Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: Red Panda Adventures, Season Nine

The Ninth Season of the Red Panda Adventures finds the world in flux. It’s now a question of when rather than if the Allies will be victorious. But what happens afterwards is an open question.

The series is split into two parts. The bulk of the season focuses on supervillains previewing the sort of threats that will be on the ground after World War II. This is represented by an old villain returning in a new guise to take over Toronto and exact revenge on the Red Panda. In addition, we get an episode where the Red Panda battles villains known as the Rocket Men. These stories are fun, exciting, and pulpy in the way so many of the early Red Panda Adventure were.

The other part is cleaning up the war and dealing with what might come in a post-War world. Of particular concern is their old nemesis Professor Von Schlitz, who is going whole hog cooperating with the Americans. The Red Panda fears the German scientist will corrupt the Americans and use them for his evil ends. And the robotic red ensign wants revenge on Von Schlitz for the murder of the robot’s human wife at the start of the war. This leads our heroes into tight spots.

The “V E Day” episode deserves praise. It’s an anthology episode that told different stories with differing themes all structured around VE Day. The episode is great listening and points to the potential future of the show.

After nine seasons and 108 episodes, the series was still going strong, with the 100th episode airing without ceremony. Much like the Red Panda himself, the series might be past its peak, but it still packs a punch with exciting stories, fun dialogue, and a real sense of classic pulp adventure. The Ninth Season was a worthwhile and satisfying listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

You can listen to the entirety of Season 9 of the Red Panda Adventures online.

The Four Silliest Tropes in Detective Fiction

I’ve experienced a lot of mysteries. I’ve listened to thousands of mystery plays and watched hundreds of hours of mystery TV shows and movies, and read a lot of mystery novels and short stories. With all those mysteries under my belt, I’ve noticed some popular tropes or plot points that often are silly and don’t make sense. Most of these can be used effectively if done right, but they so rarely are.

4) The Dying Clue

You’ve been shot, poisoned, or knifed. You have seconds to live and you know who your murderer is and want to reveal who murdered you, so you leave a dying clue.

Dying clues get silly when they get complicated. The dying person may have 20-30 seconds to leave a clue. They don’t have time to develop a complex cipher based on objects on their desk or develop codes. Sometimes the writer knows they’re being absurd and will write in excuse for their overly complicated last clues. “She loved puzzles,” they write as an explanation for why the victim left behind a clue requiring knowledge of proper verb tenses in Swahili and popular Elizabethan riddles. (I exaggerate slightly.) These seem to be ways writers show their cleverness but I have yet to see a dying clue that was more clever than it was ridiculous.

Better Ways to Do It:

Keeping the dying clue simple is a good idea in theory but if it’s too simple, you don’t have much of a mystery. I like the idea of an unfinished dying clue that’s puzzling because the victim couldn’t finish it before expiring.

Another great idea is to make the dying clue a distraction. For example, sometimes the killer will fake a dying clue to implicate someone else. Or it might be possible the victim thinks they know who the killer is but don’t, or imagine someone who hates another person so much, they would rather that person suffer than their actual murderer be found.

3) Witness Getting Killed Before They Can Talk to the Detective

The detective takes a phone call from a witness.

The witness cries out. “I know who did it and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Who was it?”

“Not over the phone. Meet me in an hour at the old, poorly lit warehouse with no street lights where the killer could come up from behind me, murder me, get my body out of sight, and get away with no possibility of any direct witnesses.”

The detective says, “See you then,” before hanging up the phone.

Of course, the detective finds the witness murdered but maybe a clue that will point him towards the culprit.

This should not be confused with the witness about to reveal everything right away and then they’re shot. That builds suspense. It annoys the audience but the writer has to have their fun.

The problem with the, “Meet me and I’ll tell you who did it.” trope is it makes the detective into something of a sap. I used this once in my novel Slime Incorporated, but this was my hero’s first murder mystery. However, I’ve read characters who have appeared across multiple novels and/or TV episodes who have lost a witness that way before and agree to it any way without batting an eye, which makes them thick and foolish. Plus everyone expects it’s coming.

Better Ways to Do It:

The detective should have enough sense to try and dissuade their witness from making such an obvious mistake. Maybe they try to get them to stay where they’re at or to meet them near a public place or to tell them over the phone. If the writer needs to kill off the witness, it can be despite the detective’s best efforts, not because the detective didn’t remember the last time a witness was gunned down in a hail of bullets.

Also, misdirection can work here. One of my favorite alternatives is to have the witness survive and turn out to be the murderer deflecting suspicion by looking like a potential target.

2) Rube Goldberg Murder Methods

Murders are generally performed through a variety of very basic methods. However, for a certain type of writer, it’s often occurred to make murder methods as complex as possible, involving elaborate and impractical mechanisms. Many of these elaborate approaches are so complicated a minor mistake can foil them or can kill someone else, leaving the intended victim alive. While I think Raymond Chandler’s critique of some puzzle mystery was a bit broad in his famous essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” he does hit the nail on the head when it comes on such overly complex schemes:

they do not really come off intellectually as problems, and they do not come off artistically as fiction. They are too contrived, and too little aware of what goes on in the world. They try to be honest, but honesty is an art. The poor writer is dishonest without knowing it, and the fairly good one can be dishonest because he doesn’t know what to be honest about. He thinks a complicated murder scheme which baffles the lazy reader, who won’t be bothered itemizing the details, will also baffle the police, whose business is with details. The boys with their feet on the desks know that the easiest murder case in the world to break is the one somebody tried to get very cute with; the one that really bothers them is the e murder somebody only thought of two minutes before he pulled it off.

Better Ways to Do It:

There has to be a good, believable reason for why the murder was complex. There should be a reason why the murderer chose an elaborate plot involving the shipping of Russian dolls, a hijacking, sabotaging a Toyota dealership, and the end result being a poisoned post card sent to the intended victim when they could have just shot them. The TV series Monk usually did a good job justifying its outlandish and complicated plots. The episode Mr. Monk and the Sleeping Suspect is a great example.

Sometimes a character can justify the elaborate murder plot. Many episodes of Columbo featured plots that were elaborate and impractical. However, the series got away with it because the over-the-top methods spoke to an overly confident, arrogant killer who believed he was smarter than anyone.

1) Night Club Photographers Must Die

In these stories, the detective discovers someone was murdered to suppress a picture taken by a night club photographer or the like. Why? To hide someone who was in the background (such as mob boss.) This was done way too much in older TV, movies, and radio programs.

The criminal is scared of the photo being found and implicating them in a crime. So to avoid being recognized in a random photo, they leave a string of bodies about that will draw the entire police force onto their trail, as well as any heroic private operatives. It’s the silliest idea any criminal could have. In reality, 999 times out of 1000, the night club photo will get shoved in a purse or box for decades and looked at rarely. Any of us could have organized crime figures waltzing around in the background of pictures we had randomly taken and we’d be none the wiser.

This applies to vintage mysteries. In the modern era, many individuals (whether employed by law enforcement or freelancing) do search through photos posted online in hopes of finding clues to crimes. So criminals would have a motive to stop someone who got them in the background, but it’s difficult to suppress digital photos. A desperate criminal might kill a photographer, grab their phone, and run over it with a car within a minute of the photo being taken and still have the incriminating photos already uploaded to the Internet, where they will garner attention from law enforcement all the more after the murder.

Whether it’s the 1940s or the 2020s, it doesn’t make sense for a criminal to kill someone for taking a random photo of them, although for slightly different reasons.

Better Ways to Do It

In stories set in the past, there are many plausible fixes. For example, the photographer might be a crime buff, realize what they have, and blackmail the criminal. Or the night club photographer might be a disgraced photojournalist who recognizes the person in the background. And if you substitute a news photographer for a night club photographer, this becomes real because a photo with the suspect in the background could be seen by millions of people.

It could also work if the writer gives them a reason for it, such as an extreme phobia or psychological compulsion. Or if the decision is being governed by someone who’s got ulterior motives.

It’s harder to make it work in a modern day. Every idea that came to my mind was still half-baked. My wife’s best suggestion is a revenge killing over a nude photo posted as revenge by an angry ex, which either ditches any criminals being in the background or renders this plot point only a red herring.

What are your thoughts on the silliest mystery tropes? Do you agree? Disagree? Have you seen examples of these tropes done well? Do you have other tropes you think belong in the list. Write about it in the comments.

The Top Five Detective Programs from the Declining Years of the Golden Age of Radio

See the articles on detective programs in the World War II era and the immediate Post-War era.

Television was always going to be trouble for the world of radio drama and comedy. That problem grew larger as more TV sets were sold, more broadcast hours were added, and overall production quality improved.

1951 was the first year when television’s advertising revenue exceeded radio’s advertising revenue. It was a watershed and economic pressure bore down on radio. Everyone involved in scripted performances could make more money on television: writers, actors, directors. They were all drawn to television as radio programs began to cut back on budgets. Popular long-standing programs such as the Lux Radio Theater, Bob Hope, and Jack Benny began leaving the air to focus on the more lucrative opportunities in television. Networks began scaling back budgets for programs.

The decline could be seen in many ways. Great actors rarely starred in radio’s great anthology programs. Suspense had been known for its star-studded guest casts but in the latter 1950s, it featured many lead players who would have been lucky to be cast in two-line walk-on parts in the show’s heyday.

One last boom did occur in radio. Westerns took off with the success of Gunsmoke over radio and this continued until the end of the 1950s. Things didn’t go as well for the detective genre. After the glut of programs during the immediate post-war era, the herd began to thin. In addition, a lot of new programs were gone after six months when they might have lasted years had they aired in the previous decade. NBC, in particular, seemed to cancel one detective program so they could replace it with another they’d cancel six months later.

Despite its challenges, the era did provide opportunities. Character actors known for playing sidekicks now got a chance to star in their own radio detective shows. While writers like Jackson Gillis had moved on to television, there’s still some good scripts written. There’s even a case to be made that some scripts from the later 1950s show more maturity and nuance than the scripts from the height of the golden age.

This era has some solidly written and entertaining programs. However, few new detective programs were produced. In addition, many of the programs produced, such as Indictment and Treasury Agent, only left behind a handful of episodes. This may have been driven by more radio stations beginning to use tape, which had the cost-saving benefit of being able to be recorded over, much to the loss of future generations.

At any rate, here’s my top five detective programs from the declining years of the Golden Age of Radio..

5) The Adventures of the Falcon

Network: NBC

Star: Les Damon

This series has a terrific opening. The Falcon (aka Private Investigator Michael Waring) answered the phone and on the other end was an unnamed woman he had to break a date with and he gave a slight hint of the danger ahead. The story would generally start with a sordid situation developing that the Falcon would need to be brought into to solve.

The mysteries generally had a lot of twists and surprises. The Falcon had a competent police foil and he wasn’t always right. The series utilized some of the best New York radio actors including the distinct Ralph Bell. The characters often heightened characterization but this was toned down compared to something like Boston Blackie. However you cut it, this was a solid listen.

4) Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator

Network: NBC

Star: William Gargan

William Gargan had been a private investigator in real life which brought authenticity to his take on Barrie Craig. The academy-award-nominated Gargan was fun to listen to and provided versatile characterization. Craig could be friendly and easy-going, but also could get tough, or deal with sad or emotional moments. The series didn’t try to maintain a heavy atmosphere but knew how to mix in lighter moments to give its serious moments and ideas real weight.

The stories were well-written and well-directed. The first three seasons of the series were recorded in Hollywood, and the last in New York. However, throughout, the guest cast remained solid, and Gargan worked well with everyone.

3) Broadway’s My Beat

Network: CBS

Star: Larry Thor

“From Times Square to Columbus Circle…the gaudiest, the most violent–the lonesomest mile in the world.” The opening set the stage for Lieutenant Danny Glover’s downbeat adventures in solving homicides. The writing by Morton Fine and David Friedkin is highly stylized with a lyrical quality to it. Larry Thor nails the role of a tough, world-weary cop. Thor wasn’t an obvious choice. Prior to taking on the role of Danny Clover, he was best-known for performing announcer duties on programs such as Rocky Jordan.

While Clover is a cop, he seems to fit more comfortably with the hard-boiled private eyes of the previous era but with a badge that requires a little more cooperation and respect. Even though he’s a Lieutenant, he’s often in the field alone investigating cases. While many police and detective shows were moving toward a procedural feel with more realism and scientific investigation, Broadway’s My Beat went for human drama and poetry and the result is a compelling series.

2) Dragnet

Network: NBC

Star: Jack Webb

Dragnet became less the bold experimental show it was when it started in 1949. Particularly when Dragnet hit TV and Jack Webb was doing thirty-nine episodes of Dragnet on television in addition to more than fifty radio episodes per season, and in the midst of all that, a Dragnet movie was made. I think it’s safe to say that by the time Dragnet left radio in 1955 that Webb wasn’t feeling the same passion for the project he felt in 1949 and was eager to get on to other projects.

Even so, even with less passion, Dragnet was still better than nearly anything else on the radio and managed to tell some of its greatest stories, including the classic Christmas tale, “The Big Little Jesus.” After Barton Yarborough passed away, Ben Alexander became Friday’s new partner Frank Smith and brought a new dynamic, particularly with humor. Most episodes after Alexander joined the cast began to feature a scene with Joe and Frank talking with a fun punchline. Not only was this is an interesting new addition, it strengthened episodes that packed a dramatic punch because the earlier levity makes the big emotional twist hit like a gut punch.

Once Dragnet stopped making new episodes, NBC continued to air reruns network-wide for two more years which was unprecedented and a sign of the show’s popularity and quality.

1) Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

Network: CBS

Star: Bob Bailey

The first fifty-eight weeks with Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar featured serialized stories that aired Monday-Friday. To me, this run of episodes ranks as the best run of radio drama of all time. While there are some amazing individual episodes and story arcs from different series, for consistent high-quality radio drama over the course of year with high quality, that run of Yours Truly Johnny Dollar was never equaled. Many story arcs were based on scripts of half hour episodes that writers such as E. Jack Neumann and Les Crutchfield had written for previous runs of Johnny Dollar or other programs. The format allowed writers to expand upon ideas or to combine ideas from different stories. The format was also ideal because with two exceptions (a six-parter and a nine-parter) each story was limited to five parts. This avoided the padding and drawing out stories that could become the case on so many other serialized drama.

Bailey was supported by some of the finest radio character actors of all times, including Virginia Gregg, Herb Vigran, and Howard McNear. Bailey and Gregg had some superb scenes together and play off each other very well. The series also began to develop Johnny into a real character. Johnny Dollar had been on the air since 1949 but his backstory had been limited to what served an episode. Still, Johnny got definite back story, friends, and a favorite hobby of fishing. While previous Dollars picked up the phone and reached random insurance agents of the week, Bob Bailey’s dollar reached specific agents with their own unique personalities.

The series reverted to a half-hour form and it’s fair to say that sometime after that, the quality of stories began to drop, particularly from a mystery standpoint . Part of it came from budget cuts that had Jack Johnstone taking over as the series’ sole writer (a role he wasn’t suited to.) Due to less airtime, there are some episodes of Johnny Dollar where half the episode is spent talking about the case and its history.

However, even with its problems, the story also had its strengths, giving Johnny a rich cast of supporting and recurring characters that no detective drama had ever seen. It was years, and maybe decades ahead of its time with the sheer volume of continuity and friends that Bailey’s Dollar was given.

On the strength of the details given to Johnny and the show’s stellar start, the Bob Bailey run on Johnny Dollar is the best highlight for fans of detective radio programs in those last few years of radio.

 

The Top Five Post-War Radio Detective Programs

It was a challenge finding programs to compare when ranking World War II radio detective programs last week. This week, the big challenge is narrowing it down. The immediate post-war era (1946-51) was great for radio detective programs. The Hard-Boiled genre of detective fiction had a huge impact in the post-War era. Once networks saw some success in one hard-boiled radio detective program, the number of tough guys who spoke similes as a second language surged. Many of these got lost in the shuffle, but the best of them found a hook or angle that made them stand out from the crowd.

This is also the era when you have more programs with a high percentage of episodes available, which makes comparison easier. However, choosing is not easy. So many great programs get left off a top five lists. A lot of programs have a really good case for including them.  Still, these are the ones I’d go with.

5) Richard Diamond

Networks: NBC, ABC

Star: Dick Powell

Dick Powell began his career as a light song and dance man who played the lead in a lot of romantic musicals. In the 1940s, he began a new chapter in his career as the tough-guy star of films like Murder, My Sweet, Cornered, and Johnny O’Clock.  In Richard Diamond, these two elements are combined in a beautiful package in Richard Diamond. It’s a mix of usually rough violent stories that often end with him leaning close to his girlfriend, playing the piano, and uncorking a sweet romantic song.

The first season of the show is the best with Ed Begley as Lieutenant Walt Levinson, Wilms Hebert playing a double roll as Sergeant Otis and Diamond’s girlfriend’s butler. If the series had stayed that good throughout, it’d rank higher, but Begley left after the first season and three different actors played Levinson, and Wilms Hebert passed away in 1951. The show also tried to get away from the singing and do more serious tough-guy stuff without as much musical and comedy balance.

4) Sam Spade:

Networks: ABC, CBS, NBC

Star: Howard Duff

Sam Spade had been defined by the writing of Dashiell Hammett and the performance of Humphrey Bogart. That didn’t deter Duff, who took the role and made it his own. The character as Hammett wrote him would not have been someone the audience of the time would like to visit every week. Duff took the character’s toughness and occasional ruthlessness, and added a great deal of humor, with just a smidge of human sympathy and the result is unforgettable. The interaction between Sam and his secretary Effie were imitated by contemporaries but never really equaled.

The villains were bigger than life as if they should’ve been on The Shadow. However, the series seemed to thrive on these over-the-top characters as Spade took them in his stride, tidied things up, and got back to the office to dictate his report. Its music, opening, and “Good night, sweetheart” closing are iconic.

3) Rocky Jordan

Network: CBS

Star: Jack Moyles

Its international setting, replete with research on local customs, made it a stand out in the radio detective genre. Cairo-based café owner Rocky Jordan found himself in the midst of intrigue and mystery each week. Usually, it wasn’t of his own making and didn’t have anything to do with him or his business interests. Inevitably someone else in a jam would invariably draw Rocky into their problem.

What made the show is the relationship between Sam and Cairo Police Captain Sam Sabaaya (Jay Novello.) The two came from different worlds. The show didn’t back away from those differences but leaned in to them and showed how they maintained a respect and fondness for each other despite their disagreements. Captain Sabaaya was a thickheaded police foil, but a good cop who had a different thought process than our hero but often saved the day. One of the show’s best accomplishments is this felt like a believable part of their dynamic.

2) Dragnet

Network: NBC

Star: Jack Webb

Dragnet was a key step in the evolution of the police drama in bringing realism and professionalism to the way police dramas were told. There’s much that could be said about Dragnet over radio. Its characters talked more like real people. Because you felt like you were being shown how things really worked in the police department, Dragnet had a way of making tedious details and portions of investigations seem compelling. Even with the realism, there was a good sense of the dramatic and the show had a way of delivering big revelations and plot twists.

The music is iconic (although it took three episodes for them to settle on it) and the sound design helps make you feel like you’re accompanying Sergeants Friday and Romero. If you listen to Dragnet, particularly in the early episodes, If they walked into the store, you heard the sound of the store. This was different than other investigative shows where it felt like the heroes were always questioning their witnesses in pocket dimensions where nothing else was happening or going on.

They dealt with issues and cases that other shows avoided. It was a groundbreaking program that would set the tone for crime dramas for a decade and influence many programs that have come since.

1) The Adventures of Philip Marlowe

Network: CBS

Star: Gerald Mohr

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe had a lot going for it. It came closest to producing a serious hard-boiled detective series. It rarely indulged in the era’s popular extreme characterization, which gave it a more serious feel. It wasn’t oppressive, but the story had more weight than the detective shows that made it impossible to care that their over-the-top characters are being murdered. They were also less predictable. While some series were downbeat all the time or had a massacre every episode, Marlowe got some wins as well as some losses.

The production also showed willingness to play with different ideas. Sometimes, this would work out well, such as the episode where every character was a woman, including women holding traditionally male jobs. Sometimes, it didn’t work out so well, like the episode where he tried to investigate a murder while bed-ridden. However, there’s creativity behind the stories and they never get into a rut.

Mohr’s performance was superb. He was tough but he wasn’t cartoonish or needing to prove himself all the time. His characterization was often world-weary, but sometimes hopeful in spite of the trouble he’s been through. There’s a definite soft spot that makes you care for him.

The episodes are well-directed and have superb action scenes despite how tough it is to do those over radio. The “Get this and get it straight” opening light is one of my favorites, although it was tweaked much more than it needed to be. Norm MacDonnell, who’d go on to distinguish himself on Gunsmoke, has nearly flawless direction on this series.

This is not only the best post-War radio detective series, it may well be the most consistently good radio detective series ever made.

The Top 5 World War II Era Radio Detective Programs

Over the next three weeks, we’re going to count down the top five radio detective programs of three distinct eras during the Golden Age of Radio. The eras are the World War (1939-45), the Post-War (1945-51), and the Declining Years (1952-62).

From the outset, let’s keep in mind three things.

First, the rankings are based on the surviving programs. Right away, that is limiting. If we had more circulating episodes of some programs (or any episodes of programs that are completely lost), no doubt they would rank higher or might not be in the list all. But we work with what we have.

Second, there were detective programs prior to 1939. However, there’s not enough programs with a meaningful number of surviving episodes to allow for helpful comparison so we won’t be ranking them.

Third, many programs’ runs crossed multiple eras. Programs like Nick Carter, Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, and Mr. and Mrs. North aired during all three eras. For the purposes of our rankings, we’ll only evaluate the program for what we have of its run during the given era. It’s also possible for a series to be ranked in more than one era.

World War II Era Rankings

While there are more recordings of programs during World War II available than pre-War, many recordings are scarce. So many series from that era are lost or have left little evidence of their existence. This is partially due to the materials used for transcription disks being important for the war effort.. Still there are enough shows that have enough information for us to compare them even if we’re only basing that comparison on a few circulating episodes.

That said, let’s get on with ranking the top 5 World War II era detective programs:

5) Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons

Network: CBS

Star Bennett Kilpack

The longest-running radio detective series of all-time was in transition during the War. It was moving from being about what the title implies to solving murder cases each week. While the series has its flaws (over-the-top soap operatic acting, constantly repeating characters names), it has undeniable charm. Mister Keen is mostly true to his reputation as a “kindly investigator.” The series is fun to listen to, with reliable and lovable performances from the leads.

4) Mr. and Mrs. North

Network: NBC

Stars: Joseph Curtain and Alice Frost

When most people think of husband and wife detective teams, they think of The Thin Man. Over radio, during the War, Mr. and Mrs. North was the better series. Curtain and Frost have great performance chemistry. The scripts are witty and light. The mysteries are fun. They also have a different dynamic than other shows, where the wife was the husband’s Watson. Both Norths are capable detectives and either one can end up solving the case. It’s a fun dynamic that makes for an interesting listen.

3) The Man Called X 

Networks: CBS, Blue Network, NBC

Star Herbert Marshall

The Man Called X took its titular hero and threw him into the heart of wartime action. During the war, Ken Thurston got into all sorts of espionage mysteries, even getting into Berlin just ahead of the allies. The mysteries were well-written, with plenty of action and suspense. Comic relief was dispensed by Pegon Zellschmidt (Hans Conreid, later Leon Belasco.)

2) Nick Carter

Network: Mutual

Star: Lon Clark

Nick Carter originated as the lead character in a series of dime novels in the 1880s and had a long life in print and other media, including a three-film series starring Walter Pidgeon from 1939-41. The character’s radio program is perhaps the character’s most memorable form. Nick Carter is a master detective who has put away so many criminals it’s a lengthy task to go through even a portion of his files. The radio series had one of the most memorable openings of any program during the golden age of radio, with frantic knocking on the door. A woman answers, “What’s the matter, what is it?” A man answers, “It’s another case for Nick Carter, Master Detective!”

At a time before the coming of the hard-boiled private eye to radio, Nick Carter’s cases packed a bit more punch with more peril and excitement involved. He’d often pull off improbable escapes. They weren’t quite on the level of a 1940s Batman serial where Batman got away by pulling a full-sized acetylene torch out of his unity belt once, but they were a bit out there. The mysteries had a bit of pulp fiction flavor to them.

Carter did mostly half-hour episodes, but it also broadcast 100 serialized episodes for over twenty weeks. The series rarely touched on the War itself and provided a great diversion for folks at home.

1)The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Networks: Blue Network, Mutual

Star: Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce had starred as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in two films already when they starred in the first series of New Adventures over the Blue Network in 1939. They did a total of three seasons that averaged twenty-four weeks each. Then came the Universal Sherlock Holmes features that placed Holmes and Watson in the World War II era and a new series over Mutual that would release a new episode every single week for two years. Through both networks runs, the duo performed  both works from Doyle’s original canon and added true new adventures. The tone would vary from week to week: from the comedic to the horrific and the poignant. Through it all, Rathbone and Bruce rolled with the punches and turned out solid performances each week .

Bruce not only played Holmes’ sidekick but an older Watson who had retired to America and would play host to the pitchman for whatever product was sponsoring them in a given season. It adds a nice touch of charm to a well-acted and written series worthy of the world’s greatest consulting detective.

 

Book Review: Pat Savage: Six Scarlet Scorpions

Doc Savage’s cousin Pat travels to Oklahoma along with one of Doc’s lieutenant’s, Monk Mayfair, in order to try her luck in oil speculation. Before she can even get to the field, she has to deal with a ruthless competitor. But that’s nothing compared to the mess she and Monk find themselves in when they stumble into a conspiracy involving a paralyzing poison, an offshot of the Ossage Indian tribes led by the sinister Chief Standing Scorpion, and murder. Pat and Monk find themselves framed for murder, and on the run from the law while pursuing the real culprits. How will they cope with Doc Savage out of the picture at his Fortress of Solitude?

As a bit of pulp fiction potboiler, this a fun read. The adventure itself has a lot of opportunities for derring-do as well as having quite a few mysteries that really keep the reader curious from start to finish, particular the question of who Standing Scorpion is. Admitted a villainous plot that’s essentially, “First Oklahoma…and then the world,” seems a bit unlikely and maybe even silly. But, it definitely works in the context of a pulp adventure set in the 1930s.

While Doc Savage novels tend to have a big cast, often involving many of Doc’s men, Pat and Monk are the sole protagonists of the book, with Monk’s best frenemy Ham being the only other member of Doc’s team to make an appearance. Monk is my favorite character in the Doc Savage world and this book shows how well he can carry the book and he plays very well off of Pat. They make a superb duo. If there’s a downside to this, it’s that Monk plays such a big role in this story that it’s hard to see how an ongoing series with Pat would like, although several sites have labeled this book 1 in the Wild Adventures of Pat Savage. Even though, there’s not  been a second book in five years. Pat does hint towards the end of the book that if she does go on another adventure, she’ll go alone. Six Scarlet Scorpions does enough to make me intrigued to find out what that would like.

The other characters in this story are mostly forgettable, compromising a group of toughs, evil overlords, a damsel and few other supporting characters. However, this is typically true of Doc Savage stories, where the persoanlities of the lead characters really do carry the book.

The book also suffers from the malady that most of the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage tend to. There’s a lot of our heroes being caught and released repeatedly. It’s the biggest source of padding in these books and this novel is no exception.

Still, this is an interesting book that does a great job recreating the world of Doc Savage and giving a couple characters from that world a chance to really shine on their own. It suceeds and if you enjoyed the original Doc Savages books or the other Wild Adventures, this is worth checking out.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Trial of Sherlock Holmes

The Trial of Sherlock Holmes finds Sherlock Holmes whisked away to a secret courtroom and forced to answer to charges of being a public menace and is forced to relive three little known cases.

This is a more comedic take on Holmes and Watson. Essentially in less than an hour, we’re given three remembered mysteries and the framing story about the trial which is itself a mystery and we’ve got a lot of comedy mixed in.

The acting is broad but decent. The five-member cast play their ensemble roles well and make all of their characters quite distinct. The writing is fine. While I knew from the start, there was something wrong with the judge, I didn’t figure out until 2/3 of the way through what he might be up to. The story explores the idea that Holmes’ rivals (aka detectives who sprang up soon after him) emerged during the time he was presumed dead after “The Final Problem.”

The story and its comedy veers towards the silly, and has its hits and misses. So the stories are mostly off-beat.

That said, doing a Sherlock Holmes comedy is hard. I’ve heard some awful attempts and by comparison, this isn’t half-bad. It’s unremarkable but it’s relatively short, occasionally funny, and a relatively pain-free listen. If you’d like to hear a silly Sherlock Holmes comedy that isn’t truly horrible, this might be worth trying.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

The story can be downloaded for free from the Wireless Theatre Company