Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons: The Shrieking Prisoner Murder Case (CBS, 1954)
For shy of a year just prior to the end of its seventeen-season life, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons (based on the long-forgotten novel by Robert W. Chambers) took the seemingly-logical step—considering how many soapish elements (flimsy and often over-the-top dialogue, trite plots, and a general inability to keep its listeners from figuring out the heavies long before the investigators did) were put into this elementary crime drama by creators Frank and Anne Hummert—of returning to its original serialised format.
Only now, the show goes serial for four or five days a week, as opposed to the thrice-weekly offering as which it was born in 1937. All that does, alas, is provide daily reminders that, while its protagonist may be old-time radio’s most “durable” detective (about 1,690 Mr. Keen programs will have aired by the time the show finally expires in April 1955), it is and may remain an open debate as to whether he is old-time radio’s most credible, incredulous, or insouciantly inane such sleuth. A debate to be joined only too acutely when Bob & Ray cannot resist satirising its simplism and stereotypings in a running sketch to be known as “Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons.”
“The Shrieking Prisoner Murder Case,” the last four surviving installments of the longtime series and its short return to serial format, puts a too-soapish twist on the ancient myth of the crazy aunt in the attic: the elder, eccentric Carson sisters—living alone together, suspected by innuendo of murdering nephew-by-marriage Donald Travers—whose niece Jane Travers (possibly Cathy Lewis) hires Keen (Philip Clarke) and Clancy (Jim Kelly) to prove their innocence in the death of her husband, Donald.
The two sleuths have already unraveled a troublesome web involving insane Amy Carson, whose broken engagement to George Wheeler first drove her into insanity; blunt and unthinking handyman Luther Prague; insouciant Martha Carson, who seem to have been steering Keen and Clancy on a kind of wild goose hunt, and whose earlier jilting drove both sisters to live as recluses in the first place; and, Amy’s former fiance, George Wheeler, who may have been tricked out of his engagement when his would-be sister-in-law planted accusations of fortune hunting into the dead man’s thinking.
Tonight: After matters take a twist for the worse with Amy Carson’s escape from her in-home imprisonment, Martha convinces Keen and Clancy to investigate a flash of light from the cellar, where they discover a suspicious set of footprints leading through a formerly-undetected passway where the Carsons kept their fortune hidden. When they follow the footprints, they’re surprised to discover Jane, who’s returned to her aunts’ home hoping for more news about her husband’s murder. Before they reveal who they think the killer actually is, though, Keen and Clancy try to learn more about the hidden Carson fortune, which they’re convinced holds the real key to both Donald’s death and Amy’s insanity.
Announcer: Possibly Larry Elliott. Music: Al Rickey. Director: Richard Leonard. Writer: Lawrence Klee.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: Last Show of the Season, from Waukegan (NBC, 1939)—The local boy who surprised everybody by making good (the announcer’s words, of course) brings his troupe to his hometown to wrap up the season, accepts a tribute from the incumbent mayor, lets Phil (Harris) and Mary (Livingstone) sing a duet, muses on the coming summer hiatus, and breaks out the violin for the sake of his first music teacher. Rochester: Eddie Anderson. Additional cast: Andy Devine, Don Wilson (announcer). Music: Johnny Green conducting the Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Bill Morrow, Ed Beloin.
Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Writes Music (NBC, 1940)—Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Mr. Gershwin the news: as they prepare for a summer vacation, the Sage of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) has ideas about writing music for Meredith Willson (appearing briefly), their intended summer replacement, which sounds more than a few sour notes even with his patiently-loving wife (Marian Jordan, who also plays Teeny), who can’t convince him to help her load up the car. Gildersleeve: Harold Peary. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. The Old-Timer/Boomer: Bill Thompson. Billy Mills: Himself. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Director: Cecil Underwood. Writer: Don Quinn.
The Henry Morgan Show: The Morgan Trouble Clinic, and a Veteran Taking Out a Loan (ABC, 1947)—With his usual, cheerfully blunt club, Morgan satirises bank friendliness to war veterans seeking loans, moviehouse newsreels and movie trailers, and re-opens his Trouble Clinic. Cast: Arnold Stang, Florence Halop, Madeline Lee. Announcer: Charles Irving. Music: Bernie Green Orchestra. Director: Charles Powers. Writers: Henry Morgan, Joe Stein, Aaron Ruben, Carroll Moore, Jr.
Gunsmoke: The Army Trial (CBS, 1955)—Army deserter Jed Cooke (Lawrence Dobkin), whose iron-willed bride-to-be (Vivi Janiss) may have influenced his desertion in the first place, escapes after he’s convicted at his court-martial, but Matt (William Conrad)—who captured him in the first place—can’t convince the woman to let him be taken back to serve his two-year sentence. Chester: Parley Baer. Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Doc: Howard McNear. Lt. Desmond: Harry Bartell. Additional cast: Jim Nusser. Announcer: George Fenneman. Music: Rex Khoury. Sound: Tom Hanley, Bill James. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Writer: John Meston.