Old time radio blog.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Satire At Its Best

If you like whacked-out comedy like Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, and the early National Lampoon movies like Animal House, you'll probably like Bob & Ray and The Goon Show. The former was an American comedy duo, the latter a British comedy troupe. Both dealt in high satire, although B&R's was so subtle sometimes you thought it was the real thing: two really dumb newsmen cluelessly reporting what was going on around them. The Goons, led by future film star Peter Sellers and wildman Spike Milligan, were far less subtle, mixing it up on subjects like the royal family, British military, detective and spy fiction, literary references, vaudeville tricks, and other assorted insanity. Both acts relied on their ability to come up with funny voices and making mountains out of molehills. Running characters for B&R included the nitwit field reporter Wally Ballou (Bob Elliott) and a subpar actress named Mary Backstayge (Ray Goulding); Milligan (I'm pretty sure) voiced a fey young man who usually played a lost dauphin or idiot child. Sellers did all those wacky voices he's now famous for, glommed on by John Lennon (listen to "Yellow Submarine"), David Letterman, Steve Martin, and other future fans. A little bit of Goonery goes a long way, I've found, but Bob & Ray on a roll is genius work.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Playlist 4/4/09

Lux Theater - The Velvet Touch 1/10/49
Rosalind Russell recreates her film role as a popular stage actress who accidentally kills her abusive producer/ex-lover as he's throttling her for disobeying his orders. [One wishes this had been the outcome of a certain r'n'b diva's recent encounter with her bf.] Roz suffers a bit too dramatically (as compared to her more subtle film performance) as she tries to cover up this crime of passion. Sidney Greenstreet is her police-detective nemesis, an adoring fan who knows in his heart that she'll eventually give up the goods. The copy of this show on Archive is edited down to about 45 minutes; on one hand it's good not to hear the usual unctuous shilling for Lux soap, on the other there's no after-show interview with the star, a Lux trademark.

The Black Museum - A Doctor's Prescription (1950)
Orson Welles hosted this series of shows based on artifacts found in London's Scotland Yard repository of true crime memorabilia. This dramatization involved a seemingly loving nurse who cared for elderly patients in her home. Straightforward production with predictable outcome is still worth listening to for the historical aspect, especially if you're a fan of CSI and other police procedurals.

Tales of Tomorrow - Betelgeuse Bridge (1/15/53)
Kind of silly tale about a race of snail-like creatures who come to Earth and become media darlings by way of a savvy public relations agent hired for the purpose. Does have an interesting denoument though...

Bob & Ray - Library Reel 04 (undated, late 50's - early 60's)
Collection of hit and miss episodes from the wry comic duo's heyday includes interviews with obnoxious audience members; clueless newsman Wally Ballou talking to toothpick maker and to a guy with an interesting new car in his garage; the world's biggest loser, and so on. Not sure if Ray Goulding's monotonous female voice was deliberate or not. As usual, their humor is so dry it's kind of dull -- until the zinger hits and you're laughing out loud.

Judy Canova Show - Eddie Cantor, guest star (1/17/48)
Bob Hope Show - Anne Baxter, guest star (10/16/53)
Judy was funny-looking but not terribly funny; this episode is more memorable for showcasing early 20th Century star Cantor in a medley of his greatest song hits, like If You Knew Susie. Bob was funny-looking but was a genius comic; having sexy Baxter to bounce off of (he wished literally) only improves the show. Episode is set on the Queen Mary ocean liner and features Hope ticking off the captain in classic style.

The Navy Lark - Fairground Lights (4/19/59)
Britcom set on a Royal Navy ship apparently most familiar with dry dock plays like future Yank TV hit McHale's Navy. It's funny but not in a classic way.

The Great Gildersleeve - Aunt Octavia Visits (12/7/41)
More like Octavia's niece visits; seemingly sweet child turns bad seed in Gildy's household. Episode is actually more memorable because of its occasional live reports re that day's attack on Pearl Harbor. Surprising how they didn't just turn the slot over to the news division the way they would nowadays.

The Family [1/2] Hour

If you like gentle sitcoms like Father Knows Best, you might be surprised by the radio version, which has a meaner streak in the form of father Jim Anderson. I prefer this guy over the one on TV, both played by Robert Young; the supporting casts of his 'stupid' family however are played by different people -- specifically the kids, who sound like adults with annoying voices, especially the chick who plays Kitten, a whiny brat who deserves to be on a milk carton. Princess is just that, spoiled rotten and much dumber than Elinor Donahue's characterization. Bud sounds like a future street hustler, 'holy cowww'. Only Margaret, I think voiced by Jean Van Der Pyl (Wilma Flintstone) gets her sexy on although she sounds younger than Jane Wyatt.

If you like Married With Children or Roseanne, you'll probably like Life of Riley and My Friend Irma. These are generally low-brow sitcoms with bright stars and likeable scripts. Riley starred William Bendix as a blue collar worker with a wife and two kids; Irma (starring Marie Windsor in the title role) looked at the daily lives of a couple of roomies who worked as secretaries for different companies. Riley is a mug, Irma is a dumb blonde; each has a more mature foil in his wife and her roommate respectively. Each have supporting characters who give them something to play off; in Irma's case, a pair of vaudevillian stereotypes of an Irish landlady and a Jewish musician who continually lust after each other disguised as bickering.

If you like The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, and similar series revolving around minor celebs at home, you might enjoy The Phil Harris & Alice Faye Show . This was a long-running spin-off from The Jack Benny Program featuring Benny's wacky former bandleader, his real-life, tough-talking former Hollywood blonde bombshell wife Faye, and two girls playing their daughters. Harris is a natural wiseguy -- his dozen or so years with Benny in the 40's are among that show's best -- and is always worth listening to making an ass of himself. Faye is the long-sufferer who puts up with his shenanigans because let's face it, they were one of the sexiest couples in radio -- like Rob & Laura Petrie, you knew these two were balling like bunnies off-mike. Join Phil as he does stupid things like trying to get a break on the high cost of beef in post-WWII America, pleasing his sponsors (Rexall Drugstores), and pissing off Alice. Anything for a nooner while the girls are at school...