Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Wit & Wisdom Matter

What I love most about radio drama among all the forms of dramatic media is the emphasis it gives to the human voice as the driver of the story. Though imaginative sound design often helps set the scene, it's rarely used to paper over narrative shortcomings the way visual effects are in TV and movies. This is especially true for detective dramas, which like their literary counterparts are often told in the first person. For many fans of radio drama, myself included, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was a pinnacle of the genre.

Very often the finest moment of any story would come at the end when Johnny finishes his report and offers his remarks on the case. In many ways, particularly during Bob Bailey's tenure in the lead role, it was a microcosm of what made the show so great. Even in a genre whose success frequently hinged on the quality of the main character's narration, Bailey's delivery of the various writers' sardonic dialogue under Jack Johnstone's direction typically added up to something special.

As I've been revisiting the show's long run as research for this documentary, two particular examples stand out, each by one of old-time radio's best writers. One is from The Cui Bono Matte(by Les Crutchfield) and the other from The Markham Matter (by E. Jack Neuman writing as John Dawson). Both are noteworthy not just for how they speak to the plot but also the way they display Johnny's character. 

The Markham Matter: "In the end it was his attempt to run away, and it didn't work. It never works. Even if you get away, you find something new to run from."

The Cui Bono Matter: "When you gave me this assignment, Don, you asked a question, a phrase in Latin: cui bono? Who benefits? So, here is your answer: nobody."

If you've never heard these stories before, and even if you have, they're both well worth a listen.