Tag: Golden Age article

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.
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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.

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.

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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.

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Audiobook Review: Brand of the Black Bat


Introduced at the same time as Batman, the Black Bat was a pulp fiction vigilante appearing in sixty-five short novels between 1939-1955.

Brand of the Black Bat provides the character’s origin. DA Tony Quinn’s eyes are splashed with acid leading to disfigurement and blindness. However, a mysterious woman helps him get an operation that restores his sight. He sets out to punish evildoers and fight crime outside the law as the Black Bat.

The Black Bat in his first appearance is given a pretty solid origin story which was unusual for the time. We get to see the events that changed his life, how he met his associates, and his first case as the Black Bat. As a pulp crime story, Brand of the Black Bat is fairly good. It’s no Maltese Falcon, but it has some good villains, a decent mystery, and a satisfying conclusion.

The story does feature a lot of oddities and eccentricities that reflect the silly publishing practices of the time. There’s the case of Silky, a burglar who breaks into Quinn’s house on the night before he’s blinded. It’s the same night another person is breaking into Quinn’s house to kill him. Silky wakes Quinn which allows Quinn to thwart the killer. In turn, Quinn makes Silky his valet and has him following into court the next day.  Silky immediately becomes his loyal servant and lifetime confidante. Quinn keeps pretending to be blind. To avoid suspicion of not being blind, he constantly finds new ways to appear klutzy and totally helpless. In real life, most people who’ve been blind a long time don’t have such foibles. And then there’s the over the top dialogue.

The audiobook is read by Michael McConnohie, who also reads the Doc Savage audiobooks. His powerful, resonant voice makes this book a delight to listen to. The exciting and epic moments of the book sound even better with McConnohie’s powerful reading voice. For the same reason, those parts that are unintentionally funny are even funnier.

If you like pulp fiction, the Brand of the Black Bat is worth a read or a listen. It gives a good, detailed origin story for its protagonist and supporting characters. It’s the type of story that can be seen as a potential inspiration for modern heroes like Marvel’s Daredevil. Despite its flaws and the parts that haven’t aged well, it’s well worth checking out.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0

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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

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Audiobook Review: Tales of Max Carrados

Max Carrados is one of those easily overlooked figures of detective fiction’s golden age. He’s thrown into a mass of detectives that entertained readers in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Like many of them, he’s been mostly forgotten.

Yet, Carrados is worth checking out. If you like Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, Carrados will be right up your alley.

Carrados was created by Ernest Bramah. Carrados was a blind man and compensated for the loss of his sight to such a degree that he became a first-class amateur detective. He often assisted a private investigator named Carlisle as well as the official police. He’s assisted by his observant and able manservant Parkinson.

Tales of Max Carrados is audiobook released by Audible and is read by British Actor/Comedian Stephen Fry (Fry and Laurie).

The stories are generally solid mysteries that are remarkably clever and well-written for the most part. The stories have a light and fun tone. Carrados solves a variety of cases, mostly of the non-murderous variety. The supporting characters are well-written and intriguing. I found myself wanting to know more about a few of them. The stories include Carrados’ work during the War and a case that involves Britain’s militant suffragettes.

A few cases involve Carrados in peril and how he handles himself. “The Game Played in the Dark” is a classic example and is quite suspenseful. The last story is in the same vein but with heightened stakes. In “The Missing Witness Sensation,” Carrados is a key witness in the trial of an IRA member and is abducted off the street and taken to a country house and locked up in the basement. Eventually, the blind man’s left alone without food or water and without any of the aides that he’s relied on the past. It’s all that shakes the generally unflappable detective. It’s fascinating to see how he gets out of it.

I didn’t much care for the first story. “The Coin of Dionysus” introduces Carrados but contains too much actionless exposition and goes on too long for what it offers as a mystery. Other than that, the stories are all quite enjoyable.

Fry is a fantastic narrator and infuses the story with a great deal of warmth and charm. He infuses each character with so much personality, I almost forgot I was listening to an audiobook rather than an audio drama. I’d definitely love to listen to him read again.

Bottom line: If you like Golden Age Mysteries and listen to audiobooks, this is a title that’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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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 the TV episodes, it’s a coin flip as to who’ll provide the solution.

She could have a separate career which 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.

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