Category: Audio Drama Review

My Favorite Non-Detective Old Time Radio Dramas

While we play detective shows on the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio, I love many other programs from radio’s golden age, too. If you’re looking for family drama or for an exciting adventure, this list might provide some programs that are good for you.

Family Theater (1947-57):

The program was brought to you by the idea of family prayer. This is a lovely program that engaged some of Hollywood’s finest actors from Vincent Price and Bob Hope to Edmond O’Brien and Maureen O’Sullivan and Raymond Burr. The stories range from retellings of classics to dramatic tales that illustrated powerful lessons. The program’s messages are positive, inspiring, and thought-provoking. Some dodgy moments may offend modern sensibilities. Otherwise, this is a great example of what a family program can be. My favorites include the original story, “God and the Red Scooter” and their adaptation of “The Hound of Heaven.”

Cavalcade of America (1937-55):

Cavalcade of America would occasionally tell well-known stories of American history. Those episodes are okay. However, what makes me listen to Cavalcade are all of their obscure stories. They’ll tell about some aspect of a founding father’s life few remembered back in 1937 or talk about some now unsung hero who made a great difference in American history.

Cavalcade of America tells stories about how an American began selling ice overseas or the first American to become an opera star overseas. There’s the story of a lawyer who set out to protect an abused child in the absence of laws against child abuse by trying to apply laws for the protection of small animals. I learn so much from this show, and I am more historically aware than the average person. Most Cavalcade episodes are entertaining and enlightening. A few are a little too pedantic, particularly some early episodes. This anthology series also has a great cast, including episodes featuring Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Basil Rathbone.

Dr. Christian (1937-54)

After playing a kindly doctor in a series of films featuring the Dionne Quints, the Danish-born actor brought to life the kindest country doctor imaginable. As Dr. Christian, he stood at the center of the upstate New York community of Rivers End. Dr. Christian lived a life of selfless love and care for everyone in the community. He not only cared for broken bodies but broken hearts and the health of the whole community. Later episodes in the 1940s were chosen from fan-submitted scripts. The lessons in Dr. Christian are often out of fashion, but few are useless relics. Usually, they’re timeless truths that we have forgotten.
.

Fort Laramie (1956)

Just before he achieved stardom on TV, Raymond Burr stars as the rugged and wise Captain Lee Quince, second in command of Fort Laramie. The program featured uncompromising realism in its portrayal of life in the army in this Old West fort. Despite this, the show wasn’t dry or constantly dark or humorless. It was intelligently written. One episode would be funny and light, reflecting some odd but true aspect of life in the West. Then it would be followed by a tragic story. That meant the tragic story hit harder than it would have otherwise. The feature has a solid recurring cast including Harry Bartel and Jack Moyles and great production values.

Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (1947-48)

Captain Phillip Carney (Elliot Lewis) captained the Scarlet Queen as she sailed across the world. He various adventures with the aid of his first mate Red Gallagher (Ed Max). This was one of the few adult adventure series on the radio. It’s brilliant, filled with great characters, suspense, and an ability to bring exotic ports to life in a Hollywood radio studio. While all 35 episodes of the series are good, the first 20 are superb. They have a running plot of a particular cargo Carney is trying to deliver with a big enemy that’s trying to stop him through the villain of the week. It’s a pretty interesting approach and not something done in the 1940s.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1947-56):

A lot of religious dramas aired in the 1940s and 50s. In my view, this was the best. It dramatized stories from the Bible, mostly the New Testament. It features a good (but uncredited ) cast and almost no commercial interruption. Much like some later dramatization of the Bible for television, it expands on some stories to fill half an hour. Usually, this works. On occasion, new themes are drawn from the added material and take the story in an odd direction. Again, most of the time, it worked quite well. It’s a shame more episodes of the series didn’t survive, with only about 1 in 7 circulating today.

I’ll also offer honorable mentions to Bold Venture and I Was a Communist for the FBI.

Share your favorite radio dramas in the comments below.

Audio Drama Review: Agatha Christie: The Lost Plays:

Agatha Christie: The Lost Radio Plays collects three BBC radio plays that aired between 1948 and 1960. It also includes some bonus material.

“Butter in a Lordly Dish” from 1948 stars Richard Williams as Sir Luke Enderby KC, a skilled prosecutor who is also a philanderer, who is headed out on his latest fling. Then there’s Personal Call, a 1955 original story about a man receiving calls from someone claiming to be his dead wife. It stars Ivan Brandt and Barbara Lott. Finally, Williams stars as Poirot in the hour-long adaptation of Christie’s “Murder in the Mews.”

The acting is mostly solid with a few exceptions. There is a slight bent to the melodramatic in the original radio plays, and Williams isn’t the best Poirot ever.

As for the writing, anyone expecting new masterpieces will be disappointed. “Butter in a Lordly Dish” is comparable to an above average episode of the 1960s American series Theater Five.  “Personal Call” is comparable to an average mid-1950s episode of Suspense. “Murder in the Mews” is a good story undermined by direction and style that is competent at best and Williams is a somewhat mediocre Poirot.

The extras include Agatha Christie-related audio recordings and interviews with actors who appeared in the original London stage production of her play the Mousetrap. In addition, comedian Toby Hadoke interviews the last-surviving cast member of the radio plays. In that extra, they discuss his showbiz career and how he became a successful costume designer on both sides of the pond. Hadoke is a talented interviewer who shows great interests in his subjects and makes this far more interesting than you might otherwise expect.

Overall,  major fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy this release. It features rare and little-heard radio productions featuring her work that are okay, but not remarkable. In addition, the bonus material is well-presented and engaging.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

 

 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: The Master of Blackstone Grange

Big Finish’s latest Sherlock Holmes release features a three-hour Sherlock Holmes adventure and a one-hour Christmas special.

In the titular Master of Blackstone Grange, Holmes is bored by the lack of a challenge now that Professor Moriarty is gone. However, Watson’s barber is distraught because of some strange problem he’s having with his wife. Watson sees this as a case that can get Holmes out of his doldrums. While Holmes is initially interested, that interest wanes when Moriarty’s henchman, Colonel Sebastian Moran is released from prison. This leaves Holmes unavailable when their client heads to the home of the country’s newest multi-millionaire, Honest Jim Sheedy. However, the barber has plenty of company as all the country’s great men are coming together at Blackstone Grange. But why?

The plot of this story borrows a lot from other Doyle work. The story pays homage to both The Valley of Fear and Hound of the Baskervilles. Yet, this doesn’t stop the story from having its own original plot and mystery but helps to set up the story and give it a sense of authenticity.

The performances are solid as usual. Nicholas Briggs is a very good audio Holmes, able to adjust his performance to capture different aspects and eras in Holmes life. Here, he manages to play mostly to Holmes’ melancholy and do so quite skillfully. Richard Earl is the consummate Watson, and in this story, we get to see a little of the widowed Watson. The rest of the cast is very competent, but Harry Peacock deserves special praise for his performance as one of the villains, Honest Jim Sheedy. Peacock is able to play Sheedy alternately as charming and menacing in ways that are equally convincing.

In The Fleet Street Transparency, Sherlock Holmes gets a mystery at Christmastime of a columnist who complains about his columns being edited before they appear in the paper. He doesn’t want to take the case at first but relents out of curiosity when a thug is hired to threaten him into doing it.

This is not a great Holmes story but it is pretty good. The solution doesn’t tax Holmes’ brainpower much, but it has a unique ending. What does make it worth listening to is the general authenticity of the script. There are moments that feel positively like it’s out of canon. A couple moments take you out of that, such as Holmes and Watson passing judgment on their client’s political views. However, it maintains authenticity far more often than not. Briggs and Earl turn in another solid performance. The story is sure to be a fun Christmas listen.

Both stories feature superb music by Jamie Robertson which captures both the feel of the era and the respective seasons.

Overall, this is another solid box set from Big Finish.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

 

 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Death and the Life

(Note: This Review was originally posted July 2015) but is being reposted. Big Finish is having a sale. The download version can be purchased for 0.99 (in your local currency). You can access the sale by clicking here and using the password “redballoons” before 5/1/2018.

The Death and the Life is another one-man play starring Roger Llewellyn and written by David Stuart Davies adapted by Big Finish Productions. The story is a mix of fact and fiction. It centers upon Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts to rid himself of his most famous creation once and for all with the writing of “The Final Problem,” which failed.

The play imagines Holmes and his fellow characters reacting to Doyle’s actions and scheming. Doyle’s disinterest is reflected in a hilarious scene where Holmes describes a madcap adventure to a snoring Watson. The story is bolstered by the use of Doyle’s journals and letters. Another great scene is the one which Holmes learns he’s a fictional character from his arch-rival, who is none too pleased he was created by Doyle as a single-use plot device.

With its light comedy and heavy symbolism, The Life and the Death is a story about a literary creation whose popularity transcended the writer who created him. The play is helped by another strong performance from Roger Llewellyn who manages to perfectly portray all the characters and angles of this deep and well-written play. Overall, this is another story that is a wonderful listen for fans of Sherlock Holmes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

 

 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act

Note: This review was previously posted in July 2015 but is being reposted. Big Finish is having a sale. The download version can be purchased for 0.99 (in your local currency). You can access the sale by clicking here and using the password “redballoons” before 5/1/2018.

The Last Act brings Roger Llewellyn’s long-running Sherlock Holmes one-man play to audio. The story finds a somber Holmes reflecting on his life and career after Watson’s funeral. It’s a heartbreaking performance as Holmes reflects on his friend and his career. “You never appreciate the best things, the best people, until they’re gone.”

Not every moment is somber. There are humorous moments as Holmes reflects on one of his friend’s oddities or on Lestrade’s unremarkable career that saw him never rise above Inspector.

The play covers a variety of ground. From “The Abbey Grange” to “The Speckled Band,” “The Final Problem,” “The Empty House,” and The Hound of the Baskervilles and many more, Holmes offers his reflections on his cases and it’s a Tour de Force performance.

I enjoyed the second half far less as it offered insights into Holmes’ dark secrets, including his little-discussed childhood. On one hand, this explained Holmes being merciful in one particular case. On the other, there’s a certain modern conceit that tries to explain everything anyone does as a result of childhood trauma. This can be seen in superhero fiction where so many characters’ origins are being rewritten to include trauma. It becomes monotonous in fiction when no one ever does anything good, noble, or heroic unless a parent was killed or was abusive, or some other trauma occurred to explain it.

I also didn’t like the way Holmes’ drug use was addressed. In the books, Watson claims to have weaned him off cocaine. However, the play insists Holmes’ use continued unknown to Watson and it leads the play to a dour place. While some would argue this is more realistic than the books (which removed the cocaine habit as it became socially unacceptable) and it might be clever to undermine audience expectations by moving from downbeat to depressing, but I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by the turn.

Still, the play is well-written even if I have issues with the tone, Llewellyn’s performance as Holmes (and twelve other characters) is pitch-perfect and thoroughly engaging. He captures Holmes as a man trying to come to terms with the greatest loss in his life as a lifetime of emotional restraint begins to ebb away. I only wish the play had a more satisfactory conclusion.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

Audio Drama Review: The Maltese Falcon

The Hollywood Theater of the Ear released its own adaptation of the classic Dashiell Hammett novel The Maltese Falcon in 2008. The production sticks closely to the book and contains moments not included in the 1941 movie. The Maltese Falcon tells the story of Sam Spade (Michael Masden), a private detective whose partner is murdered and who finds himself caught in a web of intrigue involving a mystery woman (Sandra Oh) and a group of dangerous men seeking the priceless Maltese Falcon.

The acting is superb with Masden doing a good job portraying all the facets of Sam Spade. Edward Hermann’s take on Casper Gutman was also nearly as good as Sidney Greenstreet’s. I also liked the idea of portraying Joel Cairo as an Egyptian. That gives a reasonable explanation for the character’s name.

The one off-putting part of the production was it’s decision to include all of the third-person narration in the story and have the actors read the narration about their characters’ actions. It was odd, as if the production was trying to straddle the line between being an audio drama and being an audiobook. Either using a third person narrator or showing narration through sound effects would have made a better listening experience.

Still, this was a fun listen that captures the heart of a classic detective story.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

The Top Ten Best Episodes of Night Beat

The recently completed Night Beat series was one of
the best-written and best-acted series we’ve ever played. There were so many great episodes. Narrowing it to a top 10 is a challenge, but here is my best shot.

10) The Man with Red Hair
Original Air Date: August 21, 1952

Randy is picked up in a bar by an intriguing woman who has an unusual itinerary for their date. Along the way, they’re stalked by a man with red hair. Good mystery with an emotional conclusion.

9) The Slasher
Original Air Date: November 10, 1950

A slasher has been terrifying women in the city. Randy thinks he’s discovered who’s behind it and the next victim. Some great twists in this one.

8) Mr. and Mrs. Carothers

Original Air Date: October 26, 1951

A cute, elderly couple ask for Randy’s advice on how to have a good time in the Windy City. All is charming until Randy gets a hint the husband is planning the unthinkable. The story builds up suspense and mystery while giving characters very believable motives.

7) Tong Water
Original Air Date: April 17, 1950

Randy goes to Chinatown to prevent a breakout of a Tong war that could spread across the country.

6) Jukebox Romance

Original Air Date: May 18, 1951

A man with dwarfism is ready to kill after a bully decides to arrange a meeting between him and the lady jukebox operator. In this special episode,a beautiful performance by William Conrad comes out of nowhere and steals the show.

5) I Know Your Secret

Original Air Date: April 10, 1950

Randy comes across a woman ready to commit suicide based on a simple message: “I know your secret.”

4) Einar Pearce and Family

Original Air Date: October 13, 1950

Randy is vacationing in Minnesota and is put on the trail of wanted criminal Einar Pearce, but is captured by the criminal’s family to stop him from going to the police…until they’re done with him. This is a very different Night Beat in a quaint rural setting with unforgettable characters.

3) Fear
Original Air Date: May 25, 1951

Randy receives a letter from a man threatening to kill him sometime during the night.

2) Sanctuary
Original Air Date: June 22, 1951

The set up is brilliant. A madman holds a boy hostage in a church belltower. Can police get the lunatic out without harming the boy? A suspenseful story with a surprise conclusion.

1) Expectant Father

Original Air Date: December 28, 1951

William Conrad’s best single performance on the series as he plays a carousing colleague of Randy’s about to become a father. The vast majority of the episode is Conrad and Frank Lovejoy playing off each other. The script has some dated elements, but it connects to common feelings and conflicts that men deal with. A great piece of writing, brilliantly acted.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season 2

Season 2 of the Red Panda features twelve more adventures featuring the Red Panda. It stars Greg Taylor, who also writes the series. Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor plays his sidekick Kit Baxter (aka the Flying Squirrel.

Season 2 took what worked in Season 1 and expanded on the Red Panda’s world. We meet some of the Red Panda’s agents. In the previous season, the idea of agents was abstract. In the episode, “When Darkness Falls,” we finally meet some of the operatives, including a police officer and local businessmen. Note the Shadow magazines also gave the hero a team of undercover operatives throughout the city. That likely influenced Taylor. The Red Panda’s agents make several appearances in Season 2 and make a solid addition to the series.

Having established our heroes, the series reveals more backstory in “Secret Origins.” The title likely references a 1986-90 DC Comic series. In the episode, we learn how Kit Baxter met the Red Panda for the first time. “The Big Top”  presents the Red Panda with a moral dilemma.

Throughout the first season, the Red Panda’s foes were mostly thugs and supervillains. In “The Black Hand,” we get the first real case of the Terrific Twosome of Toronto battling the supernatural. The Red Panda deals with a threat to his secret identity in, “The Hidden Door.”

In the season finale, “The World Next Door,” the Red Panda has a crossover with the more comedic Original universe. A character from its future is out to steal something the Red Panda is trying to protect.

Beyond this, the Red Panda continues to dish out justice to villains who could have been on the Shadow. The Red Panda programs’ quality has improved from Season 1. Occasionally, the sound effects or a performer will be off. Other than that, the Red Panda found its groove in Season 2. There’s not a bad episode among this bunch. It’s sure to delight fans of the golden age of radio and superheroes.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

You can listen to Season 2 of the Red Panda here.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Audio Drama Review: The Complete Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1


Random House dramatized many of Louis L’Amour’s short stories, mostly with one-shot characters. However, they also dramatized all eighteen L’Amour stories featuring Texas Ranger Chick Bowdrie.

The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1 features six hour-long Bowdrie adaptations. It begins with “McNelly Knows a Ranger,” the story of how Bowdrie became a Ranger. It was written much later, but it established what led Bowdrie to become a Texas Ranger.

The series is fascinating. As a Texas Ranger, Bowdrie wanders throughout the wide expanse of the State of Texas. He has to act alone, hundreds of miles from headquarters with no other law around. Occasionally, local law enforcement is present but complicit in crimes. Many of the stories require Bowdrie to play detective before tracking down the criminal. L’Amour makes these work as good Western stories and as well-constructed mysteries.

All the dramatizations on this release are excellent, with high production values and good acting. However, two stories are particularly noteworthy.

“The Outlaws of Poplar Creek” features a stunning cave scene which is one of the tensest you’ll ever hear on an audio drama.

In “Bowdrie Follows a Cold Trail,” Bowdrie stumbles on a dead body at an abandoned homestead. The story portrays how Bowdrie uncovers clues at the crime scene. He also discovers how the victim built his dream ranch for his family, only to be murdered and have them disappear. Bowdrie pledges to bring the man’s killer to justice, no easy task in the wilds of Texas. A lot isn’t said but can easily be inferred by the listener. The scene shows a subtle use of emotion to reveal an aspect of Bowdrie’s character.

Note one episode includes a recording of L’Amour talking about his research into the Old West.

My only issue is one aspect of Bowdrie’s character is not believable as written. We’re told repeatedly Bowdrie could have ended up walking “the outlaw trail.” Bowdrie is so morally upright from his first story that it’s just not plausible. Reathel Bean’s straight-laced portrayal in the audio drama amplifies that wholesomeness.

Overall, these are six fine stories of law, order, and justice in the Old West, written by a master of the genre. It’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Audio Drama Review: Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection, Volume 1

Paul Temple is a legendary amateur detective. His adventures first aired over British radio in the 1930s and continued until 1968. Like much British radio of the era, the earliest Paul Temple serials are lost. This collection offers three adventures that managed to survive in that era. Each serial is composed eight twenty or twenty-five-minute episodes. (The most popular format for Paul Temple.)
 
The first serial, Send for Paul Temple is a Canadian remake of the first Paul Temple broadcast. This is a treat. Little Canadian radio from the era is circulating, so it’s nice to see how they measure up to the BBC. This holds up to most American and British programs of the time, but the sound effects are a bit sparser.  The police are baffled by a series of jewel thefts, and in the newspaper, there’s a simple cry, “Send Paul Temple.” The official police are reluctant to call in the amateur sleuth. A policeman friend of Temple’s wants to talk to him but is murdered, setting Temple on the trail. The story stars Bernard Braden as Temple. It’s a fairly good mystery that shows how Paul and his wife Steve met.
 
1942’s Paul Temple Intervenes features Paul (Carl Bernard) and Steve (Bernadette Hodgson). They look into an affair to find the head of a ruthless blackmail ring named the Marquis. This story was fine. It’s not horrible, but it does have some improbable plot turns, and it goes too deep into melodrama for its own good. Not bad, and I’m thankful for almost any classic radio that survives, but it’s easily the weakest story on the set.
 
The actor Kim Peacock plays Paul in 1950’s Paul Temple and the Vandyke Affair. Paul investigates the disappearance of a baby and her sitter, Miss Millicent. The only clue is a message referencing a mysterious Mr. Van Dyke. Of course, their investigations lead to a sinister trail.  At this point, Steve is far more assertive and a stronger character.
 
One thing that makes this stand out is Marjorie Westbury’s performance. Westbury took over as Steve in 1945. She continued opposite four different Paul Temples until 1968. Kim Peacock also turns in a solid performance. I’d be thrilled if more episodes featuring this pair came into circulation. The story features a strong supporting cast. This includes future Paul Temple Peter Coke and Roger Delgado (Doctor Who.)
 
The box set has more to offer than just the stories. The set includes a documentary on the remastering of the Canadian Send for Paul Temple. It began as cardboard transcription disks. Yet they managed to make it sound good in the twenty-first century. How is a fascinating story for audio buffs. Further, the CD features an interview with Coke. Also, there are three episodes from incomplete original Paul Temple serials. They will only appeal to hardcore Temple fans.
 
Many Paul Temple fans council new listeners to avoid this set for a first listen. This isn’t Paul Temple at his best, and it doesn’t feature the most well-known Paul Temple actor. There’s merit to that argument. But I like to hear things from the beginning. While these stories had their weak points, I found them a lot of fun to listen to. If what’s to come is even better, then I’ll enjoy all the Paul Temple collections to come.
 
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Three Old Time Radio Detective Shows That Could be Rebooted in the 21st Century

Most old time radio programs work in part because of the era they’re set in. For most programs, trying to update them to modern times would be silly. Taking Philip Marlowe, Barrie Craig, Nick Carter, or Candy Matson out of their original contexts wouldn’t make sense.

Of course, it’s always possible to do a period piece. Although modern period pieces often suffer from creators deciding they need to transport twenty-first-century sensibilities back into historical periods.

However, some old time radio detective programs could be made well set in modern times, with a few tweaks thrown in:

1) Box 13

The original concept: 1940s series starring Alan Ladd. The reporter and mystery writer Dan Holiday places an ad in the paper, “Mystery wanted, will go anywhere, do anything.” A few episodes in, Dan hired a secretary named Susie. It seems she had undiagnosed inattentive-type ADD, which unfortunately got her dismissed as ditzy at the time.

Twenty-first Century updates: He would post his ad online and receive replies to an email address with “Box 13” sneaked into it believably. He could be an adventure blogger who posts about his adventures and lives on Patreon income and Google AdSense revenue. Also, Susie could be portrayed as not being so dumb while steering clear of making her a Mary Sue.

2) The Big Guy

The original concept: 1950s radio series starring John Calvin as a widowed single father raising his two kids on his own while also being a private detective.

Twenty-First Century Update: I always thought the original concept of the show had a lot of unrealized potential. Probably the most important thing would be to pick a tone. The surviving episodes vary too much. Some try to be adult crime dramas, while others would have appealed more to kids. I would propose making it a good family show with some comedy and the kids stumbling into his cases.

3) Mr. and Mrs. North

The original concept: A publisher and his wife solve mysteries together.

Twenty-First Century update: It’s been too long since we have a loving mystery-solving couple. Tampering would be minimal. Pam and Jerry are already equal partners in the mystery-solving department. Listening to the radio programs or watching TV episodes, it’s a coin flip as to who’ll provide the solution.

She could have a separate career that leaves plenty of time for sleuthing, such as a photo blogger. Whoever wrote it would need to be careful to avoid turning her into the  “Strong Independent Woman” stock character that has replaced the damsel in distress. Pam North’s portrayal on radio and TV is witty, resourceful, funny, and fairly well-balanced. That should be maintained in any adaptation.

Honorable Mention: Night Beat

The original concept: Reporter Randy Stone roams the night in Chicago in search of stories. He writes mostly human interest tales of the best and worst of humanity in the night. Randy has a touch of cynicism, but also a lot of compassion and morality which motivates him. He’s part philosopher, as he paints broad pictures of humanity through each encounter.

Twenty-First Century update: Wouldn’t Work.

Night Beat makes a tempting target for a Twenty-First Century reboot. However, I don’t think it can be updated successfully.

Randy Stone is at the heart of the series. Unlike Box 13, you couldn’t just have him writing for a blog. He also couldn’t still be working on a newspaper.

If there were ever reporters who were close to Randy Stone, they’ve gone extinct. In the last sixty-five years, people have become more cynical about the press, and the press has become more cynical about people.

Reporters want to bring change but through partisan reporting that brings about systemic societal change. Randy Stone’s goals were nonpartisan: to be a decent person and to call other people to be decent too, regardless of politics. His nonpartisan perspective no longer flies in modern journalism. It may have been a bit fanciful in 1950. In 2018? Totally unrealistic.

The only thing a TV or radio creator could do with a modern-day Night Beat would be to ruin it by making it partisan. This would probably happen even if it was attempted as a period piece.

However, I welcome reader comments on the programs I’ve mentioned as well as any others that you think might (or might not) work with a modern day reboot.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 2

While the first season of Black Jack Justice was twelve episodes along, the second and all subsequent seasons was six episodes long. The series continued to follow the adventures of hard-boiled detective “Black” Jack Justice and his beautifully but equally hard-boiled partner Trixie Dixon Girl Detective in post-World War II Canada.

The series maintains it’s quality while making a few changes. Noticeably, the play on words with “Justice” in episode names was discontinued. They also played with the format a bit in the series lead of the episode, “The Purloined Format Caper,” which begins with Jack playing secretary to Trixie and having to take down her report of the case, which explains how Jack ended up in this sorry condition.

They have their own play on doubles and mistaken identity in, “The Trouble with Doubles,” and “How Much is that Gumshoe in the Window?” finds them looking for a missing dog and discovering one of Jack’s few soft spots.

Overall, the entire series moves along nicely. The series has its tone and style down but still manages to make little changes to keep its feel fresh. The mysteries remain well-written and enjoyable to puzzle out. There’s an occasional issue with sound effects, but that’s about it. The second season of Black Jack Justice makes for an enjoyable treat for mystery fans everywhere.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

Click here to listen to Season 2 for Free on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

 

Audio Drama Review: The Third Man

LA Threatre Works adapted Graham Greene’s The Third Man in 2009.

The story follows novelist Holly Martins (Kelsey Grammer) as he arrives in post-War Vienna hoping to get a job from his old friend Harry Lime, only to find Lime has died of an apparent car accident. However, he stumbles on evidence that there may be more to Lime’s death than meets the eye, and his friend may not be the man Holly thought he was.

This audio drama is a well-done retelling of the classic film with few deviations along the way. Kelsey Grammer is superb as Martins bringing just a right mix of toughness, romance, and innocence to the role. The rest of the cast is generally good, though John Mahoney used an American accent when playing the British Major Calloway which took me out of the story a few times.

The production quality was pretty good, with only a few scenes having minor issues. The entire production feels authentic to the original movie, helped by a good rendition of the classic theme. Overall, LA Theatre Works provides a worthy adaptation of a great story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Audio Drama Review: Jimmy and the Star Angel

In Colonial Radio Theatre’s musical Jimmy and the Star Angel, Jimmy and Samantha, a young brother and sister, are dealing with their first Christmas without their dad. On Christmas Eve, Jimmy destroys one of his father’s Christmas tree ornaments which leads to them being shrunk to the size of ornaments. All the ornaments on the tree come alive. Jimmy and Samantha need their help to reach the top of the tree by dawn to ask the Star Angel for help or risk being turned into Christmas ornaments forever.

If you like Babes in Toyland or the Wizard of Oz, Jimmy and the Star Angel is that type of journey, so you’re sure to enjoy it. This magical quest up a Christmas tree is full of imaginative and fun characters. It’s also an emotional journey for Samantha and especially Jimmy.

The music in this is great. The songs alone are worth the price of the purchase. They vary in tone, mood, and purpose, but they’re all fun. I loved the swinging “Snowman Spectacular” and the penultimate song “Star Angel” is still bouncing around in my head more than a week and a half after I listened to it.

While the plot is a fantasy, there’s an emotional through line for  Jimmy and Samantha that’s moving. I also found the use of the Christmas trees to be interesting. Jimmy’s family has passed down ornaments for years and the idea these ornaments serve as a family connection through the generations is well-presented, and it helps to serve as a solution to the problem.

The plot has minor issues that adult listeners will pick up on. The villain, the pirate Scrimshaw (Jerry Robbins) feels like he’s  been written because these stories need a villain which leads to the less than satisfactory way in which he’s dispatched as well as the strained way he’s brought in. That said, though Scrimshaw’s not necessary to the plot, Robbins (who wrote the play) is a lot of fun in the role. I like the idea of a Christmas Tree ornament seeking revenge against the boy who broke him.

Overall, this is a great production for the whole family. I recommend you try it out and see if it becomes a tradition like your favorite Christmas tree ornaments.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Disclosure: I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Audio Drama Review: Lord Peter Wimsey: BBC Radio Drama Collection Volume 1

The BBC has begun release its adaptations of Dorothy Sayers novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The series originally aired between 1973-1983 with one story being recorded in 1993. All feature Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.  The first collection features radio adaptations of Wimsey’s first three novels.

The collection begins with the first novel Whose Body. It opens with his mother calling him when a dead man is found in an architect’s bathtub and the dead man is wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez glasses.

The story does a good job of establishing Wimsey as a detective as well as much of the supporting cast. The story has a light tone. One big exception is when Lord Peter has an episode of what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to his service in World War I. His servant Bunter (Peter Jones) served with him in the war and has to bring him out of it.

Overall, Whose Body is delightful and at five parts, it moves at a quicker pace than the other stories in the set. It’s a well-done and pleasant puzzle mystery.

Next up is Cloud of Witnesses in which Lord Peter returns from abroad to find his sister’s fiancé has been murdered and his brother is suspected of the crime.

This is an eight-part adaptation, and the mystery is much more involved and complicated. It works and it gives some insights into Lord Peter’s family and their relationships to one another.

The final story in this collection is the seven-part adaptation of Unnatural Death which has Lord Peter investigating the death of an elderly woman three years previously that was apparently from cancer. Her heir was her great niece who had served as her nurse. A doctor became suspicious of the true cause of the death and was pushed out of the town because of it.

The question of motive is at the heart of the mystery. Lord Peter recruits a marvelous spinster to help with the investigation.

The mystery is complicated and several elements are a bit iffy. The story also suffers from a lack of Bunter, who is absent from most of the tale. By no means is it a bad mystery, it is just not as good as the other two.

Beyond the mysteries themselves, the acting is good throughout. I also love the theme music. It fits the detective like a glove.

I have to say I was impressed by the quality of the sound and the sound effects. It was better than it was on the Poirot’s Finest Cases set that the BBC released a while back, which is odd. The Poirot adaptations came later. Whether this is due to advances in audio restoration technology or due to the Whimsey production team creating a better sound, the sound design is very impressive.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of Peter Whimsey or you like old-fashioned British detectives in general, these radio plays are a delight and I highly recommend them.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle.