Sunday, September 27, 2009

OTR Review: Lights Out "Lord Marley's Guest"

Series Name: Lights Out Everybody
Episode Title: Lord Marley's Guest
Original Air Date: 9/7/43
Available On: The Horror! Podcast (from relic radio) September 26, 2009
Sound Quality: Good

I have fond memories of Lights Out's classic intro with the spooky voice claiming "" with the sound of an ominous bell tolling in the backgroun. It's been years since I've heard a Lights Out so I was excited to see one come up on this week's The Horror! After the introduction, writer/producer Arch Oboler appears before the microphone to introduce this evening's episode. Oboler has to be one of the most pleasant OTR hosts. His language and delivery is soft but he always comes across as genuine and passionate towards the material.

Thus particular story has the unfortunate setting of England which causes for some very strange British accents. We open with two fishermen whose accents are so completely not resembling British that it's hard to get your head around. They sound more like a bad Southern drawl than they do Brits. This pair of fishermen have come to warn Lord Marley of some oncoming danger though Marley explodes into various accusations of poaching and the like before chasing them out before they can issue their warning.

As the fishermen run off Lady Jane is informed by Lord Charles Marley that an American actress is coming to stay for business. As it turns out Madeline Kaye, the actress is there for business alright, the business of landing a millionaire for a husband! Though this is a surprise to his wife, Marley's affections have already transferred from his wife to his mistress.

The actress and the Lord go for a swim in the ocean when the sky turns black and there comes the sudden sense that there's something in the water with them... From there we move into straight horror territory.

The story is creepy and the pacing and dialog is quite good. The overall production is of high quality but that little issue with those accent drops the story by one point. I'm going with 3/5 Golden Masks.

A picture of Arch Oboler in studio with an actress

Thursday, September 24, 2009

OTR Review: SF68 "Survival"

Series Name: SF68
Episode Title: Survival
Original Air Date: 3/8/68
Available On: Relic Radio Sci-Fi Podcast September 21, 2009
Sound Quality: Excellent

Here's an oddity, a South African science fiction radio show from the late 60s. Honestly until I downloaded this podcast I had no idea such a thing existed. That's not where the strangeness ends either. Almost everything from the sound effects to the way it's written to the music to the direction is different than any other radio drama I've heard.

The story is about a young woman, nick-named "Mouse", who goes with her husband and a crew of men on a spaceship voyage to Mars. It takes place in a 1960s sexist-style future so "Mouse" is generally looked at as someone who should have stayed at home knitting rather than joining the expedition. En route to Mars there are complications aboard the flight and the drama plays out from that point.

The drama takes place over the course of relatively short scenes and the play features numerous speaking roles. In fact, there are more speaking roles here than I believe I've heard in any other half hour show. This causes a certain amount of confusion as it becomes difficult to tell characters apart from each other. The script adds to this confusion by flashing forward between certain scenes without much warning. The John Cage style sound effects and the noisy soundtrack add to the truly bizarre feeling of this show.

To be honest, I was rather down on the show much of the time I was listening to it. Early on I had assumed that I knew where the story was going and all the jumping around and multiple voices seemed to make an essentially simple story unnecessarily complex. However "Survival" ended with such a big and unexpected bang that I literally felt a chill through my spine.

It's true that a tighter script, more reigned in music and far fewer characters would have made this an easier listen, however there are times in which easy isn't always best and I'm not convinced the story would have been half so good if it had been presented in a simpler manner.

I'm still not a hundred percent sure about what I thought about this episode. Perhaps after another listen or three I'll be able to settle on it being a 5 or a 3. For right now I'll give it 4/5 Golden Masks and strongly recommend you give it a listen and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OTR Review: X Minus One "Sea Legs"

Series Name: X Minus One
Episode Title: Sea Legs
Original Air Date: 5/1/56
Available On: Relic Radio Sci-Fi Podcast September 7, 2009
Sound Quality: Good

X Minus One is the successor to the science fiction radio show Dimension X. Both series are favorites of mine, the stories are adapted from Galaxy Magazine and they capture the feel of Atomic Age Sci-Fi. In general the direction, acting and stories are more complex than many of their peers. These shows are the spiritual ancestors to such TV classics as "Outer Limits" and "Twilight Zone".

"Sea Legs" starts out well with a carefully measured script. Robert Craig is a space pilot who's put in for a transfer to Earth. Everyone from the desk clerk to the staff psych officer seems wary about him going back to Earth which irks the man. Why are people trying to keep him off Earth? While taking a hospital stay due to a mishap during his gravity training he meets Charlie Brockman, a dying "space bum" who gives Craig a message tube to open when he's on Earth.

The pacing of the story is really the highlight. Many OTR shows try to cram so much into their half hour that the stories never have time to breathe. The careful unfolding of the events here makes for a welcome change and a very entertaining listen until the over-arching theme of the story takes form. A lot of 50s science fiction falls into the whole "Red Scare" themes of the day and that's what happens in "Sea Legs". The set-up here is so good that it is disappointing to hear things move down that well worn and personally uninteresting path.

The acting, music and direction are all quite good and I feel bad giving the story any less than a 4 but due to the ending I can only give it 3/5 Golden Masks. Worth listening to but I don't imagine it's one I'll re-listen to.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pulp Review: The Avenger "Justice, Inc."

Series: The Avenger
Story Name: #1: Justice, Inc.
Original Publication Date: September 1939
Available In: The Avenger #1 "Justice, Inc." and "The Yellow Hoard" (Sanctum Books, April 2009)

It's the first adventure of the dead-faced Dick Benson, whose cold eyes burn with gray fury at every available chance. The set-up for the story is quite grand. Benson, his wife Alicia and daughter Alice board a plane last minute in order to visit Benson's sick mother-in-law. Benson goes to the restroom and when he comes out his wife and daughter are nowhere to be found. He frantically searches the plane but to no avail, the two he loves more than life itself are gone, and all those in the plane claim that they were never there. His hysterics are cut short when the pilot knocks Benson out.

Upon waking Benson discovers that his face and hair have gone completely white. In fact his face is now devoid of expression, Benson is trapped in a permanently blank state unless he molds it like clay with his hands. This would be enough to mess with the sturdiest of folk and to top it off, everyone from the ticket counter girl on up swear that Alicia and Alice did not leave with him on the plane. Can Benson, the cold-faced man of steel, find his missing loved ones? Can he solve this classic locked door mystery? The answers await!

The Avenger was created by Street & Smith to help capitalize on the pulp heroes sensation that their own Shadow and Doc Savage pioneered. The Kenneth Robeson pseudonym, popularized by Lester Dent in the Doc Savage stories, was brought out to help sell the series. However, don't be fooled it is Paul Ernst not Dent who pens these tales, and the execution is a blend between the two popular pulp titles. The plot for the story feels a lot like a Shadow story, though the lead character and his agents are more in the style of Doc.

The plot follows raging gray eyes of Benson as they assemble a pair of agents; Smitty the moon-faced and surprisingly bright giant and Mac the tall Irishman with hands the size of hams. There's also kidnapping of various stockholders in the company Buffalo Tap & Die that appear to be connected to the missing wife and daughter.

The plot is nothing revelatory, but it is quite exciting and fun. That the locked door mystery's resolution isn't as exciting as it's concept is to be expected, that's usually the way those type of stories pan out. The real disappointment here has nothing to do with plot and almost everything to do with Paul Ernst's prose. The way he continually draws attention to the cold white death mask's face of the lead and his cold burning gray eyes gets tiring as the story moves on. These sort of filler phrases are common among pulps, whose writers often got paid by the word, but I found them far more distracting in Ernst's prose than in Dent's or Gibson's work.

For plot and characters this would be a 4 but I'm afraid the prose knocks it down to a 3/5 Golden Masks. It's not bad but it didn't have me rushing through it anxious for the next plot twist.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Modern Audio Review: Doctor Who - The Stuff Of Nightmares

Series Name: Doctor Who
Episode Title: The Stuff of Nightmares (Hornet's Nest Part One)
Released: September 2009 by BBC Audiobooks

Rarely in my life has anything seemed so totally custom-built for my particular tastes. It's like someone saw a laundry list of everything I'd want in an audio adventure and checked them off.  Favorite science fiction show? Doctor Who, Check!  Favorite Doctor, long absent from the role? Tom Baker, check!  Favorite Doctor Who author?  Paul Magrs, check! (though Lawrence Miles, Robert Holmes, Peter Ling and John Lucarotti are all up there as well)  Could something so custom to my taste possibly live up to expectations?  Yes it could and did!

The story opens with Captain Mike Yates, an occasional companion of the 3rd Doctor's. He's reading an ad in the paper that seems to have been written for him and him alone.  We follow Mike's journey to a small house in Sussex where he meets the Doctor, now in his 4th incarnation.  The Doctor is embroiled in a drawn out conflict with a legion of hideously re-animated taxidermist's stuffed animals.  The Doctor must nightly mesmerize wolves, bats, badgers and other beasts to hold them at bay.  But can he keep it up?

Doctor Who has been appearing on audio for 10 years through the Big Finish company.  Those familiar with Big Finish's output may be a tad confused about what to make of the delivery of this story.  Rather than having every scene acting out amidst a storm of sound effects, we have a series of monologs punctuated with the occasional acted out moment.  This is a style that would be radically out of place if Sylvester McCoy's Doctor were the lead, but this isn't McCoy, this is Tom Baker, a man whose voice is the most recognized in England, and whose voice is full of such passion, delight and obvious joy, that many in England paid simply to have his voice read their text messages.  Like the animals in the story I was mesmerized by his delivery and cannot imagine a better fitting format for Baker than monolog.  Especially when this monolog is written by Paul Magrs whose style is perfectly suited to darkly surrealistic material, steeped in a brooding sense of the macabre.  You could listen to an acted-out, sound effects-laden battle between The Doctor and an animated stuffed Badger, or you could hear Tom Baker tear into delicious dialog and prose, describing every moment in horrific detail.  I know which method I prefer, and it's to my delight that the production team chose the same route.

One of my favorite aspects of the writing, is the genuine love for the characters and the source material that Magrs displays.  Also I appreciate his childlike sense of animism.  Children have innately warm feelings toward objects such as cars, toys and certainly taxidermists' stuffed animals.  In "The Stuff of Nightmares" the Doctor shares this trait, feeling terrible that he must battle these beautiful and ancient beasts.  In a "tough guy" approach, the Doctor would tear unfeelingly through the animals, and the story would have been the sorrier for it.

Special note must also be made of Richard Franklin who does an excellent job reprising the role of Mike Yates.  Frankly, Franklin's an actor that never impressed me one way or the other on TV, but here he's fantastic!  He moves through a variety of emotions, starting the play as an aged and slightly world weary man, but you hear amazement and joy sneak into his performance as the story continues and he becomes more enmeshed in the Doctor's world.

There are a few flaws here and there but nothing that detracts to any real degree.  Baker takes a few minutes to fully get into it, and the housekeeper's delivery is a little flat.  Also some of the dialog has been obviously changed from Nick Courtney's Brigadier character who was originally slated to appear instead of Yates.  Bits like the Doctor naming his dog "Captain" and calling Yates by his title rather than his name would have worked more naturally with the Brigadier.

In "The Stuff of Nightmares" the positive vastly outweighs any minor nitpicks and the story comes out as obvious  5/5 Golden Masks quality.

Modern Audio Review: Right Ho, Jeeves

Story Name: Right Ho, Jeeves
Author: P.G. Wodehouse (adapted)
Released by: BBC Worldwide

I thought it best to review some of that "modern audio" that is spoken of in the tagline to this blog and what great place to start! Fans of the Jeeves and Wooster characters, whether it be through the original books, the television series or the numerous audio adaptations will have a lot to enjoy in this particular version, as will those as yet unacquainted with the duo.

For the uninitiated, Bertie Wooster is a man in the prime of life who may be rich in cash but is lacking in the brains department. His butler Jeeves more than makes up for Bertie's lack of wit and Jeeves, always of a stiff upper lip, can be counted on to pull poor Bertie out of trouble, usually of his own making.

I downloaded my copy of this 3 and a quarter audio here off of In this version, Michael Holden plays Jeeves and Richard Briers plays Wooster. As Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are probably the most famous pair to inhabit these esteemed roles in their popular television adaptations, I was curious to hear how Hold and Briers stacked up - very well indeed is the answer! Holden is a terrific Jeeves, every word spoken seeps with a delightful and subtle disdain for the parade of dizzy-headed idle rich. Briers' take on Wooster is with such gusto and go-getter-ism that you can't help but like the man despite himself.

The story that takes place amidst the whirlwind of jokes, wild situations and gags is relatively simple. Gussie Fink-Nuttle, a fish-faced man with an obsession with newts, is in love with the soppy Madeline Bassett, a friend of Bertie's cousin Angela. He's asked for Jeeves' assistance in the affair of the heart, which rather raise the rankles our Mr. Wooster, who feels he is more fitted for the task. After his Aunt Dahlia also enquires after Jeeves' assistance in repairing the relationship between her daughter, the aforementioned Angela, and her fiance Tuppy Glossop. On top of this, it appears Jeeves disapproves of Bertie's new French coat.  Well it's enough to cause Wooster to declare that Jeeves has lost his skill and it is Bertie alone who can fix all problems! Of course, as you can well imagine, this does not go well and the several hours that follow the set-up move through the various fall-outs of Wooster's plans.

The wonderful comic timing of the regulars and the guests play a grand testament to Wodehouse's genuinely hilarious dialog and his deft plotting skills. Wodehouse's wit is of the highest quality and the only issue with the story is, is that it is so consistently funny and outrageous that you almost get rather used to being entertained at that level and what might be a crowning belly-laugh in another production becomes merely a chuckle here because your belly is already hurting from laughing so much.

An easy 5/5 Golden Masks and highly recommended to all fans of comedy.

The cover here features Bertie Wooster in a relaxing bath with his favorite rubber ducky.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

OTR Review: The Avenger "Death in Mid-Air"

Series Name: The Avenger
Episode Title: Death In Mid-Air
Original Air Date: 9/28/45
Available On: ComicWeb Old Time Radio Programs, Sept. 12 2009
Sound Quality: Good

Those of you choosing to listen to The Avenger expecting it to be a version of the Street & Smith Avenger pulp are in for a shock. This is the Avenger in name only, Dick Benson and his agents are nowhere to be seen rather this series features Jim Brandon, a famous biochemist who fights crime using his most remarkable invention, the fusion capsule, to "cloak him in the black light of invisibility". He is aiding in his crime-fighting by his beautiful young assistant Fern Collier. If you've read this far and have even a passing knowledge of OTR it is obvious that this is a straight-up knock-off of the Shadow radio show. Even the tagline "The road to crime ends in a trap that justice sets, crime does not pay" and the slightly tinny, malevolent voice of the Avenger sets this up as a bargain basement Shadow clone.

I wasn't expecting much from this story but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a great little story as good or better than many of the Shadow shows. This, I have since discovered, probably has much to do with the fact that Walter Gibson was responsible for the plots! From the extra material included in the Sanctum Books Avenger reprint I've discovered that this series was offered as a olive branch offered by Street & Smith to the group who used to have syndication rights to the Shadow.

This particular episode involves murder at the bigtop. A trapeze artist falls to his death and he is the third to do so at this small circus. Jim Brandon is sure this isn't just an accident, it's an intentional crime! Most interesting to modern listeners is an appearance by a Liger, Napoleon Dynamite's "pretty much favorite animal".

The story clips by at a regular pace and features solid acting. I'm going to have to remove one "Golden Mask" simply for the derivative nature of the radio "Avenger" so we'll go with 3/5 Golden Masks

Nope, this isn't the Avenger that appears here, but it is a cool Jack Kirby picture of Dick Benson the "real" Avenger.

Pulp Review: The Shadow "Six Men of Evil"

Series: The Shadow
Story Name: #24: Six Men of Evil
Original Publication Date: February 15, 1933
Available In: The Shadow #13 "Six Men of Evil" & "The Devil Monsters" (Nostalgia Ventures / Sanctum Books, November 2007)

I decided to read this Shadow story next as it's the earliest in the original series' run that I currently own.  Years earlier, I'd only read the Shadow via the Bantam and Pyramid reprints that are primarily from the first few years of publication but it's been ages since I've read those, so I was curious to dive back into this period. The depiction of the Shadow in "Six Men of Evil" is definitely in line with what I remember from those early stories. Here he is more of an inhuman living shadow than a man which may diminish aspects of dramatic tension at times but it also sets up some remarkable scenes. Gibson's prose appears to be a little more florid here than in his later work. I'll be interested if, as I read more, if this observation regarding the earlier writing style holds true.

As for the story itself, it's a grand affair. Starting out in a Mexican desert with Six Evil Men returning from some mysterious doings in Mexico that has left all but one of them shattered. Charlie, the leader, is not shattered in fact he has a plan from crime that rallies the spirits of the others. It's a series of crimes that he insists even the Shadow won't be able to crack. Of course, we as readers know better but that doesn't diminish the subtle aura of doom that hangs over this intro chapter.

As the story moves on we witness a pair of crimes in various small towns in America wherein the perpetrator has an ironclad alibi. In each case the criminal is a well respected man of society with an unusual and rather ugly face who has just moved into town some eight months ago. The set-up and execution of these crimes are well handled in Gibson's hands and it's a testament to his skills that you don't miss the Shadow, who doesn't show up until a quarter of the way into the story.

Once the Shadow does appear we're granted my favorite scene of the novel. A bizarre cat and mouse scene where the Shadow first appears as Lamont Cranston to Thomas Rodan, one of the criminals who has recently had his rich wife and father-in-law disposed of for their fortune. Cranston claims to be interesting in buying local real estate from Rodan, an broker but his arch attitude and suspicious demeanor begins to shake Rodan.  The night after Cranston leaves, Rodan suspects he is alone at home but his is not alone.  The Shadow has followed hims and he appears as a haunting phantom of guilty conscious to the man. The Shadow laughs coldly and whispers accusations but never shows himself. It is a trick designed to unsettle the man and force his enemies' next move and the writing for this scene is simply fantastic. I want to hear it read out loud as the words simply ooze atmosphere.

Another favorite scene in the story happens much later in the novel, once the action has shifted to San Francisco's Chinatown. Here, the Shadow confronts the Chinese criminal Chow Lee, and their confrontation is a classic and leads to an interesting hint regarding the origin of the Shadow's girasol ring. Chow Lee is an excellent character and despite a short appearance of a few pages only he left a mark on me and I hope we see him again in the future of the series.

Gibson's portrayal of minority characters is of course rooted in the timeframe and genre he wrote, but in the case of Chow Lee here and Jericho in "The Golden Masks" it seems he affords them a bit more dignity than many of his contemporaries. A secret race of Aztecs that appear for a few chapters don't fair quite so well, but at least their overall intentions are humane.

The only con I have is, as mentioned above, I don't think Gibson's prose has the same level of precision that I've seen in other of his later stories. This is more than made up for by the strength of the stories' scenes, especially the two I noted above. I think this is an adventure that any fan of The Shadow is going to thoroughly enjoy!

5/5 Golden Masks

One face, six different men?  Is it possible?  Great cover that captures the weirdness of this adventure.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

OTR Review: The Sealed Book "To Have and to Hold"

Series Name: The Sealed Book
Episode Title: To Have and to Hold
Original Air Date: 8/12/45
Available On: Relic Radio Podcast, Sept. 8 2009
Sound Quality: Average

The Sealed Book starts off a total hoot. A gong sounds, an over-eager organist goes to town with the first peels of Capt. Nemo style playing, then a great booming voice tells of The Keeper of the Sealed Book who opens his hideous tome to bring us this evening's story. It's a riotously over the top opening and it quite got me in the mood for some riotously over the top radio suspense. Unfortunately, what I got was "To Have and To Hold"

The story is a young woman drops in on her reclusive wealthy aunt, who no one in the town has seen for over 40 years. Food and various "men's items" (cigars, suits and other such manly items) are left on her front step. The young lady is determined to meet the old woman and meet her she does. Their meeting leads into a drawn-out flashback sequence that is occasionally punctuated by extended sections of wild-eyed organ playing (we're talking a minute or more, I must assume this is where advertisements would be added in, though I can't imagine selling Wheaties over the top of those sounds).

The performances are unmemorable but not offensive. The story is the same and for a suspense drama, inoffensive shouldn't be the best that can be said! You won't be hurt by this show, but I doubt it is going to do much to impress most listeners.

I'll give this one 2/5 Golden Masks.

OTR Review: Theater Five "Incident at Shadow Valley"

Series Name: Theater Five
Episode Title: Incident at Shadow Valley
Original Air Date: 9/8/64
Available On: Relic Radio Podcast, Sept. 8 2009
Sound Quality: Excellent

This is the second episode of Theater Five I've heard and it like the other is tightly written and well acted with solid sound design and direction. I gather that this series was ABC's attempt at radio drama revival from the early 60s and it's a pity that the revival didn't stick.

This episode takes place at The Last Chance Diner, a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. Pop is the lovable old coot who runs the place and it's an evening of troubles for the poor man, his grandson is sick to the point of death and his diner isn't up to code so there are going to be fines.

The police stop by to let the man know that a black truck from Universal Road Freighter just forced a driver off the road and to his death and the police are looking for the driver. After the police leave a pair of regulars stop by for coffee and food as they talk to Pop. Mr. Janus a creepy stranger with a stoney voice enters and unsettles folks with his cold voice, morbid attitude and eerie conversation.

The big surprise of the script isn't hard to guess but it's not the plot that makes this episode so interesting, it's the telling of it that so darned entertaining. The actor who plays Pop does so with warmth and creates a sympathetic portrayal where there could have been cliche. Mr. Janus is pure "radio announcer" in his delivery, but that's what the role demands. His monologs are also vastly entertaining

SPOILERS AHEAD: Janus, unsurprisingly, turns out to be Death himself. I have a soft spot for stories where Death comes and visits and this one does it quite well. END OF SPOILERS

I definitely recommend listening to this one and suspect it'll log more than a single listen from me.

4/5 Golden Masks (close to 5, if the plot had been slightly more unpredictable we'd have a 5/5)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pulp Review: The Whisperer "The Dead Who Talked"

Series: The Whisperer
Story Name: #1 - The Dead Who Talked
Original Publication Date: October, 1936
Available In: The Whisperer #1 "The Dead Who Talked" & "The Red Hatchets" (Sanctum Books, May 2009)

This is the first story of the Whisperer, a mysterious man who wears all gray, speaks in a haunting whisper, uses a gun that hisses rather than "bangs" and has an unusually ugly face. He is also a wanted criminal and a crime fighter which is why he features in a pulp magazine being reprinted by Sanctum. Laurence Donovan (under the name Clifford Goodrich) pens the story. Donovan may be familiar to some of you for the Doc Savage stories that he penned. I read his Doc novel "Murder Mirage" a few weeks back and found it full of fantastic ideas but dull in execution. "The Dead Who Talked" is rather the inverse, there's not much in the way of a plot but the story clips along at a nice pace.

The mystery set-up is this: various electrical engineers for the Black Mountain Power Company call one of their loved ones at times when they've been witnessed other places, use a pet name that no one else knows, and tells them that they are dead. These men soon are found dead. Who's responsible? The brand new to the officer Police Commissioner James "Wildcat" Gordon wants to know!

Gordon, rather than the Whisperer, is the primary focus for this issue and he's a real jerk. He's the sort of guy who will punch out a co-worker for disagreeing with him. He demands loyalty but gives none. Really his only redeeming quality is that he appears to like animals. If you're a fan of the Hard Case crime novels, this sort of hard-boiled character will be more familiar and perhaps palatable to you. I wanted to punch Gordon myself a few times, but enjoyed reading about him all the same.

The Whisperer is more of an enigma in his own book. I won't let you know who he is in this review, though it's rather obvious. In future reviews, where the identity is revealed right away, I won't consider it a spoiler. Other regular cast members include Mayor Van Royston who cares greatly about formality, Henry Bolton the mayor's choice for commissioner, "Quick Trigger" a retired cop of some repute and his daughter Tiny. The mayor and Bolton are foils for Gordon whereas the other two are his friends.

There are, of course, numerous characters brought in for this story, including the owner of the Black Mountain Company, his chief engineer, his daughter and her no good boyfriend, a deaf-mute shoeshine boy and a whole lot of underworld types.

The story, as I mentioned, zips along at a fair pace and is filled with some quality action. The prose style is not as elegant as Maxwell Grant's but it is not as clumsy as Donovan's own prose in "Murder Mirage". The actual "Dead Who Talked" angle to the mystery isn't explored in much depth, which is a pity as it's a neat hook. In fact the whole story is sewn up rather quickly with a final exposition-heavy ending. Overall this pulp adventure offers decent hard-boiled entertainment but never soars to the heights of the Shadow or the best of the Hard Case novels. Personally, I'll decide after reading the second story whether or not I'll continue to buy the series.

3/5 Golden Masks

Another classic pulp cover suitable for framing! This one is by Tom Lovell.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pulp Review: The Shadow "The Golden Masks"

Series: The Shadow
Story Name: #109 "The Golden Masks"
Original Publication Date: September 1, 1936
Available In: The Shadow #18 "The Unseen Killer & The Golden Masks" (Sanctum Books, May 2008)

It is only fitting that the first pulp review be of the same story that gave name to this site!  Before getting into the meat of the review, let me say what a joy it is to have Sanctum Books giving these classic reprints the love and respect they deserve!   Here is an excellent Shadow story that may never have been properly reprinted if not for the passion of Sanctum Books!

Onto the story proper, this is an excellent Shadow adventure!  The crypto-Masonic crime syndicate The Golden Masks make a great sparring partner for the Shadow as they can be anyone behind their masks.  Grant uses the anonymity to great advantage as he keeps both the reader and the Shadow guessing about who can be trusted.  This aura of paranoia contributes greatly to the atmosphere of the story.  I don't want to go into too much detail in regards to the plot so as to not spoil the fun but I will say that it was an unpredictable roller-coaster ride for the Shadow and his agents.

One thing I like about Grant's Shadow is that he is fallible.  Not in the "Oh so human, let me tell you about my childhood" way that many modern heroes are but rather in the sense that he can misjudge a situation.  So many heroes seem armed by their authors foreknowledge that their superhuman ability to be inhumanly ahead of the game has little meaning.  For the Shadow, you see him make the occasional misstep, you also see him over-plan for situations so when the pulse pounding cliffhanger for this story happens, he's set it up from so many angles that even if all of them don't roll 100% to plan, he's got contingency plans.  

In some ways the unwielding nature of the Shadow reminds me of a mirror image "No Country For Old Men"'s Anton Chigurh.  Where Chigurh is pure cold maliciousness, the Shadow is a force of nature that protects the innocent rather than feeds upon them.  

I finished "The Unseen Killer" last week and these served as my re-introduction into the world of the Pulp Shadow (very different from the radio show Shadow).  I was impressed by Gibson's skill with writing concise, action-packed prose and also for writing stories that keep you guessing and don't skimp on genuinely exciting action scenes.  Of the two, I think this one edges the other out as my favorite as I have particular interest in secret societies.  

I think this will be of great entertainment value for any Shadow or Pulp Adventure fan.

5/5 Golden Masks

The awesome cover!  Man, I'd love to get a framed copy of this baby for the apartment.

OTR Review: Father Knows Best "A French Teacher"

Series Name: Father Knows Best
Episode Title: A French Teacher
Original Air Date: 1950
Available On: Old Time Radio Comedy Podcast: August 26, 2009
Sound Quality: Above Average

I have to say that old time radio comedy relies a great deal more on actual scripted jokes than most modern comedy and this episode of Father Knows Best offers a great example of the sort of quality gags that happened when OTR comedy was firing on all cylinders. Sure the father is a little smug and patriarchal (as is common back then) but who cares, his delivery is funny and Betty, the older daughter, is a real hoot.

This episode sees Betty mooning over a french speaker at High School. Father gets the fellow over for dinner expecting him to be a young man not realizing that he's not Betty's new boyfriend, rather he's her French Teacher (as you might suspect given the title of the episode). Classic situation comedy set-up the sort of which could go any which way. Fortunately the whole family has good lines, the French Teacher turns out to be a lot of fun and the jokes fly fast and furious. One of the better OTR comedies I've listened to lately.

Worth the time of any OTR comedy fan.

4/5 Golden Masks

Robert Young and Jean Vander Ply of the radio show version of "Father Knows Best"

OTR Review: A Case for Doctor Morelle

Series Name: A Case for Doctor Morelle 
Episode Title: Confession of Guilt
Original Air Date: 4/30/57
Available on: Old Time Radio Mysteries Podcast: Sept. 7, 2009 Episode
Sound Quality: Above Average

This is an interesting find, a BBC British detective fiction show featuring Dr. Morelle, a clinical psychologist who is, depending on your opinion of him, either wonderfully entertaining or a complete gasbag.  Personally, I see him as both, and find his gas-bagginess his most entertaining aspect.  He is aiding by his long suffering yet good natured assistant, Miss Frayle.

This particular episode opens up with Miss Paula Webb, a presumably attractive young lady, shooting Mr. Powers, an ex-lover.  The next scene we discover that the murder is being played as a suicide, a note to the deceased's wife having been left behind.  The only thing mysterious about this is that he shot himself through the heart rather than the head as is common in suicide.  Miss Webb then meets with Dr. Morelle and lets him know that she shot Mr. Powers but hadn't left the note, he must have already planned the suicide!

The story moves along from here with a number of exciting twists and turns.  I haven't heard a mystery quite like this one before and the freshness of the script combined with the arch-smugness of the lead makes this one definitely worth your time.

4/5 Golden Masks

A photograph a Cecil Parker, the actor who played Dr. Morelle in this series.

New Blog

Greetings and welcome friends to the Secret Society of the Golden Masks' official blog!  Here we will review Old Time Radio Stories, Modern Audio Adventures and Classic Pulp Stories!

Currently I will be your host, the name I choose to post under is Alpha and this will be listed in the labels of the reviews.  I hope to have other members of the Golden Masks post reviews here as well, only time shall tell whether or not this comes to pass.

My primary review focus will be OTR that is available easily online (especially through iTunes Podcasts), Pulp reprints (especially the fantastic Sanctum Books series), and likely a few Doctor Who audio stories, in addition to bits, bobs and rarities that spark my interest.

Make yourself comfortable and feel free to add comments in the comments section as you like.