Author: Yours Truly Johnny Blogger

Sherlock Holmes: The Elusive Agent (Complete Adventure) (EP4334s)

Today’s Mystery:

The year is 1913 and international tensions run thick. Sherlock Holmes’s brother, Mycroft, calls him out of retirement to secure the return of stolen plans for an experimental tank.

Original Radio Broadcast Dates: March 21, 28, and April 4, 1949

Originating in New York

Starring: John Stanley as Holmes; George Spelvin as Watson

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Dragnet: The Big Man, Part One (EP4334)

Today’s Mystery:

Friday goes undercover in a narcotics gang to get to the get a drug kingpin.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: January 12, 1950

Originating from Hollywood

Starring: Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday; Barton Yarborough as Sergeant Ben Romero; Sidney Miller; Herb Butterfield; William Conrad; Peggy Webber

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Telefilm Review: Dante: Opening Night

In last week’s article, I highlighted TV programs that were not easily accessible due to copyright. Among them was Dante, the series starring Howard Duff as night club operator Willie Dante.

However, after writing the article, I was tipped off that the series was available online. The British company Talking Pictures TV is a television program that features rare old programming and is broadcast in the UK. It runs a website called TPTV Encore where you can access some of its back catalog on-demand. Some of its programming is limited release and is limited to viewers in the UK and Ireland. However, some of its productions are available worldwide, and so as a U.S. viewer, I can watch Dante. 

Since I can watch it, I figured I should review it.

Background:

Dante was a recurring feature on Four Star Playhouse, a 1950s Anthology Series. Dick Powell originated the role of Wille Dante, the operator of an illegal gambling room. The eight episodes featuring Dante aired between 1952 and 1956. A YouTube Compilation of all 8 Powell episodes is available to watch here.

In Fall 1960, Dante came to NBC TV with Howard Duff tanking over the role of Willie Dante as Powell was getting older and also moving into more behind-the-camera work.

How to Access:

To access the show, you go to the website and register for free. Once you’re registered, you can click on the “Four Star Productions” link at the top of the page which leads to a whole lot of tantalizing television, much of which isn’t available to stream anywhere else, including episodes of the 1960s cult hits Honey West and Burke’s Law, along with a good number of tantalizing programs that aren’t available for free streaming elsewhere.

The first episode that’s available is entitled “Opening Night.” According to Wikipedia, this is the second episode of the series and if the plot summary is correct, that makes sense. There are some brief commercials before the show starts as well as at least one midroll ad when I watched.

The Plot:

It’s the opening night for Dante’s new San Francisco nightclub, Dante’s Inferno. Dante insists that’s all that’s happening. There’s no gambling. He’s gone strictly legitimate. The police, encouraged by an ambitious DA, don’t buy it, and neither does an ambitious gangster who knows Dante from the old days and is determined to force Dante to make him a partner. If Dante doesn’t, it could lead to a murder, with Dante set to take the fall for it.

Review:

This feels like a proper series opener, as we’re introduced briefly to Dante, given hints about his history as well as meeting his two sidekicks for the series, Alan Mowbry and Tom D’Andrea.  Much of the first half of the program is concerned with the District Attorney’s suspicions and establishing the character. Here is a point where the series is betrayed by its half-hour length. There’s not really time to do the sort of introduction the show’s trying to do while also having a crime adventure pop up for Dante in the second half of the program.

Howard Duff’s performance is what ultimately makes the difference. Duff, who is most famous for playing Sam Spade on the radio, is just as capable here. He manages to make Dante a multi-faceted character and portray him as a cool customer who exercises a wry sense of humor while dealing with the inquiries of both the press and overly suspicious police officers, while jumping in as the big man of action in the final minutes of the story.

While the main story resolves, the episode leaves us with key questions, such as whether Dante has really given up illegal gambling and if so, why. The episode leaves viewers wanting to see more, although I don’t know whether these questions will be followed up long-term. Though they may spend too much time on set-up, it does deliver an exciting ending and Duff’s performance makes it a decent watch, and an intriguing start to the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Phantom Chase Matter, Episodes Three, Four, and Five (EP4333)

Bob Bailey

Today’s Mystery:

In New Orleans, a nasty informant has promised to take Johnny to an embezzler who made off with $120,000.

Original Radio Broadcast Dates: October 17, 18, and 19, 1956

Originating from Hollywood

Starring: Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar; Marvin Miller; Junius Matthews; Herb Ellis; D. J. Thompson; Herb Butterfield; Tony Barrett; Barbara Eiler

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Mr. Chameleon: The Case of Murder and the Attractive Shoplifter (EP4332)

Karl Swenson

Today’s Mystery:

An attractive young shoplifter, who lives in a boarding house without a basement, is stabbed to death on a busy street.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: May 4, 1949

Originating from New York City

Starring: Karl Swenson as Mister Chameleon

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Gallant American Women: These Freedoms (AWR0240)

Amazing World of Radio

Today’s Episode:

A look at women who fought for freedom of religion, speech, and the abolition of slavery.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: October 31, 1939

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Dangerous Assignment: Henrich Schwandorff (EP4331)


Today’s Mystery:

Steve goes to Germany to find a displaced person who may be able to identify a Nazi war criminal.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: March 4, 1953

Originating in Hollywood

Starring: Brian Donlevy as Steve Mitchell; Herb Butterfield as the Commissioner; Henry Roland; Jim Davis; Paul Frees

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Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Phantom Chase Matter, Episodes One and Two (EP4330)

Bob Bailey

Today’s Mystery:

Johnny is sent on the trail of a partner in a Wall Street investment firm, who jumped bail after being charged with embezzling $120,000.

Original Radio Broadcast Dates: October 15 and 16, 1956

Originated from Hollywood

Starring: Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar; Michael Ann Barrett; Jack Edwards; Ben Wright; Virginia Gregg; Don Diamond; Forrest Lewis; Richard Crenna

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The Falcon: The Case of the Double Nephews

Les Damon

Today’s Mystery:

The manager of a jewelry concern calls in The Falcon when he’s accused of stealing thousands in jewels.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: October 22, 1950

Originating from New York

Starring: Les Damon as the Falcon

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Twice Told Tale – The McCoy: Three Wayward Girls and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Starlet Matter

Once again, we take a look at an old time radio script that was recycled. In this case, the script was a pilot for a new radio series, The McCoy, and then was reused as an episode of Yours Truly Johnny Dollar.

The McCoy is called in by an agent who fears that one of his clients, a promising actress, will be murdered. While they’re talking, a phone call comes in and they learn she was strangled to death.

Originating in Hollywood

Audition date: April 24, 1951

Starring: Howard Duff as The McCoy; Sidney Miller; Sheldon Leonard; Cathy Lewis; Ed Max; Barton Yarborough

Johnny is sent to Hollywood because an agent fears his starlet client is going to be murdered. Johnny finds she’s already been strangled to death.

Originating in Hollywood

Original Air Date: January 16, 1953

Starring: John Lund as Yours Truly Johnny Dollar; Sidney Miller; Raymond Burr; Dick Ryan; John McIntire; Vic Perrin; Virginia Gregg; Jeanette Nolan

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Dragnet: The Big Escape (EP4328)

Today’s Mystery:

Joe Friday arrests an old army buddy for armed robbery.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: January 5, 1950

Originating from Hollywood

Starring: Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday; Barton Yarborough as Sergeant Ben Romero; Herb Butterfield; Stacy Harris.

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Dante and Other TV Shows in Copyright Limbo (UPDATED)

(See Update Below)

After Howard Duff hung up his fedora as radio’s Sam Spade, he took on the role of Willie Dante in the 1960-61 NBC series Dante. He plays the operator of an illegal gambling room called The Inferno, who gets into all kinds of trouble, facing off against all sorts of characters in a series that was often described as charming. The series enjoys a solid 7.5 rating on IMDB among those who remember it, which is an exceedingly small number of people.

Classic television is a niche interest and knowledge of Dante and shows like it are even more niche. The series was created in 1960 and 1961, at a time when copyright lasted for 28 years and then needed to be renewed, and it was. So the series isn’t in the public domain. It’s also not legally available anywhere. Dante is currently only available from sellers of gray market DVDs and at the time of writing, there are a couple of episodes posted on YouTube. Those aren’t legal copies, but no one’s enforcing copyright law regarding Dante. However, businesses and streaming platforms are not going to release high quality DVDs or stream a series that way.

Duff’s successor as Spade, Stephen Dunne, also has a series from the same era in the same situation. He stars as one of two brothers (the other is played by Mark Roberts), who are also private detectives in a 1960-61 syndicated series, The Brothers Brannagan. The opening sequence of this one-season wonder is preserved on YouTube and should have been enough to make the series a cult classic, with the classy ’60s music leading into a voice calling, “Hey, Brannagan,” and one of them asking, “Which one?” before getting asked a question. From all appearances, they custom-filed every opening, but that wasn’t enough for them to avoid copyright limbo.

Of course, something doesn’t have to be obscure to find its way into limbo. Take The Thin Man. It’s a classic mystery novel. It’s one of the most successful film franchises of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Yet, the two-season, 72-episode run of the 1957-59 TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk has been little-seen for decades. It’s not that no episode has been released, but only two have, and you have to hunt them. One episode was released as an extra as part of the out-of-print Complete Thin Man Collection.  Another, “The Robot Client,” was made available on the Forbidden Planet DVD because Robbie the Robot made a guest appearance.

And it’s not just the shows of the late 1950s or early 1960s that suffered this fate. Another Howard Duff-led vehicle, the 1966-69 series The Felony Squad, in which Duff plays Sergeant Sam Stone, is also completely unavailable by legal means. The series also featured Ben Alexander, who played Frank Smith in the the 1950s Dragnet series and wasn’t able to reprise his role for the 1960s revival because he was starring in this. The only legal purchasable footage of any character from this series is when Howard Duff makes a window cameo in the Season 2 episode of the 1960s Batman series, “The Impractical Joker.Of course, the joke in the scene is undermined for modern audiences, as we have no idea who Duff is portraying. Failing to release a Howard Duff TV series that also features Ben Alexander, while also ruining a window scene joke from the 1960s Batman series isn’t a felony but maybe it ought to be!

Solutions

We’ve just talked about TV series that are tied to Dashiell Hammett or to actors who played Dashiell Hammett-created sleuths. But there are many series that find themselves generally unavailable to viewers. In some ways, it’s understandable to do this. Even with the rise of print-on-demand DVDs and streaming sales on Prime or Apple that require no physical presence, there is a cost to TV studios for making shows available, and some programs and movies are unlikely to be profitable enough to merit the expense to get them to market.

Is there a solution?

In the past, some in Congress have pushed for laws that would allow some neglected works to become “orphan works” that could freely be used if notice were given and no one came forward. Yet, this has been resisted by many in the entertainment industry, who view it as a throwback to the era of copyright renewals, when media companies’ failure to file timely renewals led to episodes of programs like The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show entering the public domain.

One thing that occurred to me is the recent spate of stories of large media companies withdrawing works both released and unreleased in order to get a tax write-off. In effect, the tax code is subsidizing them destroying films. Whether such a write-off should exist is a political question far beyond my purview here. But it seems like if we’re going to provide that sort of tax breaks to corporations, it would make sense to give them to companies to release work into the public domain rather than destroying it. And when it comes to old TV shows and movies languishing in the vault, maybe some small tax write-off could be made available in the public domain. It certainly makes more sense than subsidizing the wholesale destruction of unreleased films.

However, such issues are not likely to be on the national agenda any time soon. Until they are, knowledge of these series will be limited to a select in-the-know clientele, much like those who showed up at Dante’s gambling rooms.

UPDATE:

A commenter pointed out that Dante is available on the British Website Talking Pictures TV. It is a website where you can watch certain rare classic television programs and films. Some of these are only available in the UK, but many also are available to those of us in the U.S>. The site does require free registration but I was able to access Dante from there. While it’s not ideal that this is the only legal way to access the series, it is a legal way and I’m thankful for the comment and also for being made aware that Talking Pictures TV is available to U.S. watchers.

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Primrose Matter, Episodes Three, Four, and Five (EP4327)

Bob Bailey

Today’s Mystery:

Johnny gets into Primrose Camp, where he suspects two robbers are hiding out with $100,000 and finds the owners living in fear and being pushed around by a phony nephew.

Original Radio Broadcast Dates: October 10, 11, and 12, 1956

Originated from Hollywood

Starring: Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar; Marvin Miller; Junius Matthews; Herb Ellis; D. J. Thompson; Herb Butterfield; Tony Barrett; Barbara Eiler

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Mr. Chameleon: The Case of the Target for Murder (EP4326)

Karl Swenson

Today’s Mystery:

A woman wearing a fortune in jewels is murdered after leaving a night club.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: April 27, 1949

Originated from New York City

Starring: Karl Swenson as Mister Chameleon

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Dangerous Assignment: Black Market in Jewels (EP4325)


Today’s Mystery:

Steve is sent to break up a black market founded on jewel thefts that is destabilizing the Mediterranean. In order to fight them, Steve plans to steal a necklace before the thief can.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: February 25, 1953

Originating in Hollywood

Starring: Brian Donlevy as Steve Mitchell; Herb Butterfield as the Commissioner; Dan Riss; Hal Gerard; Betty Lou Gerson; Paul Dubov; Tony Barrett

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