Panda-monium!


“Good evening Mr.and Mrs. Blogreader and all the ships at sea! Welcome to another thrilling episode of . . . It’s All Straw!” (Cue dramatic organ music).

Two of my great pleasures in life are listening to classic old radio and surfing the Net. These two loves come together in a real doozy of a website that I found recently: Decoder Ring Theatre and its flagship podcast, The Red Panda Adventures, created by Gregg Taylor and a talented troupe of Toronto-based thespians. Obviously inspired by classic radio shows of yesteryear such as The Green Hornet and The Shadow, The Red Panda Adventures are witty and stylish revivals of the old costumed crime fighter melodramas. The Red Panda and his trusty sidekick and chauffeur Kit Baxter, also known as The Flying Squirrel, guard Depression-era Toronto against a host of mobsters, monsters, and malefactors by using everything from radio rings and static shoes to powers of hypnosis and the occasional sweet left hook. As written by the very talented Gregg Taylor, the shows are just sly enough not to be in deadly earnest and just serious enough not to slide into outright parody. The Red Panda rocks! New episodes are promised in March.

DRT’s other regular offering at present is Black Jack Justice, a hardboiled private eye show in the tradition of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Shows like this were legion in the later years of old radio, the late 1940s and early 1950s. The very latest episode of Black Jack Justice, “The Purloined Format Caper” is in fact a tribute to the radio version of The Adventures of Sam Spade. In BJJ, Jack Justice, a World War II veteran and down at the heels gumshoe, and his partner, “Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective” prowl the mean streets, hearing the million stories in the naked city, hounded and occasionally helped by their nemesis, Lt. Sabian of Homicide. As with the Red Panda shows, BJJ is very well written with sharp, clever, banter between the male and female leads and plenty of two-fisted action. However, in keeping with their Hammett, Chandler, and film noir antecedents, the tone of the Jack Justice stories tends to be a good bit darker and less cheery than the Panda shows, but never completely grim or family unfriendly. This too is in keeping with the originals. The radio versions of Spade and Marlowe were considerably lightened up for the listening audience. New episodes of Black Jack Justice will be appearing on Saturdays over the next several weeks.

By the way, lest you think that a female private eye in the ’50s is just some 21st century feminist revisionism, NBC radio did in fact run Candy Matson on its West Coast stations from 1949-1951. Candy was a lady shamus based in San Francisco. While not as hard hitting or hard drinking as her brethren, Candy could crack wise and crack cases with the best of ’em. I’ve found a couple of episodes of Candy Matson through the internet, and actress Natalie Masters (whose husband Monte was also the show’s writer and producer) gave Candy a voice that was equal parts steel and sex appeal—a woman ahead of her time.

(Cue organ music). And so, blogreaders we come to the end of another thrilling episode of It’s All Straw. Be with us next time, when you’ll hear Niall say:

What the heck am I gonna write about now?

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