, she has to do it with each of them in turn. With so many male characters, they end up as shallow as her. If people wanted that much shallowness, they could just watch TV. Grade: C- 

Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby: More than a thousand years in the future, a couple are permitted by their government to get married and when they get a family-sized housing unit, they think the government is going to let them have a baby. They hope to be given a pink or blue card for their new baby. Instead, they’re horrified to draw a yellow card and find the extra room is designated for a seventy-five-year-old man who was cryogenically frozen in 1975 after having a near-fatal heart attack. Golden Age Stars: Herb Vigran, Marvin Miller 

This story deals with the idea of over-population, which was a huge environmental concern of the 1970s and 1980s. But I have to give writer Elliott Lewis credit for taking a different tact than many writers of the era. He doesn’t imagine some environmental cataclysm that wipes out the human race or humans going into space. He imagines humans continuing to find ways to survive until every inch of the planet is claimed and filled, the human population is in the trillions and has a powerful computer-led government running everyone’s lives, approving decisions to get married, where they can live, and how much food they’re given.  

The government that runs the plan does horrible things but is assured of it own beneficence, even stating so after having made a mistake that ruins this young couple’s life.  Whether you agree with or like Lewis’ setup, it was strikingly different. Of course, the radio program does dance around some of the ethical implications of this society.  

And it manages to get away with it because it acknowledges some broader human themes it chooses to explore through this world that manage to work. Herb Vigran is great as the man who finds himself more than a millennium out of time, awakened by Earth’s government because they need him for some purpose they don’t tell him. The character’s humanity pushes against a bureaucratic world. The character is very likable even as he makes questionable choices. 

The story also raises questions about the wisdom of cryogenic freezing, as it shows serious downsides with a little bit of upside at the end.

I do question its inclusion for a Friday program. Given its focus on having a baby, love, and relationships, this doesn’t fit with much with the “Adventure” theme Fridays were supposed to offer. Given a Sci-fi Comedy was played by comedy day, this might been a better fit on Thursday’s love day. 

Still, this merits a grade: B+ 

Our series will conclude on January 1st

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