Author: Yours Truly Johnny Blogger

Yes and No

With most Radio Detective shows, it’s pretty straightforward in deciding to play them: Yes or No. However, when some shows, the answer is “Yes” and “No.”

Just like with Pat Novak for Hire, I’ve said “Yes” to the Jack Webb episodes and “No” to the Ben Morris episodes, there are a couple other shows where I’m giving a Split decision.

Philo Vance: Philo Vance was originally conceived in post World War I era as a somewhat arrogant elitist detective by S.S. Dine.  And the first two radio series featuring Vance had him portrayed as the know it all, arrogant detective.

The most popular series in ciruclation toned down the arrogance. However, to my listening, there wasn’t much left. Jackson Beck’s portrayal of Vance was somewhat flat. However, a flat detective could be okay if the mysteries were mentally engaging. Unfortunately, the mysteries were all too simple for my tastes. Which made the latter Philo Vance episodes particularly insulting to the police. It was one thing to have to call in a private investigator on a hard-to-solve murder case. It’s a bit of fantasy. However, if the case wasn’t really all that difficult to begin with, it’s kind of insulting.

Of course, this is a matter of taste, but for me doing 2 years of Philo Vance as portrayed by Jackson Beck seems more like a sentence for a minor crime.

However the early to mid-1940s Vance is more like it. Slightly more arrogant, but the mysteries are better too.  So, I end up with a “yes” to John Emery and Jose Ferrer version of Philo Vance, but a “no” to the Jackson Beck Version.

Mr. and Mrs. North:  I love the episodes of Mr. and Mrs. North featuring Joseph Conklin and Alice Frost. The show had wonderful chemistry between the two leads, a good dose of comedy mixed in, and some pretty fun mysteries, with Pam North more likely to solve the case than her husband Jerry.  

However, the show changed actors in 1953-54 to feature TV’s Mr. and Mrs. North, Richard Denning and Barbara Britton.  I’ve tried, but I can’t enjoy these episodes. Pretty much all of the lighness that made the 1943-54 series a success is gone as Denning and Britton try to put on a serious crime drama. It just doesn’t work. The chemistry isn’t there, and again the mysteries aren’t that clever.

So I say yes to Mr. and Mrs. North with Conklin-Frost and No to Mr. and Mrs. North with Denning-Britton.

EP0035: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Stolen Portrait

Johnny Dollar heads to London in search of a rare stolen painting.

Original Air Date: April 1, 1949

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EP0034: Mercury Theater on the Air: The Immortal Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes (played by Orson Welles) seeks to reclaim letters being used as blackmail and foil the plans of Professor Moriarity.

Original Air Date: September 25, 1938

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EP0033: Let George Do It: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

George Valentine is hired to reconcile two brothers, but when the dead body of a local gambling kingpen is found in the missing brother’s apartment, the mission takes on a new sense of urgency, as George must find the brother before the dead kingpin’s gang does.

Original Air Date: April 12, 1948

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EP0032: Pat Novak: Joe Condano

After being hired to pay off a beautiful woman’s brother’s gambling debt, Novak finds himself next to a dead body with Inspector Hellman on the way up.

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“I’ve run across better people in sewers.”

“You can’t add a pair of zeroes without crib notes.”-Novak to Hellman.

“Stop posing. You couldn’t follow an elephant across a basketball court.”-Novak to Hellman.

(Picture Courtesy: Digital Deli.)

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EP0031: Box 13: Short Assignment

Dan Holiday fills in for a vertically challenged Private Detective to guard the son of a dead man who relatives fear might commit suicide.

Original Air Date: February 18, 1948

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What I’ve Been Listening To

I’ve gotten ahead a little bit ahead on my shows. (In fact other than Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, I’ve completed recording every episode until the end of the Year.)

I don’t want to get too far ahead of my listeners. I like to discover the stories with you as we go, not to have listened to everything. (Confession: I have been listening to some of the 5-part Johnny Dollars. They are excellent and can easily fit into my day.)

I’ll share some of what I’ve heard and my thoughts.

On the detective side, I’ve listened to Nick Carter, Master Detective, The Saint, Mystery is My Hobby, Philip Marlowe, and Candy Matson, and I’ve loved them all. I’ll have a lot more to say when we get to show these old time radio classics.

Barrie Craig Confidential Investigator has to be one of the best characters, as a person that you’ll find in the radio eye world. He’s a true good guy, who cares about his clients, ethics. The most moral PI you’ll find.

I was surprised by Charlie Chan, who has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. Some have viewed Charlie Chan as little more than an offensive racial stereotype. However, I was plesantly surprised when I listened to a Charlie Chan episode from the 1940s where Inspector Chan’s daugther was kidnapped. What struck me while listening to the episode was the real core of Charlie Chan. He was dealing with a parent’s worst nightmare, and it was effecting drama that everyone could relate to. In the show, the Chan kids are helping with the war bond effort and Inspector Chan pledges to do his part. The message of this World War II-era Charlie Chan radio show was not that Chinese Americans are different from us, but that they were Americans, particularly the kids who sounded like any other kids.  Earl Derr Biggers wrote the character to combat racial bigotry against Asians.

I think the one rule for enjoying a story is you have to take it not according to what we’d expect from a modern character, but the Spirit in which the story was written, which was one of good will. The late Fletcher Chan had a balanced look at the character from a modern Asian perspective. We’ll have to wait a while to hear Chan, and we don’t have that much to play.

I listened to Ellery Queen and I’m truly sorry that more episodes of that great detective show haven’t survived.  There are generally about 20 actual Ellery Queen Mysteries (not counting the minute mysteries, which I don’t) still in existence.

The show’s got some clever plots and a very unique format when they step away from the radio show and ask an in-studio armchair detective their thought on the solution. You get a reminder of the fleeting nature of celebrity as most of these “celebrities” are totally obscure in the 21st Century.

One show has been the source of some confusion. The episode, “The Armchair Detective”  is often listed as guest starring Orson Welles. While, I could definitely see that based on the fact that the character has a Wellesesque voice and delivers a death line line include the word “Rosemary,”  I seriously doubt it was Welles himself.  At the end of the show, they let us know who’d been in the cast. It’s really hard to imagine if Orson Welles had played a role in a radio show that his name would have been left out.

Frank Race is a favorite of mine, and truly had the best use of an organ in a detective show. It’s really stirring.

Three that I’m not sure of are Bulldog Drummond and A.I. Moto. Bulldog Drummond seems to just not connect with me. A.I. Moto is okay, but it feels like it’s a spy show rather than a detective show. And Bold Venture feels more like an adventure show than a detective show.

Non-Detective Shows

The Family Theater (a show made on the premise of the importance of family prayer and showcasing episodes about faith and family)…Simply incredible. Really, beautifully put together family drama. Don’t want to listen to those in a public place. A grown man shouldn’t be walking around with tears running down his face.

Greatest Story Ever Told (stories from the life of Christ and stories that kinda could have happened)…This show’s okay, though I think some of the messages end up a little more ham-handed than Family Theater and their addition of extra-biblical details is hit and miss.

You Are There (A CBS News show doing radio news broadcast re-enactments of history): Simply awesome. I found this show stunning.  I’ve listened to a couple episodes, one about the passage of the Declaration of Independence and one providing news coverage of the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. They really took you back.  I was really emotionally moved by the Lincoln episode. My wife asked me what was going on. I told her I was listening to information about the assination of the President.  And had to clarify, it was Lincoln, not Obama I was hearing about.  This is an educational experience that really takes you THERE.

Life with Luigi: This is a really sweet comedy series about the little immigrant coming to America, and his experiences. I loved this show.

Couple Next Door: A late 1950s fifteen minute show with more than 700 episodes. Don’t know quite how I felt about it. The first episode didn’t tickle my funny bone, but maybe I’ll take anothe rlisten.

Abbott and Costello: I listened to an episode where Abbott actually lost his place. Costello said, “Hey Abbott, what page are you on?” Those guys were a hoot.

Horatio Hornblower: I like this show, even though I find myself having mixed feelings about the protagonist. This is the first old time radio show I’ve found that actually had swearing in it (though relatively mild.)  and nudity (though that’s not much of an issue over the radio.)  Horatio Hornblower is imperfect and insecure, but a good man who’s got an often-unpleasant job to do. The sea battles are fairly realistic, but you have to use your imagination. This radio show definitely helps.

Finally, I have listened to more of the Shadow. Some of the shows are detective shows, others are more superhero stuff. It’s all fun listening. I do think that Orson Welles was truly the best Shadow.