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Philo Vance, Volume 1 - 10 hours [Download] #RA588
10 hours - Digital Download
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Aside from soap operas, kiddie shows, and dramatic anthology series, detective stories may well have been the most popular form of program during radio's "Golden Age". Beginning in the 1930 and ending only when network dramatic radio itself came to its conclusion in 1962, a wide range of detectives - everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Sam Spade to Ellery Queen to Johnny Dollar - were presented, in one fashion or another, to the listening audience.
The reasons for their enduring popularity are easy to understand. Detective stories on radio were very much like detective stories in the pulp magazines of the time: quick, concise, snappy, and well-plotted, with familiar and well-established characters that one could usually identify with. The detective/hero of the stories generally came with their own set of quirks, but he (or she, in the case of Candy Matson) also came with their own set of ethics. Unlike the police, a private detective may have stretched the law or even worked outside of it in order to crack a case, but each had boundaries that they would not cross - a moral code, as it were - that could not be bent even for the richest client.
And, of course, it was always fun for listeners to see if they could crack the case before the detective did.
Given that the vast majority of radio's detectives were of the rumpled overcoat/snap-brim fedora/bottle of booze in the desk drawer/ gumshoe variety, it's surprising to note that one of the most memorable of them all possessed none of these traits - and was, in fact, something of an intellectual dandy:
, based on the character created by novelist S. S. Van Dine.
Vance first appeared in a series of twelve novels written by Willard Huntington Wright, under the nom de plume of S. S. Van Dine. In the books, Vance was portrayed as a stylish fop, a New York bon vivant with a highly intellectual bent and an attitude to match. In addition to being rather 'above it all', Vance was also an expert fencer, golfer, a breeder and shower of thoroughbred dogs, a talented polo player, a master poker player, a winning handicapper of race horses, experienced in archery, a patron of classical music, a connoisseur of fine food and drink...and so on.
In other words, a hard-working Los Angeles gumshoe like Philip Marlowe would have hated him on sight. (Marlowe's creator Raymond Chandler, in his essay "The Simple Art of Murder", actually referred to Vance as "the most asinine character in detective fiction.")
So why, then, would such a character ever be considered decent radio material? The answer is simple: Hollywood. By the time Vance made his way to the big screen (in one film starring Basil Rathbone, five more starring William Powell, and in a series of shorts for Warner Brothers) many of his arrogant edges had been smoothed out -- and, what's more, Rathbone and particularly Powell gave him something he seldom had in book form: charm. Thus, by the time radio decided to adapt the character for the air, he was far less a know-it-all and far more palatable to a general audience. Initial incarnations starred Jose Ferrer and John Emery in the role but, in 1946, the most enduring version of the character was heard for the first time. Played by radio's jack of all trades, the inimitable Jackson Beck, the Frederick Ziv Company of Cincinnati, Ohio syndicated a series of 104 half-hour shows, also featuring Joan Alexander as Vance's secretary, in a program that would be recorded and aired in first run through 1950 and that would continue to be aired on local stations throughout the decade.
Possessed with an intimate and time-honored knowledge of what radio listeners wanted to hear, Ziv made certain to present Vance as a knowledgeable but accessible character, working with the police to solve the most baffling crimes. Knowing that many listeners also enjoyed being armchair detectives, the series generally featured the end of the show/gather the suspects/restate the clues/name the murderer revelations that made such mysteries so much fun to listen to. And, though his operation was based in Ohio, Ziv had the series produced at WOR New York, which meant he could draw upon a wide range of experienced actors and actresses to fill out the casts. The results were consistent and well-made shows, complete with the sort of tight scripts, character acting, and dramatic pipe organ cues that helped to make syndicated radio such a financial powerhouse in the post-war years.
Overall, though, the real star of the series was and is the character of Philo Vance -- thanks largely to an excellent portrayal by Jackson Beck. By 1948, Beck had been on radio for nearly two decades, appearing in everything from "The March of Time" (as Josef Stalin) to "The Cisco Kid" (in the title role); he's probably best remembered today as the enthusiastic announcer for "Superman". But the chance to appear as the erudite, well spoken Vance gave him the opportunity to flex his acting muscles in a way he really hadn't done before, opening the door to future roles in both radio and television. (His long and varied career would continue right up until his death in 2004 at the age of 92.)
Heard today, "Philo Vance" is still great fun to listen to. The mysteries are suitably baffling, the suspects suitably suspect, the clues abundant, and it's hard to beat an old fashioned conclusion when all of the possible suspects are gathered into the same room, the alibis are unraveled, and the criminal is finally revealed to all. There's nothing particularly deep here, of course - no social commentary or multi-layered plotlines to unravel - just a great sounding series of interesting cases to solve.
If you're looking for truly enjoyable radio entertainment - and particularly if you love being an armchair detective yourself - you can't go wrong with Philo Vance, particularly in these twenty newly-restored shows from Radio Archives.
#7 The Poetic Murder Case
Tuesday, August 24, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#8 The Coachman Murder Case
Tuesday, August 31, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#11 The Back-Stage Murder Case
Tuesday, September 21, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#12 The Argus Murder Case
Tuesday, September 28, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#13 The Bulletin Murder Case
Tuesday, October 5, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#14 The Cover-Girl Murder Case
Tuesday, October 12, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#21 The Black-Jack Murder Case
Tuesday, November 30, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#22 The Star-Studded Murder Case
Tuesday, December 7, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#23 The Murdock Murder Case
Tuesday, December 14, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#24 The Vanilla Murder Case
Tuesday, December 21, 1948 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#66 The Tea Cup Murder Case
Tuesday, November 8, 1949 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#89 The Jackpot Murder Case
Tuesday, March 21, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#90 The Ivory Murder Case
Tuesday, March 28, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#91 The Mimic Murder Case
Tuesday, April 4, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#92 The Nylon Murder Case
Tuesday, April 11, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#96 The Whistling Murder Case
Tuesday, May 9, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#99 The Whirlaround Murder Case
Tuesday, May 30, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#102 The Prize Ring Murder Case
Tuesday, June 20, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#103 The Argyle Murder Case
Tuesday, June 27, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
#104 The Muddy Murder Case
Tuesday, July 4, 1950 - 30:00 - Frederic W. Ziv syndication
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