Wednesday, December 21, 2022

K.A.C. 2022 - T - 04 Days ...


     It would seen jolly old Bacchus has beaten the rest of us to the mulled (spiked) wine AGAIN, just as he's done now for 2000+ years. Yeah, he's pretty happy with himself - can you blame him? He's just itchin' to get to the Saturnalia Fest, which WE'LL get to, right after today's main feature, where Justin von Bosau takes a look at one of the odder versions of A Christmas Carol - namely, what if it were done as a Private Eye tale? Well, don't just ponder it, read on!



A Contemporary Christmas Carol (Dec. 24, 1949) -- Radio, “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”

All right, time to do the preamble research before going on to the next one… I hope Balladeer covered this, because--


Christmas Past, you didn’t omit this one!!! WE HAVE A RECORDING!!!

Mind, I’ve no idea what on earth this radio show is, but we have a recording!!! Okay; context time!

“Richard Diamond, Private Detective” was created in the late 1940’s by Blake Edwards as one of his first projects for NBC, an answer to CBS’s “The Adventures of Sam Spade.” Edwards would go on to help create “The Mickey Rooney Show,” create / write / direct “Peter Gunn,” direct “Operation Petticoat,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” almost every “Pink Panther” film in the original series besides the third, and that classic: “The Party.” He also married Julie Andrews, for goodness’ sake!

The original radio show ran from April 24th, 1949, to September 20th, 1953, starring Dick Powell. Mr. Edwards wrote or directed most of the episodes, with Harvey Easton helping write and William Rousseau and Jaime del Valle helping direct. To quote the summary on Wiki: “Dick Powell starred in the Richard Diamond, Private Detective radio series as a wisecracking former police officer turned private detective. Episodes typically open with a client visiting or calling cash-strapped Diamond's office and agreeing to his fee of $100 a day plus expenses, or Diamond taking on a case at the behest of his friend and former partner, Lt. Walter Levinson. Diamond often suffers a blow to the head in his sleuthing pursuits. Most episodes end with Diamond at the piano, singing a standard, popular song, or showtune from Powell's repertoire to Helen Asher (his girlfriend) in her penthouse at 975 Park Avenue.”

I’m bemused about him suffering a blow to the head “often”, because you’d think after a while you’d get a helmet or something.

The series was later revived into a TV series for the 1957 summer slot of CBS, running until fall of 1959 on NBC. The plots, from what I can tell, were somewhat retooled from the radio scripts, as Blake Edwards was still listed as the main (only?) writer. At least, it did for the first two seasons--season three jettisoned him to LA from NY, making him less Sam Spade and more Hugh Hefner in ways that glaze my eyes every time I try and read the full summary on Wikipedia; season four did away with as much of that as they could to bring it back to earth, but cut costs instead of continuing the film-noir inspirations. The title role here was played by David Janssen, a good six or so years before being unjustly framed for killing his wife (it was the one-armed-man! I swear!), and going on the run to prove his innocence in “The Fugitive”, until one of the most-watched TV finales in 1967.

The TV show was apparently also known as “Call Mr. D,” which I’m sure would garner a reputation of a very different sort if you aired it with today’s slang. Maybe on HBO.

For our purposes, we aren’t so much calling Mr. D as listening to Mr. D! “A Contemporary Christmas”, wherein YouTube tells me, “Richard Diamond and friends act out the classic A Christmas Carol,” originally aired Dec. 24th, 1949. It runs just a half hour long, and seems to now hold the honor (dubious or not) on the K.A.C. of “First Christmas Carol Adaptation Done For Another Show!” There’ll be many more. So many more. So, so many.

Right off the bat, we get them DUH DUH DUHH!!! brass horns, and Dick Powell whistling the theme, “Leave It to Love,” very nicely into our ears. Our announcer introduces Powell as (insert name of show. Not “Call Mr. D” dammit!!!), and Mr. Diamond comes on, telling us how around this time of year, his business takes a nose-dive; “people usually pack up their troubles and start unpacking colored lights and Christmas tree ornaments.” So rather than the usual show, here’s a Christmas story!

“With apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens,” would make me gasp, except I’ve seen versions that darn well should apologize (none covered yet; all of these have been delightful!), and he immediately elaborates: “We feel this story could easily happen to-day… anywhere.” So his usual cast of characters and the types he interacts with have become our new cast of characters, and I think this self-awareness is a joy--certainly one we don’t get in other versions of “TV SHOW DOES ACC”, where the characters should hypothetically acknowledge the similarity of situation, but don’t.

Lt. Walter Levinson takes up the “Scrooge” mantle here, with Sergeant Otis Loveloon? Lovebloom?, Otis as Jacob Marley. You know they’re actors, but they’re already getting into character to do the play around the mic for us in some strange 4th-wall inversions! It feels very cheerfully intimate.

Our corner newsboy, Johnny Rawlins, will be Tiny Tim; Tim’s mom is “my red-headed gal-friend” Helen Asher. The rest will be members of the 5th Precinct Police Station, and four more voices of varying square-jawed grit pass through my ears. Music from the police band!

And the music starts, very pleasant indeed. Mr. Diamond acts as our narrator, telling us that, “Once upon a time! There was a nnnasty ol’ guy, named Ebenezer Scrooge. He was nasty, all right--”, and I’ve already bemusedly given up on “let’s see how book-accurate we get.”

Adaptations like this, fitting it for a different programme, I’ll focus more on tone and events; “straight adaptations” I’ll be more nitpicky, I guess.

Scrooge wants to get his hands on all the dough he can! Take up baking; he-- (I’m on new meds, sorry for that pun.)

Scrooge and Marley start up a loan business; Marley assumes the temperature of uncooked chicken; Scrooge stays up in his rooms above his office and loathes everybody. He’s got a clerk named Bob Cratchit, and Bob turns on the heater, complaining (rather than subservient; we’re in the 1940’s not the 1840s!) that “my fingers look like popsicles!”

“Well, I don’t care if they come in six delicious flavors, every time you turn on that heater it costs me money!”

I think Dickens would be laughing very contentedly to hear this hard-boiled dialogue. I know I am!

Bob complains the office should be closed and turned into a skating rink, but goes back to work until Fred comes in, jolly as could be! Mr. Diamond, in the interim, tells us, “this isn’t a time for anyone to act like that,” and I thought he honestly meant Bob’s complaining for a second. Scrooge’s “Humbug!” is met with confusion because we don’t have IMDb trivia yet to tell us what that word means--but he mentions that his old man hated Christmas and that’s what he used to say!

Fred seems confused his uncle hates Christmas (which makes me wonder if this is the first year he’s tried?), and he makes just a lousy $60 a week! Fred’s only there on account of the missus asking about Scrooge for dinner, which is certainly different. And out he goes!

The back and forth of all the actors is sublime. Very well-paced and acted!

No charity-men it seems; up Scrooge goes to the rooms where Marley used to stay (with Scrooge? Was it with Scrooge??? Tumblr and I have to know!!!) and, “GASP! Holy Cow!”

There was a holy cow in the knocker?!

“I could’ve sworn that was old Jake’s face in the knocker. I must be working too hard.” So in he went; nobody stops to really admire their custom Marley knockers.

Of all the details they include, they keep the tiles around the fireplace turning to Marley! But of course they would, you know--the tiniest detail can solve the case! We call that detail “Tim.”

Bells chime, and something moves downstairs… then Marley bursts in through the wall! Like the dang Kool-Aid Man; we hear the crash and everything!!

“Jake Marley! Oh no-- I’ve got to stop eating lobster-- oh, it couldn’t be--”

Sadly, the heavy New Yoahk Jake doesn’t open with, “OH YEEEAAAAAH,” but hearing Marley’s ethereal presence mixed with stereotypically-annoyed NY is killing my ribs.

“That’s what you are! A bad case of indigestion!”, Scrooge insists, and I don’t know-- usually I just have to sprint to the throne over that. “Scrooge, Ol’ Boy!” If I started seeing ghosts every time food didn’t agree with me, I’d be a freaking medium; US food is greasy as sin.

“Okay; maybe a good scare will change your mind!” Oh God, what’s he going to do, he’s an unhinged New Yorker-- BRACE!!! “wooOOooooOOooooo.”

Bro, that’s it? The one time I went to the Big Apple was to transfer trains, and during the five minutes of a bathroom break, a lady living in the subway station started snarling at me. C’mon, Jake, up your game! But it scares Scrooge, I guess, because we don’t want to terrify the kids, after all.

“Every link on the chain is something I did wrong!” That’s anxiety for you, Marley ol’ boy.

Scrooge seems more willing to listen to Marley’s offer of help, though is afraid of other ghosts. “So long, Scrooge old boy! Your goosebumps can relax now! woooOOOOooo…”

Scrooge hits the sack, sleeps, wakes up at midnight declaring he’s nuts, sleeps some more, and at one is interrupted in his bedroom by the first ghost! Looking at it, he asks the age-old question if it was sent by Jake to haunt him. A deep, echoing, close-to-the-mic voice answers: “Yeah… you know it.”

I actually burst out laughing, my first thought being, “Oh my god, I know plenty of folks who want to be haunted like this.” Why does he sound so-- I mean-- like-- GUYS…

But the 40’s accent and sensibilities make it come off much more as a calm, collected, bemused kind of ghost, and the combined mellowness of voice and soft echo make for a very effective haunter indeed. Let’s go out-- “Let me get my pants!”, Scrooge complains, and boy, that’s the opposite of the sentiment-- “You got ‘em,” Christmas Past calmly replies, and out they go, Scrooge with his dignity in check still.

Rather than go to boarding school, Scrooge is brought to a ramshackle old tenement building, the like of which I’m sure would house certain students during a certain study abroad (I’m bitter, don’t ask). His childhood was “the toughest,” with him being picked on by the other kids for being the smallest (a definite change; Scrooge seems to be just a kid, at school… aside from 2019). They go in to see Scrooge’s folks, who “died a long time ago,” and the combined softness, bitterness, and melancholy in the voices makes for a surprisingly good emotional moment, if followed by dramatic violins! And Scrooge crying.

“You know, there was a young kid who came around earlier this evening, and sang some carols..” There was??? When? Where???

Oddly, the Spirit seems to be almost stumbling over its words a little, to pause and let Scrooge speak. It’s much more humanizing than I’d expect, and I don’t think it fits as well, but that’s live performance for you.

“No matter how tough Scrooge remembered his childhood had been, it always seemed that Christmas was wonderful.”

Then, down at the docks, there’s a building where Scrooge got his first job! There’s old Fezziwig, alive again! And Dick Wilkins! Look how happy we were, making cement boots so that those people could sleep with the fishes. This is early 19XXs New York, after all.

A choir’s singing, which makes me wonder if one of these hard-boiled policemen is a soprano.

Then, over to Fezziwig’s house! Because we can’t celebrate where we dump the bodies, idiot; what, you want all them coppers on us?? Scrooge rebuffs the Spirit calling Fezziwig a stupid old goat for liking Christmas--and reminisces on Bob Cratchit. I wonder if his fingers really do come in six flavors…

“You know he’s got a wife and four kids?” “Yeah?” “Yeah! Four kids!” Condoms ain’t been invented yet, Spirit! [Ed: Actually, they had, with my favorite being the Pan Prophylactics from the World War II era - and when I say 'My favorite', I mean THE DESIGN; I'm not THAT old! :) I got to see these on display years ago at the Walter Reed Medical Museum in Washington, DC, as part of a display of contraception devices in history)].

(They were invented in 1855??? Wow that’s way further back than I’d thought! The more you know; thanks, “A Christmas Carol!”)

Scrooge is once again a bachelor, because the Spirit doesn’t show him anything more--oddly, contradicting how Scrooge says, “Hey I’ve learned my lesson,” and the Spirit replies, “You gotta see more to be squared away.”

Scrooge sleeps with some heavy log-snoring, and seems to shed a good fifteen years vocally when he wakes! Maybe it’s the light from the other room (“I’ve got burglars!” Call the ineffectual Night’s Watch, maybe?) coming from an almost weaselly-sounding guy. “Come on in! It’s pretty nifty!”, is quite the update to, “COME IN AND KNOW ME BETTER, MAN!”, but it certainly fits the time.

Makes me wonder now which characters would be who in “A Doc Savage Christmas Carol,” considering this 40’s version. Maybe Monk as Scrooge, Johnny as Bob Cratchit, Long Tom as Fred, Renny as the strong Past, Doc as a blustering Christmas Present, and Ham as “the frightening” Yet To Come. That’s my pick.

Pat probably had the good sense to sit this one out, bemused. Do you think Tiny Tim would be played by Habeas Corpus?

If none of that makes any sense, please look up “Doc Savage”! My dad will thank you and talk you silly about it.

[Ed: He's NOT WRONG! I'll spare you for now ... but it gives me an idea for a future article]. 

“What’ve you done to the room?” Scrooge says, bringing me back on track; “It looks like Macy’s window!”

Christmas Present has an almost-- raspy-- voice? The opposite of the huge full BOOM, making him sound like a much more spindly, excited friend. A human ferret.

Ferret Present asks Scrooge if he sees that building over there, where Bob lives. “I got 20/20!”, Scrooge huffs, and the Spirit remarks how Bob has to walk up 5 flights of stairs with Tiny Tim on his back--who suffered from polio last summer. Terrible; topical.

Sure would be a shame if some stupid morons don’t trust vaccines that prevent such a horrific disease, or something. Polio sucks. A lot.

Vaccinate yourself and your kids, please! It’s responsible and healthy.

But here’s Helen Asher now, greeting Bob! Of all the Tiny Tim’s mothers in all the adaptations in all the world, she plays his in mine. She sounds lovely! She’s a redhead, you know.

Tim, buddy, you are-- the most 1940s child. Oh my goodness. I can’t tell what that accent is, but like, BUDDY. “Golly gee” would be a catchphrase; I love it!

Virginia Gregg as Helen Asher and Dick Powell as Richard Diamond

Apparently Bob’s other three children are mimes, because they sure ain’t here.

We’re having stew (but is it turkey or goose stew?) and before they get to eating, “God Bless Us, Every One!” Scrooge feels for the boy after seeing him for all of three seconds, but at least here Tim’s got any amount of character traits from wanting to ride on a sled and knowing deep down that ain’t coming. While we didn’t get the vileness of Scrooge’s monologues to Fred earlier, we do get a few repeated lines about “times are tough” to show how we just *can’t* find money for paying Bob more.

We do get a briefly mentioned montage of “the Spirit took him many places and showed him a lot of happiness--and a lot of misery”, which strikes me odd because, like--

Wasn’t the point that even in the worst-seeming places, the misery had a silver lining of Christmas joy? I mean, I get this is after WWII and we’re all shell-shocked from that, but…

Fred, despite 106 years coming out since the book, is still omitted; what did he do to piss y’all off so much, radio people????

Scrooge is left back in his bedroom, ready to crack it seems, “and then a new ghost drifted in. This was the worst one yet--he was really done up for haunting.”

Thanks? Am I not supposed to be cackling?

They do at least go with not having a hard-boiled 1940s, “AYO, I’M THE YET TO COME”, so that’s good. There’s actually decent atmosphere between the sound effects of howling wind (which don’t make much sense how a police force on the mic is doing that, but you really don’t notice unless you stop to think about it like me!) and the choir.

They do however omit everything else so that Scrooge sees his name in the graveyard. As the first and only part of this section; like--

I expected us to catch up with Tiny Tim being dead, at least; you introduced that thread. We’re not even 19 minutes into a 30 minute broadcast; what are we doin’ here?!

But Scrooge realizes he’s going to die and that shrubbery will overtake his grave, and apparently hating bushes of every kind, he pleads that he’s learned his lesson, and emphasizes that in a very odd but touching way by begging that the ghost cover its bare arm or it’ll catch cold.

And so, the ghost becomes a bedpost, and Scrooge’s, “What the--”, has so much emphasis that it almost sounds like, “What the hell?” Mr. D, I’m calling you!! He said the h-e-double-hockey-sticks on the radio!

For once, the WALK-ER stand-in of a paperboy actually recognizes Scrooge, which always did puzzle me since he was apparently known to all of London in the others. Scrooge throws down five bucks to let the kid go enjoy Christmas and abandon his papers; you see, kids? With money, you don’t have to do your job!

Ah, to live in the days of five bucks actually letting you do a lot of stuff.

What is--

Uhhh, well, Scrooge has now gone to another store where a sour 1940’s guy is surprised to see him and asks if he’s been drinkin’, since he’s cheery. This is… Barney? Why have we gone to see the Purple Dinosaur?

Oh, this is the grocer! Well, he just tried to get me some strong booze, wife not knowing. Mr. D! A case for you--

Scrooge convinces him to sell a turkey to give to Bob Cratchit, for a whole $20.00!!! And take any change for your kid! The grocer is surprised, and so am I, because Scrooge actually remembered his freaking nephew’s party.

Scrooge goes on to church, making “Father McCarthy almost forget his sermon,” and down to the Bowery to donate to the homeless, and then gets to his nephew’s house, because New York is a walking city. Fred says “Oh my GOSH!” three times, increasingly happy, which is done so wonderfully.

Bob’s 20 minutes late! He’s too tired to argue that he’s canned… but Scrooge tricks him very well, shocking him into quiet replies, increasingly happy. Everybody’s increasingly happy! Bob wishes him a Merry Christmas, and with 5 whole minutes--⅙ of the time left-- WHAT MORE IS THERE?

Oh, thank goodness; next Christmas, Tiny Tim was out on his sled, doing bellywhoppers with the best of ‘em.

And just like Tiny Tim said, God Bless Us, Every One.

Mr. D didn’t even get any head trauma this time around!

Well, I speak too soon; the characters are still around for the wrap-up, with Helen getting heavy on the mic to tell Rich how this was wonderful, if even not how Dickens wrote it. “You really like it, baby?” Mr. D asks-- p l e a s e  not in my ears--

Well, our Scrooge has also voiced that it was fantastic, and is anyone else getting weirded out at this horn-tooting?

Marley’s heavy New Yoahker is boasting about his acting… and Lt. Walt at least brings him away from the mics, so the lovebirds can get into some ASMR smoochin-- oh! A carol under the windows! How lovely; what a great choir.

Rick, come on! Come on, Rick! Sing with us; sing, come on! COME ON! SING, SING DAMN YOU, SIIIING!

(He did sing and play the piano at the end of each show, and it’s pleasant!)

He does also choose “Mele Kalikimaka,” which had come out the same year in 1949, written by R. Alex Anderson. It’d be covered most famously by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters the next year on a Decca record.

Helen says, “Rick~ Merry Christmas…”. I’m sure it will be.

Rick remembers we’re live, and wishes Merry Christmas to us all, before “O Come All Ye Faithful” sings us out.

It’s interesting that, for all the changed characters, Scrooge remains distinctly recognizable. Sure, he’s maybe forty and grizzled with that snappy-talking 1940’s what’s-it-to-ya, but they all are, honestly. He’s definitely younger, and within that, able to bear his fangs a lot more realistically-sounding, but still has a very distinct miserly edge. It’s telling and sort of sad that Dickens’ story works so well no matter the time period or setting, because there’s always going to be some kind of miserable git available to that time period or setting.

But, that also means there’s also always a redemption.

This is surprisingly accurate to the book, in terms of the details. It does change a lot; characters behave differently (Bob talking back to his boss, Christmas Present being wispier, Fred being there because of his wife), and there’s almost zero book dialogue word-for-word--but beyond just the events, there’s a lot that’s the same. Yes, there’s five ghosts, but more than that, there’s the same kind of back and forth struggle of redeemed / grousing that other “straight” versions don’t always get. There’s the same kind of goodwill and hope, not overdone amazingly because the performances are very, very good. It sounds both amateur and professional, in a way that’s really hard to pull off. Playing a character who is then acting is genuinely tough, and it’s done with ease here.

It’s a bit disappointing some of the scenes were shifted or omitted; the charity-man is no great loss, but having only one real scene of the Present and Yet To Come feels a bit sour. The latter I get--this is definitely one of the more “cheery, kid-friendly” versions--but Christmas Present doesn’t have to be grim! If anything, including Fred’s party, and especially Fred’s speech about feeling sorry the old fellow won’t join them (and also seeing how Scrooge is thought of as “an undesirable creature”) puts way more emotional weight on seeing Scrooge’s shrub-infested grave later.

It’s a good look at 1940’s entertainment we don’t usually get nowadays, with the detective style and flair--but also with a surprisingly well-voiced cast, some genuinely funny laughs, and an amazing amount of heart. Listen here, and enjoy! Tomorrow we’re looking at something that’ll probably make me muuuuuch less thrilled, that aired the very next day…




Going back briefly to our very odd condom tangent in today's article, here's probably more than you EVER wanted to know on the topic, in the article entitled (what else?), 'A Brief History Of The Condom'! 




Want to take a guess who has NO use for those lambskin libido killers? Hint: Take a look at the top of the article! Ol' Mister B. would think you were nuts (Must-Avoid-Pun-That-Just-Cam ... ugh, never mind!) even suggesting such a thing, as Saturnalia was a FERTILITY Festival! Not quite to the level of February's goat-thong-swingin' Lupercalia, but still ... Yeah, I see that confused look on your face. Maybe this will explain it better - togas away! 




Finally, after reading J's article, I KNEW the name Virginia Gregg was ringing a Very Large and Insistent bell with me and went over to see her credits on IMDB - she had a very long career, both in film and TV. My favorite quote of hers was, "I work steadily, but I have no identity." She added, "When casting people have a call for a woman who looks like the wrath of God, I'm notified." She was the uncredited voice of Mrs. Bates in PSYCHO I, II and III (!), but, more importantly to me, she was the voice of Tara, the wife of Zandor and the mother of Dorno ... and matriarch of THE HERCULOIDS, one of my FAVORITE cartoons from my youth! MIND BLOWN! I can't possibly top that, so we're ending it here - more tomorrow!

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