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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Mystery > Detective > Crime > Murder > Literature > Audiobook > Drama > Legal > TV > Comedy > British > Naxos Audiobook CDs: Bulldog Drummond, The Black Gang, The Third Round, The Final Count (by Sapper) + The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace/Perry Mason: Season Eight, Volume Two (1965/CBS DVD)/Will Hay D

Naxos Audiobook CDs: Bulldog Drummond, The Black Gang, The Third Round, The Final Count (by Sapper) + The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace/Perry Mason: Season Eight, Volume Two (1965/CBS DVD)/Will Hay Double Feature, Vol. 1 (1935 – 6/VCI DVD)


Picture: X/C+/C     Sound: B/C+/C     Extras: C/C-/C-     Main Programs: B-/B-/C+



Detective, action, adventure and hero fiction go back a long way and one thing they have is a dual rise in their genres from both the U.K. and the U.S. at the same time.  The cross traditions produced works with many common denominators, yet also differences and this includes works from both sides of the Atlantic cross-influencing each other.  We get to examine that with some of the first Audiobooks we have ever covered and some related new DVD releases.



A sort of later sister of network radio drams that ran from the 1920s to the 1960s, Audiobooks are simply someone reading an entire book for the listener and depending on their talent, reenacting the voices of the various characters.  Naxos, known for their Classical Music CD, DVD and Blu-ray titles, have also issued CD sets of many books and we get to listen to five classics from about a century ago recently taped.


We start with the first four books written under the penname Sapper by Herman Cyril McNeile that introduced the high society British adventurer Bulldog Drummond.  Nine years before Leslie Charteris gave us The Saint/Simon Templar and several decades before Ian Fleming gave us James Bond 007, Drummond (who was married, but did not run around with his wife on said adventures like The Thin Man or Johnathan & Jennifer Hart) was a product of the results of WWI and how England faired by winning and gives us incidental insight into general thinking of the time.


The result is that the books tend to be xenophobic, sexist, paranoid about the rise of Russian Communism and The Soviet Union, sometimes anti-Capitalist and oddly anti-Semitic, but they are also key books (McNeile would write the first ten before his passing, but they continued for years to come) that helped establish action and spy heroes like Bond, Templar, Doc Savage, The Shadow and the superhero genre.


The first four books form what we could rightly call “The Carl Petersen Quadrilogy” where we are first introduced to the antagonist and in four adventures featuring what turned out to be his early arch-nemesis.  Those books (with their original book publishing dates listed are Bulldog Drummond (1920), The Black Gang (1922), The Third Round (1924) and The Final Count (1926) offering a story arc that is really Sapper/McNeile doing as much as he could with the super rivalry until it played out.  Petersen was a formidable supervillain, but does not always hold up to the ones that later followed.  Still, there are some great moments in each tale and all in their four separate CD sets here are read very well by fan and scholar Roy McMillan, who gets why they work and delivers fine, energetic performances for all four multi-CD releases.  He also writes the essays for all four booklets included in each respective case (with some overlap) that serves as their only extras.


If you have not seen a Drummond film, heard a Drummond radio drama or anything else on the subject, these sets are a great place to start in all their politically incorrect glory.  The action sequences hold up best and are very clever even by today’s standards, so they were quite innovative and even shocking for their time.  Each runs 6 CDs each, save the first story, which is 7 CDs.


For more on Drummond, you can read about the first of two Bond-era 1960s attempts to make him into Bond with our coverage of the 1965 action thriller Deadlier Than The Male on DVD at this link:





The fifth and final CD set is a read by Bill Homewood of The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace, also a classic book, but written even earlier in 1905, yet despite its age, it is also well remembered, influential and has been made and remade many times.  In it, three men with a good amount of personal wealth become vigilantes to go after bad people who are outside of the capacities of the law, recruiting a fourth person to help (ala the original Mission: Impossible).  Like Drummond, this is considered not only politically incorrect (whatever that means anymore), but has been also criticized for being at least quasi-fascist and/or a forerunner thereof.


Not as nationalistic as the Drummond books, it could be seen as one of the first team hero tales long before Justice League, X-Men or either Avengers (Marvel Comics or the British TV spy classic) and Wallace put up his own money to back up the idea to get it published when no one would back him.  Though he made a financial error in tying it to a contest, it put him on the map and he continued writing for decades and is still known today for his great writing in the genre and then some.


Leon Gonzales, George Manfred and Raymond Poiccart are the names of the primary men and this 4 CD set does a nice job of capturing the book.  Five more books followed as well and maybe Naxos will take them on next.  In the meantime, as the adaptations continued to pop up, the two world wars were added to the mix as the updating occurred each time and one of the best was a fun, smart TV series Lord Lew Grade and ITC launched in 1959 for a season which we also highly recommend, though only the British import we reviewed at the following link exists as of this posting:





As all this was going on in England, American writers were creating their own detectives, though unique to America was the “gumshoe” detective, a private investigator who got down and dirty.  That sense of dirty would show up in British works in their own way, but the directness of that kind of pulp literature even informed some of the classier characters like a certain lawyer.



By 1965, Perry Mason: Season Eight, Volume Two has the lawyer/detective (extremely popular in the ratings at that time) finding himself increasingly less studio and set-bound and the Noir sense of the show was starting to fade as that era was giving way to other things like naturalism and changing political times.  The stories were good; the book series it was based on extensive and the books were still selling.  Like Drummond, who was taken on by several studios, there were even a few Mason theatrical films, but like The Saint, Mason became best known in his hit TV version (ironically in the same decade) and Raymond Burr nailed the role perfectly.


We get the remaining 15 hour-long episodes of this season over 4 DVDs and I give the writers credit that this still held up and continued to be a quality show, no matter how parts of some of the episodes have aged or how some hold up better than others.  The makers also understood the show’s debt to the book series it was based on, literacy in general, the idea that literacy is supposed to equal a moral sense & core and the fact that legal books are the visual motif throughout the opening and closing credits of the series shows the legacy and commitment to those ideas and that tradition.  The show was a hit overseas, needless to say, despite occasional ideological differences.


Though fans of the books were not always fans of the show, the show sold many books.  Mason might not be rich or a vigilante like his British forerunners, but he is trying to get the same sense of justice done, even though it is totally through the system instead of outside of it.  That makes the show safer, but it still has character for what they made.  A brief promo clip for Law Day with Burr on camera making viewers aware of it is the only extra and is on the final DVD.



That brings us to a pair of comedies on the Will Hay Double Feature, Vol. 1 being issued by VCI on DVD.  The one film is Boys Will Be Boys (1935) which has little to do with our previous releases as the comedian lands up teaching at a boarding school with older students acting more like Our Gang/The Little Rascals that all culminates into a rugby match.  But it is Where There’s A Will (1936) where he plays a lawyer who get mixed up with American gangsters trying to rob a British bank.


It is one of the early few works that show the clash of the genres from both countries with much humor.  The U.S. robbers are street tough and throw any sense of proper behavior out the window throughout, while Hay is in the crossfire between their crudeness and the manner of high British society by being a nervous wreck.  Very amusing, genre fans will want to catch up with this one and both films were directed by William Beaudine, but I like the latter just a bit better than the school-based comedy.  Hay is very talented and one can see why he was a hit in his time.


A few stills are the only extras.



With the CDs offering no images of any kind, that leaves the black and white 1.33 X 1 images on the DVDs having good video black and showing their age, but the Hay films are in older, rougher shape and though the prints used here are actually not bad, they are also soft and have some print issues.  Maybe for Blu-ray, the owners will upgrade the prints, but for being older Gainsborough/Gaumont – British films, they look good versus similar releases of the time we have seen on DVD to date.  The Mason episodes look newer cleaner and smoother because they are, but CBS and their archivists have done a fine job of preserving the shows so that is to be expected.


The PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo recordings for the audiobook CDs are just fine, clean, clear and well recorded throughout, so they have the best sound on the list, while the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the DVDs show their age, but the Hay films can sound brittle and limited, while the Mason episodes can have their flaws.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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