Old time radio blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Playlist 3/29/09

Suspense - Death and Miss Turner 11/17/52
Agnes Moorehead, star. Disturbing painting of a faceless man by an 'R Turner' intrigues one Rachel Turner. Is she or is she not a murderer? Complex psychological tale echoes Spellbound as Rachel tries to work her way out of this conundrum with the help of her trusty shrink. Moorehead gives a particularly neurotic performance.

Halls of Ivy - Missing $25 4/2/52
The Halls take a spring stroll across campus, have a droll conversation with the college groundskeeper and find out about episode title. This leads to a crisis borne by the roomie of the girl accused of the petty crime. Okay episode, not that interesting second half.

Ford Theater - Carmen Jones 11/16/47
Brilliant production of this landmark Oscar Hammerstein musical drama features most of the original Broadway cast, including Muriel Smith in the lead and Elton J Warren (a female) as the innocent ingenue Cindy Lou, both involved with dorky hero Joe. I enjoyed this so much, I listened to it twice in one week. Interestingly, Smith declined to repeat the role in Otto Preminger's 1954 movie version because she didn't think it reflected well on her people; ironically, Dorothy Dandridge went on to become the first African-American nominated for an Oscar -- Best Actress -- as Carmen, albeit voiced by white opera diva Marilyn Horne. Smith pretty much disappeared into history.

Screen Director's Playhouse - Flamingo Road 5/26/50
Joan Crawford effectively replays her late-career film role as a formerly wanton woman trying to go straight in a seedy southern town. About as good as the flick version, possibly better, since it goes right to the heart of the matter without too many distractions, such as a middle-aged lady trying to look cute dressed as a 20 year-old.

Just A Minute - The Alphabet 2/23/70
Absolutely wacky BBC-4 panel show recalls the Goons and predicts parts of current NPR series, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me by way of the format: panel members are given one minute to speak all they can on the given subject, starting with the title offering. Demerits are given for deviating from the subject, stammering, and other verbal crimes. It really is an ingenious concept as only the Brits can come up with and would be great as a teaching tool for debating teams. I particularly liked the responses of Geraldine Jones, who sounds Maggie Smith crossed with that no-nonsense vixen Anne Robinson from The Weakest Link.

Lights Out - The Author & The Thing 9/28/43
Series creator Arch Oboler's CBS Radio season-ender was this daffy, but eerie episode starring Oboler as himself trying to come up with an effective, non-hackneyed story guaranteed to scare the guano out of his listeners. In a dark room, or a lonely foxhole, this may well have done it. The thing in the title is a gibbering, grumbling ghoul who appears out of nowhere, not unlike Woody Allen's id in Stardust Memories, except when this one kills it's not for laughs. Mercedes McCambridge co-stars with an unexpectedly girly voice.

Candy Matson YUkon 2-8209 - Valley of The Moon 12/27/49
One of the very few female footpads of her day, drily-witty Matson sets out to find the killer of a fru-fru matron (Helen Kleeb, who later had a recurring role as one of the Baldwin Sisters on TV's The Waltons) at a western dude ranch. Writing is pretty good but it's a pity so few of these shows - 12 known episodes -- are still in circulation.

Escape - Earth Abides, Parts 1 & 2, 11/5 & 12/50
Mysterious Traveler - A Fire In The Sky 8/28/51
Two strong takes on end-of-the-world scenarios, one by way of international plague, the other by plunging comet. Earth Abides of course presages Stephen King's The Stand, thankfully sans the faith-based boogeyman drivel that lessened that book's impact. John Dehner stars as a scientist working up in the northern California mountains who comes down to find that 99% of humanity has succumbed to mysterious illness. Eventually this Adam finds his Eve in his hometown of San Francisco and begins to rebuild society over the coming years in an intelligent way. No punches are pulled and there are few of the tedious anti-social types that populate the current versions of the genre (Mad Max, et al).
Fire takes a different route, a claustrophobic one, that involves a defrocked scientist and an unwitting pair of newlyweds, not to mention nefariously acquired younguns, in a deep underground series of chambers. Not as all-over-the-place as Deep Impact but certainly intriguing. I wish there had been a sequel; show just kinda leaves 'em hanging.

Private Eyes

If you liked the Bruce Willis / Cybil Shepherd vehicle Moonlighting, you'll probably like The Adventures of Sam Spade , starring Howard Duff as Dashiell Hammett's most famous character. Like that witty detective show, Spade has no problem doling out the one-liners and occasional groaner double entendres opposite a bunch of Effie's as his dizzy secretary (Bewitched's 2nd Gladys Kravits played her, as did Lurene Tuttle) as he dictates the week's casebook. Each 'caper', as he calls them, usually features at least one sultry female and several no-goodnik thugs out to seduce and beat up our hero.
If you like your detectives a little more serious, try The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe . The series began in 1947 as being voiced by Van Heflin, who left it after six episodes to concentrate on his Hollywood career. He was replaced quite effectively by Gerald Mohr, a prolific actor in various other radio dramas. The writing, based on many Raymond Chandler potboilers, is pretty good, tough and smart. There's a noirish quality here that makes you hungry for the real thing, and thankfully, archive.org's public domain movie section has a whole directory devoted to like-minded thrillers and detective stories like D.O.A., He Walked By Night, The Stranger, The Hitch-Hiker, and the Heflin/Barbara Stanwyck classic, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rillly Big Shoooz

If you like all-star extravaganzas of the Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett Show and even Saturday Night Live variety, you'll probably like The Big Show, Command Performance, and Mail Call. The Big Show was a weekly NBC challenge at the time, 1950-51, to listeners of The Jack Benny Program over on CBS. Despite being hosted by Tallulah Bankhead and featuring 90 minutes of two or more A-listers of the day (like Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred Allen, George Sanders, Vivien Leigh, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Judy Holliday, Fanny Brice, Ethel Merman, and Bea Lillie), the show failed to beat the Benny juggernaut. A typical Big show would begin with witty repartee between Bankhead and, say, Groucho then someone would sing a number or music director Meredith Wilson (who later created the Broadway hit The Music Man) would conduct his choir and/or band in something inspirational (the show was on Sunday nights), Bankhead or similar stage star (Leigh [with husband Laurence Olivier], Ethel Barrymore) would do a scene from a play, more comedy, more music, maybe a scene from an upcoming movie, and then that show's cast would do a singalong of Wilson's "May The Good Lord Bless & Keep You", followed by Bankhead sending good wishes to our military overseas. If they were to attempt this today, the hostess might be Whoopi Goldberg with guests Will Ferrell, Will Smith, George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Carrie Underwood, and featuring the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and -- I dunno -- the Harlem Boy's Choir.
Command Performance and Mail Call were on only during the years of World War II; it was like a Stage Door Canteen on the air with live performances, again by all the biggest stars of the day. Hope, Crosby, Marx, Garland, Betty Hutton, The Andrews Sisters, Victor Borge, Red Skelton, Lena Horne, etc. The format was really cool: real soldiers and platoons would send in weekly requests to hear their favorite artists; one gang even wanted to hear a starlet sigh on mic! They asked for it and they got it -- all swathed in a lot of patriotism and good feelings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Playlist, 3/16/09

The Big Show, episode 12, January 1951
One of the better Shows, this one features Judy Holliday doing a scene from Born Yesterday, as well as a bizarre redneck satire with Tallulah B and Fred Allen. Sadly, fellow guest Eddie Cantor goes over like the proverbial lead balloon and Vaughan Monroe sings on key but through his nose: blecch. Gypsy Rose Lee is okay -- she was never that great an actress -- but she does get a few zingers trading off with Bankhead. Patrice Munsell provides a lovely aria from...ahh, well can't remember it, but she was great anyways.
D__of Fate: Peter Drake (1948) Absolutely terrible faux Suspense drama of henpecked husband driven to desperate acts to keep his job; the actress playing his wife was particularly wooden. There are only a few episodes of this Chicago series available, and if this is an example of the rest, avoid like the plague!
Life of Riley, Piano for Junior (1944) Riley's determined that his son be as talented a pianist as lil' Egbert, son of one of his buddies. Naturally, Junior would rather play baseball. An okay episode
Jeff Regan, Investigator (1948) The Lawyer & The Lady My first listen to this Jack Webb series but I was distracted by something else. I do remember witty and surprisingly sometimes risque' dialogue with a deep-voiced dame. Kind of a younger, hipper version of Phillip Marlowe.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Film By Ear

If you like classic movies from Hollywood's 'golden era' (1927 - 1960), you'll probably love Lux Theater, NBC's University of the Air, Theater Guild, Screen Guild Theater, and Academy Award Theater.
Lux is the most famous, offering one hour adaptations of hundreds of popular films beginning in the mid-30's all the way up to the mid-50's. The plays usually featured one or more of the original stars or an equal replacement, such as Rosalind Russell subbing for Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce or Barbara Stanwyck taking Bette Davis' lead in Dark Victory -- often to great or better effect. Both of the Thin Man productions star William Powell and Myrna Loy; the couple also show up in their Manhattan Melodrama; Bill Holden and Gloria Swanson duel in Sunset Boulevard; Bogie & Bacall simmer in To Have and Have Not. Davis does appear in The Letter, albeit in a speeded-up version -- a technical glitch -- that lessens the impact. Bogart reappears for The African Queen, with Greer Garson subbing for Katharine Hepburn; Kate herself shows up in Undercurrent.
University was a late 40's - early 50's series based on great works of world literature created for various colleges; each episode has at least one name star and the books include Moby Dick, Howards End, Mrs Dalloway, Sons & Lovers, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, Track of the Cat, and The Red Badge of Courage.
Theater Guild also has name talent focusing more on stage classics like Blithe Spirit and a fabulous Tallulah Bankhead version of All About Eve, which trumps the Lux version starring Davis herself!
Academy Award and Screen Guild offer half-hour versions of famous films -- including Davis in Jezebel and in The Little Foxes, Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road, Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives, Carole Lombard in Tailored By Toni, et al -- which are great little time-killers.
Note: If you are more theater-inclined, Campbell Playhouse and its predecessor, The Mercury Theater are in a class by themselves -- and not just because they both feature Orson Welles as their artistic centers. The focus is more on non-Hollywood product like their infamous War of the Worlds production of 1938 that spooked millons across the country, a witty version of Schnitzler's sexy Affairs of Anatol which was years ahead of its time, and Welles' own take on Dinner At Eight which practically predicts his own future downfall.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Playlists, March 9 - 12, '09

NBC University Theater - This Side of Paradise. (1949) This sucked, plain and simple. I was really disappointed with this lame production of the Jazz Age classic by F Scott Fitzgerald. Guy Madison, who later made his name as the butch dad & captain of Lost In Space, sounds like a complete nerd here. Adding insult to injury is some college prof named Orville who calls the book one of Fitzgerald's lesser works! Ack. You want a better version, download the audio book from archive.org by way of Librivox, most of which readers are female and sound like they could beat up Madison and Orville. College gals is mean...

Father Knows Best, Orchid for A Lady (1951) Valentine's Day at the Andersons. Jim and the kids become obsessed with pleasing Margaret with the gift of an expensive orchid. Not one of the better episodes but listenable, except for the constant whining of Kitten.
Burns & Allen, Aunt Clara Kangaroo (1940) The gang's on tour supporting Gracie's bid for the presidency. George is put in charge of his "aunt", actually Gracie's pet kangaroo (don't ask) -- trouble ensues. I liked the taxi trip and Allen sings a cute song by Glenn Miller. Also the orchestra really kicks with a nifty swing instrumental.
Our Miss Brooks, Project X (1955) Conklin's bucking for an upgrade via the Board of Education and his creepy PA system that can hear a mouse (or Connie) pass gas. Naturally the whole school wants to aid in his speedy exit. Pretty funny for a late-series entry.
Halls of Ivy, Valuable Painting (1951?) Ronald & Benita Colman once again prove two things: that they were a class act and boy, those two must have had a great love life in private. Episode revolves around a Goya painting bequeathed to Ivy College by a late benefactoress. Dr Hall's problem is whether to keep it and bring prestige to the school, or sell it for a new school station wagon and other necessities.
Magnificent Montague, Agnes Joins A Cult (1951) Another great catfight between maid Agnes and boss Monty early in the episode rather devolves into a left-field denouement that left me scratching my head. Probably heralded the coming cancellation of the show.
Dimension X - Shanghaied (1951) Rich kid is abducted by sleazy space tramps and forced to serve as deckhand on a spaceship headed for Alpha Centauri, a trip that will take 15 years! Creepy and scary, although probably owes much to Robert Louis Stevenson.
CBS Radio Mystery Theater - Fall of The House of Usher, and Blizzard of Terror (both 1974) Two of the better episodes of this overrated anthology series. Poe's classic gave me the willies in it's earnestness; Blizzard I figured out early on but Lois Smith (Jack's sis in 5 Easy Pieces, Helen's aunt in Twister) upped the quality in a believable reading as a liberated woman harrassed (along with her milquetoast hubby) by a sexist creep in a snowbound cabin.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dimension X Minus One

If you like The Twilight Zone, X-Files, and The Outer Limits, you'll
probably like Dimension X
and X Minus One

The first series ran from April 8, 1950 - '51 and featured
dramatizations of some of the best science fiction writing of the
day. Stories by Ray Bradbury (The Veldt), Robert Heinlein
(Universe), and Frederick Pohl (The Tunnel Under The World),
Fritz Leiber (A Pail of Air) -- which alternated with tales from the
series' in-house scribe -- came alive in often effective
distillations. The series was revived for a longer run as X Minus
One, although longer isn't necessarily better. The first season is
the best -- most of the episodes are remakes of Dimension X
shows -- but as the series moved along, the focus veered more
towards jokiness and an almost folksy quality that predates other
kid-friendly TV series like My Favorite Martian and Lost In Space.
Another drag about the second series is that it stars pretty much
the same troupe of actors each episode. Beware of duplicates
or rerun episodes if you plan on downloading the full runs from

Back to School

If you like school-bound TV shows like Head of the Class, Room
222, and Welcome Back Kotter, you'll probably like Our Miss
Brooks and The Halls of Ivy. OMB stars Eve Arden as the title
English teacher at a California high school; HOI stars Mr & Mrs
Ronald Colman as a college dean and his ex-actress wife.
Brooks is more of a situation comedy dealing with silly
escapades and petty jealousies among staff and students; Ivy is
a gentler, classier look at school life. Canadian Colman and
British wife Benita play off each other beautifully as they deal with
students and administrators, not to mention various oddballs off
campus. They also remind me of the late-middle-aged lovers
Judi Dench & Geoffrey Palmer in As Time Goes By.

Brooks has a crush on the hunky biology teacher (played from the late 40's
through the early 50's by actually hunky Jeff Chandler), her
student Walter (Richard Crenna at his squeakiest) has a crush on
Harriet, and Harriet's dad, Principal Conklin (Gale Gordon) is a
pompous pain in the ass. Both became TV shows, but OMB
lasted longer; Ivy's high-road writing apparently couldn't maintain
an audience in the heyday of madcap redheads and
bongo-playing husbands. Good luck if you can find a copy of it,
while OMB has aired on TV Land. Don't mistake me, I love 'em
both, but it would have been nice to have seen the Colmans in