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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Mystery > Radio > Radioland Murders

Radioland Murders


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Film: C+



The desire to go back to the old days of radio when episodic programs and live musical numbers were the rage with ad placements all over has not always worked out cinematically.  Robert Altman’s Prairie Home Companion (2006) is a recent example, even when its show is not necessarily from that classic era, while Woody Allen’s Radio Days (1987) went furthest in trying to capture the shows and their effects on the listeners.  After sitting in a drawer for many years, George Lucas took his story for the film that became Radioland Murders and decided to get it made.  Co-written in screenplay form by Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn, the film centers on the launch of a fourth radio network (the others unnamed at the time being Mutual, CBS and NBC, though ABC eventually had one too) where all is happy, until a murderer starts killing employees and performers.


Mary Stuart Masterson (in Madeline Kahn comedy mode) plays Penny Henderson, who runs the station in part and is responsible for its successful launch.  Of course, someone does not want things to go well and the killings begin.  Eventually, we meet a cross-section of characters who could either be the killer or the next target.  The silliness sometimes makes this feel like The Muppet Show for adults, but the part conclusion and a tendency to run-on hurts the film in the long run.  Once again, Lucas uses this as an experiment for his effects house and it is one of the last filmed projects of his before he went totally digital High Definition for better and worse.


The cast includes lead Brian Benben, who almost became the next big thing, Ned Beatty, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd, Dylan Baker, Michael Lerner as the investigator, Stephen Tobolowsky, Robert Walden, Brion James, Larry Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Corbin Bernsen, George Burns, Peter MacNicol, Candy Clark, Bo Hopkins and Billy Barty as himself.  They and many others give the film some heart, soul and energy, but it never really comes together.  Director Mel Smith seems to give his best efforts, but the results are just watchable at best.  Still, it is a solid production.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot in Arriscope with Joe Dutton Cameras (and not JDC Scope, which we also like) by cinematographer David Tattersall.  The version here is softer than it should be and though framing is right, detail is an issue.  The work impressed Lucas enough to have Tattersall be Director Of Photography on all three Star Wars prequels and several episodes of The Indiana Jones Chronicles.  Color is consistent, but detail is lacking.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also weak with very limited surrounds, though when originally issued theatrically; it was a DTS 5.1 only release.  Joel McNeely’s score is mixed, but passable, while sound effects are interesting throughout having funs with those of classic network radio.  The only extra is the original theatrical trailer, though revisiting the film further would be an interesting idea in a featurette.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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