Old time radio blog.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Playlist 2/14/09

When TV is boring and there's nothing else to do, I drag several episodes of old time radio into my media player and spend the evening enjoying them. Sometimes my lists have a theme, sometimes they're random like this one. Links are to the archive.org page sources, not the actual shows.

Wind Chill is one of the creepier episodes of the 1980 Nightfall series. Emotional young woman gets lost in the snow on a trip to a friend's cabin and meets fey young man who takes her to his own cottage. A combination of eerie moog music and a child's voice add to the tension, despite fairly predictable ending.

Burns & Allen: Gracie Hires Harpo leavens this playlist with trademark silliness from May 1946. Gracie Allen's voice is hoarser than usual and the political references need a peek in a history book; she gets Harpo Marx to snoop on Hollywood celebs for her gossip column. Interesting how a largely visual comic can still communicate (via a series of whistles & sound fx) on radio. Marx harps a sweet Stardust Memory (title?); Mel Blanc shows up as weaselly Mr Postman and Bill Goodwin mocks him while promoting sponsor Maxwell House Coffee. As usual, George Burns is the only sane man in the room. Oh man, I'd love to see what they're doing near show end to make the audience howl! OMG, tons of stuff must be pouring out of Harpo's trademark trenchcoat, LOL!!

Lux Theater's 2/8/55 version of War of the Worlds follows starring Dana Andrews and Pat Crowley. The play begins with Paul Frees, who played a newsman in the movie and was the voice of a thousand Disney ride characters & featurettes, not to mention Josephine's voice in Some Like It Hot. A meteor hits the hills above a small California town, a telephone lever is rattled to get through a party line (remember those?), and on comes Andrews' Gene Barryish voice at a campfire. Crowley is girlier here than her later role on Please Don't Eat The Daisies. Later, good ol' Bill Conrad shows up as a pompous general. Doesn't quite have the same campy resonance as the George Pal film production; more realistically similar to the 1959 BBC production of The Kraken Wakes but without the mordant satire that gave that one its bite.

Halloween 1949 episode of Our Miss Brooks features a party at ever-fussy Principal Conklin's house. Unfortunately Mr Conklin is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and the sight of his least favorite student Walter in spectral drag just about puts him over.

Debut episode of The Magnificent Montague (11/10/50) introduces the spiteful title character, long-suffering wife Lily, and sassy maid Agnes. Edwin has finally gotten an acting job after eight years of old fartitude. I love the silly statement he makes about radio killing the stage; if it wasn't for radio, most people never would have heard or learn to enjoy live theater. Seriously, the nauseating Uncle Goodheart character Montague has to play would drive most people back to Broadway for the realities of Miller and Williams! Still, the zingers flying during the Goodheart audition make this a classic episode.

10/8/49 episode -- The Open Window -- of Adventures of Philip Marlowe. The gumshoe calms a soft-spoken dame with amnesia who has shown up at his apartment, claiming she's being followed by some strange man. Marlowe leaves her in the flat so she can get some sleep and goes off to investigate with an 'enigmatic key' she's given him, including a visit to a badly-acted drunk named Jake and a run-in with three more shady characters.

9/27/45 Arch Oboler play The Family Nagachi looks at a post-war Nisei clan. More famous for his frightening Lights Out episodes, Oboler actually preferred writing thoughtful social dramas like these. Decorated war hero comes home to find that his family had been interned in the Manzanar concentration camp in the California desert for the duration and continue to be harrassed for being of Japanese descent. Ironically, none of the named lead players are Asian. Still it's bold for its day, and holds up pretty well, especially considering that it wasn't until 1976 that TV bothered to do a movie about Manzanar.

3/11/60 Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney show runs about 19 minutes sans commercials. The tunes are tame and the show is relatively free of lots of inane patter -- ads aside -- but I'm not big on post-40's Crosby. Gak: der Bingle attempting to "rock" up It Happened in Monterey! Way too much organ throughout the show. Clooney comes off best -- this was still her era, at least until the Beatles landed.

X Minus One's Sea Legs from May 1956 Veteran spaceman opts to retire to his parents' home planet -- Earth -- after sixteen years in a low-gravity situation. Unfortunately the old terra firma ain't what it used to be; actually it's become like then-contemporary USSR, a dystopian future of paranoia, tight rationing, and hostile class-consciousness.

A 4/17/52 Father Knows Best episode focuses on something safely Western: a new washing machine and Kitten's weird fascination with using it. Great to hear kids say things like "turn blue" and "okay, Tallulah" instead of "bite me" and worse, or as much as they can get past the FCC on commercial television. On the other hand, I remember the prudes getting pissy ten-fifteen years ago about a Mad About You episode that had Jamie (Helen Hunt) having an orgasm as she sat atop her new washer.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Horror Shows

If you like Twilight Zone or X-Files, turn out the lights and listen to episodes of (appropriately) Lights Out, Suspense, Escape, Inner Sanctum, and a few other notable series from the horror genre. There were other series, well-known and rare -- The Whistler, The Shadow, The Hall of Fantasy, The Hermit's Cave, etc -- but these are
my personal favs.
Lights was written by Arch Oboler, a playwright and occasional film director
(he made one of the earliest and best anti-nuke flicks, Five, in 1951) with a creepy voice (he hosts each episode) and a great talent for inspiring fear and claustrophobia. Although some of the shows are creaky, notably Cat Wife (late 30's), the tale of a bitchy broad who turns into a feline, others retain an ageless sense of eerieness, like Bathysphere, The Ghost in the Newsreel Negative, Rocket To Manhattan, and African Story. This guy was like a talented version of Ed Wood, creating a lot of atmosphere on a shoestring budget.
Suspense was a long-running series that frequently featured a lot of name talent, like Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Vincent Price, Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Mercedes McCambridge, and other masters of audio media. Source material dipped into classics by Poe, Lovecraft, Bierce, Wells, Conrad, et al.
Escape's gimmick was the title verb, each episode focusing on the hero trying to get out of a bad situation, be it an isolated kingdom of blind people out to make him one of them, or a gazillion marauding red ants. or Nazi bastards intent on destroying democracy.
Inner Sanctum was perhaps the campiest of the horror shows, with its devilish narrator and its obsession with all things funereal. One of my favorites has a corpse for a backseat driver. another has a woman (Anne Seymour) convinced that her husband is a vampire.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Magnificent Montague

If you like Frasier or The Jeffersons, you'll probably like The Magnificent Montague . Like those two classic shows, the star is a pompous ass who regularly gets verbally bitch-slapped by his smartass housekeeper. In this case it's Pert Kelton as Agnes the maid versus Monty Woolley in the title role. Leavening out their catfights is Montague's wife, Lily Boheme (voiced gracefully by Anne Seymour), who like her husband is a former Shakespearean stage star. Montague gets a gig playing the unctious Uncle Goodheart on a popular afternoon soap opera -- his first serious paying job in many years -- and spends a lot of time trying to hide this fact from his fellow members of the Proscenium Club, a hangout for other theatrical fossils.
The series -- which not surprisingly (considering its often acid dialogue) only lasted a single season on NBC Radio -- proceeds from Montague's first audition through an ill-fated gig in Hollywood and beyond. There were a total of 53 known episodes produced
between 11/10/50 and 9/08/51, of which only 33 remain (at least on archive.org -- Jerry Haendige's log -- sez there's 43 in existence), some of those final shows as of yet lost to history. One -- 7/21/51's Edwin Montague Day -- is only available (in the archive) as an 11-minute snippet! The writing was uniformly fairly high quality; how you enjoy it depends mainly on how much you can stand Woolley essentially playing his title role from The Man Who Came To Dinner, his most famous movie, in half-hour chunks. I particularly like Kelton's character who reminded me of both old H-wood character player Una O'Connor, and Marla Gibbs on The Jeffersons. The script to one of the best episodes, 1/12/51's Lost in Hollywood, is available online as a document via this Chicago theater site; in it, Montague takes brill potshots at both radio and the movie industry with content that still rings true.

It was either that or Radio Sweethearts

and I bet that's been taken by either an Elvis Costello fan or someone into distaff country music. Nope, this is my blog on favorite pastime, collecting old-time radio shows; Theater Mined is a reference to the phrase coined to describe radio, "The Theater of the Mind". Each entry will focus on a separate series or on two or more similar series -- gems that I have personally mined from my favorite source. I will liken them to a comparable TV show or film genre if it helps generate more interest.

I've been downloading episodes from the excellent www.archive.org website's Old Time Radio pages, which has thousands of entries including two full broadcast days and efforts by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group to make available to the public full (and free) sets of classic series.