Saturday, November 26, 2011

#116 Dead Man's Folly - Hercule Poirot (BBC)

Dead Man's Folly again features John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot in another of the BBC's oustanding productions of Agatha Christies famous Belgian detective. This time Poirot's friend Ariadne Oliver (Julia McKenzie) has been asked to create a murder mystery game for a party. Fearing that somehow the game may become a reality she calls on Poirot to help her. Dead Man's Folly has been selected as one of Audio File Magazines 10 best in the "voices of 2011 full-cast category" along with another production spotlighted on this post, The Mark of Zorro. This is one of Christie's best written Poirot stories and a wonderful audio production.

From the BBC:
Ariadne Oliver, Queen of Crime Fiction, has been asked to devise a Murder Hunt for a fete at Nasse House, the home of Sir George Stubbs. But she begins to suspect that someone is manipulating the scenario of her game and fears that something very sinister is being planned. She sends for her old friend Hercule Poirot. At first he is not inclined to take her very seriously but soon a series of events propels him to change his mind. Then suddenly all Ariadne's worst fears are realised when the girl playing the part of the murder victim is found strangled in the boat-house. For Hercule Poirot, the Murder Hunt has become a grim reality. This is a BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatisation starring John Moffatt as the great Belgian detective, with Julia McKenzie as Ariadne Oliver.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five Old Time Radio Westerns That Are Still Great Today

1. Doc Holliday = Gunsmoke Season 1 -Episode 13. Broadcast July 19, 1952. 
    Starring Williams Conrad as U.S. Marshall Matt Dillion and Harry Bartell as Doc Holliday.
    Pictured: Howard McNear (as Doc), William Conrad (as U.S. Marshall Matt Dillion)
    Parley Baer (as Chester), and Georgia Ellis (as Kitty).

2. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon = Lux Radio Theater. Broadcast 3-12-1951
    Starring John Wayne and Mel Ferrer.

3. Red River = Lux Radio Theater. Broadcast 3-7-1949
    Starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan.

4. My Darling Clementine = Lux Radio Theater. Broadcast 04-28-1947
    Starring Henry Fonda, Cathy Downs, Richard Conte, Walter Brennan.
    Pictured: Henry Fonda and Cathy Downs

5. No Visitors = Have Gun Will Travel. Broadcast 12-28-1958
    The Return of Dr. Thackery = Have Gun Will Travel 02-15-1959
    Photo: John Dehner (on left) Have Gun Will Travel's Paladin on radio
    with Richard Boone, Have Gun's Paladin on TV

The Golden Age of Radio produced numerous great radio shows. Among them you'll find some of the best westerns ever created. From radio remakes of great movies such as She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Red River, Shane, and Broken Arrow to the great serials like Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Fort Laramie, The Six Shooter and Frontier Gentleman, old time radio gives listeners the best of the western genre.

Find these shows and more at the Times Past Old Time Radio Archives.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#115 The Collected Memoirs of Sherlock (BBC)

The Collected Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The next in the series of the Conan Doyle canon of Sherlock Holmes stories dramatized for radio by the BBC. They feature Clive Merrison and Michael Williams as Holmes and Watson in 12 more great full-cast audio dramas. Merrison and Willliams make a dynamic-duo that make the characters come to life before your every ears.

1. Silver Blaze
2. The Yellow Face
3. The Stockbroker's Clerk
4. The Gloria Scott
5. The Musgrave Ritual
6. The Reigate Squires
7. The Crooked Man
8. The Resident Patient
9. The Greek Interpreter
10. The Naval Treaty
11. The Second Stain
12. The Final Problem

#114 The Collected Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (BBC)

Twelve of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes short stories come to vivid sonic life in The Collected Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This magnificently produced BBC series features Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes and Michael Williams as Dr. Watson. The combination of great writing and acting make this entire series a true masterpiece. Fans of Holmes and fans of great mystery are sure to enjoy these wonderful shows.

1. A Scandal in Bohemia
2. The Redheaded League
3. A Case of Identity
4. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
5. The Five Orange Pips
6. The Man with the Twisted Lip
7. The Blue Carbuncle
8. The Speckled Band
9. The Engineers Thumb
10. The Noble Bachelor
11. The Beryl Coronet
12. The Cooper Beeches

Saturday, November 12, 2011

#113 Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls

Hollywood Theater of the Ear's Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls converges somewhere between horror and comedy. Extremely well written (but what else would you expect from Yuri Rasovsky) and well acted. Based on the original "penny dreadful" this production tells the tale of Sweeney Todd (sometimes called the demon barber) who robs and kills his customers in his barber shop. He then carries them  into an underground tunnel that connects to Mrs. Lovett's bakery which is just a few blocks away. Mrs. Lovett is of course his accomplice, helping him dispose of the bodies. You see she makes the best meat pies in the entire city. Customers, having no idea that the secret ingredient she uses for the stuffing in her pies is supplied by Sweeney Todd, are always raving about the flavor and coming back for more. If you have a flare for the horror type genre then you won't find this "audio melodrama in three despicable acts" hard to swallow.
Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls is nothing less than an exceptional production!

From HTE:
According to legend, Sweeney Todd had his barber shop at number 186 Fleet Street, London, next door to St Dunstan's Church, just a few blocks from the Royal Courts of Justice. On this site, they say, he robbed and murdered more than 150 customers. To dispose of their remains, he carried them through underground tunnels to the bakery of one Mrs. Lovett a few blocks away, where they supplied the stuffing for her meat pies, the favorite mid-day repast of the lawyers who worked nearby and who got their shaves from Sweeney Todd. The man you lunched with yesterday could be your lunch today!
The story first appeared in 1846 as A String of Pearls: A Romance, a best-selling "penny dreadful," or sensational thriller published in weekly installments. Before the final chapters even had a chance to hit the stands, the first stage version was packing them in at a London playhouse. Since then there have been numerous stage and literary versions of the story, most notably, of course, Stephen Sondheim's now classic musical.

Fred Greenhalgh recently featured a segment of Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls on his Radio Drama Revival program. Follow the link to the Radio Drama Revival website ot hear a preview of this production.

#112 Five Little Pigs - Hercule Poirot (BBC)

Carla Lemarchant is engaged to be married. But before she does she feels it is of the utmost importance to clear up a very disconcerting point in her family history. Sixteen years ago her mother, Caroline Crale, was convicted of murdering her husband Amyas Crale. The facts presented to the jury said her mother was a murderess. Yet shortly before her death her mother, from her jail cell, penned a letter proclaiming her innocence. Now afraid that she may inherit this murderous tendency and not wanting to lose her soon to be husband's love for her, Carla approaches Poirot asking him to investigate the case. 

Poirot conducts his investigation through a series of interviews with the five persons who were there at the time the events of Amyas Crale's death took place. Labeling them the five little pigs, for each one was supposedly doing something different at the time of the murder, the great detective sets out to reconstruct the crime. However, his "little grey cells" will be put to the test in order to solve this mystery. For without access to the scene of the crime he must solve the case purely by reflecting upon the testimony of the participants.

John Moffatt once again stars as Poirot in the well made, thoroughly entertaining BBC full-cast audio drama production.

From the BBC:

Beautiful Caroline Crale was convicted of poisoning her husband, but just like the nursery rhyme, there were five other “little pigs” who could have done it: Philip Blake (the stockbroker), who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist), who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcée), who had her roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess), who had none; and Angela Warren (the disfigured sister), who cried all the way home. Sixteen years later, Caroline’s daughter is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, and Poirot just can’t get that nursery rhyme out of his mind.

#111 Nemesis - Miss Marple (BBC)

June Whitfield reprises the role of the delightful Miss Jane Marple in Nemesis. The sharp-witted spinster sleuth receives a letter from Jason Rafiel, a recently deceased millionaire, asking her to investigate a compelling murder mystery. However, Mr. Rafiel has left her with very few clues, failing to even tell her where or when the crime that was committed took place. He has not even furnished her with the knowledge of who was involved in the matter only that if she succeeds in solving the crime she will inherit £20,000. Her only real starting point for investigation is is a tour of famous houses and gardens of Great Britain, arranged for her by Mr. Rafiel prior to his death. On the tour she is accompanied by fourteen other people who may have had some connection to the deceased millionaire. One of the fourteen people in the group Miss Marple suspects may be her nemesis.

Agatha Christie's Nemesis is classic BBC radio drama at its best. 

From the BBC:

Miss Marple is totally shocked to receive a letter from the recently deceased Mr Rafiel, an acquaintance she had met briefly on her travels. The letter leaves instructions for Miss Marple, whom Mr Rafiel had recognised as a natural detective, to investigate a crime after his death. There are absolutely no details about the crime, however, nothing about who is involved, or where or when it had been committed. Miss Marple, of course is thoroughly intrigued and sets out to solve a compelling murder mystery.

Friday, November 11, 2011

#110 Merrano of the Dry Country (Louis L'Amour)

Merrano of the Dry Country is a classic gritty western that pits a young Mexican rancher named Miguel Merrano against Mirror Valley, New Mexico's three most powerful ranchers: Tom Drake, Joe Stangel and Jim Hill. Drought has come to the valley and the once magnificent ranches of these three men have wilted under the harsh heat and blowing winds. The water has dried up. Their cattle are gaunt, dying of thirst. And now their fortunes have dwindled away to nothing along with their prospects for the future. Pride, desperation, and prejudice create strong emotions leading to accusations of rustling followed by a heated confrontation between the three leading citizens of the area and Merrano. As tensions heighten Tom Drake's daughter Candy and local store owner Clouse Mayer hope to find a way to restore reason with these men before things get so far out of hand they can't be repaired.

This is one of L'Amour's best. A superb western tale that evokes strong emotions.

From Louis L'Amour:
When Miguel Merrano first came to Mirror Valley, the land was green and lush . . . and off limits to Mexicans. Ranchers such as Tom Drake and Joe Stangle tried to drive Merrano out, to fence him out; and when he warned them that greed and overgrazing would ruin their land, they refused to listen.

Now Merrano's predictions have come true. Mirror Valley is so dry it's about to blow away. The cattle are hollow-ribbed and dying. And the ranchers are broke . . . flat broke. Only Merrano's ranch is still thriving. As the ranchers watch him pay for goods in gold and sell his cattle at a mighty profit, their hatred grows and festers . . . until they draw their guns in a desperate act that will pit daughter against father, friend against friend - an act that could tear the valley apart... forever.

#109 Powder River (CRT)

Powder River is a western audio drama series produced by Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air. Currently there are four seasons available with a fifth and possibly as sixth on the way. The series starts off a bit shaky. Many of season one's episodes are mediocre at best. However, season one does offer glimmers of developing into a decent western and if you can get past the first season the series begins to take shape after that. 

Powder River follows the lives of retired U.S. Marshall Britt MacMasters (Jerry Robbins), his son Chad MacMasters (Derek Aalerud), Doc (Lincoln Clark), Dawes (Joseph Zamparelli), Millie (Diane Lund), Jacob (James McLean), Etta (Marcia Friedman), Matt (Isaac Bean), Sheriff Wilkins (Sam Donato), Clay (Deniz Cordell) and the other citizens of Clearmont, Wyoming.

If you're searching for a show with that rugged John Wayne feel to it or that tough gritty feeling the radio versions of Gunsmoke or Have Gun Will Travel had, this isn't it.  This series is more along the lines of the classic old time western radio series The Six Shooter or Fort Laramie with it's easy going family friendly action-adventure stories. Powder River plays out more like an audio version of The Big Valley, Bonanza or High Chaparral (which by the way were great western television series.) Though the series is pleasant and enjoyable it lacks that authentic western ambiance. The stories more often than not feel like they were written by an eastern greenhorn and the voice work doesn't quite corral that western sound. If we were using the five star rating system we'd give Powder River three stars.

Powder River offers fans of the western genre 75 half hour episodes and two 2 hour full-length features. The series is available on CD. It can also be heard on XM satellite radio as well as on Jim French's Imagination Theater.