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)
X/C+/C Sound: B/C+/C Extras: C/C-/C- Main Programs: B-/B-/C+
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
stills are the only extras.
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.
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