Wednesday, June 25, 2008

John Dickson Carr - Man of Media

I started this series about John Dickson Carr by sharing a conversation I had with a colleague. She didn't care much for Carr's "locked room" mysteries -- they're decidedly not au courant.

And it turns out that Carr can't get respect in any media.

In addition to being a prolific author, Carr also wrote a number of radio dramas in the 1940's. Some were adaptations of his short stories, and others original to the media -- and I've been hard pressed to find any recording of them.

In 1956, his series of short stories about Colonel March and Scotland Yard's Department of Queer Complaints (as in "unusual," OK?) became a syndicated TV show starring Boris Karloff. I shared the single episode available at Archiv.org with a friend who's a real video enthusiast. He didn't like it -- he prefers videos he can watch while doing other things. Mysteries that require some concentration aren't for him.

And that's too bad -- because "Colonel March" is a very entertaining show. And a darned good mystery that's true to Carr's love of impossible crimes.

The series makes Colonel March a little less serious than he is in Carr's stories. Here's the opening with an unusually jovial and friendly Boris Karloff.

video

And while March is an astute detective, he's not quite as suave as he likes to think. Here he tries to engage a gambler in conversation -- twice.

video

The crime is pure Carr. A young American wiped out at roulette in a French casino, is promised money if he goes to the address he's given. It's a doctor's house at the end of a blind alley. As he approaches, he sees his mysterious benefactor standing at the door. A fountain in the alley momentarily blocks his view (the "Silver Curtain" of the title) as he walks, during which time his mysterious friend is stabbed with a knife. The door is unlocked and opened when the man screams. Two policemen hurry down the alley. And another impossible crime has happened.

No one was behind the American -- the gendarmes who blocked the alley's entrance can attest to that. The door was locked, so the killer couldn't have stood in the doorway (and the woman who opened the door is not the murderer). So how was the man killed? And why?

As a favor to Garon, the inspector in charge of the case, March offers to go undercover to investigate. The results aren't quite as March anticipates.

video

As with Carr's books, I found the Colonel March program enjoyable, although for slightly different reasons (Karloff's performance slightly against type is really good). All the clues are presented to the viewer, who's challenged to solve the mystery.

So if you're interested in a story that requires a little engagement, Colonel March (in either print or video incarnation) might be your man. He's never let me down.

- Ralph


Day 14 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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